It's (Not That) Complicated by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
Another Excerpt from It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted March 4, 2012
We’d like to share with you another excerpt from our new book. This one is pulled from “Chapter Eleven: “Will You Be My It’s Complicated? How to Just Say No to the Wrong Kind of Relationships.”
Let’s Play Romance
There are plenty of people who have technically kissed recreational dating goodbye, but are still looking for romantic flings outside of marriage. They want the fun of being in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships without purpose or commitment. Enter flirtship, the popular new alternative to dating and courtship. It’s like dating, only you don’t go out – you use email, chat, or phone, or just pair off whenever you’re in the same vicinity. Either way, you’re definitely – though not officially – well, apparently, anyway – boyfriend and girlfriend.
These are classic “It’s Complicateds” because they’re not defined at any point, and no one, including the involved parties, knows exactly where they’re going. Let’s use Deanna and Gabe as an example. How did Deanna let herself get so entangled with Gabe? Answer: deliberate romantic encounters and emotional fire-stoking. The reality is, our hearts crave to be in a relationship, starting long before we’re ready to get married. Deanna was enjoying her “romance fix” and the warm fuzzies of being loved with no strings attached. It wasn’t until she became dependent on Gabe’s interest that she realized this kind of romantic free-for-all meant that there would be no strings attached to Gabe either. And because Gabe was also only in it for a good time, he was free to move on once the relationship wasn’t meeting his needs and a better time appeared on the horizon.
Sometimes people justify taking each other for a romantic spin by saying, “We have to try a lot of people out to see which one would be the best match,” or “I thought it would be a good idea to secure him just in case.” But test-driving someone romantically, whether for kicks, for science, or for strategy, is not how we keep romance in the context of marriage, where it belongs. We can invent a thousand excuses, but at the end of the day, we don’t do it because it’s wise. We don’t do it because it’s loving. We don’t do it because we’re pursuing purity. We do it because it’s just so much fun.
Proverbs 9:17 tells us that “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” It’s natural for us to want things that we’re not supposed to have (yet). And we have a natural desire for somebody to be the prince so we can be the princess so that we can have a love story. But the correct response to this desire running out of its proper context (whatever Taylor Swift may say) is to Just Say No.
Why Do Bad Boys Happen to Good People?
Ashley’s situation was an easy one to unravel because it was entirely one-sided. But often it takes two to tangle, and there are times when it’s the young man who’s leading the girl into it. There are such things as scoundrels and rakes; there are young men who genuinely don’t know the right channels; there are good boys who aren’t ready to get married yet; there are guys who are more interested in fun than commitment; and there are nice guys who are just way too friendly with girls. How do we handle them?
Girls often come to us distraught over problems like, “He keeps telling me he really cares about me, but I know he hasn’t talked to my dad…” “He’s too friendly and I don’t know what to do about it…” “He asked me for a date, but I’m committed to courtship!” “He keeps sending me gushy Facebook messages!” “He’s not marriage material yet but I hate to push away someone who likes me so much…” “He stopped me in the store and asked me for my name and phone number…” “He follows me everywhere and asks me really personal questions!” “He is just so sensitive and sweet and affectionate toward me – I know he’s pushing his boundaries, but I’m starting to fall for him anyway…”
These sorts of situations can be uncomfortable to deal with, but they don’t have to get truly sticky unless we let them. We often have more power to direct this sort of situation than we realize. Young men have told us time and time again: Girls really are the ones who set the tone for the interaction. Young men tend to unconsciously defer to what the young lady seems comfortable with (e.g. if she seems to be enjoying his attentions, he’ll ramp it up; if she thought his coarse joke was funny, well, he’s got more where that came from…). Most often, they let us set the terms; they let us establish the boundaries. The kind of young man above usually tests the waters to see what kind of girl he’s dealing with and what he can get away with. You don’t have to play his game.
You need to talk to your parents about how they would like you to handle situations like the ones below, but here are some general principles our parents gave us.
If Don Juan accosts you in the dentist’s office waiting room and tries to charm you out of your phone number, a firm “I don’t give out my personal details to people I don’t know” is usually sufficient.
If Lancelot might be a possibility someday, but is acting like he wants to be married now – pushing the boundaries of your friendship and letting it get a little too emotionally intense way too early – it’s usually possible to remind him of what’s appropriate in your own respectfully reserved conduct. If he doesn’t take the hint, you can ask your father to talk to him about it.
If Romeo seems smitten with you and showers you with attention and compliments (and is exactly the sort of Montague your parents do not approve of), you can make it very clear in your cool but respectful manner that you are not interested in sharing a balcony scene with him.
If your friend Han Solo asks if he can take you for a ride in the Millennium Falcon and you are affronted because it is a bucket of bolts and you’ve already kissed romantic intergalactic joyrides goodbye (and you’d rather kiss a wookiee anyway) – you don’t have to tell him so rudely; there is a polite way to say, for example, “Have you checked with my dad on that?”
If Edward Cullen is stalking you in a creepy manner, always staring at you across the room and trying to corner you so he can ask you creepy questions about yourself – you can respond so honestly (“Yes, I believe in Total Depravity”), seriously (“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God judges sin”), and confidently (“What is your position on supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism?”) that he will probably never come ask you questions again. If something firmer is needed, your father or brothers should be able to do the job.
If Willoughby wants to take you on a solitary ramble to read Shakespeare’s sonnets and then have you stay home from church so he can ask you a Very Particular Question, you’d better be sure your father or father-figure is fully behind what W. is doing. If you know that W. is not playing by the rules, you can point him towards the right person to ask, or ask your father to talk to him.
If girls would realize that they don’t have to go on romantic rambles, tolerate creepy questions, welcome inappropriate flattery, laugh at crude jokes, accept dates, allow over-friendliness, or give away their phone numbers just to be nice, everything would be a lot simpler for them.
Complicated things will happen to us – but “It’s Complicateds” will only happen if we’re playing along. We will make things a whole lot more difficult if we enjoy the attention, become emotionally entangled, lose our level-headedness, relish the drama, or encourage the misdemeanors.
When a ball of this kind is hurled into our court, this is a test. What will we do with it? No matter how outrageously a young man is behaving (and trying to get us to behave), we still have to stand our ground and do what is right. The standard is still to act like Christ, Who knew when to be firm and forceful, but Who never sinned. This means that cruel or haughty comebacks are not ok, but neither is going along with a young man when he’s pushing the limits. Remember, the most truly loving thing we can do for him is to point him to what’s right – even if it means saying, “You’re talking to the wrong person,” or “No, I’m not interested in going out with you.”
In the case of Lauren and Marshall, Lauren is feeling overwhelmed with confusion over how to handle Marshall’s clear interest, knowing that he’s not marriage material yet, and hasn’t approached her father. The solution, however, is very simple. Lauren simply needs to do three things:
Talk with her parents about the situation, and let them know her true thoughts and feelings regarding Marshall. Our parents can help keep us accountable if our own hearts are swaying. Our fathers are also our secret weapons in the area of dealing with guys. They are the strength that we don’t have – they are the ones that can force the issues for us, the ones who can find out what a young man’s intentions are towards us, the ones who can make sure no one leads us along. What if Marshall was only playing with her while he waited for something better to come along?
Interact with Marshall as a sister and not a girlfriend, as though nothing is going on… because nothing is, right? Our pure and sisterly conduct can remind young men what their own should be.
Resist the urge to keep a candle burning for him in her heart just in case. We don’t know who God intends for us to marry; we don’t know who God intends for them to marry. What’s important is that we keep our hearts open to what God wants… and that’s going to be a lot harder if we’ve already filled that spot with a certain someone.
A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing?
Posted February 10, 2012
Dear Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin,
I’m 16 years old, I’m home schooled and (surprise) I love to read . I’ve always read ANYTHING I can my hands on from Jane Austen to Stephen King to John Steinbeck to Anthony Burgess and back again. My Mom and Dad, never prohibited me from reading anything, from the time I was about 11 years old, I pretty much took control of my reading censorship, and I’m not afraid to say I’ve had a awesome time with it.
My Mom and Dad are good God fear people who put a great love of Jesus in me, and I don’t want you to think they haven’t given me guidance, because truly they have. In fact, I think by giving me that intellectual freedom, they gave me “so much more” than if they had only allowed me the “proper” or “age appropriate” literature. I’ve been exposed to ideas and opinions few people encounter until collage. Some of them made me doubt my Christianity, for a short time I considered myself somewhat of an agnostic. But in the end that doubt made my faith stronger,
as it says in 1 Peter 1:7 So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, I think you may be doing a disservice to the young women reading your blog. By telling them to so carefully guard they’re hearts, you end up turning them from learning. If your Faith is true, it will survive any false opinion, idea, or doctrine. Instead, you should more vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas. I realize young minds can be pliable, but only through the observation and study of things, can we understand them. I.E. We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.
God Bless the both of you.
Your sister in Christ
Thank you so much for your thoughtful email! Anna Sofia and I really appreciate hearing from girls with the self-discipline and gumption to take their educations by the horns, and much of what you said struck a personal chord with me. Like you, I’ve always been a bookworm, and also like you, I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to read widely. I also liked Animal Farm better than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so I think I know where you’re coming from.
When you saw our post about our new audio message, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders,” you might have been concerned that we were warning girls away from books that would expose them to a broader world of ideas than found in standard “safe” girls’ literature. Maybe even to stay in the safe realm of books about bonnets and dollies and far away from the danger zone of the war of ideas. If your point is, “You’re not getting a full or useful education if you only read Amish princess novels or Victorian sermonettes,” Anna and I couldn’t agree more.
In fact, one of the key points to this message is that it’s time to re-think the merit of what most consider “proper” or “age-appropriate” literature for girls. Young women have a long history of insulating themselves from the reality of the spiritual warfare around them with fantasies of a world all in pink – a world made up entirely of chick lit. components (romance, girlfriend rivalries, love triangles, clothes/parties/feminine pastimes, etc.) instead of the things that actually make the world go ‘round (war, politics, economics, agriculture, theology, etc.) And from Green Gables to Mansfield Park to Forks, Washington, this is the world most girls’ literature takes place in.
This is not the real world. The Bible gives girls a thumbnail sketch of the world as God sees it, and it’s a pretty robust saga of tyranny, slavery, economics, warfare, jurisprudence, and crime, which includes very few bonnets. Besides being infallible on all other points, it’s the perfect model for the breadth of universe girls should immerse themselves in.
The premise of this talk is that girls need to read books that will equip them for this real world, rather than mentally loll in a safe, pretty, imaginary world of dainty hobbies and romantic fantasies. This is why I would be more likely to give my daughter One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch than Daddy Long Legs, and it would be because of the gritty realism of the content, not in spite of it.
The problem with Twilight, for instance, is certainly not that it shows girls too much of the big bad world. Its problem is that it plunges them more deeply into a world that doesn’t line up with the rules of reality. And in this way, it’s not that much different from Amish romance novels (except for the buttons) — both let us wallow in an extremely artificial world instead of dragging us into reality – a world of duty, consequences, and people at war with our faith.
I’ve always admired John Milton’s summary of “a complete and generous education,” as “that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.” But why stop with men? Women also have vigorous roles to play, both in public and private, in peace and in war; any woman who wants to discharge her duties on the world stage is going to need an education with teeth. If we’re going to be useful in the great fight of faith, we have to understand the terms of the fight, and the weapons of our – and the enemy’s – warfare. We have to know about the ideas that have been warring against Christianity through all history. But more importantly, we have to know how to identify them and how to combat them, or we’re going to be worse than useless soldiers. We may end up on the other side.
This is because ideas aren’t neutral. Every idea is either true or false; every thought either lines up with God’s truth or defies it. And every time we come in contact with a book, as we point out in this message, we’re not just coming in contact with a story – we’re coming in contact with another mind, a mind with its own worldview and religion, a mind that’s either with Him or against Him (Luke 11:23). The question for us is: Which mind will be the dominant mind? Are we grounded enough in our knowledge of the Lord’s mind to see where the other falls short? Or will this new mind become the standard by which God’s mind will be weighed in the balance and found wanting?
I’d love to know more about your story. You say that some of the ideas you encountered in your reading made you doubt your Christianity. Do you mean that you were a believer, and then you stopped believing, and then started believing again? Or that through your reading you came to realize you were not a believer, and were cut to the heart and born again? What exactly did you doubt, and what convinced you to believe? When your books made you doubt God, did God come make Himself more real to you, or did the books make Him more real to you? What was it that proved to you “that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him”? (Heb. 11:6)
If false ideas force us to acknowledge our lack of a spiritual foundation and drive us to Scripture to find our footing – wonderful! But if we know we aren’t grounded enough in the Word to know how to process confusing new ideas, the answer is not to drink more deeply of those wells. If our faith is weak, Romans 10:17 tells us what Book to read to strengthen it: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
On the strengthening of our faith, you quoted 1 Peter 1:7 (one of my favorite verses) – but there’s a difference between embracing the trials and tests God sends to try our faith (James 1:2-4), and willfully flirting with ideas that we know will undermine it. Experimenting with dissenting beliefs until we realize that we don’t know what’s right anymore may sound intellectually fair and scholastically noble, but it’s not a virtue; at least, not in God’s eyes. The Bible actually does tell us to avoid chasing certain kinds of ideas. I didn’t say it; 1 Timothy 6:20,21 did. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”
Willful doubt is not one of the steps to higher faith or higher wisdom. “[T]he one who doubts,” according to James 1:6-8, “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” We may need to doubt whether we “are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), but if we doubt that God is real and His word is true, we’ll never find truth.
Getting familiar with His Word – the field guide to every heresy in the world – is square one. After all, our job is to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) The right attitude isn’t, “If you see a false idea, pretend it isn’t there and maybe it will go away” (or even “If you see a false idea, close the book!”). The attitude of someone fighting firmly on God’s side is to recognize a false idea, see it with God’s eyes, call it out, and prove it false. There is no alternative option; at least, not for someone who wants to claim, “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113)
In other words, I believe every girl should know the Bible’s answer to agnosticism, to existentialism, to transcendentalism, feminism, chauvinism, socialism, fascism, racism, mysticism, Darwinism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, Swedenborgianism, and every other notion books have to offer.
The point is that our minds, as well as our hearts, as well as our bodies – have to bow the knee. Our minds must acknowledge that Christ is Lord of the world of ideas. Our minds, howsoever intelligent or rational, must accept that they are not the standard – the mind of Christ is.
“Man must think God’s thoughts after Him if he is to know anything,” wrote William Blake in The Foundations of Christian Scholarship. “How does one know whether he is thinking God’s thoughts? To the extent that God’s thoughts are revealed to us in Scripture, to this extent can we think His thoughts after Him.” The goal, as John Calvin put it, is to “give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that He may fill them.”
There is indeed a verse (Prov. 4:23) that tells us to guard our hearts “with all vigilance.” Does that mean shielding our hearts from knowledge? Proverbs 15:14, 18:15, 22:17, and 23:12 all say to do the exact opposite. We just don’t have the option of leaving our hearts open to loving the things God hates. In other words: If you felt like you needed my permission to read Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book, you have it. If you want God’s permission to love it, you don’t.
But then, we should also ask, to what end do we read books like this? This is where I got it wrong in my reading habits as a girl. If we read to amuse ourselves, to get away from it all, or to make ourselves feel smart, then we should ask ourselves how well we’re doing at “taking every thought captive” and “redeeming the time.” When I was in my mid-teens, I became convicted that I needed to be much more deliberate about what I put into my mind and why. Our goal, I realized, should be to look for the books that are the most profitable, the books will equip us to be a more faithful soldiers of Christ. And the goal is also to grow in our appreciation for the perfection of God, God’s reality, and God’s law – and how far superior that is to any invention of man.
You say, “We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.” True – the fact is, we’re born already knowing sin and in trouble. It’s not something that should require much further study. And every girl saved by grace understands that she is sinful enough to be justly condemned for ever, without needing to study sin or experience new varieties of trouble to know that she needs a Savior. She sees enough blackness in her own heart to know that what she needs to pursue is the light. The other fact is, we clearly still don’t understand redemption if what we mostly want to understand is sin. We clearly still don’t understand what it is to be saved if we prefer trouble. “And this is the judgment, declares John 3:19: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
I’d like to send you a copy of the “Jane Austen and Vampires” message. I think you’ll find that the heart of it is to “vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas” – and more importantly, to encourage girls to see that world and those ideas with God’s eyes. I’d love to hear what you think – please write and let me know. And again, I very much appreciated your email and your concern. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify a message very close to my heart.
May God bless you richly as well…
Your sister in Christ,
[By the way, congratulations to Leah C. for winning the giveaway for a copy of "Jane Austen and Vampires"! We hope the message is a blessing to you.]
What Will You Read this Year?
Posted January 13, 2012
Our friend Howard Phillips has often quoted to us the maxim, “You will be the same person each year except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
This concept had a pretty big effect on both of us. Obviously, we don’t want to be the same people this year that we were last year. This is why we’re beginning this year (as we do most every year) by plotting out some major goals for ourselves, including relationships we want to develop and books we want to read.
As we both change and grow each year, the books we read and appreciate change each year as well. We both grew up loving to read, and voraciously devoured all books of all ilks and genres. Some we loved. Some we hated. Some we loved and shouldn’t have. Some we hated for bad reasons. Some we positively binged on. Some we tasted and spat out. And along the way, we’ve realized that girls’ natural literary tastes cannot always be trusted.
Last year we revisited some of these beloved and be-hated books from our childhoods and did a brief study on women’s most popular literary choices, and then put together a message for a conference we were speaking at. We titled it, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders.”
What do handsome heroes, bonnets, and vampires have in common? Not much, but they’re all pieces of the most famous and influential girls literature of all time — literature that has revamped the way thousands of young women view reality, the world, themselves, and romance. In this audio message, we attempted to analyze authors from Jane Austen to Janette Oke to Stephanie Meyer, and lay out the basics of a healthy literary diet. (Click here for more information.)
Well, to celebrate this whole new year we all have been given to read books, study, and nourish the little gray cells, we wanted to give a copy of this message away to one of you! To enter the draw, simply write to us (damselsATvisionarydaughtersDOTcom) and tell us three books you’d really like to read this year. Giveaway ends January 20. (By the way, congratulations to Brielle, winner of a copy of It’s (Not That) Complicated ! We pray the book will be an encouragement to you.)
And just for fun, we’re going to give you a peek at all the great cover ideas schemed up by our sibling design team. We liked them all so much it was hard to choose a winner. Which one do you like best? You can enter the giveaway a second time by writing and telling us your immediate reactions to each cover (e.g. #1 is the most punchy, #4 gave me the willies, etc.). We’d love to hear your thoughts!
What will you be reading this year?
Giveaway: It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted December 2, 2011
We’re giving away a signed copy of It’s (Not That) Complicated! To enter the draw: Just write to us (damselsATvisionarydaughtersDOTcom) and tell us what you’d like to see us write a book about next!
To enter a second time, either 1: Put our nifty “It’s (Not That) Complicated” sidebar button (see left) on your own website sidebar (see here for instructions), and send us an email telling us, or 2: simply “like” the “It’s (Not That) Complicated” page on Facebook and write and tell us. Best yet, you can enter three times by doing all three.
Giveaway ends December 9.
Anna & Elizabeth Talk About Boys, Beauty, and Emotional Purity on Generations
Posted November 26, 2011
Last week we were honored to talk about our new book with Kevin Swanson on his radio program “Generations”. You can listen to the interview online here.
Excerpt from It’s (Not That) Complicated
Posted November 8, 2011
We’re excited to share with you a number of excerpts from our new book. These next few chunks were pulled from “Chapter Seven: The Heart: Victim or Perpetrator? Getting Your Heart to Follow YOU.”
Emotional Purity Revisited
We’re very grateful for the groundwork that has been laid by the Emotional Purity advocates, people who first began to seriously address the problem of handing out bits of our heart with reckless abandon. We, for two, needed to hear about the concept of guarding our hearts, keeping our emotions under control, and being faithful to our future husbands in thought and deed. But we believe this foundation needs a little more built onto it. For many, the concept raised more questions than it answered.
As one girl wrote to us: “My friend + i hav both decided that wee r neva goin 2 d8 + we want our 1st kiss 2 b on our weddings. …[but] i was tellin sum of my friends @ school about the decisions ive made and another question came up, is it wrong to have a crush on a guy? my friend says that you can’t control whether u have a crush on sum1 or not and im not 100 % sure how 2 answer that. Can u guys help?”
Once the idea of emotional purity is introduced, the questions breed like rabbits. “Can you keep from having crushes?” “Is it wrong to have a crush?” “When is it technically a crush, anyway?” “Whatever it is, is it a sin?” “Will they come back to bite me later?” “Will each crush that I’ve had make me love my future husband less?” “Do I need to go find and marry the first boy that I ever liked?” “Did the crushes I had when I was two count against my emotional purity, or do they only start to count at age 13? Is there a crushing age of accountability?” “I’ve given away my heart so many times – is it too late for me to even care?”
To those on the outside, these sorts of questions might sound like silly wranglings over definitions to see what we can get away with, or the perfect ten in female ditziness. But these questions are actually legitimate, and the confusion a big deal, because at the heart of it, we’re talking about our moral responsibilities. When we don’t understand our actual moral responsibilities in this area, we can feel ridden with guilt over things that aren’t actually wrong, and completely unpricked by things that are. We can have a fatalistic “It’s too late to guard my heart because I’ve already botched things so badly” attitude towards doing right in the future. And we can develop an unbiblical fear of doing the things we are actually commanded to do.
We torture ourselves over quandaries like, “At exactly what point in my thought process did my favorable thoughts towards a young man turn into sin? Did I cross the line when I started naming our imaginary future children? …or was it back when I was wondering what color the bridesmaids’ shoes should be? How about when I first admired what a servant’s heart he has?”
We ask the wrong question when we ask, “Is having a crush a sin?” The Bible doesn’t actually say, and the reason is because “emotional purity” is a made-up moral category. And it’s giving a lot of us feelings of (unbiblical) guilt for committing some dreadful nebulous crime that there is no definition for, when the answer would actually be very clear if we phrased the question using biblical terms. There are plenty of real moral categories for real sins – like lust, covetousness, idolatry, fear of man, vain imaginations, and presumptuous sins. How much clearer would things be if we would just go ahead and say, “I’ve made an idol out of a young man; is that wrong?” or, “I’m having lustful thoughts for this guy – is that a sin?”
The Bible gives plenty of clear commands, both positive and negative: Guard your heart. Love the brethren from a pure heart. Think on what is pure and what is true. Don’t covet. Don’t lust. Have self-control. Take every thought captive. Going against any of these clear commands is a sin. This should answer our questions.
See? Now it’s not that complicated again.
But keeping our love in its proper place is easier said than done. Our hearts want to love. They want to fasten themselves to someone. As woman was taken from the side of man, she yearns to be restored to the side of man. We’ve all known since our highchair days that that’s where we belong. We’re wired to find them fascinating, attractive, and loveable. This is why one of young women’s biggest struggles is keeping that desire to love under control.
A girl once wrote to us, “For a long time I have struggled with unrequited love. I just cannot get over this one young man I know. I love him, but it seems that God has just not ordained that he should love me in return, and I am having the hardest time trying to accept that.”
There is no pain quite like realizing that what we desire most is not what God desires to give us – a pain we’re both keenly familiar with.
The truth is hard to accept, especially when we’re hurting, realizing that we made a mistake when we staked our hopes, our futures, our love, on someone who had no commitment to us in return. The girls who write us such emails are hoping for advice on how to get the young man to return their feelings, but truly the kindest (and hardest) thing we can tell them is this: that their own affections are out of place to begin with. The earlier girls would realize this, the more pain they would be spared. Love doesn’t have to go out of control and harm us. The young men God has placed in our lives don’t have to be sources of pain and heartache. There is a better way. And it requires learning to set boundaries for our own feelings.
But even those who recognize that little schoolgirl crushes are immature and fruitless can still wonder, “Is it wrong to deeply, sincerely desire a young man who is really worthy? One we could really marry?”
One thing our father taught us is that it’s not wrong to respect and admire a godly young man; not even to realize we could marry a man like him. But our legitimate and pure-hearted regard crosses the line into out-of-place love when we stray into one or more of these five mistakes:
1. Seeking our will above God’s
God already has a plan for what must happen with you and every young man you know. In His grand design, He knows who should be married to whom in order for His will to be accomplished, and your duty is to embrace that design as surely as you embrace God Himself. If we really, truly, sincerely love God’s ways, we will be able to do the impossible: Rejoice even if God gives Brandon to someone else, and take joy in the plan He has for us instead. Whenever we feel that we would not be happy with God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, if that will is different from ours, we’re out of place. If a young man becomes more important to us than God’s will and preferences, he has officially become an idol.
2. Thinking we have a claim over the young man
It doesn’t matter how much we think we understand him, appreciate him, love him, deserve him – if we do not have his ring on our finger, he is not ours. In God’s bigger plan, this young man we’re lavishing so much devotion on might be another woman’s husband. And we might be another man’s wife. If there is no marital commitment, we don’t belong to one another.
Our love may feel pure, perfect, transcendent – but once it lights on a brother in Christ and says “He’s mine – hands off,” it has become selfish, possessive, and jealous. And this is part of the reason we need to resist crushes – because they’re incompatible with real love. That’s right – real love for the young man, and also the people around us. Do we truly love Brandon, enough to want the very best for him? Enough to want something better for him than… us? (If we truly cared about a fellow, would we necessarily think, “Brandon is so amazing… he needs a really special girl. I know! Me! Why, he couldn’t do better!”) How about the other girls? Do we love Amber enough to hope that she will also get a really amazing husband? Even if it’s… Brandon? (“But she can’t have him! I deserve him!”) If we love the other girls around us, it really will change the way we love the other boys. Because true love conquers all – even crushes.
3. Forgetting who the man is
We’ve all heard it a thousand times, and yet we still forget: It’s the man’s job to choose, the woman’s job to be chosen. And no amount of active searching and window-shopping on our part will actually make our chosen chooser choose us any faster. Wrapping ourselves up in a bow and throwing ourselves at his feet doesn’t count as letting him be the initiator, either. It’s hard to feel powerless, but now is our time to learn patience and trust, to be at peace with the fact that it’s the man’s call. For a girl to “pick” a young man who may never be an option for her is presumptuous, at best. It can be asking for heartbreaking disappointment, at worst.
4. Building castles in the sky
The truth is, we open the door for heart wrenching pain when we stake all of ourselves, all of our thoughts, our whole world – on something that we have no guarantee will happen. Even in a courtship-type situation, when the young man’s interest is certain, it doesn’t guarantee that your future with him is. God may still have other plans (Jas. 4:13-15), and it’s best to be emotionally prepared for them.
5. Letting your brain go out the window
…as our father always put it. Dad taught us that when you’re facing one of the biggest decisions of your life is the time when you most need your wits about you. We all know infatuation is blinding; during this season of getting to know young men as friends, and especially in the next season of getting to know one of them as a potential husband, we will need to have our minds prepared for action (1 Pet. 1:13) and our eyes wide open.
Moreover, as appealing as it may sound, we shouldn’t expect God to lead us through our infatuations. Our hearts, feelings, “intuitions,” and romantic inclinations can all be wrong, no matter how strong they are or how right they feel. One friend of ours was so convinced that her feelings for a particular young man were a sign from the Lord, that she wouldn’t let them go even after his engagement to someone else. On his wedding day, she confronted him for going against the will of God, and told him it was still his destiny to marry her. Obviously, her feelings weren’t proof of anything but the fact that… she had feelings. God leads us through the truths in Scripture, not though our fickle human hearts.
We learned a lot from watching our dear friend – now sister-in-law –Nadia face all five of these temptations. It wasn’t long after Nadia became one of our family’s closest friends that she realized our older brother David was exactly the kind of man she had been praying for. As she describes it, “I was gripped by his humility and purity of heart before the Lord and his passion for proclaiming the Word of God.” She’d never met another man she thought she could help, follow, and complete as well. And yet… she had no guarantee that David was really the man God had chosen for her. Any girl in this situation would be tempted to check out from reality, fixating, wishing, speculating, wondering, hoping… To place her happiness in the contingency that it would work out. To view the young man as “hers.”
But Nadia knew the battle in her heart that she had to fight and win had nothing to do with David. It had to do with finding her satisfaction in God alone. She knew that no matter what happened – even if she married David – she could not be happy until she learned to love God more, know Him better, and desire His will over her own, even if His will for her future didn’t include David. She wanted to learn to love David rightly and desire what was best for him, regardless of whether it would involve her or not. She wanted to be focused on reality – growing and working to be more like Christ and serve Him in the here and now – not distracted by possibilities or fantasies.
Some girls think if there’s a chance the relationship could work out, they should hold on to their infatuations… just in case they were to need those feelings someday. The angst in their hearts isn’t even over “I just can’t stop loving him!” but “Should I stop, or shouldn’t I?” In Nadia’s mind, the question was “Are these feelings right before God, right now? Am I putting my hope in marrying David, or in God? Has my sisterly regard crossed the line into idolatry?”
Wash Me and I Shall Be Whiter Than Snow
Some girls fear that they will have permanent scars from mistakes they have made. They fear that part of them is gone and they can never be made whole again. But the concept of inner purity deals more with the present state of the heart, the mind, and the affections than it does with the past. What we need to be doing is developing a state of heart and mind that is self-controlled and faithful to one man. It’s never too late to repent and do what’s right.
Going back to Ephesians, we see that the Church of Christ was not naturally pure, but had to be sanctified and cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) before she was ready to be presented before her Groom. David cried, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7) Being clean means having been washed. Being pure means being purified – tested, matured, and refined by fire.
More than that, it means being forgiven. Our hearts, if not the rest of us, have all played the harlot, committed murder, and sinned against God. But what did Jesus tell the woman taken in adultery? “Go, and sin no more.” The same love that was extended to her has been extended to us by the same Savior. “If we confess our sins,” says 1 John 1:9, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When Christ saves us, He gives us His righteousness so the Father can accept us as righteous and see us as completely pure – as He is. This is the essence of forgiveness in Christ, which makes us clean in God’s sight. If we have been purified by Christ, we need to learn to dwell in this forgiveness rather than dwell on our former impurity. So think about your future, ladies, not your past. We should live every day in the comforting assurance of this position, and in a way that honors the Savior who bled and died to exalt us to such a place! Once you understand your forgiveness in Christ, you will be able to think and act like a pure woman, and your future husband will be able to truly see you as such.
In King David, we see a heart that was already “after God’s own heart,” but still needed constant maintenance. We should take a lesson from the way he cried out to God in the Psalms to give him continual heart surgery: “Let… the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD.” (Ps. 19:14) And after his affair with Bathsheba: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
Some girls have fallen so deeply for someone in the past that they feel they’ve lost that part of their heart forever. But does he own real estate in your heart, or is he just a squatter? We say we can’t get that part of our heart back, but it’s not gone. It’s still in us – still generating special thoughts and feelings for that someone, cherishing sentimental longings and wistful regrets, not letting go. But we can get this corner back. As with conquering sin, this could require taking a knife and cutting away a part of our life. It’s not easy, and it’s not painless – but it’s not impossible. The most emotional, impulsive, anxious, romantic, or vulnerable girl is not powerless to rule this area of her life. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us how:
Do not be anxious about anything
Not even Brandon.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
He hears your cries for a godly husband.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
He can envelop even the most stressful, anxious area of our lives with His peace.
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is why it’s possible to guard our hearts and minds: because He makes it possible.
Why So Complicated?
Posted November 5, 2011
Boy-girl relationships are hard. They’re hard because they’re made of people, not mathematic equations, formulas, or quantifiable factors like numbers. When talking about relationships, we’re dealing with fluctuating factors like motives, irrational feelings, and a nature that was made by God to be one way and twisted by sin to be another. Numbers are easy because they are predictable, but the heart, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “is deceitful above all things… who can understand it?” And if one person wasn’t complicated enough, just add another person, multiply their sin natures, and we’ve got an equation too hard to solve in our own strength. When we do try to boil these relationships down to simple rules and formulas, they can come out looking something like the diagrams below. Because when it comes to each of these quandaries of the heart… it’s just (not that) simple.
Here are some drawings that didn’t make it onto the cover of It’s (Not That) Complicated, but we wanted to share with you anyway:
Have You Ever Wondered…
Posted November 3, 2011
“My biggest concerns are how should I even treat boys period? I have
no idea how to act around them…I know I should be myself but, besides
“I’m not around a lot of young men, so when I am in a group with one,
it gives me the jitters. How do I act natural?”
“Is it a good idea to be good or close friends with a guy? And if you
do sense yourself beginning to be interested in someone, is it an
option to try to get to know them better, or should you keep things
the same and wait for the guy to make the first move?”
“If I say ‘hi’ and strike up a conversation is he going to think that I
am too forward, shouldn’t my kind of man be the first to speak, and
what will others think of what I do?”
“Where do you draw the line between being friendly, which is okay, and
being flirty, which is (presumably) not okay?”
“…can you encourage a potential suitor to pursue you without being
flirty, forward, or inappropriate? …can you let them know you are
available in a God-honoring way without becoming the initiator?”
“What takes a girl from someone a man likes to be around, to someone
he wants to spend his life with? I see a lot of lists by girls about
‘my husband must be such and such.’ But it seems all I ever hear from
guys is ‘a godly lady.’ What does that mean to them?”
“If there is a particular guy that I have noticed, what is the best
way to deal with these feelings? And what should I watch out for when
I am around him/do to guard my heart?”
It’s (Not That) Complicated will explore all of these questions sent
in by our readers and many, many more. (And will, hopefully, make them
all seem a lot less complicated.)
For more information and to order a copy, visit NotComplicatedBook.com.
It’s (Not That) Complicated: It’s Here!
Posted November 1, 2011
How do young men and young women interact with one another when marriage is not in view? Can young men and young women be ‘friends’? And how does a young woman guard her heart, preserve her purity, and walk in integrity without treating young men with disdain? In It’s (Not That) Complicated, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin address these and other questions with wisdom, grace, transparency, and biblical acuity.
— Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr.
We’re excited to announce that It’s (Not That) Complicated is now available! For more information and to order a copy, visit NotComplicatedBook.com, and don’t forget to check back in the coming weeks for excerpts and special features.
It’s (Not That) Complicated: Table of Contents
Posted October 25, 2011
To provide a little taste of what’s inside the pages of It’s (Not That) Complicated, we thought we’d share the table of contents with you all. We’ll be posting more excerpts and updates as we near our November 1st release date, so check back with us soon!
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