Here’s a frequent conversation that I’ve been having over the last two years. Sitting across from me will be an attractive man, anywhere from 18 to 35. He is usually well-regarded by his pastor, communicates clearly, holds a good job, and leads a small group or other ministry team. In other words, not the kind of man I would think lacks confidence.
And yet, he needs encouragement to initiate a relationship — which is why he is there talking to me. My job as his friend is to help him figure out what he is going to say and assure him that he is doing the right thing in stepping up to the plate. While he worries about the possible rejection of one woman, I can usually think of a half-dozen others who would jump for joy if he pursued any of them. So it’s with detached amusement that I listen, marveling that this is a lot harder for men than I ever imagined in years past.
Being privy to the way men think has tempered my own self-righteousness and impatience in the area of romantic relationships. While we women exercise trust in God by waiting to be pursued, men exercise trust in God by risking rejection. Because of that, I always encourage my brothers in Christ to sow to godly masculinity and not passivity — to be more concerned with their own actions and motivations than the outcome of their pursuit.
When I first wrote a book to encourage single women, I never imagined it would lead to more conversations with single men. (If I had known this, I would have written it a lot earlier!) But I don’t want to keep this valuable information to myself. I want other single women to benefit from these many conversations, too.
Here’s my take-away point for women: There is a godly humility that we should cultivate that will both attract men and encourage them. Let me unpack that thought a bit more.
First, let’s acknowledge that the dating/courting process can be extremely awkward. That awkwardness can create tense friendships in the church, instead of the ease of brother-sister relationships. Some of this will never change, due to the innate, volatile mix of human desires. But I do believe we women can smooth over some of that awkwardness by putting away self-righteousness, arrogance and selfishness in these interactions, and instead clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Colossians 3:12).
In saying this, I’m not suggesting that a woman must accept every initiative or invitation that comes her way. I’m also not suggesting these ideas apply to the unwanted attention of ungodly or dangerous men. My focus for this article is on the relationships of single men and women within the church. Within that context, I think it is good to remember that we have an eternal bond in Jesus Christ, and that bond requires something of us because of what we have received in Him.
So whenever a man initiates friendship or more with us, and that’s not our preference, we need to treat him graciously as a brother. If he’s trying to be a friend, we shouldn’t snub him unkindly. If he’s initiating something more and we aren’t in faith for it, or can’t return the affection, we should exhibit humility by taking the time to consider and pray over his request, get counsel from others (just in case we don’t see things clearly), and decline him kindly. We should not look down on any godly man, but thank him for demonstrating trust in God by risking such a request. We should build him up and make it easy for him to step out once again, even if we are not giving him the answer he wants.
Second, we need to remember that humility is a quality that is highly prized in Scripture. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Let me break that down. Do nothing from conceit (don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought). Count others as more significant (including men who aren’t your preference). Consider the interests of others in the same way you regard your own interests (you wouldn’t like to be snubbed, either, would you?).
Let’s be honest. You may not have any attraction to a particular man when he initiates a relationship with you — but it’s highly likely that one day he will connect with the woman who is to be his wife. Wouldn’t you want to be the kind of gracious woman who makes it easier for him to try again with someone else? And wouldn’t you want that from the last woman your future husband pursues? (Don’t lose me here in all the hypotheticals.) More importantly than this, don’t we all want to be the kind of women who please our Father because we are imitating His Son? As verses five and six say: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Another translation says it this way, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
Recently I heard about a man who said women “laughed in his face” when he initiated relationships with them. I was puzzled to hear this report because this man would be considered generally attractive, outgoing and godly. Why were women reacting this way? Even accounting for possible hyperbole in this report, I was still saddened. The next time a man takes any initiative toward us, I would suggest we consider it an evidence of God’s grace before we view it any other way. In humility, we should think about how difficult it is for a man to risk rejection. We should care more for his interests in this situation than our own possible awkwardness, discomfort or even disappointment. Humility dictates that we should be honored, not displeased, when any godly man expresses interest. Again, that doesn’t mean we need to accept. But we should not belittle him for having made the effort.
Third, humility recognizes we’re not omniscient. While we may know a man fairly well, we still don’t know everything about him. He may have character qualities that would be a pleasant surprise to discover — just like the famous Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. I have a friend who married a man completely unlike the one who started to court her. The man who first asked her out was quiet, willing to be in the background and was slightly fashion-challenged. The one who won her heart was romantic, thoughtful, funny, reliable and willing to go shopping. What changed? Nothing but her own perspective. She had formed an opinion of him that was incomplete when they were mere acquaintances. When he began to show his interest in her, she wasn’t very thrilled. But because she knew he was a man worthy of respect, she took the time to ask others for their advice. Several older, married women pointed out qualities they’d seen in him that would make for a good husband. Their perspective helped her to reconsider some of the superficial ways she had been evaluating him.
When he asked to court her, she said yes — in faith that her affections could grow for a man she fundamentally respected. It happened. Not only did her affections grow, so did her attraction.
After she was engaged, her other single, female friends commented that her fiancé had blossomed during their courtship. When she relayed this comment to her future husband, he simply remarked that he had done that on purpose. He wanted to be more reserved around other single women he wasn’t pursuing, so that he could save all that romance, attention and effort for the woman whose heart he was trying to win.
Ahhh … don’t you want to sigh with appreciation? Of course! This is the kind of intentionality that we should encourage as much as we can with our own godly responses. Therefore, let us be marked by a spirit of sisterly graciousness that wants to cheer on our brothers as they exercise their trust in God to fulfill the Proverbs 18:22 passage to find a good thing — a wife.