"Thank you for inviting me to this restaurant. I love Italian food." Ava says as she settles into her fourth date with Marc. She shows him a slight smile but then quickly resumes a more serious demeanor.
"Absolutely. I'm looking forward to getting to know you a little better this time," Marc says with excitement, as the waiter comes to the table to fill their water glasses. The waiter sets a large pitcher in between them, and Marc studies her through its reflection.
Skeptical, Ava questions, "What else do you want to know?" She feels like she has already revealed what she is comfortable sharing about herself. After all, we're not married, she thinks.
Marc sets the pitcher aside. "You're a smart and beautiful woman. I respect that you serve on the homeless ministry at our church. The pastors and everyone really admire you. But, you seem a little closed off with me sometimes. I can't help but think you're not really interested in this," he admits.
"I'm interested." She shrugs. "I'm just not sure of your intentions. Last time, when I was emotionally vulnerable too quickly, I got hurt." Trying to keep her perfect appearance, Ava is also afraid he won't like her if she does open up.
"On our walk back from roller skating last weekend, I shared with you how I struggle with letting go of the pain of abandonment from my father, and you stared at me...blankly...with no response. Look, Ava, my intentions for dating are to strive towards marriage, but we can't move forward if we're stuck at a wall."
Ava breaks the tension by looking around for the waiter. "Where is our food?" she murmurs.
Marc sighs then reaches across the table for her hand, pursuing her heart. Ava freezes as they make their first physical contact. When their eyes lock, she relaxes. She is caught between the desire to be known and the fear of being known. The waiter comes and sets two heavy plates of pasta in front of them, breaking their connection. In grace, Ava joins Marc in asking for a blessing over the food, but in her soul, she quietly asks God for His intimate love to soften her heart.
The beginning stages of dating or courting for most Christian couples usually bring delight, excitement, and increasing closeness as they move toward marriage. However, others might struggle with a fear of vulnerability that prevents them from nurturing a bond of friendship and romance. I identity with the latter group, as the idea of being fully known gripped me with alarm in my most recent dating experience. Past trauma, disappointments, and unmet expectations left me apathetic and insecure. I embodied this fear on our dates, only revealing what I willed to maintain a level of control. I held onto my independence but also felt a longing to connect. My broken communication had injurious effects on our budding relationship. Fortunately, seeing His daughter through refinement, God did not leave me in my fear but showed me the beauty of His relational love and how human design reflects it. I learned there is freedom and life in being known. Communication characterized by vulnerability and curiosity is the means by which we build intimacy.
Fear, independence, and self-preservation in relationships emerge from rebellious hearts inherited from our first parents. Such "hearts of stone" (Ezekiel 36:26) prevent communication that would otherwise center a relationship on the freeing love of God. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3, shame, guilt, and resentment separated them from God and from each other. This pattern has continued to ruin relational intimacy, as hard hearts cause us to be our own saviors. Sin leads us to isolation and destruction, but we were created for His intimacy. In His Word, God promised that He would give His people living "hearts of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26) so that they would know Him and return to Him (Jeremiah 24:7). He accomplished this mission through the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, who restores all relationships. With the Holy Spirit, we can seek to mirror the relational love of God that is evident in the communion bond of the Trinity and in His care for the Church. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know each other completely; God also knows the depths of our souls totally. Since we are known and still loved by a perfect God, we are freed to be known by others. We can discover the depths of one another without fear.
Open and Outward
In dating or courtship, we develop intimacy through vulnerability and curiosity. We enter this stage with openness, sharing one's joys and pains in life. Living in light of Jesus, believing couples are redeemed from past mistakes and can move forward with freedom. Depending on the level of commitment, we should still be wise about what is revealed but are not paralyzed by apprehension or insecurity. During dates, our attention is outward-focused, not internally concerned about self-appearance. We express love and care for another by being drawn to each other's mystery and wanting to know more at each discovery. We can be excited about another's sanctification as well as the work of Christ in his or her life.
Freedom in Limitations
Since we are still fallible, this phase in relationships will be wrought with frustration. Breakdowns in communication can happen when we presume in ignorance, do not ask questions, or forget key details about another's story. There are limits to knowing and being known. At those times, we should remember that God knows us fully, and His passion does not wane. He has established an intimate covenant bond with His people and wants to communicate. God is incomprehensible but reveals Himself in His Word and in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us relate to our Lord and come to know Him intimately, praising Him for the depths of His rich knowledge (Romans 11:33). Through this bond, we will find the freedom and life to restore communication and open our hearts again.