If you've never read Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" on the strategy of combat in its entirety, don't worry. Neither have the majority of us who reference its material. However, you may have seen it quoted enough to grasp the big takeaways.
Like many well-written classics, their message can be applied to areas outside of it's original scope. Testing this theory, I dug up a few quotes (seven to be exact) that sum up how we should pursue Christian dating. I know you're thinking, "Dating as combat? What kind of relationships has she been in?!" I appreciate your concern, but just keep reading to find out how similar these two activities actually are...
1. Make Preparations.
Do you know your boundaries? Like, really know them? And I'm not just talking about your physical boundaries, but your emotional and spiritual ones as well.
Physical touch is a powerful love language, but it doesn't refer solely to sex. It means any physical interactions that reaffirms security, trust, respect and adoration. Placing your hand on her back to guide her in a busy area. Fixing his tie or pocket square before going out on a fancy dinner. Clasping hands in routine prayer. All of this physical interactions help build a beautiful relationship.
So do emotional and spiritual support and they have boundaries as well. We all have buttons that are more easily pushed than others. Ones that make us livid or passive aggressive; distant or drained. If we're not sensitive to God's direction, we can end up overstepping our boundaries and our partner's. When we neglect to spiritually prepare our temples before battle, we're often unprepared and blindsided by temptations.
If you don't have an understanding of what your boundaries are, you don't need to be putting yourself out there quite yet. Keep prepping your temple. This includes figuring out what flares your temper, earmarking behaviors that make you fearful or shut down and knowing your temptations and limitations. (Yes, we all have them.) In the plainest sense, the mind and body are the battlefield that constantly wars against the spirit. You have to anticipate your pressure points as not to sabotage your relationship with God or your significant other. Be open, honest and upfront with each other and lean to God for understanding.
2. Find Victory Before Battle.
Marriage is one of the most beautiful and honorable ministries in the sight of God, but too often we 'jump the gun' aiming to 'jump the broom.' The dating process is not just about marrying a particular person, but about figuring out what you really want and need out of a healthy, spiritually-led relationship. If you're dating to find that one person who "completes" you, then your pursuit is contrary to God's word.
In Genesis 2:18, God proclaims, "I will make him an help meet for him." He's referring to creating a suitable mate that will help you navigate this life in order achieve the greatest accomplish-- eternity with Christ. God is not however referring to creating a mate that fills the empty areas of your life. When dating, search for someone who helps strengthen your walk with Christ and then focus on opening your hearts to God so that He can reveal true love through His grace and mercy. Then ask yourself, "Even If I never marry, is God still enough for me?"
Whether or not the relationship transitions into marriage, in Christian dating, you've still invested time drawing nearer to God. You are complete in Him and your faith is what makes you whole. If you believe this then you're victorious before you enter battle! Don't act like a defeated warrior, trying to win in love before realizing you've already won in Christ.
3. Follow Moral Law.
This quote aligns perfectly with the previous ones. Is your objective to make the other person happy or to please God? Unfortunately, you might find it difficult at times to do both. However, if each of you invest in pleasing God and that also makes you both happy, then you're on the right track. 2 Corinthians 8:21 charges us to not only do what's right and honorable in the eyes of God, but also in the sight of man. Isaiah 41:10 clearly states:
"Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
We should have such an unrelenting passion for devotion, prayer and worship in our personal lives (inclusive of dating) that the possibility of rough patches in our relationship doesn't shake our commitment to relationships.
4. Become a 'Jewel of the Realm.'
"Advances without seeking fame." Well, this one can go two ways. Given the pressure of hashtags like #relationshipgoals that straddle the lines of boasting in love (although true love does not boast), we can find ourselves seeking love to be seen.
In another context, 'fame' doesn't have to mean being known to others. We can insist on maintaining a certain level of attention and adoration from our partners. This could be as simple as getting frustrated when communication get shaky or inconsistent and our patience wears thin. When our standards (not God's) aren't met, it can cause a pretty intense ego trip.
In order to experience the richness of a Christian relationship, we have to make four commitments:
1. Give without expecting reciprocation.
2. Admit our own wrongdoings. (Don't try to escape blame or place it on others)
3. Protect each other and our people. (family, friends, etc.)
4. Serve our Sovereign King.
Once we make these commitments in our relationships, we become a jewel matchless to no other. These requirements are similar to the Proverbs 31 epilogue for the righteous, upright woman, but applicable to anyone.
5. Know the Real Enemy.
So we know the enemy's ultimate goals are deception and destruction. However, we also know we are children of The King, so, "[we] need not fear the result of a hundred battles!" Knowing Whose you are is one of the most fulfilling promises we have. We can lean on God's might and mercy to guide us through any challenge in our relationships.
There's also a chance that even if we know we're children of God, we neglect to guard our hearts against the covert tactics of the enemy. In this case, we may still find victory, but at would could be a steep cost. Maybe we get caught up in attractions and stumble in our relationships. Or maybe we let an argument escalate, tempers flair and we say or do something we don't mean. These situations don't arise because your significant other is your enemy. You've heard the quote, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." If you're equally yoked (more about that later) then you know you're fighting a common opponent-- our flesh and Satan. These 'sneak attacks' happen because we lose sight of the subtle tactics the enemy uses to destroy any relationship that honors God. Seek to identify these tactics before they come.
Lastly, if you know neither who you are or who you're up against you leave yourself completely defenseless and vulnerable to the enemy's attacks on your relationship and spiritual life.
6. Deal With Your 'Delicacy of Honor.'
Five powerful statements in one quote! The first three have already been addressed in the previous analogies, but the fourth and fifth statement I'll focus on here.
Let's start with "a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame."
Even though we've been forgiven, we still find ourselves hiding in shame from past mistakes. We regret the compromises made in previous relationships and that guilt carries over into each new one. You think your honor is tarnished, right? Wrong! The truest honor lies in repentance. By definition, repentance is the "activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs.' After which, a commitment to avoid such actions completes the cycle of true repentance. You can and should repeat this cycle whenever you give into your own desires or cross those physical, emotional or spiritual boundaries mentioned earlier. What makes repentance so beautiful in the context of Christian dating is that you can both be honest about where you've been because of the hope of where you're headed.
And what about the last bullet point?
Over-solicitude, refers to excessive worry or anxiousness, even if it comes from a place of genuine concern. This can happen when we're so focused on pushing our own agenda and forget to look at the bigger picture. It's tough. We all think we know what's best, but that's not always the case. Don't drain your relationships with constant worry about the next steps. Reach out to your pastor, mentor or other wise counsel to help you and your partner stay on track and pace.
The best way to subdue our concerns are to address them and get back to enjoying the journey God is taking us on in our relationship.
7. Stay Equally Yolked.
Yup. You've got to be equally yolked. You've heard this term many times, but let's take a closer look at how this quote points out the traps we fall into while dating:
We convince ourselves it's okay to compromise because "love covers a multitude of sins." You're right. Love surely does. But it's not our love-- it's God's. We have to stop trying to convince ourselves that we can change someone into a believer. Only God can do that. All we can do is focus on our personal walk and continue to be a light to those who we encounter on our journey.
We think if we're dating any believer, then we're automatically equally yolked. Nope. Wrong again. God loves us. In fact, He loves us so much He wants to give us the desires of our hearts and reward our faithfulness as long as we "diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) Even in Christian dating, we can miss the mark and align ourselves with people we just aren't meant to be with. Be sure to have ongoing conversations about personal, professional and spiritual goals to make sure you both are on the same page with what you want out of life. After all, a life in Christ is joy. Don't let anyone jeopardize that.
We look down on unbelievers and confuse our high standards with higher ground. Take a second look at Sun Tzu's quote. Focus on 'salt', 'water' and 'sword.' Separately, these items are of equal importance. Salt was once so valuable is was used as currency and still plays a vital role in health, hygiene and modern science. We can't argue the vitality and sometimes hazardous effect water can have too. And biblically, the sword was most important in times of war and a tool of restoring peace when used under the authority of God. So what am I saying? The only thing that differentiates these item's value at any given moment is how they are being used. It is the improper usage or combination of these items that causes damage. In this case, the rusting of the sword.
First, know that we're only a children of God because He chose to call us. He could have easily called someone else to do the work of His kingdom so we have to be careful about our sense of entitlement. Contradictory, this is also why we can't afford to align ourselves with an unbeliever. We are priceless to God (the salt of the earth) and He only wants the best for us. We have to commit to dating or forming any intimate relationships with only those who serve, honor and obey God and His commandments. If we don't, we're jeopardizing our purpose in God. It may not manifest immediately, but eventually the rust and corrosion will start to show.