He Kissed Marriage Goodbye: How the Joshua Harris Divorce Speaks to My Own Situation
*My husband is my guest blogger this week. I thought this article was spot on. Hope you enjoy reading it!
Perhaps by now you’ve read the news concerning the departure of Joshua Harris from both his marriage and his faith. In late July, via his Instagram account, he informed his followers that he was no longer a Christian and that he and his wife, Shannon, were separating.
If you are above 35 years of age, or if you were ever home-schooled, you are likely familiar with the first book written by the former pastor and Christian author. I Kissed Dating Goodbye was released in 1997, about the same time I was in graduate school and desperately looking for Mrs. Mills. The premise of the book was that the traditional American system of finding a spouse is riddled with pitfalls. We date, break-up, date another person, typically accompanied by sexual exploration, only to break up and experience the heartache of that failed relationship. We eventually date again, and again, and continue the pattern of one partner after another until we eventually find “the one.”
This, he argued, led not only to sexual sin, but many marriages beginning with far too much baggage being carried by each partner. He proposed, instead, a system of courtship, where the parents had far more involvement in the choosing of a future spouse. The “dates” would typically happen within the home of the girl or guy and under the supervision of mom and dad. Only after engagement would the couple be allowed any time alone with one another.
Sexual intimacy would be limited to the marriage relationship, and under this system there would be fewer opportunities to head down the physical relationship road during the dating period. Marriages would have the opportunity to begin with far less baggage, thus greatly increasing their odds of success.
I remember being quite frustrated when I learned that Christian girls everywhere were reading and practically meditating on this book. At church, I would see these girls carrying their Bibles and I Kissed Dating Goodbye together. It seemed as if they were treating it as another revelation of God. They had yellow highlights on every page and multiple notes in the margins. And, there were the looks on their faces, practically begging me to ask them out on a date so they could tell me “no” while giving me a sermon on the virtues of courtship. I was already having enough difficulty just getting a date. Now I had to drink the Kool-Aid of courtship in order to have a girl give me a second look.
However, the book has a lot of merit. Despite my initial frustrations, it was difficult for me to argue with his premise. The traditional American system of dating certainly hasn’t done much in helping us find marriages that last a lifetime. Arguably, more harm than good has come from the typical teenage / young adult pattern of going on dates, trying to find a boyfriend / girlfriend, breaking up, finding someone else, hoping s/he is the one, etc. Most of you reading this article can tell stories of your own mistakes and regrets in this particular area / time of your life.
My issue with the book now, after this recent revelation by Mr. Harris, is that I wonder if he subconsciously bought into and proclaimed the same lie that many in our society have believed. Our “Happily Ever After” mentality is clear: if you meet the right person, marriage will be easy. You won’t have serious problems. Love will carry you through.
Two decades ago, Mr. Harris put a twist on this thinking with his book. “If you abandon dating and go the route of courting, you’ll find the right one through the wisdom of God and your parents, and your marriage will be great.” Instead of just dating and marrying the right one, it was dating and marrying the right way to find the right one. However, the core of this teaching was the same: once you get the right person, the marriage part will be a breeze.
Let’s face it: Falling in love is easy. From my middle school and high school days until I married, I fell in love dozens of times. Some of the girls never even knew I’d fallen in love with them. Others knew and were disgusted. A few fell in love with me as well. Once the newness faded, or some degree of work was required, or I fell in love with another girl, or she fell in love with another guy, the relationship ended. Most of the time it happened just as quickly as it had begun. Like gravity pulling a body from an upright position to laying horizontally on the ground, those acts of falling in love took no effort. They happened to me, not by me.
Several years ago our family took a cruise to the Caribbean Islands. On the back of the ship was a rock climbing wall that was about forty feet high. One morning our two oldest children asked if they could climb it. As we stood waiting to get the harness and shoes for climbing, my son begged me to do it as well. Although I had little desire to climb the wall, my son’s pleas called out to my manhood. The little remaining testosterone in my forty-something year old body began to boil, then rose up and consumed my cerebellum. “Sure,” I said. “Why not? It can’t be that hard.”
There were two distinct halves to this wall. The first half went about twenty feet into the air and was a relatively easy climb. The second level of the wall actually bowed outward, so that the climber was no longer perpendicular to the ground. I felt good about the first half of the wall. The second half… not so much.
Both of my children climbed and made it just past the first level. The second half proved to be too challenging, and they each fell back and then allowed the belay to gently lower them to the ground. “Great,” I thought to myself. “All I have to do is to make it just past the first level, and I won’t be too embarrassed.”
At almost the exact same moment that thought floated through my brain, a ten-year-old boy who’d been standing in line with us started climbing the wall. He couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds, and he looked like a monkey scurrying up a tree. He quickly made it past the first level, and then steadily started his climb up the second half.
If you’ve ever seen a rock climbing wall, you know that virtually all of them have a bell at the top. The successful climber will ring the bell, declaring his or her victory over the rocks, before then pushing off and slowly descending to the ground.
The next sound I heard brought to mind a line from the old poem. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” It was my turn, and this ten-year-old had just reached the top and rung the bell. As this skinny little kid was pushing off the wall and allowing himself to be lowered back to the deck of the ship, I knew my mission. My son and daughter both looked at me with a confidence I did not possess within myself. Their little eyes bespoke the feelings of their hearts: “Oh, my daddy can do that. He’s tough. That kid won’t be able to show up my daddy.”
I walked over to the wall and silently prayed. Jesus, you lived in the hard soil of the Middle East, so you understand rock climbing. This is my Goliath. This is my fiery furnace. This is my Red Sea and that ten-year-old punk is the army of the Egyptians. If ever I needed thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
The end of the story is this: I rang the bell. Although my arms were on fire and sweat rushed from every pore of my body, I somehow managed to make it to the top. I then lowered myself to the ground and felt the four arms of my two oldest children wrap around me. How I wished I could’ve returned those hugs. Unfortunately my arms hung to my side, unable to respond to the command of my brain.
Climbing takes work. There was nothing easy about getting to the top and ringing that bell. I had to exert a great deal of energy and use all of the strength I possessed in order to reach my goal.
Falling in love is easy. Just as physically falling requires no effort to be exerted, falling in love with another individual just seems to happen without any intentional work on our part.
This falling is how relationships are pictured in our culture. Falling is celebrated in music, books, and movies. Whether it’s through traditional dating or courtship, the emotional gravity pulls us towards the other person. We want to do whatever we can to please them. We easily and naturally express our thoughts, our hopes, our feelings, and we can’t wait to spend time together. It’s all just so natural because — again — falling is easy.
However, as every married couple can attest, the newness and the excitement will eventually begin to fade. Emotions and passion cannot carry you forward forever. Couples may fall in love, but none fall into a lifetime of commitment. The same feelings which began the relationship will not see a couple through the really hard times. Again, falling in love is easy, but marriage takes work.
Marriage is the climbing part of love. It requires being very intentional in where you place your feet, and which rock you grab next, and exerting the energy to push with your legs and pull with your arms. Gravity doesn’t help. In fact, it’s working against you. The moment you decide to coast… to let your guard down… or to take a laissez-faire attitude towards your marriage, your relationship will begin suffer.
It saddens me to hear about both the faith crisis and the dissolving marriage of Mr. Harris. I hope and pray that he and his wife find their way back to one another and, more importantly, his life journey leads him back to Jesus. However, this does remind me of an important truth about my own marriage: I can never quit working at making it work.
A great, healthy marriage happens when both partners put in the effort to make it great and healthy. Relying on past successes, or dating the right way, or courting under the watchful eye of parental figures, or the emotions of yesterday just aren’t enough. The commitment to one another must continue, year after year. Then, through the grace of God, we hopefully won’t ever have to kiss our marriage goodbye.