Years ago, a couple of us young male youth leaders had an in-depth conversation with a love-struck high school student. This young man was frustrated with playing the “dating game” and yet didn’t want to give up on it either. He trusted that there was someone out there for him and he reached out to his recently-married youth leaders for some guidance, encouragement, and focus. I’m not sure if we were helpful, but I do take solace in knowing that he is now happily married. We too hated those high school games of love and yet because we had once been there we shared some wisdom.
You too may feel like you don't have a lot to contribute to the conversation, but your experience is valuable. Listening with a caring ear and sharing from your heart can make a significant difference in someone's life. If you are a parent, don't hesitate to share your wisdom from your journey. Be willing to laugh at yourself, recount your young-love struggles, and share what you learned along the way. The investment of time and attention is as meaningful as any advice.
Here are some of the suggestions that we gave to the young man who sought out our advice:
First off, stop. Simply stop looking and trying. Striving for deep romantic relationships at a young age (and for me it was anything before college) was simply not what I needed at that time. What I needed was my friends who had stuck with me. What I needed was my buds with whom I could hang out, talk about girls, go see a movie and attend high school football games. I needed friends that would be there for me regardless of how I was feeling. Friends who would call me out for being an idiot, forgive me for when I was being said idiot, and not be anything else to me but my friends. They weren’t mad if I forgot to call or simply too busy to talk on the phone. So stop looking. Stop seeking. Stop trying to fill your time with relationships of the opposite sex and simply enjoy being with those friends who have a proven track record with you. And let’s be honest, those relationships will last longer than any high school dating relationship.
Secondly, let love learn and grow. Love at a young age comes and goes and doesn’t really know what it is itself. I never knew what I wanted and needed until I grew up enough to learn what love was actually about. High School and college relationships can be part of that process, but it was in that process that I began to understand what was valuable. My interactions showed me the type of person that I should seek to encourage, challenge, and accept me. There are joys and heartbreaks, felt keenly for the first time, but you don't want to get in too deep. You don't want the stakes too high when you're just learning how to be a good date. We encourage our kids to not get overly caught up in relationships, but rather focus on being the person that God called you to be. Allow the relationship to grow and be stretched but recognize that a relationship should not become serious until you are ready for the commitment of marriage.
Paul writes in 1 Cor 13:4-7 that love is patient and kind and is never envious or arrogant and even rude. Paul is speaking of the church and how the church should act with love towards one another. Love must have those attributes and be those things. Whomever you're dating should have the same amounts of love, patience, kindness, truth, and joy that you do. Furthermore, the other person involved should have Christ's love as their standard as well. Love doesn’t work when it doesn’t match up with God's standard of what love should look like. A healthy relationship extends love and receives love in return. Relationships that have love moving in only one direction often result in hurt and pain.
Finally, my last piece of advice for people looking for love is a simple question: Do you have time to find and nurture love? When I was in High School I was in band and music, and depending on the sports season, I had my days filled with multiple practices, competitions, school, and church events. As I think back, I realize I simply never gave dating relationships the time they needed. Relationships simply need time to build and grow and learn--they can't be rushed.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a good reminder that as the orchestrator and knower of our lives, God has a greater plan for us. He leaves so much open for us to figure out and learn. Ultimately God's plans are what will endure. I would encourage students to be patient for God to bring about his plans for your life. Allow the process to happen naturally without trying to force them. And ultimately, trust in God for what he is doing in your life.