dating and commitment
May 16, 2024

Dating and Commitment Paralysis: Hope for a Fearful Heart

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More than a few people have high hopes for a dating relationship that eventually hits a wall of fear—commitment paralysis.

Imagine you’re a Christian woman dating a Christian man. You love his friendship, respect his dedication to Christ and the way he serves others, and you find him attractive. So why does the idea of marrying this genuinely good man spark terror in your heart? Is this distress an ominous warning sign? Are you lacking faith? Why is dating and commitment so hard?

This tumbled mess of fear, love, and contradiction was me twenty years ago. The man who is now my husband proposed not once, not twice, but three times on our bumpy road to engagement and marriage.

Fear and Trauma

Believers date with a countercultural, Christ-ward focus: it leads toward or away from the covenant commitment of marriage. For life. But the future is scary—your husband may betray you, die young, or receive a life-changing diagnosis. We sometimes carry shame from past sinful sexual and relational choices. Bereavement, abuse, or a bad earthly father may be shadowing your dating experience. Even if you want to embrace commitment, trauma can undermine that desire.

My fear-of-commitment story includes the death of the young man I secretly hoped to marry, a childhood friend who grew from a rowdy brother figure into a man whose love for Christ shone in his treatment of others. When we were both 22, he fell hundreds of feet from a cliff to his death on an early spring hike. In one day, this fixture in my life, this future hope, was gone.

I now see that I wasn’t ready to begin dating someone six months after my friend’s death. But at the time, my choice seemed stark: move into the future and live—or nurse my grief and shrivel. And when my boyfriend proposed to me the year after that, I knew I trusted, loved, and wanted to marry him. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to commit. I was paralyzed by a sense of fearful anxiety.

Fearing the Lord and Laughing at the Future

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:25, 30)

Have you ever felt condemned in comparison to the Proverbs 31 woman? The superwoman who rises before dawn, burns the midnight oil, buys, sells, lavishly clothes and feeds her family, helps the poor, and more? Who is this woman?

But more than all her hustle, her distinctive and enduring beauty—the thing for which she is ultimately praised—is her fear of the Lord. This woman at the end of Proverbs personifies the admonition we see from the very first chapter: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). She is strong and dignified, she can laugh at the time to come . . . because she fears the Lord.

All our hope for today and forever is secure in our Savior. We can laugh at the days to come when we know the Lord who holds all days.

There’s no guarantee that the “time to come” will be easy. But if we fear the Lord, we need not fear anything else. All our hope for today and forever is secure in our Savior. We can laugh at the days to come when we know the Lord who holds all days. 

Dating and Commitment—Practically

Take heart. Your Father will complete the work he began; he’ll lead you into the peace of resting in his good control whether you end up married or single. Here are five practical steps you can take as a dating woman to fight commitment paralysis by nourishing your fear of the Lord. They’re all rooted in—what else?—adoring Jesus.

  1. Love what’s lovely. Christ is the most lovely one. He is our righteousness! Loving what’s beautiful means loving him first. Even the best and most godly man will fail you (and you, him)—but Jesus won’t. Pursue Christ in his Word; let him delight your heart and feed your soul. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the [woman] who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8).
  1. Care about godliness. As we delight in Christ, we increasingly delight in those who resemble him. Watching the man you’re dating growing in the likeness of your Savior—seeing that your Lord is his Lord—is a powerful antidote to fear. Likewise, habitual, unrepentant sin is a warning to heed. Are his consistent choices leading him away from God and the church? Is he quick to repent or reluctant to confess sin? Does he press you toward sinful behavior or encourage you in the Lord?
  1. Pursue sexual integrity. God designed sex to foster joyful intimacy and fruitfulness in marriage. Like all sin, pursuing satisfaction outside of God’s bounds will produce the enslaving fruit of selfishness, loneliness, and, yes, fear. Self-soothing, heart-hardening habits of fantasy, porn, and masturbation condition you for self-sufficiency. And premarital sex will have painful consequences in your future whether you end up married or single. Sin damages us. Sister, if you’ve been seeking refuge in these false comforts, don’t despair. The Lord is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon [him]” (Ps. 86:5). Run to him in repentance and rejoice because Christ’s righteousness covers all your sin. With your eyes fixed on Christ, fight for sexual integrity.
  • Prioritize church. As you pursue dating and commitment, going to church together is vital. Take advantage of the opportunity to holistically get to know the man you may marry as you serve the body of Christ with him. Seeing him loving God and serving others will grow your confidence. 
  • Welcome counsel. Oh, the people who counseled and prayed for me! When I thought my world was ending, my pastors and other believers gently pointed me to the faithful love of the Lord. They testified to his grace in their lives, reminding me that the same God who led them through their loss, heartbreak, or joy would be faithful to lead me, too. The affirmation of your church family can go a long way toward calming your fear.

Happily, Hopefully Ever After with Jesus

I did finally say “yes”—and stuck with it!—when my husband proposed. But first, my emotions had to conform to the reality that my life and his are in God’s hands. Jesus will always be my protector and help, come what may. To answer my fear about dating and commitment, I needed (and on this earth will always need) to see my Savior more clearly. 

Whether your dating relationship leads to marriage or not, you have everything you need in your Savior to face whatever comes.

God has dealt with our greatest cause for fear. If you’re in Christ, your soul is secure. Our Father is using our earthly suffering to accomplish his holy purposes, and we have eternal joy coming.

In that certain hope, step into the future clothed in his strength and dignity. In Christ, we are women who can “laugh at the time to come” (Prov. 31:25). We can obey his call to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6b) because Jesus provides what he requires. Whether your dating relationship leads to marriage or not, you have everything you need in your Savior to face whatever comes.

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