Growing up, I was blessed with the gift of watching a godly marriage in action. My parents served each other on a daily basis. They loved each other through every situation that life handed them with laughter and support. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to see their dating life in action, nor did they ever discuss with me how to find a spouse that loved the Lord. They were amazing parents, but we did not have difficult conversations about the big stuff like drugs and sex. So when it came to dating, I was all mixed up.

The romantic comedies of the late ’80s and early ’90s, like Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman, colored my view of how a man should treat a woman. I also relied on my friends for dating advice, which in retrospect, was a terrible idea because some of them knew less than I did. I let the world paint a picture of how I should act in a relationship. This led to so many mistakes while dating. Eventually, I ended up in a serious relationship with the man who became my husband, and because we were in college in different cities, we dated long-distance for four years.

I really wished that before Brook and I were married that I had come across James 4:8.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
— James 4:8

I needed to draw nearer to God before entering into my marriage, and I needed him to come close to me. My loyalty was divided between God and the world, and this is not how to start a marriage.

So just like my parents taught me, I did not have any real conversations about big things with Brook before we got married. We thought we were having the big conversations, like where to live and how many kids we wanted, but the really big one that we left out was about our faith. I thought that because Brook had grown up in church, that his faith was like mine, but it wasn’t.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
— 2 Corinthians 6:14

After we were married, I learned just how unequally yoked we were. While my time in college had brought me closer to the Lord, Brook had strayed from the Church and become filled with doubt. He began searching other belief systems. As I was looking for new churches to visit, he was reading about the Buddha. For the first seven years of our marriage, our failure to prepare our hearts while we were dating wreaked havoc. Every Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we fought. I wanted him to come with me to church, and he didn’t want any part of it. Sure, sometimes he’d come just to please me, but it never lasted. Thankfully, not long before we moved to Forney, the Lord softened Brook’s heart.

The picture of godly dating painted for us in Song of Solomon 2 shows us just how important preparation and purity are to building a solid foundation for a godly marriage. The choices that we make while dating can have lasting effects on our marriages, some of which may not surface until later. Mercifully, our past and current challenges can be redeemed if we show our spouses the grace and love that was modeled for us by our Heavenly Father. Romans 8:38–39 reminds us of the unstoppable love of our Lord. If we first focus on that love, then it is much easier to love each other in the same way.