Dating With Purpose
About the Guest
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Marshall SegalMarshall Segal is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.
Author Marshall Segal explains what it means to live and date with purpose. Segalreflects on his single years and the lessons he learned while pursuing love and marriage.
Dating With Purpose
Bob: If you come into a dating relationship with a past, a past that you’ve never shared with your current boyfriend or girlfriend, and that relationship starts heading toward marriage, do you tell them about your past?—and how much do you tell? Here’s how Marshall Segal answers that question.
Marshall: I think the gospel frees us: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The gospel frees us to be honest about our failures, our weaknesses, our flaws. If we’re not willing to be that with someone that we’re dating, that’s probably not going to change just because you make promises at the altar.
Nothing is more important in marriage, apart from Christ, than trust and honesty in those things; so I think it’s really helpful, and it’s a way of cultivating in dating, the kind of honesty, transparency, trust that marriage runs on.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to talk today about the challenges facing people who are not yet married today—that’s the title of a book by our guest, Marshall Segal, who joins us—stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So you have a lot of not-yet marrieds at Kensington Church?
Dave: We have a lot of them!
Bob: Do you?
Dave: I think we hear it quite often—like, you know, one of the things Ann and I do, regularly, is a marriage series.
Dave: And the singles will say, “Hey! What about us?” So, yes, you hear that. Although, we think, “Hey! This is for you!”
Dave: But often they don’t see it that way.
Ann: I think often that singles in our church can feel forgotten—
Ann: —and not
Bob: When you planted the church 30 years ago, I’m guessing that the singles were younger singles; and they’re older singles today. Would that be right?
Ann: I think we have an array of all different ages, 20s to 60s. [Laughter]
Dave: You know, I’m laughing because I’m thinking, “We’re so old; we don’t remember!” [Laughter] But, yes, when we started, we had 43 people. That means there was somebody that was single—
Dave: —because you’ve got an odd number. Of course, that counted dogs, cats,—trees, bushes, everything; you know? [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; alright. [Laughter]
Dave: —trees, bushes, everything, you know. But yes. It’s an eclectic group still today, but they’re a dominant force. That’s why I’m excited to talk about this.
Ann: —an important force.
Bob: They are an important force. We’ve got Marshall Segal here to talk with us about it today.
Marshall, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Marshall: Thank you for having me; excited to be here.
Bob: Marshall is a writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org, which many of us appreciate and have benefitted from; and are so grateful for the huge archive of books, and sermons, and articles, and videos. I love the Ask Pastor John videos you guys make available, so thanks for all you do.
Marshall: Well, thank you. Praise God! It’s great to get to hear what God’s doing through the resources. We’re thankful.
Bob: Marshall has written a called Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. You’re married, so did this come out of years of singleness for you?
Marshall: Yes, absolutely; yes. I say, in the introduction, that it’s strange the book came out after I was married. People questioned, “Not Yet Married, but—
Bob: “—you are!”
Ann: “—you are!”
Marshall: “—you already are!” It did; it came from really a decade of reflection, starting right as I was graduating from college, all the way up until getting married. Then after/I finished writing the book after I got married. I was just reflecting on what I felt God was doing over those years—back into the teen years, high school, college, after college—and what He was teaching me.
As I started to write those lessons out, the process was long. It was five years, probably, in the making. The book did come out after I was married. I’m really grateful actually, because I think it put some closure on that season for me in a way that I could look back and really feel like I could put the book forward in a way that feels like I could close that chapter and try to explain what God had done.
Bob: Let me ask you about that season. As you look back on the start of high school to “I do,”—
Bob: —okay?—give yourself a number grade, 1-10. How would you say you did during your single years?
Marshall: Yes, thanks for asking. I can’t give a number from that whole range, but I could say high school would have been 2 or 3.
Marshall: College, 3 or 4. Then college, there was a really big awakening for me in my pursuit of the Lord: discovering what it meant to enjoy Jesus, treasure Him, find Him as my greatest satisfaction, look to Him for happiness and significance and love. From there on out, it got a lot stronger fast, and then deepened as eventually, I met Faye—
Marshall: as we walked through some of the lessons I had learned. I got to learn a lot from her in the process too. I don’t know how to rank that season. I look at it really fondly—[Laughter]—getting to meet her and getting to know her.
Bob: Well, the trajectory was good—from high school all the way—you were moving in the right direction.
Marshall: It didn’t get worse!
Bob: Yes, that’s good.
Marshall: It didn’t get as much better as I would have hoped.
Ann: Why were the numbers so low in high school and college?
Marshall: I jumped into dating really early. Really, middle school was what I would consider a first serious relationship—sixth grade.
Marshall: I can look back and remember calling a girl regularly. We said we were “boyfriend and girlfriend.” We never went on a date but—and I’m not even sure what my parents, at the time, knew that relationship; they knew we were friends—they probably didn’t think much of it. But then, from there on out, a serious girlfriend a year—seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, tenth grade—different girls each time, and varying levels of un-health in those relationships, but immaturity.
I say in the book: “I don’t think people should date until they can marry, at least, within a reasonable time.” That’s because we’re just not ready in terms of life—and so falling into all kinds of traps that there are for dating—dating too early, staying in relationships too long, treating a young woman’s heart cavalierly, experimenting physically, sexual immorality. The trend through was that my heart wasn’t yet anchored in Christ in a way that would allow me to selflessly love somebody else. I’m ashamed of the way that I treated some young women in those years.
As Faye and I have processed this, and I write about it in the book, there’s a day—we started dating May 1, 2013. We had dated for a year, long-distance. Long-distance, it takes longer to get to know each other.
Dave: Yes, how old were you?
Marshall: I would have been 26.
A year later, I had decided I needed to explain/share more of my history with her before we moved forward any more. I could tell there [were] things developing in the relationship: I was having affections for her, and falling in love with her, and wanting to marry her, and wanting her to love me and marry me. But I knew if we were going to trust each other, I needed to be really clear and honest about things in the past so that we could process that together and give her an opportunity to say, “I can’t trust you in light of those things.”
May 1st, we started dating, 2013. May 2, 2014—so almost exactly a year later, I’m visiting in California. I talk about this in the book, but I can remember—I could take you to the place on the beach where we had this conversation. It took me 30 minutes to try to get the umbrella into the sand to stick it in the sand. [Laughter] I couldn’t do it! I was so nervous already about the conversation.
Marshall: Then it was windy, so I eventually just laid it down on the ground—[Laughter]—a white flag of surrender. But then, I proceeded to share about the last ten years or so/ten or fifteen years, just the layers of brokenness and ways that I had sinned against her long before I even knew her. But ways that I felt intensely now—knowing her, and admiring her, and falling in love with her, and practicing sexual purity with her—I knew that she needed to these things.
I shared about it, and it fell really heavily on her. I could feel the emotion of it. And yet, she’ll describe it today, if people ask her about it, she just felt a wave like—unlike she’d ever felt before—a “wave of grace” come over her. She was able, through tears in that moment, to extend a forgiveness that has endured to this day. To this day, despite us having to work through some of the pain/the consequences of sin—sin always hurts; always has consequences!—so we still have to, to this day, we’re still working through some of those things. But never have I felt that she has withheld the forgiveness that she granted me that day.
When we talk the past, I talk about it in two ways; and I think it is true to talk about it in two ways. One, someone will ask, “If you’d go back and do it again,”—just like you were talking about—“would you do it again differently?” Absolutely!!
Marshall: No question in my mind! If I could go back again—knowing what I know now about Christ, about the Bible, about heaven and hell, about my joy in Him, about Faye—if I could go back now and do those years, knowing, “You’re going to meet this woman; you’re going to love this woman. You’re going to spend the rest of your life with this woman,”—I would do almost everything differently in my dating life.
Marshall: But if you ask Faye, “Do you wish he did it differently?” she would say, “Yes, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. I wouldn’t trade any of it.” She believes, and we believe, that we have experienced more of God on this road/the road that we’ve walked, including my broken past, than we would have experienced any other way. It wasn’t a Plan B for God; there would have been a Plan A/a better version, where we would have experienced more of Him if I had done things differently. Both need to be said.
If you have not made the mistakes that I’ve made in relationships, I plead with the Lord that you wouldn’t—
Marshall: —that He would rescue you from you wouldn’t be drawn into the things that so many are drawn into in dating. But if you have a past, don’t for a second believe Satan and think that those years were wasted—
Marshall: —that God can’t purpose those for ways to make you a better spouse, a better husband/a better wife, a better father or mother; that He can’t use that in some way. Because Scripture is filled with testimonies of broken people, who God repurposed for some significant way for His glory and for the good of others.
I just want to say is: “If you’re ashamed of your past,”—that’s okay; we should feel that. There’s a godly guilt that we feel. Micah 7, one of my favorite verses—this was—if I had to where my 1-10 turned—
Marshall: —Micah 7 says, “Rejoice not over me, oh my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I shall bear the indignation of the Lord….” That’s a terrifying verse/a terrifying phrase in there, so “when I fall, I will rise…I willbear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me,” [emphasis added] not against me.
Ann: That’s good.
Marshall: “He will bring me out the light. I shall look upon His vindication.”
That was life-changing for me—because it didn’t brush away the past; it didn’t brush away the guilt—but it created a world in which I could live with hope, despite my past, and believe that God was working, that He’s bringing me out into the light and He’s using that in a way for my good, for Faye’s good, for our son’s good, for those that I serve in ministry—for their good.
I think it’s really important how we deal with sexual history, broken past in dating or in any other area of life.
Bob: It’s the beauty-from-ashes principle.
Bob: And that’s what God delights in doing.
I think it’s important for listeners to know: “You may be looking at your past and going, ‘There’s so much I’m ashamed of. There’s so much—I’ve made such a mess of…’”—whatever. The truth of the gospel is God takes whatever the mess is and makes something glorious out of it when we surrender to Him.
Ann: For parents, how do we coach our kids, that are too young, and they’re not emotionally mature, and they’re not spiritually mature? You’re a young dad; what are you going to say?—and how will you coach your son?
Marshall: Yes, I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question quite yet! [Laughter] I’ve got ten or so years, I hope, to learn. [Laughter]
I would say it’s not helpful, right out of the gate—there’s not any relationship built; no trust built—it is a subjective I wouldn’t say: “one year” or “six weeks” or “six months,” because some relationships just operate on very different timelines.
I would say my principle for questions like these is: “Lean hard on those who know you best, love you most, and are willing to tell you when you’re wrong.” That’s the principle I use; obviously, I’m assuming that they love Christ. But I would lean hard on a few people in your life, who are willing to say the hard thing to you/to say, “I know I need to be honest with this person, eventually, about my past. Do you think now is a good time to be honest with them, or do you think I should wait longer?”
Dave: What do you the wisdom is on the what question? You just talked about when. What do you share?—how much; how detailed?
Dave: How do you answer question?
Marshall: Yes; again, it’s going to be a subjective thing. But I went into the conversation with Faye, saying, “I don’t want anything to come up after we’re married that would surprise her; so I want to share enough detail that, if the scrolls are unrolled before her when we’re in marriage, that she wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, you never told me about that.’”
I don’t think that means a gratuitous amount of detail. I don’t think you have to go back and explain every interaction; but frequency and kind of offense, whatever it might be. There could be a whole host of different things that might come up here in terms of brokenness in the way that could be about communication; obviously, it could be about physical intimacy and sexual immorality.
I think the gospel frees us: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The gospel frees us to be honest about our failures, our weaknesses, our flaws. If we’re not willing to be that with someone that we’re dating, that’s probably not going to change just because you make promises at the altar. Nothing is more important in marriage, apart from Christ, than trust and honesty in those things; so it’s a way of cultivating, in dating, the kind of honesty, transparency, trust that marriage runs on.
Dave: Faye experienced this “wave of grace.” I love the term!
Dave: Did that dissipate; like did a week or two, it’s like, “Ahhh!” you know?
Marshall: That’s what I would say: there have been days in dating and then especially in marriage—you’re’ so much more vulnerable—
Marshall: —to each other in have been days in marriage, where my past is very hard for her; she’s honest about that. I’ve encouraged her: “Any time you feel that, I want to hear it.
Marshall: “It hurts me, because sin hurts. You’re not abusing me by doing that.”
Marshall: We’re not afraid of that in our house; we’re just not afraid to talk about hard things in the past that are affecting us now. Because we think—if you’re drawing those things into the light; talking about them—then together, creating a rhythm of rehearsing the gospel in your home: praying together; going to the Lord with that—that over time, He’s going to continue to heal and build where those things are. It comes up regularly in our home.
Marshall: I say regularly; I mean, not infrequently, that she’ll say, “I’m tempted right now to think about your past and not trust you in this moment. But I want to say that out loud, so that we can talk about it.”
Anne: She needed reassurance—
Marshall: She needed reassurance—
Ann: —yes; of your love.
Marshall: —and Satan wants you to just quiet that—
Marshall: —say, “I trust him; I don’t…” I just think God loves when we bare our hearts to Him in prayer, mainly; but then to each other in ways that allow us to stir each other up towards love and good works.
Marshall: For me, to be able to say in advance: “Thank you so much for forgiving me the way you did. It was the most tangible expression of the gospel I’ve ever experienced that afternoon on the beach,” and she remembers that. She remembers what it feels like for the wave of grace to fall over her. In this moment—instead of becoming a pulling of the thread of our marriage and the trust in our marriage—we’re weaving together instead, so it’s adding to the quilt that we’re making.
My other thought on that was that I think a lot of people say, “Don’t do things now you’ll regret in marriage,” which I agree. I just think a lot of young people—I know for me—
Ann: They always hear it.
Marshall: —I knew that!
Marshall: I said it to other people!
Dave: Yes, yes.
Marshall: Yet, I [wasn’t] it.
I one thing is that we all—we all love the for instance, of sexual purity. The kind of people, who are listening, and leaning in, and reading their Bibles, and loving Jesus—no one is saying, “Oh, I just/sexual impurity is something…—they’re not drawn to it as a concept. In most of our moments—99 percent—it’s like, “Oh, absolutely not! I want to be sexually pure. I don’t want to go there.” Then, these moments of weakness, where you put yourself in a bad situation: you’re tired; temptation comes. Then, all of a sudden, you’ve fallen into something that, 99 percent of the time, you’re like, “I don’t want any part of that!”
Where I want to bring that back to is—we talked about, “Don’t do something now that you’ll regret in marriage,”—which I think is a pretty vague, abstract thing for a lot of young people. Something that Faye and I practiced, that was super helpful, was that we to each other in ways that assumed we were going to marry somebody else.
Ann: Oh! What do you mean? What did that look like?
Marshall: For instance, there would be conversations that we would have—or if there was any temptation into sexual impurity or anything like that—we might talk about—she might talk about her husband: “I’m not going to do that, because I’m reserving that for my husband,” or “I don’t want to talk about that until I know that a man’s going to be my husband.”
She’s not saying that, “You’re going to be my
Marshall: Because I think we all, as we start to date—every single relationship I was in, I said, “This is the one!
Ann: Me too!
Marshall: “I’m going to marry her,”—I’m 11 years old. [Laughter] Every single one, I was convinced in my mind; I’m building a future, figuring out what kind of home we’re going to have, and how many kids, and what life’s going to be like. We build that dream out and we say: “This is going to be my husband,” or “This is going to be my wife, unless we break up.”
I if you turn it and say: “This is not my is not my wife. My husband or my wife are waiting at the altar,” and “You are not that person until you are that person/until you make those promises with me at the altar.” For us, that third person was a really helpful tool for us in making it more concrete that you’re going to have to tell a husband/a wife about this relationship one day. That helped us a lot.
Now, we are, you know, 27, 28, 29; so we are not a teenager. But already, as I think about my son, that’s something I want to start practicing really early—is to say—“Don’t assume that this person is your husband or wife.”
Dave: Yes, I’ve never heard that explained that way.
Bob: good; isn’t it?
Dave: It’s a really good way to think.
Ann: Yes, it’s really good.
Dave: I was thinking even now, as a married man and a dad, think the same way: “I’m making decisions for my son,” “I’m making decisions for my grandkids, not just for me.” It adds a gravitas to the decision. I don’t want to stand in front of my wife and kids and explain some bad decision. I want to stand before them and say, “I was thinking of you when I stayed pure/when I made this decision.”
Bob: I think it’s clear that every 11-year-old in America needs to read Not Yet Married. [Laughter] I mean, that’s who you wrote it for—right?—the 11-year-olds? [Laughter]
Marshall: I hope some 11-year-olds read it.
Bob: It would be good for high school kids to read this or college kids to read this, or for moms and dads to take a high school son or daughter through this; go through it together. The first half of the book is about being not-yet married. The second half of the book is about when the not-yet marrieds meet, and you begin your journey toward a possible marriage.
We’re making Marshall’s book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners who can help support this program with a donation. You may be thinking, “This isn’t a book that I need necessarily.” But I bet you can think of somebody you could give this book to as a gift. When you make a donation today to support the work of FamilyLife Today, you can request Marshall Segal’s book, Not Yet Married. You can donate online; go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to donate; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
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David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. You’ve talked with a lot of young couples, who have had to think through: “Am I going to have this conversation?” “What do I say?” “What’s the right time, and how much do I share?”—right?
David: Yes, it was an ever increasing conversation with 20-something couples that we were working with.
But really this conversation today—I’m listening to it, just going, “Oh, my word; I remember my conversation with Meg. I remember the restaurant and the table we were sitting at,”—as Marshall said, our relationship/enough time had been there for some significant trust to happen—we were at a turning point, thinking about the future. The Holy Spirit began a season of prompting me to go there with some of the mistakes in my own life.
We set up the we knew we were going to talk about it. Meg jumped in and she said, “I’ll go first.” She goes first. She’s there, crying in tears over telling one boy in her lifetime that she loves him; and she kissed him a little too much. I just go, “I love your sincerity; but oh man, here I go. It’s my turn.”
Bob: “You’ve got a and I’ve got a footlocker.” [Laughter]
David: Exactly. It can be fair to say I never fell off a cliff of where I didn’t want to go by, ultimately, by the grace of God; but I brought a lot more in my locker to the table.
As I went there, and shared some of the things that really just was shame, and secret things that I held onto, I encountered the grace of God through Meg that day and forgiveness that I had really never experienced. I had experienced 1 John 1:7, in a real way, that: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
David: The most important thing that happened that day is that it set the pattern of keeping things in the light—a pattern of trusting God, and believing/running to the light as as possible in marriage—and that is always it. It was set that day; the pattern was set.
Bob: Yes, those conversations can be very hard conversations to have; but as I’ve heard Dave and Ann Wilson say, “There is deeper intimacy on the other side of those conversations.” That’s good counsel; thank you, David.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk to those not-yet-marrieds who are in a lonely season; because they’d like to be in a relationship; they’d like to be married, but nothing seems to be happening right now. How do you find joy in your status as a not-yet-married person? We’re going to talk with Marshall Segal about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some help form Bruce Goff, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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