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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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I can change him . . .
That’s what I thought . . . and the lie the enemy used to get me to marry him.
Let me first back up and give you some background. I was raised in a Catholic family. And although I had always believed in God, prayed to Him, loved Him, and wanted to do right by Him, I had never really studied the Bible or heard teachings that explained God’s character, principles, or life-changing truths. Therefore, although I was saved, I wasn’t really living my life for Him; instead, I was living it for myself.
When I was a junior in high school, I started attending a Christian youth group. To be honest, I only went because it was a social hangout for me and my friends. But while I was there, I heard the pastor deliver messages that directly related to teenagers—messages on peer pressure, depression, anxiety, drugs, dating, sex, etc.
Flash forward to my sophomore year of college. Many of my friends were “casually dating” and that just wasn’t for me. Even though I wasn’t going to church or reading my Bible, in my heart I somehow knew I needed to honor God by staying pure before marriage, and that I should only date someone that I believed I could eventually marry—someone who shared my beliefs, morals, and values. Boy, did I mess that up . . .
I met this guy I was instantly attracted to. He was handsome, strong, funny, and also raised by a Catholic family. Sounds good, right? Wrong. I have since learned that just because someone is raised in the same religion as you and says they believe there is a God, it doesn’t mean they know God or have a relationship with Him.
We continued dating, even though I knew we were not morally on the same page, and as a result, instead of the relationship I once had with God changing his life, my life was the one that drastically changed. Instead of drawing him close to God, he drew me away from God. Because I was no longer praying, going to church, or reading the Bible, I didn’t heed the warning, “Don’t be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).
It’s embarrassing to admit, but before we were married, I was using vulgar language, made compromise after compromise, moved in with my boyfriend, lost my virginity, believed God was mad at me for not staying pure and honoring Him, and turned a blind eye every time my man would lie, cheat, or steal from me and others. The saddest part is that in my immature thinking, I truly believed I could make things right between me and God. I thought If I marry him then God will forgive my impurity because I would have married the only man I had ever slept with. I also convinced myself that after we were married, he would eventually change because of my renewed relationship with God. I mean, we would be married; he’d have to change, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
After seven years of marriage and the birth of our children, my husband ended up having an affair with another woman and left the kids and me when they were still babies. As I look back, I know that God showed me all the danger signs when he and I were dating. But instead of playing by God’s rules, I played by my own. The consequences of this have been, and continue to be, life-altering—not only for me, but also for my kids, our extended families, and even some of our friends.
God changed me . . .
After my divorce, I immediately began to seek God like never before. I needed to rely on Him every second of every day just to make it through. It was definitely a challenging time for me, but it was also one of the best times of my life, because that is when my relationship with the Lord truly developed. When I was at my weakest, God became my strength! (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
Through that dark time, I consumed the Bible multiple times throughout the day. I went to church, prayed, taught my kids about Jesus, and committed to live my life for Him. I was not looking for a companion. As a matter of fact, I didn’t want to even consider dating again until after my kids were off to college . . . but God had other plans.
After three years of being single, I met my current husband. When we first met, our conversations were all centered around Jesus. He shared he was raised in a Christian home and had a personal relationship with Jesus since he was a child. He also shared he had been married before and his wife had left him, too.
After establishing a friendship first, we both agreed to date. And we both committed to doing things God’s way! We both understood 2 Corinthians 6:14–15 (NIV) which says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”
So, we went to church together, studied the Bible together, sought out Christian counselors who became our accountability partners, took premarital classes, and prayed together. I am proud to say that while we dated, we grew closer to each other and the Lord, we didn’t compromise our morals or values, we stayed pure, and we played by God’s rules. And guess what? Our marriage has been blessed because of it!
The Lord says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).
Because we committed to building our marriage on a solid foundation, we are able to weather any and every trial together—and believe me we’ve had many (the biggest trials resulting from my divorce). We are best friends, soulmates, and teammates. We raised our kids to love God and others. We don’t take our marriage for granted. We grow stronger and closer to each other with every passing day.
I’m sure you’ve heard this said before (or maybe even thought it yourself): “I wish I knew then what I know now.” Well, I may not have known then what I know now, but at least I can share what I’ve learned with others who may hopefully benefit from it. I wish I understood then that God’s rules are there for our benefit, blessing, and protection—that His rules are in place because He wants the absolute best for us.
When I dated, playing by my own rules, it only led me to heartache, devastation, anxiety/depression, broken relationships, and collateral damage for my kids, family, and friends. These consequences still are being lived out to this day. You see, even though I am a Christian and I have forgiven my ex-husband, he is not a Christian. And as long as he denies Christ, we can’t have true restoration.
When I dated, playing by God’s rules, first and foremost, my relationship with the Lord grew stronger/closer, my heart was renewed, relationships were restored, and I am now able to experience true happiness, wholeness, deliverance, and blessings like never before. Through this, I learned that a two-chord strand will unravel, but a three-chord strand is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12)!
I pray that if you’re single, you will make the decision to follow Him, to allow Him to help you find the right mate, and that you will play by His rules for dating. Remember, He put them in place to bless you! Believe me, you won’t regret it.
If you’re a believer currently dating someone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, we encourage you to think deeply about what you’re doing and why. The Bible is very clear about this; to put it as plainly as we can, continuing to engage in the relationship is being disobedient to the Lord. By doing so, you will miss out on the promises of God and on all He has for you in this area of your life. Spend time in prayer and open yourself up to hearing from the Holy Spirit, as some difficult decisions may lie ahead of you.
If you’re a single believer who is open to or considering dating someone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, please reconsider. They may be nice, kind, have it all together, and even be a pretty moral person, but when the rubber meets the road they are still separated from God. You may think you can change them and save them, but learn from me and so many others who have experienced the compromise, shame, and devastation that almost always occurs from these relationships. Missionary dating is truly a minefield. But don’t take it from me; open your Bible and search for passages about family, marriage, relationships. Pray to the Lord for guidance and revelation, fast, and seek out mentors, pastors, and counselors.
For scenarios 1 and 2, here are some additional articles you may want to read:
What I Learned from Dating a Non-Christian
Why Is Dating a Non-Christian Such a Big Deal?
If you’re a believer who is married to someone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, we cannot overemphasize the importance of prayer; not only for your spouse’s salvation, but also for your own empowerment to love them according to God’s grace. Despite your spiritual differences, God still desires that you honor your marriage covenant towards your spouse. In fact, God will often use a believing spouse to lead a non-believing spouse to faith in Him. Having said this, if you are experiencing any extenuating circumstances (such as adultery, abandonment, or abuse), it is very important to speak with a pastor, Christian counselor, and/or family ministry leader to discern the best biblical course of action.
For scenario 3, here are some additional articles you may want to read:
6 Ways to Love Your Unbelieving Husband
4 Ways to Help Counsel Those Who Are Married to Non-Believer