By Ashley McIlwain
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Dating. When we hear that word, each of us conjures up a set of things that we associate with it. For some it might be frustration. Others may think of loneliness. Yet, other may feel excitement and anticipation. The truth is that being single, dating, and preparing for marriage can be all of these things.
World-renowned Christian music artist, author, spokesperson, and actress Rebecca St. James knows all too well how difficult and challenging the road to marriage can be. Through her own patient journey through years of waiting for her husband, Rebecca held unswervingly to her beliefs, faith, and trust in God’s plan and purpose for that area of her life. Now recently married to her husband, Jacob Fink, Rebecca has powerful insight into the unique passage to marriage.
At the end of September, Rebecca released her ninth book called What Is He Thinking? In this book she sits down with several guys to discuss relationships and learn about a guy’s perspective on this crazy thing called dating. What is He Thinking? explores a lot of the questions and mysteries surrounding men, love, dating, and the pursuit of marriage. Recently I sat down with Rebecca to “pick her brain” on her new book, personal thoughts, and life as a married lady.
Rebecca, you obviously endured a patient journey to marriage. What was that experience like for you?
Definitely a challenging and honorable one, waiting a lot longer for this season of marriage than I wanted. I think dating and being single is a vulnerable time in your life no matter how you slice the cake. It’s a difficult thing to navigate because you’re kind of putting your heart out there on some level, and you’re also trying to guard your heart while honoring God. There are so many questions, such as, “Could this person that I’m with be the one for me?” It’s just a difficult thing to navigate, and it’s something that really needs to be covered in prayer.
For me, it was a difficult and reasonably lonely time in my life. I think being single, and even when you are in a relationship, there are so many questions that go along with the process of dating, that it can leave you feeling kind of lonely. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m glad to be in this new season of my life right now, able to look back on it, and just speak to other people saying, “It’s worth the wait.” It really is.
Well, you brought up something with which a lot of people struggle in dating, and that is the question of “How do I know this person is the one for me?” Do you have any words of advice as to how somebody can go about answering that question?
It was interesting because I hoped very early on that Jacob would be the one for me. I knew there was something very, very special right away about the connection I felt with him and the way he treated me; it was different. There were also things we navigated in our relationship that we needed to work through before both of us knew this was it. Questions would come up in dating that needed to be answered before we had that confirmation.
So, I hit a certain point, probably about eight months into our relationship, where I knew that I wanted to marry him. I knew that I loved him, but I also wanted to know beyond a shadow of doubt that God was in it, so I actually prayed very, very specifically that God would confirm Jacob was the one for me. I asked God to confirm it through the Bible and also through mentors in my life. I asked that there would be biblical confirmation, and then mentors of mine, that I respected spiritually, would really see the Holy Spirit and God’s peace on our relationship. And I got both of those confirmations. I’m so glad that God made it very clear because, you know, it’s the second biggest decision in your life. Second only to giving your life to Jesus is this decision of who you marry. So, it’s a huge one, and to know that God was so in it really helped give me a lot of peace.
Your quest for God’s perfect will in your love life led you to do some research concerning the opposite sex. You assembled your findings in your recently released book What Is He Thinking? Tell us a little more about what led you to write this book.
A few things really led me to write this. One is that I’m a very curious, inquisitive person. I love asking questions. I love getting inside people’s heads. So, this book was like the biggest joy for me to write. I think it’s my ninth book, and it was absolutely by far my most favorite to write because I’m really just asking a series of questions about something I was very fascinated to learn about and really felt like I needed to grow in learning about.
Probably about a little over two years ago I just felt like I had so many questions about dating. So, I asked myself, “Why don’t I interview my guy friends about it?” Guys, that are really men of God and single, from whom I could get their thoughts on what they’re looking for in a relationship, how their pursuing honoring God in a relationship, do’s and don’ts, major turnoffs, and all these things that we wish we could ask our guy friends but don’t feel like we can. It’s almost like private information – seeing into the minds of men. Because of the excuse of the book, I was able to do that and I absolutely loved it and learned a lot. It was a real time of growth for me doing these interviews.
Out of all of your discussions with the men to whom you spoke for your book, what was one of the most interesting things you discovered about men?
One was just like a super encouraging thing: to find out that guys, even if they encounter a super attractive, beautiful woman, if she doesn’t have a personality that they’re drawn to and a heart for God, they’re really not interested after a date or two. If she’s a hot girl who’s boring, they’re not interested. Just to hear them verbalize that it so much more than just about a pretty face for them was so encouraging. Because I think our culture fills us with this lie that it’s almost entirely about appearance. Like, guys just want a super attractive girl. All of us girls deal with some kind of body image insecurities anyway, so it just adds so much more pressure to dating if we feel like that outer package is just about all guys are looking for. Over and over again, I just felt like I was hearing from these guys, “We want the heart and soul of a girl to be something that we’re drawn to, not just the outer appearance.” That was awesome.
The other major thing that really came across to me was that the dating model has changed. This was an epiphany that I think is really important for girls to understand because I’ve heard so many girls say, “Why aren’t Christian guys stepping out today? Why won’t they be bold and ask girls out? Where have all the strong guys gone?” And I’ve asked the same thing. In interviewing these guys, I really found that the model has changed from going out on a date to dinner and a movie to much more of a Starbucks, group hang, organic approach to dating. I think there are a lot of factors that are involved in that model changing, but I think we girls need to chill out when it comes to men a lot.
I think we try and control the situation out of fear with the opposite sex a lot. For single girls to just kind of go, “Ok, so the model has changed, I’m going to let this just be what it is and let him lead, and enjoy establishing a friendship foundation, and then see where this goes.” Now obviously if the guy is taking that Starbucks approach for months and months and months, and her heart is getting invested, then she probably needs to move away from that guy if he’s just dragging her out for forever. But if initially he’s just taking that more organic, group, have coffee approach, then just let him lead, and see where it goes. That was another lesson for me, learning how to chill out. Be along for the ride and the journey dating-wise, and don’t try and control things so much. That really helped me.
Were there any surprises?
One of the top things that they said was a major turnoff was a critical spirit, and I don’t know that I would have guessed that. I thought that they would’ve picked something a bit more generic than that. That did surprise me that a critical spirit was top of the list as a major turnoff. It actually makes sense biblically because, when you take that to the marriage level, it says in the Bible that a nagging wife is one of the worst things that you can be around in life. Somebody who’s critical in dating will probably end up being that nagging wife, so it was just interesting to me that that came up quite a lot.
I think as women we need to be fostering a spirit of encouragement. Now being in marriage, I’m blown away at the power that we women have in our man’s life to draw the best out of him through encouragement. So, I think practicing that in singleness is an important thing.
One thing you mention right off the bat in Chapter One of your book is how dating can feel so threatening and scary. How can people put aside that fear to clearly seek out the spouse God has in store for them?
Here are just a few little practical ideas: I think when our lives are caught up in knowing who we are in God and really living out His mission for our lives while we’re single, then the dating part of our lives doesn’t have quite as much power to negatively affect. If we’re not sitting at home every Friday night or every weekend just going, “I’m alone! Life is horrible!” and we’re actually busy doing what God has called us to do in that season with work, relationships with guys and girls we know, church, volunteering, and things that are mission-oriented, then we’re not going to be bowled over by whether a guy called us back two days after a date or not. That would be one thing.
Also, fostering that deep love relationship with Jesus. Know who you are in Him. I heard that over and over again from guys. Really find your security in your relationship with Jesus because if you’re looking for it in a relationship, it’s going to be a dead-end street. It’s actually going to put a tremendous strain on the relationship that shouldn’t be there because God should be your foundation and security, and then a relationship is a bonus. It’s like the cherry on top, not the actual cake.
In Chapter Three you discuss major turnoffs for guys. It seemed a lot of them stemmed from insecurities and a lack of confidence, which can ultimately hinder their relationships. There is a lot of pressure on women these days to look, feel, and act a certain way. Do you have any words of encouragement to offer girls who are struggling with their self-image?
I definitely think that when you do have feelings of inferiority, confessing them to God in prayer, as well as in a healthy relationship with a girlfriend, mentor, mom, or somebody with whom you can voice those feelings, is a really good idea because you just don’t want to be alone with your insecurities. It’s definitely not something you want to talk to your boyfriend about, especially early on in a relationship. “Oh, I feel insecure. Why don’t you tell me I’m pretty more?” You know, that is a huge turnoff, especially in a young relationship. So, I think just talking about that with someone else you trust, who will listen and give you feedback, is important.
Also, we women can complain about our bodies and go, “I don’t like this or that about myself.” We can rip ourselves to shreds. I know at one point in my life I looked in the mirror and just cried, feeling sorry in how much I critiqued myself. Almost kind of apologizing to myself saying, “I’m so sorry for how critical I’ve been of you.” So, I know about that, but I also think if we’re not feeling that our bodies are healthy then we need to do something about it. I didn’t like how I felt about my body for a long time because I honestly don’t think I was in a healthy place physically. Looking back, I felt kind of cornered by my own insecurities, and I couldn’t do anything about it. But, really I could’ve probably pursued healthy living a bit more through taking care of my body much better. I don’t believe in being obsessive in that to where it’s leading to some kind of disorder, an over-obsession with working out, not eating enough, or things like that. But I just think being healthy in your mind, body, and spirit is a good pursuit. You know, we don’t have to be defeated every day by going, “I hate my body, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” I really think pursuing health in a balanced way is a good thing.
I love that you emphasize the importance of a spiritual connection between a man and woman. How have you found this to be important for you and your husband?
Incredibly important! We were given for our wedding, a devotional book called “Night Light,” which is a Focus on the Family book by Dr. and Mrs. Dobson. It was the biggest gift that anybody gave us. He [Jacob, my husband] actually led devotions the first morning of our marriage. The day after our wedding, he just got that devotional book out and started reading it, and it has been the biggest intimacy-building element of our marriage. It’s so powerful and profound to seek God together every day. When we’re apart from each other, we send each other the devotional responses to the questions that we have in our devotional book. We write them out like a digital letter. Now we have those to look back at in years to come.
It’s just been an incredibly bonding thing, and I know in dating there’s got to be a balance in that. Some people feel like if they focus too early on in the relationship on praying together at length, or doing Bible studies together, it can almost build that spiritual intimacy too quickly. So, I definitely think it’s something to kind of navigate with wisdom. But I think when you’re seeking God together in a dating relationship, it’s much more likely to be a relationship that is honoring to God because you’re inviting Him into every element of the relationship. It is a very important thing to build. To have that prayer time together, especially as the relationship progresses in its seriousness says, “God, you’re the Lord of this relationship.” It’s also establishing a pattern that will continue into marriage.
You take a considerable amount of time to discuss “modesty, sexuality, and boundaries.” This is obviously an area in which so many people struggle. From your own experience, as someone who remained pure until marriage, how do you suggest couples overcome the immense amount of pressure surrounding them?
One of the things is actually not talked about enough in Christian culture, and that is watching what we absorb into our lives – being careful about what we listen to and watch. Out of what we’re taking in come our decisions. Our thoughts lead our actions, really. Where we’re putting that priority will definitely impact the way that we live thought-wise. I would just say, be really careful about the nature of the movies you’re watching and what the lyrics are of the music your listening to, because they have such power to influence us.
A while back there was a movie I was watching, and it had some not so great content in it. Afterwards my mind just started going, “Well, maybe that isn’t that bad.” I realized how it was just dragging me down in my thinking. I think that that’s one underrated area in which compromise can really slip in if we’re not careful.
Talking about boundaries is incredibly important also. My husband and I, before we were married, spoke about boundaries and how we were both committed to purity. He waited as well. We just said, “We’re not going to lie on a bed together until after we’re married. We’re not going to touch each other or take clothes off where a modest bathing suit would cover. We need to be very God-honoring. God is watching us, and how would He feel about what we’re doing right now?” These are the kinds of things that we discussed. In Christian community we say, “Do we really need to specify that [we’re not going to take clothes off]?” When you love somebody, it’s easy to start rationalizing things. I just think talking about boundaries is a really important element.
You can never be too safe about protecting the holiness and sanctity of your relationship, God’s covenant, and ultimately your future and marriage.
Yeah! It was so amazing to go to our honeymoon guilt-free. To come to that marriage bed, and there to be no guilt, no shame, but rather such a freedom to explore this experience and this gift of God that we had never shared with anybody before. It really is truly, truly beautiful. We saw that absolute wonder of how God planned things to be and why in the Bible He instructs us to keep the marriage bed holy. There’s a reason behind this stuff. It’s for our good, protection, and the betterment of our marriage and lives.
The dating process is more important than most people realize. It can contribute to the success or downfall of an individual as well as their future marriage. Now that you are a newlywed, have you found this to be true in your marriage? If so, how?
Yes! Oh my goodness. What I’ve really found with my marriage is the foundation that you lay as a single person impacts every part of your life as a married person. If you are practicing respect for men before marriage, it will be much easier to respect your husband in the marriage. If you’re practicing faithfulness before marriage, it’s much easier to practice faithfulness after marriage. If you’re pursuing God as a single person, it will be much more natural to seek God passionately as a married person.
I have this little picture, and I did before getting married. It’s this picture of how, as a single woman, before your wedding, you are a bride preparing for her groom. You could be sixteen or eighteen years old, and you are a bride preparing her heart and keeping her body for that man. It’s not just when you’re engaged that you’re preparing for your groom. It’s your whole single life that you’re preparing to be that bride in her glory and radiance. So, I think if young women go into dating with that perception of, “I’m a bride preparing for her groom holistically – physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally – I’m becoming the fullness of the woman God’s called me to be,” it just kind of gives meaning to that time. It’s not just all pointless. It’s like Esther in the Bible preparing for the king. It can become a beautiful thing rather than a tedious waiting time.
What is it that you hope readers of What Is He Thinking? will come away with?
Encouragement. Hope. I really hope that girls that are discouraged about the dating process and who are kind of down on men, will see that there are still great guys out there who are really looking for the right things in a relationship, and who long to love and respect a woman in a way that God wants him to. I really, really pray that it will be a book of encouragement.
Every time I speak with Rebecca, I am amazed at the woman that she is: a talented, purpose-filled, loving woman with a heart after God. It was an honor to have her share her heart with us, and I pray that this interview blesses you as much as it did me. A huge, “Thank you!” to Rebecca for taking the time to speak with me.
To get your hands on a copy of Rebecca’s latest book, What Is He Thinking?, you can click here. Also, if you want to get connected with Rebecca and all that she is up to, you can check out her website, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. Her latest album I Will Praise You is also available, so make sure to snatch that up.
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