Is It Real? 7 Keys to Writing About Christian Romance and Relationships
“There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman."
Proverbs 30:18-19 NIV
When I began writing my first novel, I never expected the world to see it. I wrote it for myself, as a challenge by my college age son, who told me I should write the book I wanted to read. It was intended to be lighthearted and entertaining, with meaningful obstacles for the main characters to overcome - since ironically, we all want life to go smoothly for ourselves, but we choose entertainment in which people we like are tortured by incredible circumstances in their lives (chuckles).
I've been journaling, penning poetry, and writing lesson plans my whole life. I'd taken a course on creative writing, but I hadn't tackled the process of creating a novel. Suddenly, I was faced with how to describe a romantic relationship between two Christians, in which the main characters not only have to overcome misunderstandings and a secret that could change the history of their generational home on the island of Painter Place, but they also do this within dating guidelines their parents taught them to follow.
I wish I'd grown up knowing what I know now about life, and had been raised on Biblical dating principles. Instead, I watched Hollywood and the Christians around me and mistakenly assumed that my misled young peers qualified as role models. But the Lord was faithful and blessed me with a secure, happy marriage for over 32 years. By writing this blog, I'm certainly not claiming to be an expert on romance! To be honest, when my first story was quickly accepted for publication, I anxiously imagined scornful reader reviews that mocked the relational parameters that my characters held themselves to (scan over reader reviews for your favorite authors - people can be so mean!). I write from a Biblical Christian worldview, and not many believers walk that path, let alone a typical reader. The choice before me was, do I write about predictable characters on the wide, popular, shallow dating road, because it's considered normal and marketable fare? Or, do I write about what a relationship committed to a scriptural path looks like? I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Norman Rockwell, who didn't grow up in a loving home, but once said that though he knew the world wasn't a perfect place, it should be, so he painted it that way.
As I planned out the book and made decisions about how the characters would interact, I knew there was only one way to depict the main relationship, and it was the road less traveled. I also knew that most people would claim that this unusual romance might have worked in the "old days," but was no longer realistic. I'd been meaning to blog about the foundation for the dating rules at Painter Place right before the political controversy over the "Billy Graham Rule," and then again when Billy Graham passed into heaven's gates a few weeks ago. Then I started my next devotional study, reading Right Thinking In A World Gone Wrong, a book by Pastor John MacArthur and his leadership team at Grace Community Church. Suddenly, I was plopped right down into a chapter that was full of confirmation for biblical romantic relationships. With so many road signs to remind me to write on this topic, there was no longer any excuse for not organizing my thoughts and previous research into this blog.
Here are the 7 main keys that I keep before me when describing the personal and romantic relationships of my "role model" story characters:
1 - A believer must first focus on his or her relationship to Christ. We work to BE the right person when we FIND the right person. (Psalm 63; 84:11; Titus 2:1-8) 2 - Like everything else in a believer's life, marriage is intended to bring glory to God. It isn't ultimately about personal satisfaction and the fulfillment of unrealistic dreams. Couples are a two-in-one team in an exclusive, purposeful, secure companionship. (1 Peter 4:11; Ephesians 5:22-33)
3 - Christians need accountability. Pastors, teachers, parents, relatives, and friends notice a blossoming romantic interest between two people they know. As they observe the character of the couple interacting socially, the couple knows they are being watched. They should seek the counsel of people who care about them. (Ephesians 4:11-16, 6:1-2; Proverbs 15:22)
4 - A believer should ONLY develop a romantic relationship with another Christian. The purpose of dating is to evaluate a potential future spouse. If marriage to an unbeliever is out of God's will, then dating one is. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
5 - Believers should consider one another as spiritual siblings first, and romantic options come in second place. Romantic intimacy involves the most fragile part of our being - our hearts. Once our feelings are expressed and shared, the deepest part of us becomes vulnerable to another. Time spent alone should be done in a public setting to minimize temptation and speculation. 6 - Passing emotions are easily confused with love. True love isn't about butterflies, but humility, self-sacrifice and commitment to imperfect people.
7- Christians should avoid behavior that could be a cause for regret if the relationship is broken off. We should ask how a pure, righteous person would act, and if our actions honor both God and the person we are with. We should not open God's wedding gift of physical intimacy before the ceremony. The safest interaction between believers is to treat the person we're dating as if he or she might someday become someone else's spouse, and save our own purity for the one we marry (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)
by Pamela Poole
As for whether or not the 7 Keys listed above are realistic in today's culture, we should consider the consequences if they are ignored, such as the divorce and unwed pregnancy rates among professing Christians. In a recent interview I conducted with a crisis pregnancy center, I learned that 38% of women in churches have had an abortion. And when the issue is whether or not to take chances on being alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not our spouse, how many marriages and careers were recently ruined in the scandal over harassment claims? There's one thing about sin that is unavoidable - it's never, ever a private matter, or your "own business."
For readers of the Painter Place Saga, I hope this insight has shed light on the hearts and purposes of the characters on the island. There are many resources online for exploring this topic further, and certainly many more scripture verses to support the 7 Keys in this blog. For writers, there are also numerous places to study the mechanics of writing descriptive interactions with your characters, because let's face it: no matter what beliefs are motivating our story characters, if we don't craft those relationships with creativity and skill, readers will not enjoy our efforts.