As school winds down in the Spring, young Christians in high school face a question unique to this period in life: “Should I go to the prom?” Non-Christian kids may be wondering if they can get a date or afford the costs of this expensive night. Some kids aren’t interested in anything associated with the prom. However, young Christians often face several choices that their non-Christian friends do not have to deal with:
- Is right to attend the prom or dance?
- If I decide it is right, what is modest to wear?
- What do I say to Christian friends who believe it is wrong for me to attend? How can I defend my decision?
- What do I say to my friends if I am not going to attend? How can I use this as a teaching opportunity?
- Why is it such a big deal?
The answer to the last question is easy. As Colossians 3:17 tells us, the authority of Jesus should guide our life. We are an example to others and must dress and act in ways that glorify God and do not lead others into sin. The reason that dances in general and the prom in particular become an issue is the activity that takes place at these events and often surrounds them and the clothes (or lack of) that are worn. A broader issue should also be considered: am I concerned more about enjoying worldly entertainment and approval than keeping myself unstained by the world (James 1:27)?
I have found two very good articles that any young person (and their parent) should read and consider before deciding to go to dances and the prom:
- A Teenagers Answer to “Shall I Go To The Prom?” I went to college with Sherry. In school she was extremely outgoing, attractive, and talented. She was popular at college and I’m sure she was in high school. Her article describes the struggle with the question, her desire to go, the consequences of her decision, and her lessons learned. This was written when she was a teenager and reflects the emotional struggle and scriptural issues surrounding the question. After 25 years, the issue and emotions have not changed for it was also a time when dancing was popular and young people struggled with the question.
- Is There Life Without A Prom? Steve Higginbotham has written an excellent article that addresses the spiritual concerns and he shares some of the consequences of young Christians in his area as well as the world’s view of the prom as described in teen magazines.
- David Hartsell’s 2011 FC Alabama Winter Camp class on dancing and modesty (both issues are linked with these questions)
- If you want to go true “old school,” some of the principles regarding dancing were addressed by Benjamin Franklin, a 19th century preacher (not the founding father), in a sermon on dancing. No surprise that many of the same questions were asked then as are considered today.
Though you didn’t ask, my decision was not to attend. I knew my mother and many godly people that I esteemed would not approve of a decision to attend. If I went it would most likely be with someone who did not embrace the standards of modesty that I did which would be embarrassing and tempting. In addition, I knew a lot of my friends were going to use the night as a pretense to let many inhibitions go (they were talking about it for weeks before the prom). I did not want to be associated with any of that and had no interest in attending. I didn’t wrestle with it, that I recall, since nothing associated with the prom interested me.
For our kids, my wife and I decided before we had them that it would not be a part of their lives. We don’t anguish over the decision because the “no” is our final answer. We approach it from the perspective of adults that have lived longer and seen more than they have seen. In addition, we have worked to provide wholesome alternatives for them such as a banquet at a nice location with a lot of their friends where they can dress modestly, have a nice dinner, take photographs, and have a memorable evening in a morally positive atmosphere. We are firm believers that if you say “no” you need to provide a good alternative that they can enjoy.
As with all of your decisions prayerfully ask yourself whether choosing an action will glorify God or hinder your ability to shine your light.
In a previous article, 5 Warning Signs in a Dating Relationship, I highlighted the warning signs one should look for when dating someone that indicate problems that will make a long-term relationship, especially marriage, difficult. There are also some positive signs that the person you are dating is worth investigating further and perhaps marrying one day.
- Interested in you. You will be blessed if you find someone who is interested in you regardless of who your friends are, whether you have many or few possessions, or whether you are popular or not. Someone who is not interested in what you can do for them but wants to serve you embodies the spirit of Christ. Does the person really listen to you or do they seem casually interested in the things most important to you? Do they look at you or the TV (or their phone) when talking? If the person emphasizes the physical part of the relationship and what they can get from you, they are not interested in you, they are interested in satisfying themselves using you and are not worth your time.
- Respects your boundaries. A person who respects your physical boundaries to preserve your integrity values you more than their interests. You also want a person who respects your time commitments and responsibilities and would not pressure you to break your word and obligations in order to spend time with them. A selfish or insecure person does not respect the walls you have established in your life and does not reflect the mind of Christ: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”(Philippians 2:3-5 ESV).
- Grows spiritually with you. You want to find someone who wants to go to heaven regardless of how you choose to live your life, not someone who changes their dedication to God based on your commitment. You want someone you can study and pray with. You want someone that will help and encourage you in serving others and worshiping God. You do not need someone who is your spiritual crutch (or you are theirs) because they (or you) end up taking the place of support and strength that God should occupy. We can support one another but one’s faith must be built on God, not another person. Use the time in dating to go to Bible classes and gospel meetings together. Perhaps you could cook a meal together and take it to enjoy with someone who is widowed or shut in. Christian service should be a natural part of two faithful Christians spending time together.
- Responsible. You can derive comfort in a relationship when you learn that they will keep their word no matter the consequences. If the person is a diligent worker and fulfills their responsibilities, you can trust that they have the foundation for being responsible in their role within the family as well. A person who is lazy or makes excuses will continue to do so unless some drastic change takes place in their thinking (and nagging does not accomplish this). A person who works to meet their financial obligations, is active in serving God, takes care of their possessions, and other indications of responsibility will generally maintain those habits throughout their life. This is a characteristic you absolutely want in a husband or wife.
- Comfortable and confident when you are not together. A person who is secure in themselves and your relationship will not mind when you spend time with your friends or are away from them. An insecure person is often jealous of time spent with others and worries about you enjoying yourself with others. At the heart is a fear that you will find someone else to date or feel that you do not need them. A person who is constantly asking if you still like them or questions you like a detective when you go out with friends does not trust you and is insecure about your commitment to them. This is unhealthy and must be addressed before the relationship becomes long-term, especially before marriage. Does the person text or call you like a stalker checking on where you are and who you are with? Are they frequently asking “do you miss me?” In order to have a health relationship, you must be able to spend time apart while confident in the stability and dedication of the relationship.
What are some other positive signs to look for in the person you are dating that point to a strong long-term relationship?
Car manufacturers install warning lights to alert us when sensors are picking up unusual or dangerous signals from the car that indicate mechanical problems, failure, or potential danger. When dating there are also indicators that signal potential problems in relationships that the wise young person will look out for. You certainly do not want to marry someone who is demonstrating behaviors that will be worse in a lifetime committed relationship.
- No/Little respect for others. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld wisely noted, “A person who is nice to you but not to the waiter is not a nice person.” A person who does not show respect for his family, your friends, or people that he perceives as inferior to himself, is displaying insecurity or arrogance. Neither of these characteristics is desirable in a long term relationship.Watch for this because the person is nice to you because they are trying to make a good impression. When they no longer feel the need to impress you, and especially if you accomplish something that makes them feel insecure, they will start disrespecting you in their speech and conduct. Until this person can build a confidence and contentment with who they are, they will belittle or criticize you, your family, your friends, and others in order to feel good about themselves. This does not lead to a happy life and strong relationship.
- Irresponsible with money. If the person you are dating is living on credit and wastes money it will not get better when you are married. In fact, you will have to share the responsibility for the debt when you get married. This type of person, like the wasteful son of Luke 15, is fun to be with when they are spending the money. They are eating at great restaurants, going to fun places, have nice TVs and other electronic treasures, and are always well dressed. They have all the nice things until, like the wasteful son, the money runs out and hard times come leaving them struggling and depressed. On the other side, a person who is so cheap that they can’t enjoy spending money responsibly can create problems in a marriage. Don’t get trapped in enjoying the material pleasures with the person you date. You will be happier in the long run with someone who manages their money responsibly and spends wisely.
- Anger problems.
- Poor temper control is very important to discover while dating and manifests itself early. A person who is short-tempered or often angry has trouble controlling their emotions and often has deep seated problems dealing with difficulties of life. If you marry this person and things really get difficult, they will have a hard time responding properly and you will both suffer as a result. Ecclesiastes 7:9, Proverbs 19:19, and 22:24-25 teach us that anger is associated with foolishness–a lack of understanding about what life is really all about. Eventually, you may take the blame for everything going wrong in their life and you will become the target of their wrath.
- Passive anger is harder to detect but often more damaging. This person will not tell you that they disagree with you but they will try to undermine you. They don’t have the courage or self-esteem to voice their opinion so it appears that they will go along with your request; however, they will not do what they said they would and will often make excuses for why they didn’t. They avoid confrontation but try to get their way by stalling, ignoring, complaining. begging, or whining. You will have a happier life with someone who will be honest about their feelings and desires than someone who seems to be agreeable but is hiding their anger.
- Emphasizes the physical part of the relationship.
- A person who does not respect your “no” is not concerned about what is good for you but is focused on what they want. A person who is concerned about what you can do for them physically is viewing you as a service, not a person. Remember that if Jesus condemned “looking on someone to lust” (Matthew 5) as well as sexual immorality, sexual activities short of “going all the way” are still wrong outside of marriage. Often these physical activities become a substitute for true intimacy. If a couple are not developing as friends they will sometimes continue the physical pleasures but it ultimately confuses and disrupts the relationship. God gave the physical pleasures of the relationship to the married couple to help draw them closer together when combined with the lifelong commitment and friendship. In any relationship, overemphasis on the physical generally indicates a problem in the emotional part of the relationship that is not being addressed.
- If they are overly concerned about your appearance, they will become critical about any perceived thoughts. They will never be satisfied, since none of us are imperfect (and become less so as we age), they will become more critical about your appearance. Someone subject to such foolish criticism generally develops a poor self-image and may develop eating disorders or develop an inordinate amount of time on their appearance. A person who does not accept you as you are does not deserve to be in a relationship with you.
- Little/No interest in spiritual things. If the person has little or no interest in spiritual things, it is not likely to change once you get married. My experience has been that the person may show enough interest (attend worship services, not complain about someone attending classes) before marriage but then will eventually quit acting interested. Sometimes, it is just an act to win the person, much like someone may act as if they like certain kind of movies or music to interest the person but then reverts back to their true likes and dislikes when they tire of pretending. Does the person respect holy things or do they make fun of them? Whatever you do, do not tell the person that you cannot marry them until they become a Christian. They might take the outward actions to convince you of their interest but, after you marry, will likely quit pretending. You want someone who is genuinely committed to God and wants to go to heaven so you can grow together spiritually. Having someone to study, pray, worship, and serve with is one of the greatest treasures one can have.
Dating provides a great opportunity to learn about another person. Use the time to develop the friendship and understanding of the person. Pray to God for wisdom and discernment in your relationship so that you find the person who will help you go to heaven. Don’t rush the relationship (see the article Don’t Awaken Love Until It Pleases) and watch for the signs of strength and weakness that you will have to live with if you marry the person.
See also: 5 Positive Signs in a Dating Relationship
The most profound advice for romantic relationships is found several times in the Song of Solomon. The phrase “do not awaken love until it pleases” is used within the Song as an encouragement to others and a reminder to be patient in one’s own relationship. What does this phrase mean?
Love can be compared to a lovely flower that blooms beautiful in its proper season. No amount of sunlight, water, or nutrients can force the flower to bloom before its time. Attempts to physically force the flower from the bud will only damage or destroy it. However, if you provide the nutrients and proper environment the flower will bloom beautifully on its own and often at an unexpected, unobserved time.
Consider some common mistakes in failing to “awaken love until it pleases:”
- Trying to force a romantic relationship. I have known frustrated people who liked someone then relentlessly pursued them trying to make them fall in love. They usually repelled the person instead. Usually the other person feels like prey in a predator’s shadow instead of flattered by the attention. A manipulative person might take advantage of the pursuer, acting interested to get what they want from the desparate person, then dropping them when they are finished playing.
- Changing oneself to please another. When you try to change who you are to appeal to someone you are infatuated with, you are trying to force the flower open. Ultimately the relationship is destined to dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and failure because you will tire of playing the part and long to be yourself again. When you revert to yourself the other person will feel deceived and hurt that you could not be honest with them. They will probably be uninterested since they fell in love with a character you were playing–not you.
- Settling for someone. Sometimes people will decide to “fall in love” or marry someone because they either dated for a long time or because they are older and “there aren’t many available men/women.” There is no predetermined time or natural law that states when people will fall in love. How sad it would be to just marry someone because of habit or fear then meet someone that would be the ideal spouse. If you have dated someone for years and you are often fighting or have no deep love for the person, spare yourselves future heartache and damage and break off the relationship so you can be ready to meet someone with whom love can bloom.
- Rushing physical expressions of love. True love develops through friendship, not the passionate scenes of Hollywood productions. Couples should not feel pressure to hold hands, kiss, or show other physical signs of affection. In fact, it is healthy to hold off on any physical expressions while you let the relationship develop. When the physical expressions of love are introduced sometimes they become the focus to the neglect of the non-physical and the pressure to escalate the physical aspects of the relationship intensifies.
- Sex before marriage. Some feel that if they give in dating what should only be given in marriage, that they will win the heart of their love interest. Statistically, it has the opposite effect. As with the one trying to force a relationship, a user will play on this tendency and get what they want until they are bored or an opportunity with someone else arises. God gave the sexual relationship for marriage to bind the couple closer together but the secret to its power is the ’til-death-do-you-part commitment between the husband and wife. Keeping this relationship for marriage alone will allow it to blossom and grow: a special flower for the husband and wife alone.
True love is more beautiful than any flower but it must be allowed to grow and bloom in its own time. “Do not awaken love until it pleases.” Be patient and enjoy the friendship until the love blooms then take care of it like a precious tender plant.