Preparing To Be A Help Meet: Lydia’s Courtship

Preparing To Be A Help Meet: Lydia’s Courtship June 12, 2014

by Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

Chapter Two begins with this title page:

Discovering God’s Will
Moral to the Story: God often leads us down his path through the counsel of those who are wiser.
I agree with wholeheartedly with the moral.  I have been so grateful for excellent advice given lovingly by my parents, siblings, my in-laws, my teachers, professors, people I’ve worked with and random strangers to name a few.
A Caution: Stubbornness can wreck your life.  High-mindedness can leave an old maid high and dry.

Assuming that Debi and I agree on what stubbornness means, I do believe that stubbornness can be taken to unhealthy levels and potentially wreck your life.  My husband and I are stubborn.  We use each other as a check-and-balance to be sure that when we dig our heels in over something that we’re not being unreasonable.

Based on later chapters, though, I believe Debi views stubbornness in a woman as a major sin and stubbornness in a male as a sign of leadership.

I don’t know what Debi means by ‘high-mindedness’.  I detest when she reinforces stereotypes in using “old maid” and “high and dry.”
We jump into Lydia’s story.  (I enjoy Lydia’s style of writing very much.)
My name is Lydia.  By the time I was 23 years old I was beginning to wonder if I would ever marry.  But I am not one for sitting around worrying.  That summer I signed up to help at several youth camps.  Between camps I came home for a short break, never suspecting that my life was soon to be changed forever.

By the end of this paragraph, I’m hung up on the fact that she’s worried about not getting married  at 23 years-old.  When I was 23, I was working between 20-30 hours a week while taking 19 credits of college classes to become a science teacher.  I occasionally grumped  about finding any guys to date because I went to a small religious college with no interesting available guys, but I figured that would get better when I moved into the real world.  In the meantime, I dated a few guys who I met at my grocery store job.  None of the relationships lasted very long, but we had fun going out on days off and grabbing a bite to eat after getting off work at 2:30 AM.

From the fact Lydia can sign up to help at a few summer camps, I’m making the assumption that she’s not employed by a business and lives with her parents.

On her first night home from the camps, her dad puts her siblings to be early and stops in her room to talk to her.
[Her dad] quietly said “Lydia, a young man has asked for permission to court you.”

My first reaction was excitement; then a dream-like disembodiment washed over me. I was now going into what you might call a serious case of shock. I mean, I had hoped and waited for this moment, some wonderful fellow to love me and ask for my hand in marriage, but now it was happening and all I could feel is a strange disconnect.

I don’t think feeling shock is at all strange when you find out someone wants to marry you with no advanced notice.  This type of situation is one of the strangest outcomes of the parent-led courtship model.  I don’t think Lydia’s parents ever sat down and told her that a man – or men – were interested in courting her before this announcement.   In cultures where marriages are arraigned, the potential bride and groom are aware of the fact that their elders are actively searching out a match for them.   If families are going to use parent-led courtship, I feel they have a duty to let their daughters know that the parents think the daughter is mature enough to be married and that they will be looking seriously at any men who approach them.  The women would have a chance to start preparing emotionally for the courtship.

As if from a distance my dad asked if I could guess who it might be.  I tried to guess, and could have kept guessing all night, but I would never have guessed it to be Billy Hill.

Oh, that’s so awkward.  I think her dad had the best intentions, but Lydia guessing a bunch of different guys who didn’t want to court her or didn’t pass inspection and not guessing the man who wanted to court her….ouch.

I had met him off and on over the years in different groups, but never really had a conversation with him.  The last time I saw him was early summer and he had never said a word to me. Really, he never talked to any of the girls.  He seemed aloof and stiff, and I was a little scared of him. Besides, I had always assumed I would at least know the guy I was going to marry.

I feel sad for Lydia.  She’s essentially in an arraigned marriage situation, but has the expectations of a love-based marriage from society.  I believe her expectations are sensible and reasonable for a young woman in the United States of America.

Now, my mind hesitantly considered the idea of this stranger being my husband…as in MY husband.  It took a hour of my dad’s gentle persuasion before I agreed to give it a chance by just getting to know the guy….then we would see.  No promises.

Did Lydia have the true choice to say “No, I don’t want to.”?  I don’t know if she did and that worries me.

We emailed a few days – mostly him answering my questions about who he was and why he had picked me and what did he want to do with his life.

I met my husband on eHarmony. We did exchange emails to learn about each other, but our emails were questions going in BOTH directions.  I was learning about Nico;  he was learning about me.  Why didn’t Billy have more questions about Lydia?

Neither Nico nor I had the massive pressure of thinking about each other in terms of “impending spouse”.  I can’t even imagine that type of pressure.

[Lydia decides to not initiate any emails or contact to Billy; she would wait for him to take the lead.]

I did let him know that I would be going back to camp in a few days. Thankfully, he was a “go-get-(h)er”, so I didn’t have to wait.  That evening, he arraigned for our families to spend the next day together which was the Fourth of July. 
(…)So, there we were the prospective husband and wife, meeting face-to-face.  We stood like awkward statues woodenly shaking hands. I struggled to no avail to overcome my sudden shyness. Then Billy asked to see the barn. That was familiar territory, so I began to relax as I showed him my animals and talked about the good times I had raising them.  We swapped stories, but we were both distracted with wanting to get on to the pertinent issues.  Finally I couldn’t wait any longer so I asked him point-blank what he thought courtship was. Then he said it, bold as day: “I want to get to know you with the intention of marriage.”

The day ended and I knew that, at least, I could stand him.

The fact that “I could stand him” counts as “progress” is a terrifyingly clear indication of how little Lydia knew about Billy prior to their courtship.

I thought one of the benefits of courtship was avoiding all the emotional peril of dating.  Lydia’s story sounds far more emotionally fraught than the vast majority of my dating relationships.

My mom and dad reassured me that I didn’t have to rush, but I knew that I couldn’t sit around and agonize forever. 

Kudos to mom and dad for not pressuring her to make up her mind.   Lydia spends the next day fasting, praying and seeking counsel from her parents and a older woman.

By the end of the day, I had peace.  I sat down and wrote out my carefully thought through reply.  I called Billy and read my letter over the phone.  I told him, “I don’t love you, hardly even know you, but I feel God is in this, so I am willing to learn how to love you if you can teach me.”

I’m taking a tiny bit of comfort in the fact that Lydia could be honest with Billy about her lack of love for him.  I feel some sympathy for both Billy and Lydia since “I don’t love you, hardly even know you, but I feel God is in this” is not the words anyone wants to start a relationship on.

The morning after I said yes to courtship I went for a jog.  As I ran, I was crying and asking God to please let me fall in love with this man before we got married.

My heart dropped like a rock when I read those sentences.  Lydia has no choice in this marriage.  She can’t say “I won’t marry Billy unless I love him.”

This scares me deeply because in my church Lydia would be unable to marry Billy since she could not give unforced consent, but apparently can marry in some other church somewhere.

Let me try and explain.

After the homily at our wedding, Nico and I stood up with our witnesses and were asked three questions. The first question was “Nico and Melinda, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”  We answered “Yes” and meant it.  We were both financially independent adults who were living on our own.  We sought each other out through a dating site, fell in love and wanted to build a life together.  We  were in a position where we could “come here freely.”

I don’t think Lydia had anyone ever talk to her about what consent freely given looks like.  My heart is breaking as I write this because everyone deserves to enter a marriage freely and joyously.

One month later we were engaged. I know it seems fast, but I had full confidence and assurance from God that this was his will for me.

There’s no “seems” about it.  Four weeks from “I don’t love you, hardly know you…” to “Let’s legally bind ourselves together for the rest of our lives” is really fast.

Lydia sounds like she struggles with anxiety.  I wonder how much of her willingness to marry Billy was a way to stop the anxiety.

I found safety and rest in knowing my parents liked and admired him.  I could immediately honor him because I knew he walked honest and upright before God.

Assuming Lydia’s parents are sane and competent, I am glad her parents liked him.  I was so relieved when my parents met Nico and liked him a lot. One of the first traits I looked for in anyone I dated was honesty.

 It was deeply moving to see in a good man’s eyes profound thanksgiving, joy and love for me.

My therapist would have a field day with this statement.  “It was deeply moving” is a coping mechanism that lets Lydia shut off some feeling.  I don’t know what the feeling was – happy, sad, mad or scared – but there’s something under the surface there.

I felt precious to him because he had chosen me above all others.  It was easy to open my heart towards Billy.

I’d like some details here.  What did he like about you? I can give a whole list of traits my husband likes about me – and what I like about him.  I hope Lydia could do the same.

And yes, God answered my prayers. I fell totally and completely in love with this wonderful man.

Before or after you got engaged to this wonderful man?  Getting engaged before you fall in love gives me a queasy feeling.

Three months later, we married.

Damn.  Lydia went from “I hardly know you” to “Legally bound and sleeping in the same bed” in either three or four months.

Well, this section has left me queasy.  The next part of the chapter tells Billy’s side of the story.

AntiPearl: “Marriage provides the solace of worked-on friendship and the joy of being known profoundly.”  –Imogene Stubbs

Read everything by Mel!

Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide

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