“So you have a girlfriend?” I ask.
“Yeah, we’ve been going out for three weeks now.”
“Oh really? Where exactly are you going?” I can’t help but respond.
As a Middle School minister, this is a common conversation I find myself having with students. What I really want to say to the young man is, “Let me get this straight: You don’t have a job, can’t drive and just learned how to wake yourself up in the morning…and you’re in a monogamous, exclusive romantic relationship?”
Don’t Awaken Love
In preparation for our upcoming sermon series on manhood and womanhood, A Beautiful Design, I’ve spent some time reading through and meditating on the Song of Solomon. A passage at the end of the book has been haunting me as I think about and hear our middle schoolers chatter away about “love” and relationships.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. Song of Solomon 8:4
Here’s another translation:
Oh, let me warn you, sisters in Jerusalem: Don't excite love, don't stir it up, until the time is right.
After explicitly (have you read this book?!) describing the passion and emotion associated with love, marriage, romance and sex, the Shulamite woman (Solomon’s wife) gathers her younger sisters and gives this stern warning. Why? What’s the harm? I’m sure daughters of Jerusalem asked this, and so will your middle schooler. If we continue reading, we find the answer in verses 6 and 7.
…for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
It’s as if the Shulamite woman is saying this:
“Girls, I can’t tell you how powerful and overwhelming these affections that I now have for Solomon, my husband, are. Things have been awakened and stirred in me that I never could have imagined. And they are good. They are meant to be. God created them for this purpose: that my husband and I my share an intimacy and closeness that strengthens our covenantal bond until death parts us. So with that, understand that these feelings are dangerous in the wrong context. Don’t excite them or awaken them before the time is right. Don’t arouse love until it pleases.”
Caught in the Web
Middle schoolers aren’t allowed to drive, they can’t vote, and they still have a few years until they’re old enough to watch R-rated movies. So should we allow them to entangle themselves in the web of romantic love by permitting them to pair off and “date”? Personally, I don’t think they are ready. I don’t think they have the emotional maturity to properly evaluate or handle the feelings associated with eros (passionate, romantic, sexual) love. Time and time again, I have witnessed middle schoolers who begin to “date” awaken this eros, only to then become so enveloped by it that it consumes nearly every waking moment and thought. And many of us have seen the devastation a middle school breakup can cause, especially for young girls.
Parents, it may seem cute and innocent that your 12 or 13 year old has a boyfriend/girlfriend, but heed the words of the Shulamite woman. Don’t encourage and enable them to start awakening love before the time is right.
Hanging Out Without Pairing Up
Please don’t mishear me. I’m not saying the next time you throw a pool party that the boys and girls need to have separate swim time. Obviously that is a little extreme, but I don’t think discouraging boyfriends, girlfriends, dates and dating for your middle schooler is.
Young men and young women need to learn how to interact with one another in healthy, nonsexual, unromantic ways. This is where their energy and efforts should be focused in young adolescence. As Paul commands Timothy to treat young women as sisters in all purity (mind and body), our young teens need to learn to do the same (1 Tim. 4:2). Allow and encourage middle schoolers to hang out in mixed gender groups and crowds, but consider postponing the dating world for your child lest you find a very short star-crossed lover roaming the halls of your house.
It is much harder to teach a middle schooler to value friendships with the opposite sex more than dating the opposite sex, but friendship is the better thing. Rather than awakening something they are not yet ready to handle, relating to each other as friends helps them remember something they already know but are prone to forget in adolescence: that we are first and foremost brothers and sisters.