Take a Hike: what the princess said to the frog

“You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”  A friend and I saw the Princess and the Frog last week, taking advantage of the Academy’s $10 date night.  As I watched an unlikely pair fall in love amidst toothless fireflies, trumpet-playing crocodiles, and some surprisingly dark voodoo characters, I was struck by the simple message of the fairytale world: love turns up in the most unexpected places.  Jane Austin describes falling in love best in the words of Mr. Darcy: “I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”  But this is not a treatise on love, which comes along in due course.  Love is rather like a chance discovery along the road—like a beautiful outlook or picnic spot to inspire and revive weary travelers, but it is neither the direction nor the destination.  This article is, in fact, the briefest beginning to an apology for healthy relationship in the form of a (perhaps radical?) suggestion: dating should begin with fun.

Relationship is like a hiking trail, an enjoyable activity that both challenges and strengthens the body and the soul.  There are many different paths of varying difficulty, to extend the metaphor.  Some converge and some diverge.  Some lead to water and some to beautiful vistas.  Some require training, gear, and oxygen while others are paved or beaten and lead gently onward.  Dating is just one kind of path on the relationship journey, along with friends, family, coworkers, mentors, and of course our unique spiritual paths toward and alongside God.  Dating isn’t meant to be a leap from Eaton Canyon to Mount Everest.  It is meant to be user-friendly, a beginner’s guide to trail-making that requires the steady growth in learning to live in the moment, relating just for the sake of enjoying male-female interaction.  I think it’s about time we take the “taboo” out of dating multiple people as practice in relational living and stop worrying about whether or not this person is a prince who’s gone a little green or just a slimy frog.  Dating is a lesson in joy:  joy in the moment, joy in relating to another person, and joy in learning about who you are as you relate to others.

This is not to disparage marriage.  Marriage is a beautiful and worthy fringe benefit of relational living, much like the breathtaking view of the sun rising over the valley at Pretty Place, South Carolina.  For some, it can make the whole journey worthwhile. But let us not forget that the purpose is the journey, not the destination.  Oh, the destination exists, but it is not the only reason for moving forward, as though married people stop learning about living in the moment, relating to others or understanding themselves just because they now move as a unit.  We keep learning.  We keep moving toward God, toward each other, toward love of God and each other.  Dating is just one way to experience the journey.  It’s not a pain but a joy.  It’s not a test but a lesson.

Somewhere in the last couple of decades, we’ve lost the freedom of learning together in community how to relate to another human being in a safe, healthy, and fulfilling way.  Pressure to find (in Sharon’s words) “God’s chosen” and fear of rejection, failure, and isolation have been filling our lives with don’ts and can’ts and carefuls and all the lies that keep us from entering into the abundance of life and the completion of joy that God has promised, that Jesus came in very human flesh to bring us.  I’ve lived the greater part of my life weighed down by that pressure and boxed in by that fear.  I used to think there was no practice round; I had to get it right or fail miserably and die alone in the rain, like something out of Ernest Hemingway.  I lived in constant fear that something bad WOULD happen, and so I did not live in order to keep that bad thing away.  Now I realize that the bad thing was actually living in fear, being too afraid to live life, try new things, have new experiences, make mistakes, learn something about myself, learn something I never expected about or from someone else.  My slow journey into relational living has taught me so much about God’s character, creativity, and grace. I hope to help others make the same discovery and walk their own path into freedom. Isn’t that what knowing Jesus is all about?  Isn’t freedom the outcome of knowing the truth?  Isn’t it God’s promise that this truth will make us free?

Somehow culture has shifted toward the drive for perfection and the extreme protection from the fear of getting dating WRONG.  Let me assure you, you can’t get it wrong.  Nothing bad will come of trying if your expectation is simply to learn about who you are and who another person is.  You will definitely learn something, even if your date is boring or you drop pizza in your lap.   Kissing a few frogs won’t kill you, and you just might be surprised at the changes you see in yourself as a result.  Just remember: enjoy life; love others; and above all—relax.