Right now at epikos we are in the midst of a special 3 week sermon series entitled Relationship Rehab. Relationships are central to who we are, and affect us on so many levels. Having a lot of singles in our church, we’re often asked “what does it look like for Christians to date?” or worse “I’m a single Christian and I keep finding myself in the same destructive dating cycle” and even “there aren’t any good people left, maybe I should just give up.”
A new book recently came out entitled Dating Backyard Dogs. I thought what I would do is have a single guy and single gal from epikos read it and reflect on it. Here is what they had to say:
Reflections from Adam K.
I read Linn Winters’ “Dating Backyard Dogs” on a flight from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. As I’ve talked about it with a few friends both Christian and non-Christian, every single person has done a double take on the title of the book (as did I at first). I’m pretty sure I’ve even gotten some strange looks in coffee shops. But once I started reading it, I began to understand what the author was getting at in regards to guidelines for Christian dating.
The term “backyard dog” is exactly what it sounds like – a dog that you think you can train to eventually become an “indoor dog.” No matter what you do, the outdoor dog will continue to tear apart the furniture, pee on the floor, bounce off the walls… it’s not what you signed up for, and it’s not what the backyard dog signed up for, either. As far as dating goes, the author explains that a backyard dog is the kind of person you think you can fix. Sometimes this refers to a non-Christian you think you can flirt to convert, sometimes it refers to the physical boundaries of a relationship, and sometimes it refers to specific financial or cultural values a person has that differ from your own. Neither party is happy in the relationship and eventually everything just falls apart.
The book does a very good job of defining the characteristics of a backyard dog and how to watch out for them. Backyard dogs are convenient because they’re available, they’re what we think we want at the time, and as much as we shouldn’t settle for one, it’s hard to imagine something better will ever come along. I related to that last point quite a bit. In the Christian dating scene, being single in my late-twenties makes me feel like there’s something seriously wrong with me. My parents got married at twenty-two, the vast majority of my friends are married, and the ones that aren’t married yet are in serious committed relationships. I feel like I’m the last single person in all of my friend groups… because I basically am. But this book emphasizes that we need to be patient with God and His timing, because as hard as it is, not waiting for that indoor dog will only end badly.
One aspect of the book that challenged me was debunking the idea of “The One.” One of my favorite TV shows is “How I Met Your Mother.” As crazy as Ted Mosby is, there’s a romantic side to him that makes me feel like that’s how I’m supposed to find my wife – one big earth-shattering moment where I find out every aspect of my life led me to this one perfect person in the universe. I’ve had multiple friends and mentors tell me that there’s no such thing as The One, but for me personally, it seems to conflict with the idea that God is in control and has designed someone specifically for me. But what made a lot of sense to me in this book is what the author basically says in black and white: If there is just one person for you in the world and you never meet them or the relationship ends, you’re screwed. He reinforces that you shouldn’t look for The One, but for the one type of person for you.
There are a few other challenging chapters in the book, especially in regards to cultural perceptions about sex and co-habitation. He even suggests running from a room screaming just to avoid sexual temptation, the same way Joseph literally fled from Potiphar’s wife. I’m not sure I really see myself running away screaming like a crazy person, but I guess that might work.
But I would have to say the part of the book that challenged me the most was the idea that God might bring potential suitors into our lives not only to date them, but that through our time together they would grow closer to Christ. As much as I might hate the thought of that girl having a stronger relationship with her future husband while I’m just a footnote in someone else’s happiness, that concept was something I’d never even considered before.
There are also specific chapters describing what men and women both need. He says that the two core needs of men are sex and respect… I’m not sure if I totally agree with that. I’d like to think there’s more to the male gender than those two things, but he does a good job explaining what he means in the context of Ephesians 5:21-33. I would be interested to hear a woman’s perspective on those chapters of the book.
One of my favorite chapters is when he goes through each of the characteristics of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 with how they might look in a relationship. He describes patience as “love expressing itself by the giving of time”; love not being self-seeking as “having no private agendas”; or my favorite one which describes love not boasting as “not stealing the spotlight” and that “sometimes, love is silent.” In the end, he challenges you to think about which aspect of that 1 Corinthians 13 love you need to work on the most in your own life.
Another part of this book that I got a lot out of was the Yoking Principle. It’s something I remember hearing from my Cru discipler my sophomore year of college – the idea that the two people in a relationship need to be in almost the exact same place in their spiritual journey. If they aren’t, one will either be dragged along to catch up to the other, or the other will be dragged behind to where the first one is currently at. It’s exhausting for both parties involved and it doesn’t bring the couple closer to God. That made a lot of sense to me and made me really think about past failed relationships in my own life.
The book uses a few key tools that are very helpful like recap questions at the end of each chapter. Almost every time, the last question was something to the effect of, “Based on this chapter, what will you do differently?” It almost felt more like a Christian dating workbook, and I liked that. It also offered a lot of practical advice with stories from the author’s personal life as well as from couples he’s met with or interacted with.
But in my opinion, the most useful tool the author provides in this book is creating a list of the five non-negotiables you are looking for in your future spouse. The author says God gives you two: that the person is a believer and that they are equally spiritually yoked with you. The other three are up to you. He introduces the non-negotiables in the beginning of the book where you can write down anything you can think of, but the last page of the book asks you to narrow it down to five. It was really cool to see how my own list changed as I finished reading.
Overall, I liked the book and thought it brought up a lot of cool points that the church doesn’t really talk about in regards to Christian dating. I really appreciate epikos’s intentionality in talking about this topic because it isn’t one that’s talked about very often. As a single Christian guy, it’s hard at times to feel like I’m fitting in at church when it seems like everyone else sitting around me is in a happy relationship. I’ve personally felt left out a lot, especially since my good friends are all in couples’ small groups. Sometimes, it’s hard to not give into that cynical feeling saying I should give up. But through reading this book, I’ve felt encouraged to not settle for a backyard dog just to be in a relationship. And throughout my life, I’ve learned that God is using my time as a single person to mold me into the man, and future husband, he wants me to be.
Reflections from Sarah K
Dating in this day and age is complex, and the thought of “Christian Dating” adds an entire new level of criteria to that complexity. We live in a sex driven culture with “dating” at our finger tips, and selecting a future spouse being boiled down to swiping right or left. Linn Winters addresses a variety of topics to help navigate through creating and maintaining meaningful, Christ centered relationships.
“Dating Backyard Dogs” offered up some pretty solid and thought provoking situations. To be honest, I felt like Winters should have started the book with the “Indoor Love” chapter. As I stated, dating is already complex. And while the beginning chapters of the book offer supportive guidelines, laying the groundwork to “recognize selfless love” to “avoid settling for something less” felt like a starting point with the rest of the chapters as a natural progression of instructions. This book really laid the realities of Christian dating on the table, forcing me to look at my own dating life and learning to recognize that without establishing non-negotiables I would continue to date “backyard dogs”. I think that learning to establish a list of non-negotiable attributes of a mate is advice that actually feels attainable to people. Knowing that God takes a hold of two items on that list and the rest are up to you feels like a comfortable place to create structure but allows for the human side of us to explore our (maybe shallow) preferences.
One theme of the book that stood out to me was the concept of dating “Mature Christians” vs. “Baby Christians”. Winters talks about being equally yolked and makes the comparison of a Great Dane and a Chihuahua trying to be together. While I completely see the point he is making, it also left me feeling defeated in my pursuit for a Christian man. It felt like it was limiting the pool of available guys even more and almost made feel like I had to discount men who were trying to pursue Christ but weren’t quite where I was. Along with that, it felt slightly hypocritical to the whole “iron sharpening iron” thing. Everyone’s walk with the Lord is different and constantly transforming from one season to the next and I don’t feel like I can be the judge of that relationship just to fit a certain criteria. So there was some conflict there for me.
Overall, I found huge benefits in reading “Dating Backyard Dogs”. The book forces you to take a hard look at yourself and the choices you are making on the dating front. One of my biggest takeaways was that maybe I am more of a backyard dog than I realized (yikes!) and I needed to transform my thoughts, habits, and actions in order to be desirable for my future spouse. It always affected the way I need to be praying about my dating situation. Instead of praying for God to make my plan of who I envision my spouse to be, I need to pray for Him to give me the opportunities to be someone that my future spouse is looking for.
(This blog post is not an endorsement of every aspect of the book nor an endorsement of the contributor’s reflections. Feel free to comment below or suggest a book you have found helpful)