Defining the Relationship – when DTRs meet faith

[From the archives.]

Where Love Exists

My son and daughter are both in college, so I hear a lot about relationships*. It’s not so much romance, but more about friendships and roommates. It might also be about their friends’ and roommates’ romances. We didn’t have DTRs when I went to college but now I’m told you can’t turn around without someone saying they want to Define The Relationship with someone else. I even found out this week that DTRs can apply to families.

Last weekend our son brought some friends home from college. Apparently one of the young women was taken aback by our family dynamics: we joke with our son, sit around the table to talk with him and his friends after dinner, hang out watching TV with them, and generally pay attention to him and them. This was not how her own family operates, and our son later told us she started thinking that perhaps there’s a different way for her family to function.

I asked, “So you mean DTR might apply to families too?”


I think DTRs are an improvement. DTRs mean taking a chance. DTRs mean being vulnerable. Ever spend a couple times out with someone (coffee or bowling, in a group or just the two of you, whatever) and you think things are going along in one direction but then find out that he or she feels differently? Hearing the words “I really value your friendship” can be such a cold slap in the face.

It’s like C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, though – love happens in vulnerability:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers … of love is Hell.

I don’t know anyone who wants to be that “perfectly safe” from love’s dangers.

The Dangers of Love

In our fallen world, the perils of love are all around us: rejection, pain, loss. If you want a good example of love perverted into pain, look at Tamar and her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13. Amnon thought he loved Tamar and tricked herinto entering his bedroom alone. There he raped her despite her pleas to stop and her promise to marry him if he’d only ask their father King David. But Amnon refused and it led to one of the most tragic scenes in the Bible:

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.”

I remember when this happened to me in college. No, I wasn’t Tamar in this story, nor was I Amnon (thank God!). It was not the tragedy found in 2 Samuel 13, but it still hurt in its own tragic – and stupid – way. This other guy and I were both bird-dogging a young woman in this orientation we were all in for a school program. One day she started paying more attention to me than to him. A lot more attention. So much, that she practically glued herself to me for an entire evening. The next day, another young woman in our program who knew the object of my desire well warned me, “Watch out for her. She’s a man-eater.” (Yes, people talked like that back then.) I ignored the warning, of course, and immediately sought out more of the same wonderfully romantic attention I’d enjoyed the prior evening.

Didn’t happen. All that next day the young woman ignored me and avoided me. I was confused and crushed, wondering where all the flirtyness of the evening before had gone. Eventually I figured it out: she didn’t like me; she didn’t want to encourage my attention; she had no desire for me whatsoever, and never did. She just wanted to keep the other guy at arm’s length and figured the easiest way to show him her disinterest was to pretend an interest in me. Ouch.

A Dangerous Love

Love is dangerous, but is there hope? Of course there is, because “love comes from God.” (1 John 4:7.) Yet even God’s love is a dangerous love. He wants our love to be complete, undivided. (Matthew 6:24.) He wants it to be above any other love. (Luke 9:57-62.) He wants it so bad he paid the ultimate price to get it. (John 15:13, 1 Corinthians 7:23, 1 John 3:16.) Jesus became vulnerable in his love for us. It’s a dangerous love all around. But it’s good.

And when it comes to DTRs, here’s the one Jesus had with his followers just hours before his death:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:15-17.)

Jesus’ DTR boils down to three things: we’re his friends, he chose us for a purpose, and he wants us to love one another.

So what does this mean for your relationships? Start with recognizing that God wants you for a friend; then look at the people around you and try to see them the same way God does. And for romance in particular, if you are indeed interested in a young woman or man keep in mind that you should treat her or him as one of God’s friends; because we all know that you don’t want to mistreat one of God’s friends. In fact, Jesus should be the defining member of those relationships because there is no relationship worth having if he’s not part of it.

Now that’s a DTR worth pursuing.


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12 Responses to Defining the Relationship – when DTRs meet faith

  1. Jeannie says:

    This is a great post — DTRs could help us in so many areas of life, couldn’t they? I remember when my daughter was in Grade One and complained about her teacher, “He’s always telling us what to do!” 🙂 (I think we must have had a DTR talk then!) But it’s so great that in our relationship with God, He defines it. We don’t have to sit picking daisy petals wondering, loves me? loves me not?

    • Tim says:

      Love the daisy reference, Jeannie. Can you imagine the 12 apostles sitting around plucking petals? That image makes my mind boggle a bit. Chuckle too.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    This is one of my faves of yours, Tim. It inspires purposeful thinking.

  3. “Bird-dogging a young woman”! HA! I’ve never heard it put that way!
    (OK, now I’ll finish reading the rest of the post.)

    • Tim says:

      You may never have head it before, but I bet you could immediately picture what it looks like!

    • I have to agree with Aimee! This is one of my favorites for sure.

      I could ramble about how I wrote a paper on The Four Loves in college, about how the Tamar/Amnon passage reminds me of Anna/Vronsky in Anna Karenina (“Shame at their spiritual nakedness crushed her and infected him. But in spite of the murderer’s horror before the body of his victim, he must hack it to pieces, hide the body, must use what he has gained by his murder.” AK Part 2, Chapter 11.), about how your love triangle in college reminds me of the love triangle I’m reading about now in The Return of the Native (I mean that girl sounds EXACTLY like Eustacia Vye!!!), BUT I will just say — the best part of this post is the way you brought it all around:
      ” . . .we’re [Jesus’] friends, he chose us for a purpose, and he wants us to love one another.” YES! That IS how we should define ALL of our relationships!

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  6. Great post! All these things you mention are things I’m always thinking about!!

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