Excerpted with permission from Coaching the Coach: Stories and Practical Tips for Transforming lives, by renowned author and life coach Georgia Shaffer. Want to read more? Click here to purchase!
Elizabeth Gaston Cunningham
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
After her divorce, it took six years and three recovery groups for Sidney to feel ready to date again. She’d been married for twenty-one years to her high-school sweetheart. Now, at the age of forty-six, she was trying online dating. The experience was both exhilarating and terrifying, she confided. It was exhilarating because of her ardent hope for new love. It was terrifying because the other women on the online dating websites somehow seemed “more attractive . . . more confident . . . more with-it.”
After numerous coffee meetups and dates with men from the sites, Sidney was exhausted and uncertain. “It’s like a part-time job,” she lamented. “Each night, I sift through online profiles, winks, likes, pokes, requests, voice mails, texts, and emails. And then there’s the sexual component. I’ve had a few dates with Justin, a wonderful man from my singles group. I like him a lot, but last weekend, he suggested the two of us go on an overnight camping trip. I don’t know what to expect—or if I can truly trust him.”
Through our coaching relationship, Sidney sought to clarify goals, identify expectations, and establish boundaries that would guide her as she ventured back into the brave new world of dating.
I suggested Sidney make a list of character traits that she considered important in a potential mate—a list of “must haves” and “can’t stands” that she would not be willing to compromise. Sidney enjoyed the assignment and came back the next week with a well- considered list, which we discussed, item by item. This exercise also provided her with objective criteria she could use to evaluate her relationship with Justin. While she hadn’t given it much thought before, Sidney now realized that his habit of dealing impatiently with service staff at restaurants and shops was a concern of hers, which she needed to stop ignoring.
To help Sidney gain more self-awareness, I asked a colleague to administer the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram personality-preference assessments, and then meet by phone with Sidney and me to review results. Sidney was intrigued by these two new lenses through which she could interpret her temperament. The tools also helped her pinpoint significant differences between Justin and herself. This led to discussions about what often draws men and women together initially (differences) versus what tends to bond them long-term (similarities).
Though intellectually she grasped the concept of moral purity, Sidney confided she struggled with the notion that two middle-age adults, both sexually active during decades of marriage, would need to wait until after marriage to resume sexual activity. This led to a number of conversations exploring the meaning of love from God’s perspective.
I noted that many singles approach love backwards. That is, they become involved romantically and physically and then, sometimes, they develop a deep meaningful friendship. In even rarer cases, the relationship progresses to true unconditional love, which seeks the highest and best for the other person.
“God’s progression for relationships is just the opposite,” I said. “We are to begin with what the Bible calls agape love—seeking the highest and best not only with those we date but with everyone in our lives, and then, as the Lord leads, progress to a deepening friendship while preserving the deeply sexual expressions of love for after marriage. Besides honoring God, this progression helps couples maintain their objectivity and hear from the Holy Spirit as they seek His guidance for their future.”
I suggested Sidney read June Hunt’s book Biblical Counseling Keys on Dating, which address this progression, and many other helpful topics, in more depth. We also explored the body-soul connection, which God hardwired into sex, as Sidney read Sex and the Soul of a Woman by Paula Rinehart. Guided by this book, she and I discussed the profound emotional and spiritual impact sexual intimacy has on women, in particular, and why sex outside of marriage, regardless of one’s age, can be deeply damaging.
Sidney confided that her physical relationship with Justin already was progressing much faster than their friendship. She also realized she was paying little attention to seeking God’s highest and best for the men she was dating.
In the weeks to come, Sidney and I enjoyed many stimulating discussions about the proper focus of dating, namely “not a rabid hunt for Mr. Right, but an earnest quest to become the person God designed us to be.” In the process, I drew out a deeply held fear that Sidney was not even aware she had: the fear that, if she were to remain single, her deepest needs may never be met.
“The truth is, God has promised to meet all of your needs,” I assured her. “He may choose to meet them through a husband. But even if He doesn’t, you can count on His promises to meet your deepest needs for love, security, and significance.” I referred her to Lawrence Crabb’s book Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. I reminded her of what God’s Word says: “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11).
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Henry Cloud and John Townsend helped Sidney learn how to identify, and be, a safe person—one who is capable of entering into healthy relationships. Another excellent book by Cloud and Townsend, Boundaries in Dating, addressed many of her remaining questions about what is, and isn’t, appropriate in Christian dating relationships.
After a weekend-long “silent retreat” to focus on hearing from God, Sidney decided to take a break from dating altogether, including her relationship with Justin, in order to recalibrate. “The ground we covered during our coaching sessions has given me the tools I need to approach dating with a fresh perspective,” she said. “I have new confidence that, regardless of whether a new husband comes my way, I can trust God to be my hope and my future. And for me, that is enough!”
Coaching the Coach Tip:
Today’s media-based culture provides unprecedented opportunity for, and pressure on, Christian singles reentering the world of dating. Helping them clarify goals, identify expectations, and establish boundaries can provide invaluable support during their journey. If you have experience in that area, consider making it a coaching specialty.
Elizabeth Gaston Cunningham is an Accredited Business Communicator and Credentialed Christian Life Coach with 35 years of experience leading corporate communications and public relations in for-profit and non-profit organizations. Formerly Executive Director of Employee Communications and Ethics at financial services giant USAA, Elizabeth now serves as Special Assistant at Hope for the Heart, a worldwide biblical counseling ministry, where she assists with social media, trade books, public relations, and a variety of other communication projects.
Georgia Shaffer, M.A., is a professional speaker, certified Life Coach and the author of four books including Coaching the Coach: Lessons from Christian Coaches. She is is a regular columnist for Christian Coaching Today and a board member of the International Christian Coaches Association (ICCA). Georgia is on the teaching team of AACC’s Professional Life Coaching Training. She specializes in coaching coaches, women and communicators. To find out more, visit www.GeorgiaShaffer.com.