For many students on a Christian college campus, "dating" presents a conundrum, Jackson Dunn acknowledged during an OBU chapel service Friday, Feb. 15. But he also offered practical advice to balance the relationship pressure students on Bison Hill may face.
Dunn, who serves as marriage and family ministry director for Focus on the Family, presented his message during the final chapel service of Focus Week, an emphasis each spring to encourage members of the OBU community to strengthen healthy relationships with God and one another.
After relaying his own story of college dating - which he recalled as "awkward" - Dunn said an ongoing problem for college students lies in the extreme labels assigned to relationships. He said in college, students assume either someone is not dating at all, or that he or she is in a committed, "on-the-verge-of-marriage" relationship. He said he understands the frustration college students feel in trying to define where they are in relationships with one another.
"The word 'dating' is such a loaded word, and there is enormous pressure from ourselves, our friends, our parents and the environment," Dunn said, noting the "ring by spring" mentality that permeates college campuses.
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"What if we were to move away from semantics … and we just step back for a second and focus more on building healthy relationships?" Dunn asked. "Stepping back from all the pressure, all the baggage, all the craziness, all the awkwardness around whatever you're seeing 'dating' as on this campus and (being) more focused on healthy relationships - so what if?"
Dunn said his major problem with the perceptions associated with dating on a university campus lies in the fact that most people live their lives somewhere between the extreme labels. He said one way to deal with the pressure and to change an "all or nothing" dating culture is to focus on building healthy relationships regardless of whether the relationship has a romantic aspect associated to it.
As a child, Dunn said he learned from his father to always leave things a little better than he found them. A similar principle can be assigned to building healthy relationships, he said.
"I'm calling this 'relational stewardship'," Dunn said, connecting the idea to Jesus' words found in John 13:34-35: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (HCSB).
While Dunn was dating his future wife, Krista, her father said he had seen his daughter "blossom" into the woman God created her to be. Dunn said the same benchmark should be assigned to all relationships: to make the most of every encounter with others to help another person become all God has intended for his or her life.
"Let's back off from all this crazy 'dating' stuff and be more intentional about the relationships you have around you," Dunn said. "Find an opportunity to steward each other well."