The other evening, Adam and I were talking about our dating relationship before we got married and he mentioned that by the time we were dating, he was seriously and honestly committed to his faith in Christ. He was choosing to behave and speak a certain way because he really felt he should, not because it was a set of rules his parents or church expected him to follow. And then he said, "But it scares me how easy a lot of that would have been to fake, and how often that happens to people."

We ended up talking about that idea specifically relating to how guys behave in dating relationships, but I've been thinking about it more and more today and it really works both ways. So, I wanted to type some of what we talked about up for my siblings.

I have six siblings, all younger, and only one is married. Four of the others are old enough (by my parents' standards) to date. This is for you guys-- and our youngest brother, for when he gets to this point.

Dear Guire Kids,

There are few controllable things more important to your continued development into a Christ-like person than choosing the right spouse. You're making a commitment for life and while you will certainly face all kinds of decisions and situations you don't have much of a say in, this is one of the few areas of your life where you get this much voice. So, making sure that you're marrying somebody that is interested and invested in you becoming who Christ wants you to be is pretty serious.

I spent my teenage and college years watching friends date other Christians-- kids who came to youth group, volunteered to pray out loud, led worship, showed up for events and Fine Arts-- and sometimes it seemed obvious that something was wrong, other times not. But here are some things worth watching for-- things that are easy to notice in people you don't like very much, but a lot harder to see if you really, really like the person. They're also worth examining in YOU, to see if you're who you say you are.

Caveat: this isn't a definitive list and people aren't perfect. Weigh these things; don't expect to find someone who never screws up, but don't disregard them either. Be careful if you find yourself constantly making excuses for someone. That said:

1. How do they treat people when they're upset?

Not just you-- siblings, friends, people they don't like very much. Especially in the first few months of a dating relationship, it's a lot easier to be nice to the person you're dating even when you don't feel like it. But how do they treat people they've known for years? If they're rude and inconsiderate to siblings and family and old friends, and not apologetic about it or putting out any effort to change, remember that in another five years, you will start to be that old friend or family.

2. How do they talk about their parents?

Some people have crappy parents, no lie. Sometimes people need to vent. But if your dating partner is consistently complaining about, arguing with, and disrespectful toward their parents, expect that to be you in another ten years. That behavior will rub off on you, flavor and sour your relationship with your own parents, AND is likely to be how you're being treated. The dating person who seems incapable of honoring a parent and complaining to you constantly about it is probably going to find a friend to complain to about YOU as soon as they feel like it.

3. How do they handle being treated unfairly?

Sometimes, we're just misunderstood or people believe rumors or scold before they know all the details. But someone honestly trying to develop into a mature Christian, someone being led by the Spirit, will not habitually badmouth authority or other people even when they aren't being treated well (I'm not talking about actual abuse here). If the person you're dating can't ever say anything nice about their youth group leader, boss, teacher, etc.-- or even if they just don't know when to keep their mouth shut-- be careful. How we talk about those in authority does affect our reputation and our witness, even if most of the people around us agree with us.

4. Can they handle criticism or correction?

Are you with the sort of person who can be confronted in love by you or someone else? I'm not talking about how they handle you or anyone else snapping, "Well, you're being a jerk," when both of you are already mad. I mean, can they handle being told they were behaving the wrong way or do they always get defensive and never apologize? You should look for someone who can hear, "You shouldn't treat your mom like that," or "I know it's tough right now, but how can you choose to let God use this for good?" without becoming distant, emotionally manipulative, or whiny about it. If you don't feel like you can say this sort of stuff ("we're not close enough yet!") then why are you dating someone you can't even be friends with? Good friends should be able to do this for each other.

5. Are they willing to confront you?

There might be a lot of times when you're the one screwing up. Are you with somebody who is willing to challenge you and give you some tough love? Or do they always indulge your pity parties, your rotten attitudes, your mistreatment of others? It's a valuable friend that knows when to listen to you vent and when to tell you to get over yourself and pay a bit more attention to what God is working in your life instead of just how you feel about it. Also, can they confront in love? It's a learned skill, but beware of somebody who is ALWAYS confronting you, challenging you, belittling you, or generally making you feel like crap. Hold out for something better.

This is already long so I'll wrap it up there. I might add other thoughts later, though. To sum all this up, look for the fruits. We will know Christians by their love-- showing up for Bible studies, raising hands in worship, and talking about Jesus are all good things but mean very little if attitudes and behavior are consistently selfish and unloving. People need grace, but you deserve better than missionary-dating a Christian who has no desire to change. Don't waste weeks or months and risk a lifetime on someone who is faking it. What fruit does their life bear? What does yours?