Rick and Kay Warren's Painful, Gradual Love Story
Prophet of Purpose: The Life of Rick Warren
Sheler, Jeffrey L.
November 3, 2009
336 pp., $9.98
Note: Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff and Prophet of Purpose author Jeffery Sheler will discuss Sheler's new biography and the life and ministry of Rick Warren in a special online seminar Wednesday, December 2. Registration is free.
At the start of his first semester in college, Rick picked up almost exactly where he had left off in high school. With his outgoing personality and bold, upbeat manner in talking about matters of faith he became instantly popular on the Baptist campus and was elected president of his freshman class. He also became engrossed in his course work and delved hungrily into the advanced Scripture studies and the expository readings on church doctrine and history. Nearly every weekend was booked with speaking engagements at area youth events, where he continued to sharpen his preaching skills while earning extra cash from the honorariums.
All of that left little time for dating, which didn't seem to bother him in the least. He and some like-minded friends jocularly proclaimed themselves "Bachelors to the Rapture" and boasted that they would be pleased to remain single until the Second Coming.
Kay, meanwhile, quickly met and fell in love with a young man who also happened to be a close friend of Rick's, and they began dating steadily. One day she asked her boyfriend about Rick and why he did not date. She saw that he was popular on campus and that girls seemed to like him, but he never asked any of them out. Her boyfriend explained about Rick's busy schedule and also the fact that he was very, very frugal. "Rick just figures, 'Why spend money on a girl you're not going to marry?'" he explained. "He believes that when the right one comes along, God will point her out and that will be that." Kay found that to be an interesting perspective on dating. She promptly filed the information away and thought nothing further of it.
During the following summer, Rick stepped up his speaking schedule and preached at youth revivals all over the state. While he had no way of knowing it, his commitment to bachelorhood was about to be challenged. One weekend he accepted an invitation to speak at the First Baptist Church of Fresno. The church's pastor was Kay's father, and Kay played piano for the service. In a radio interview many years later Rick would recall what happened: "I looked over at her right before I got up to speak, and God said just as clearly as I'm talking to you, 'You're going to marry that girl.' Now, I immediately doubted it for two or three reasons—first, I didn't love her; second, God had never before or ever since talked to me that clearly in my life, ever; and, number three, she was madly in love with my best friend." He decided to keep the revelation to himself.
Soon after they returned to school in the fall, Kay's boyfriend broke up with her. It came as a complete surprise to Kay and she was crushed and certain that she would never love again. Then, as she recalls, "All of a sudden this Rick Warren guy started hanging around me, sitting down next to me in the cafeteria, standing beneath my dorm room and tossing rocks at my window to get my attention—you know, very subtle things," she deadpanned. "And it scared the daylights out of me because I remembered what his friend had said, and I'd never seen him so interested in anybody. And I had this panicky feeling: what does he know that I don't know?"
Rick asked her out and she accepted. On their first date, they went to a nearby Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour, a favorite date spot for Cal Baptist students, and shared the house specialty: a "pig's trough" filled with ice cream and all the fixings. Rick paid the tab. They laughed and talked and, while both were a little nervous, they seemed to enjoy the lighthearted conversation and one another's company. Eight days later they went out again, this time to a youth revival meeting at a nearby church where Kay had been invited to play the piano. Rick went along and sat in a pew while she played. After the service they walked back to the campus and went into a prayer room to pray together; the tone of the evening had been far different from that of the first date. As they finished praying, Rick looked up at her and blurted out, "Will you marry me?"