I had an interesting conversation with two older women of my church. I asked them if they thought that I was ready for marriage, and they both said "no." They challenged me, asking me if I thought that I was being the "best that I could be" in every area of my life, which of course I had to answer no.
They said that God caused Adam to fall asleep at Eve's creation, and it was only after she was complete that God stirred Adam awake and brought the two together. Both Adam and Eve were worked on and formed by God and were complete when they met.
One of the ladies also said, "You need to learn to love yourself before you can ever give your love to another person." The other pointed out that I need to learn how to receive love before I can get married.
I do struggle with low self worth sometimes. I still tend to see myself as the awkward teenager that I was when I was growing up — the one who looked strikingly different and who got bullied on or teased every day. Even though the outside of me has changed and I'm told the message of "you're beautiful" instead of "you're ugly," I often find myself dealing with those insecurities that manifest themselves in my actions and speech.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not some superbly depressed person, always feeling worthless and like there is no hope for me. God has started the healing process in me. I've started to have a mix of both positive self-image days and negative ones, but thankfully they are not all negative like they used to be. Yet I know that God is still working His refining fire in me.
Something that the ladies said is that I shouldn't take old baggage into a relationship. They said that I should be able to give the very best of myself to my husband and not bring insecurities to him; that my focus should be on loving him in the best way and healthiest way that I can.
I know that there are still several areas that God needs to work on in my life. One of the ladies agreed, however, that she sees a definite change and growing inside of me, even from a few years ago.
My questions then are these:
1. Should a woman totally overcome her insecurities before she gets married (to avoid bringing in that "excess baggage")?
2. We are a constant work in progress and won't ever be perfect this side of heaven. How can we know that we're ready for marriage — ready to give our husbands "our best" when our best will never be perfect? How can I know that I'm "ready"?
3. What are steps that I can take to become the "best me" that I can be? What should I have marked off the "becoming the best me" checklist and be before I get married?
I hope that you'll be able to help me out. I'm so desirous to grow in every area of my life — for my husband, for myself and of course, for the Lord.
I don't know you beyond your email, so I'm reluctant to challenge feedback from women in your church who presumably do. But I also know that if what they'd said was based on Scripture, I'd be more likely to agree with them.
What they said sounds cliché. Their assertion that you should be the "best that you can be" in every area of life before you get married scans like a positive thinking infomercial. It's based on the belief that we are not only perfectible, but also that we can perfect ourselves. It's certainly not rooted in what the Bible says about sin (that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God") and our need for a Savior.
Do you need to learn to love yourself before you can ever give your love to another person? Not according to Scripture. Jesus said "love your neighbor as yourself." This is something you can do immediately. No learning curve required. We're selfish by nature; that's why Jesus made self-love the measure for how we treat others. He knew we would get the shorthand of what He was saying.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man?" and answers, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." The purpose of our lives is not to self-actualize, but to bring glory to God. How we feel about our looks, or weight, or job, or social life, or any other measure of success on any given day is, in the scope of eternity, irrelevant. Does God want us to be full of joy? Yes. Is that joy dependent on your self-image? Thankfully, no. His joy and peace are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They come by giving thanks in all circumstances, praying without ceasing, and cultivating the Holy Spirit's activity in your life. None of this hangs on what kind of "self-image day" we're having. Though I know in my life that the more I practice these spiritual disciplines, the more irrelevant my externals become.
What about their appeal to Adam and Eve as "worked on by God and therefore complete before they met"? It implies that somehow the first couple came "baggage-free" (a pop-psychology favorite). But you need to read only a few verses down to see what failure these "complete" humans were capable of after God was done making them. Beyond the reality that God put Adam to sleep until the surgery was over and kept Eve that way until she was fully formed in flesh, I don't see any evidence that the two were perfectly ready for marriage, or any other serious undertaking, the way your friends implied. Adam and Eve were, as we are, fully human, with the freedom to obey or not.
I suspect when the two women you spoke with married, they still had growing and maturing to do. I did. And I do believe they meant well.
But what would be more helpful than telling you to stop thinking about marriage till you're perfect is to give specific areas of growth to be working on while you're praying for marriage and being intentional about helping it happen. Offering passages of Scripture for study (Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 for starters), examples of where you fall short on what the Bible requires, and relational support for helping you grow is the kind of mentoring you need. But it shouldn't stop there.
Titus 2:3-5 says:
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
This passage suggests that the younger women in need of spiritual nurture and practical training are already married. The passing on of wisdom from the one generation to the next is to take place in the context of marriages already formed. If, as is the case in our culture, the younger women are having trouble finding and marrying godly husbands, then helping them do that should be the first order of business on the older women's to-do lists.
When are you ready for marriage? When you're no longer a child; when you're ready to take on the adult responsibilities that marriage brings. That doesn't mean you can use that as justification for avoiding responsibility ("I'm just not ready"). Unless they're specially gifted for celibate service, Christian men and women should be gearing up for marriage in their early 20s. It's not only their best time for meeting mates, but also their most fertile time for forming families. If you don't feel ready or willing to take on adult responsibility, the solution isn't more passage of time, but likely, accountability from the older believers in your church.
Which brings us back to your dilemma. To get the most help from the women in your Bible study, I think you might need to re-tool your question. Instead of asking, "Do you think I'm ready for marriage?" you might say, "I believe, based on what I read in Scripture, that believers are called either to celibate service or marriage (Matthew 19:11-12). I know from my desires and drives that I'm not specially gifted for celibate service, so what I'm wondering is, based on your understanding of Scripture, what are the things I need to be working on to prepare for the responsibilities that come with marriage and motherhood?"
Then, based on what they answer, you might follow up with, "Would you be willing to pray with me about those areas and pray for me that God would make me more like Him and bring me a godly husband?"
It's not enough to seek out older believers. The goal is mentors who rightly divide the Word. It will be to your benefit and His glory.
Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.