Do I need all my ducks in a row before pursuing marriage?

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Do I need all my ducks in a row before pursuing marriage?

Jul 18, 2011 |John Thomas
Question

I’ve been out of college for about a year and half now, and have been working steadily as an engineer at a company where I enjoy working. I was also nominated for their leadership development program, which is exciting in terms of career.

However, I was a bit apprehensive about deciding to accept the offer to be in the development program because I knew it required me to get a technical master's degree on top of working full time. I’m no genius when it comes to homework, so I knew it would take much effort and time on my part to complete a master’s degree. Knowing that I’d like to be married also complicated things; I knew that working full time while taking two technical classes would leave little time to pursue marriage.

After much prayer and consideration, I decided that now is the time to do something like a master’s degree (not married, no kids) and to lay the foundation of a good career that can support a family. If it wasn’t God’s plan, I figured He would let me know somehow or prevent it from happening. I ended up being accepted to the program and am now in my second semester of grad school.

My first semester was very challenging. I was able to get the job done — good grades and above-average performance at work while still spending time with the Lord in the mornings and seeing friends occasionally. However, I was exhausted by the end, and I had little time for social activities. Now, before I'm stereotyped as a typical engineer, I should clarify that this was very challenging for me. Contrary to the stereotype, I’m athletic, and I enjoy being with people. Since I’m relatively new to the city I’m in, not having community to just "do life" with was very tough. I would see people at church Sunday mornings and Sunday night, but that doesn’t produce authentic community. It takes time spent in a small group and time spent outside of a church setting to truly develop community – all things I had little time to do.

Three of my life goals are to have a family, work hard and provide for them, and never be a man who lets work take over his life. I truly felt I was beginning to head down the wrong path with work, so I made the decision (again after prayer and consultation with a mentor) to go to one class per semester to free up some time. The main reason I did this was to leave time to build community, serve in some capacity and pursue marriage should I meet a godly woman to pursue. In the meantime, I began actually praying for these things (community, work/life/school balance and a wife).

I’m happy to say that God has blessed me with more community than I could have asked for. I’m now in a men’s group and building Christ-centered friendships with the men there. I’m able to be involved with some service ministry, and I still have plenty of time to do homework and be social outside of church.

Now I have the time to meet people and keep the career moving along, though a bit slower than at first, which is OK with me. There is also a woman I’d like to pursue, so it’s all good, right? Well, allow me to throw another factor into the mix: student loans. I 'm not at all in a desperate situation; I’m able to live below my means and save money while paying these down. But the simple truth is that it will probably take seven to eight years to pay these off unless I win the lottery (just kidding – never touch the lottery).

Financial burdens and a master’s degree are the two remaining factors that hold me back from pursuing marriage. Ideally, I’d like to be out of school, without debt and already saving to prepare for paying for a wedding/house/ring. However, with my current situation, I won’t be done with school for another three-and-a-half years and will be able to save money for some things, but certainly not out of debt.

The bottom line is that I don’t want to wait until I’m 30-something to actually pursue marriage. The way forward I see is to keep to one class per semester and be intentional about dating, make time for a relationship as it progresses and trust God with the whole thing – finances and all. However, I find myself feeling uncertain about the whole situation. Some say I’m ready; some say I should wait for a while. I’m ready to make a decision and move.

Answer

Boundless cautions women about purposely putting off marriage in order to achieve some life goal and rightly reminds them of their “biological clock.” We should caution guys as well.

I understand we guys don’t have quite the fertility clock issue that women have, but we can make the mistake of putting things in the “what I need to accomplish before pursuing marriage” list that really don’t need to be there.

Yes, if you’re married, the two of you need a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear — you need the right income for the right season of life. And you need to have a plan for what happens if a baby comes along. But don’t feel like you have to have everything in what you think is perfect order before pursuing marriage.

First, getting to the altar takes a good bit of time, especially if you’re starting from having no prospects. If you met her tomorrow, you’d still be six months to a year away from marriage, leaving only two-and-a-half years of school to go.

I know two-and-a-half years seems like an eternity to be married, working and going to school all at the same time, but trust me, it’s a drop in the marriage bucket. After you’re married for 20 years, you’ll hardly remember those days, and when you do, it will be with great fondness of how “simple things were.”

Second, be OK with starting out marriage small and simple economically. Most likely your income will grow over time, and it’s best to not let your “wants” get confused with your “needs.”

I’m not asking any young couple to take a vow of poverty, nor am I advising leaping into marriage without any financial plan, but I am asking you to be reasonable about your early marriage economic expectations. In your case, if you were to marry in the next year or so, we’re talking about a pretty short season of mixing education, work and marriage. Seasons come and go. And it’s an investment in your future that will pay off.

For three years, and before we had children, my wife worked full time to put me through seminary. I worked part time and was a student full time. We ate lots of beans and rice. We lived in a tiny, rented house. We barely scraped by. It was hard, but we made it.

Looking back, it was a blink, but it was huge in how that investment of time has borne fruit in countless ways in our life, both from a career standpoint and a spiritual standpoint. Doors opened during that season that still have impact on us today. Writing this column is one of them.

So don’t despise small beginnings.

Finally, you’re in a great season of life to pursue a marriage mate. You’ve wisely carved out some social time, something you might have less of once that degree is finished and your time demands from work increase. You’ve positioned yourself well for seeking a spouse.

Put me in the category of those who are encouraging you to move forward with the pursuit of marriage now. If it goes as you hope and marriage comes your way, yes, you’ll have challenges, but they won’t be impossible to overcome. And you’ll have the great blessing of handling them with your new best friend. Few things are better than that.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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