I'm a chaplain's assistant in the U.S. Army. I'm currently stationed in Germany away from my girlfriend. Out of the seven months of us dating, I've seen her a total of 13 days on account of training and being stationed overseas.
We both acknowledged last night, after months and months of praying and asking each other the hard questions, that we love each other and that we want to be with each other. I'm nervous in one sense and overjoyed in another beyond explanation.
My girlfriend is leaving in September to live in Taiwan for a year on a missions trip. Before she leaves and after I talk to her parents and get their blessing, I want to give her the commitment in full of wanting to marry her. I'm unsure if that would be a good idea on account of she'll be gone for a year and my being stationed overseas. Would that be a bit of a stretch, or should I keep praying about it and let God speak to me?
Thanks for your question. This issue comes up a lot, and in fact I wrote another column recently in which a man was wondering what to do in the face of possibly waiting a year or two to get married because of a logistical situation. As with all our questions that deal with really fact-specific situations, I'll encourage you to take my advice with a grain of salt simply because there are so many details about you, your girlfriend and your relationship that I don't know.
For purposes of answering your question, I assume that despite your very limited time together, (1) each of you knows that you want to marry the other (which is implied but not stated explicitly in your question); (2) your relationship generally is a godly and healthy one; and (3) one or (hopefully) both of you have sought counsel and accountability about your relationship in the context of at least one healthy church, even if from a distance. If either of you or godly people who are close to you would say those things aren't true, then take the following advice with an even bigger grain of salt and seek some good counsel before jumping into marriage. With all that said, let me summarize some general principles about "logistics vs. marriage" and apply some of those to your time-sensitive situation.
As I wrote before, when a man and a woman are in the position of wanting to marry one another, and assuming that it is appropriate biblically for the two of them to be married, I normally advise that they err on the side of getting married sooner rather than later and that they prioritize a godly relationship and marriage over "logistics" and other life circumstances rather than waiting to marry until the logistics are perfect or life circumstances are more accommodating from a worldly standpoint. I would add another general principle based on the particular situation you've outlined: Where special circumstances such as military service and missions work are involved — you guys have both! — the potential for lengthy periods apart is not, in and of itself, a reason to postpone or forgo marriage.
These principles generally apply — and may apply with some additional force to your situation — for a number of reasons. As a start, I would encourage you not to assume that because you and your girlfriend think you will eventually marry one another, it's something that can or should casually be put off. For one thing, as I wrote in my last column on this, circumstances and desires can change quickly in the absence of a genuine commitment. Even more importantly in your situation, it seems true from what you outlined in your question that one or both of you (depending on her situation in Taiwan) could be put into harm's way at any time. The Bible teaches that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring (see James 4:13-15), but especially in a military context, it seems wise to prioritize marriage and other relationships as the Lord gives opportunity.
It's also true that when two people know they want to marry but put it off, it normally puts them in the position of being in a very long dating relationship. Long dating relationships (more than a year or so) are very difficult to pull off without sinning in the form of engaging prematurely in physical and emotional intimacy meant only for the context of marriage. This might be especially difficult in your situation. Though it sounds like the two of you would be in a long-distance relationship for the rest of your pre-marriage relationship, both the intensity and potential isolation of your daily circumstances while apart and the increased desire during your times together that naturally arises from separation, would likely make it more difficult to maintain a godly non-marital relationship over time.
Now, let me also say that while the likelihood of physical separation is not by itself a reason to put off marriage, a marriage in which you would not be separated for the first year would be infinitely better. Again, assuming the two of you are committed to marrying one another, is your girlfriend's missions trip set in stone, or could it be postponed or cancelled so she could join you in Germany as your wife? Alternatively, is there any chance for you to be stationed in a place that would make it a little easier to see one another a little more regularly? Is there an option to get leave so that the two of you could have a solid block of time together before September?
God calls marriage a good thing, and it's clear from both Scripture and experience that it is both an encouraging and sanctifying gift from God. Assuming a healthy relationship, erring toward marriage is often the better path even in the face of significant logistical obstacles. You two are facing a big one, so real wisdom is required. I can't tell you precisely what to do here, but remember that God normally "speaks" to us through His Word and through the wise counsel of other believers.
I will pray this is helpful to you and that the Lord will give you and your girlfriend wisdom in the coming weeks.
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.