In a culture where broken marriages are the norm, greater weight needs to be placed on making sure that the stage is set for a successful relationship.
Wedding season was in full swing around the office. As a pastor, I do my fair share of weddings throughout the year, but something must have been in the air because my assistant was handing out pre-marital packets like they were candy. I remember one couple in particular — Allan and Sarah. They are planning a wedding in October, head-over-heels for each other and excited about the possibilities ahead. We sat down for our first session, and in customary pastoral fashion, I began to probe a little bit.
How did you meet? How long have you been dating? How are you doing with physical boundaries? What’s conflict like for you? Slowly but surely the answers came. They were a little nervous at first perhaps, but gradually we fell into an easy conversation exploring the ups and downs of love. Most of my questions are expected, and like most couples, Allan and Sarah were not surprised by them.
As we neared the end of the session, however, I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out a folder labeled “The Big Five.” I explained that my job as their pastor is not to make getting married easier or to make them feel good about their relationship. I reminded them that, in actuality, what they propose to embark upon can be far from convenient and not always comfortable.
In this folder are five questions that will help them know if they should get married. In fact, I tell them, if they answer no to one or more of these, I will recommend they wait or maybe not get married at all. Why? In a culture where broken marriages are the norm, even in the church, greater weight needs to be placed on making sure that the stage is set for a successful relationship and establishing a foundation that won't crack in the long run.
Needless to say, you could cut the tension in my office with a knife as Allan and Sarah waited to hear what I would ask. Clearing my throat, I began.
1. Are you ready to give your life away?
This question gets asked and answered every day — not just at the altar. I have had so many discussions with newlyweds who have said their biggest challenge is not being able to do what they want, when they want to. You don't get to take a nap on a whim, you can't just come home when you want to and you can't take alone time when you feel like it.
You essentially have to face your selfishness. When you get married, you no longer live with your best interest as your priority. The best interest of your spouse is your new priority when you say "I do." Personal freedom takes a back seat to sacrificial love. In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about marriage and emphasizes the fact that the role of both the husband and the wife is to lay their lives down for one another.
2. Do you have both parents' blessing?
The blessing from parents has both pragmatic and spiritual implications. The requirement is not just support but blessing. The old adage is true, "You don't just marry the person, you marry their family," and the long-term repercussions of jumping into marriage without the blessing could be nothing less than traumatic. If you ask either your parents or hers and they don't give it, tell them you will wait for it within reason. The value of that sacrifice will pay dividends for a lifetime.
3. Is there more to your relationship than physical attraction/affection?
I have seen too many couples form an emotional bond because of their physical relationship that they have never bothered to ask a host of other questions. Do you see eye to eye on spiritual matters? Do you enjoy each other's company? Are you challenged by the other person? Do you trust them fully with your heart? Are they safe? Are you in the same orbit about future expectations? Do they have discipline? Don't marry someone just because you like the idea of being with someone for a lifetime or because you're afraid you might not find someone else if you end the relationship. Picking the right person for you is imperative.
4. Is the timing right?
In the excitement of meeting a person you think you might want to spend the rest of your life with, it is easy to think that the best course of action is to walk down the aisle as soon as possible. There are multiple factors to keep in mind as you consider timing. Are you financially in a position to start a new life together?
I have met too many guys that can hardly make the rent payment and don't have a steady job, and they think that adding a woman into the equation makes sense. Last time I checked, women appreciate security — the electricity getting turned off adds an unnecessary stress to the start of a new marriage. I think it is a good rule of thumb to know each other for at least a year before you marry. This allows you to see each other in a variety of circumstances and get a more well-rounded perspective.
5. Would you marry this person if he/she never changed?
Is there something that your fiancé does that drives you up the wall? What if he never changes? Would you be OK with that? Or would that end it? It is a common belief that marriage is going to make any issues go away, be the magic fix all or a cover up for relationship woes. The truth is that marriage won't minimize issues but rather magnify them. Issues left alone will grow, and the intensity of marriage will make them blow up. So take the time to examine all the corners of your relationship, and be honest about any character flaws or issues that are deal breakers. If you find any, don't move forward until they are dealt with.
Silence reigned upon my completion. You could feel the weight as thoughts and emotions churned. I was OK with that. I have been married for 16 years, and it is amazing, but marriage is not to be entered into lightly. The pain of a broken marriage is much greater than the pain of waiting until these questions are settled. Presuming that Allan and Sarah will be the exception to the rule would be a dangerous line to walk.
I did end up marrying them in October. It was a beautiful wedding and is an incredible marriage. Allan and Sarah may have been a bit uncomfortable that day, but they left my office with a deeper realization of what marriage truly meant.
Copyright 2012 Aaron Stern. All rights reserved.