I’m a 20-year-old college girl who has been dating a guy for about 6 months. We are not extremely serious, but marriage is always on my mind as I hope to find a future spouse one day. Coming from a very solid Christian family myself, I always had it in my mind that I wanted to marry/date a guy who came from a strong (hopefully Christian) family background as well, since it is always said “beware, you marry the family too, not just your spouse.”
What I am finding is that this is just not the easiest thing to find these days; there are so many broken families. The guy I am in a relationship with now comes from a broken family (his mom is an alcoholic who divorced his dad, who also struggles with alcoholism and anger, many years ago).
Thankfully, my boyfriend became a Christian in his high school years and has been able to forgive his parents. He does his best to love his parents for who they are, continuing to pray and hope one day they will seek Jesus. However, in the time being, his family is still broken, and he carries lots of baggage with him from the past. He is a wonderful, encouraging, follower of Christ but has this vastly different background from me. I do not know if I should be considering marriage down the road in this relationship when I had this expectation to marry someone who came from a more stable background.
I worry about one day raising a family and having to work through the broken pieces of his side of the family. To add to the pressure, my sister age 23 just got married about four months ago to the most solid Christian guy who comes from a beautifully strong, loving, Christ-centered family. I feel pressured to find the same. Thoughts and/or advice?
As good as it is to marry someone from a strong Christian home, it is no guarantee of having one going forward. If he is in Christ, there’s no reason a man with a background like your boyfriend’s can’t form a God-honoring, biblically-faithful family.
I’ve seen this played out in one of my friends’ marriages. It’s the sort of grace-filled, Gospel-affirming relationship you would not expect if you knew her background. Raised amidst the chaos of divorce, substance abuse and neglect, by a mom with mental illness, hers is not the history that anyone would want to marry into. But God, being rich in mercy, saved her. She was dead in her sins, and He raised her to life, gave her a new heart and filled her with the Holy Spirit to empower her to obey. He cancelled the record of her sin, broke sin’s power, and transferred her from the kingdom of darkness into His marvelous light.
It was a remarkable redemption. As it is every single time He redeems someone! Neither you nor I nor anyone, regardless of our family background, is any less dead, any less separated from God, or in any less debt than the worst sinner. And none of us are any closer to God because of the home we grew up in.
Just because a Christian man comes from a broken home is not, by itself, reason to write him off as a potential husband. It is not his broken background that should hold your attention, but rather his response to it in light of the Gospel. You say he “carries lots of baggage with him from the past.” What does he do when his parents act sinfully? What about him? When pressed, does he resemble his biological father, exploding in anger, or does he resemble his heavenly Father? Is he marked by the fruit of the Spirit: patient, peaceful, gentle, kind, self-controlled? Whom does he resemble? Does he act like his family of origin, or like the family he’s been adopted into?
Undoubtedly he will have more growing to do. Becoming like Christ — sanctification — is a lifelong process for every believer. Does he read his Bible regularly? Is he teachable? Is he being mentored by godly men? Does he submit weekly to the faithful preaching of God’s Word; is he a baptized member of an evangelical church; does he participate in the Lord’s supper; is he regularly confessing sin and repenting for it? These are evidences of grace, as well as the means to growing in maturity and godliness. They are necessary in his life, but in yours too!
You’re right that it’s no small thing when a man comes from an intact home, where both father and mother are Christians, where they have prioritized faithfulness to their wedding vows, and where they have done their best to obey the command to “train their children in the fear of the Lord” and disciple them “all along the way.” (Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:5-7) All of this is a gift from God. But we don’t get to choose who gets that gift. And we certainly mustn’t think we’ve earned it or act superior to those without it or reject someone simply because God gave him a different portion. None of us has control over which parents are ours. The nature of our families is part of the mystery of God’s wisdom and providence.
It’s a mistake to think a man with a background like yours would be better equipped, by virtue of his parents, to form the family you hope to have. To borrow a phrase from the business world, “past performance is no guarantee of future success.” A person’s parents can’t guarantee the sort of person he’ll be or the type of life he’ll lead. This works in both directions: good parents can raise bad kids and bad parents can raise good kids. The kings of Israel prove this repeatedly. Josiah, son of the wicked Amon and even more wicked Manasseh, is revered for rediscovering “a book” — the law of God — and returning the people of God to the Lord (1 Chronicles 3:10-14, 2 Chronicles 34:14-33).
One caution. While it’s helpful to observe your sister’s new marriage and learn from her experience, it’s important not to compare your situations in a competitive way. As the oldest of five children, I know what it’s like to feel the old sibling rivalry kick in. It’s amazing how the sinful yearning for fairness can linger into adulthood. Even in a vibrant, loving family, you may find yourself assuming that what your sister or brother has or does is naturally the path you’ll take. But that may not be God’s plan. Right after Jesus told Peter about his calling and the hardships he would endure, Peter looked up and saw John. John 21:21-22 says, “When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’”
It is His call to each of us: “You follow me!”
Consider the way your family can be an asset to your boyfriend. Might your Dad mentor him — even by way of long distance phone calls or letters? It is essential that you walk out your dating relationship with the help of wise, mature Christian friends and pastors. (This is always the case, in every dating relationship.) You should also read Paul David Tripp’s book What Did You Expect? to prepare you for the sorts of challenges you’ll face in marriage, no matter whom you marry.
Don’t put your hope in a man’s family background; your hope must be in the Lord. And don’t walk in fear of where he came from; fear the Lord.
By grace alone,
p.s. A little more than a year ago I answered a question from a woman, wondering if she would ever find a man from a good home to marry her, given her family background. I commend it to you, as I think it will help you to empathize in what your boyfriend may be feeling as the “odd man out.” https://www.boundless.org/advice/2014/are-men-not-interested-in-me-because-of-my-family
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.