Every situation has its own unique details to work through, but let me focus on just one thing within the suitor’s control.
For perspective, let’s all recall how Rachel’s father, Laban, treated Jacob in Genesis 29. It took Jacob a grand total of 14 years to be married to Rachel free and clear, not to mention that he also had to marry Rachel’s sister.
Unjust? Yes. Too much for Jacob? No.
Initially, Laban required seven years of work from Jacob in order to marry his daughter. To Jacob though, those years “seemed like only a few days” because of his love for Rachel.
For you guys especially, I want you to try to comprehend the kind of commitment Jacob had to making this marriage happen while doing his absolute best to honor Rachel’s father. He was put off for seven years, then intentionally given the wrong wife, then wrangled into twice the amount of time of labor.
Now, at this point most modern-day suitors would have had enough of these injustices and either moved forward with marriage plans (making her parents mad and guaranteeing some seriously awkward holiday meals); secretly eloped (forget holiday meals; you’ll be lucky to get a Christmas card); or dropped her altogether and found a set of in-laws who wouldn’t force you into a two-for-one deal. OK, I’m with you on that last one.
What I want us to understand from Jacob’s story is his heart to do whatever he needed to do in order to marry Rachel. To Jacob, 14 years of work and taking on an extra wife was worth it. Obviously, not everything in this story is applicable to our discussion. Let’s not use seven-year courtships and bigamy as our gold standard. And I realize that in this story, the future father-in-law actually approved of the potential son-in-law, so disapproval wasn’t the problem.
My point is Jacob’s heart. He knew what God had for him (marriage), and who he wanted (Rachel), and he was convinced God would work it out. He was determined to partner with God for his own future, and he was convinced Rachel was part of it.
The thing that stands out in Jacob’s life that makes him a model for today’s young men seeking a mate is that he had an absolute trust in God that didn’t fold in the face of injustice or delayed resolution. He knew he had heard from God and that somehow God would work this out. It was his friendship with God that served as the foundation for his love for Rachel.
You can only imagine how impressed Laban was with Jacob. He honorably overcame Laban’s every barrier in order to marry his daughter. Whatever concerns about Jacob that Laban might have had (Scripture doesn’t mention any) would have probably faded quickly in light of Jacob’s obvious trust in God and determined love for Rachel.
For you modern-day Jacobs, unless resolving her parents’ concerns require some moral compromise on your part (e.g., requires you to disobey God), doing your best to patiently oblige them will at least show them that to you, their daughter is worth whatever it takes.
Most parents want what is best for their daughters. Moms and dads want their daughters to be happy and treated well, and generally, have her best interest in mind. And yes, it’s true that few suitors rise to the level of worthiness of a parent’s little girl. In other words, you’re starting out in the negative and have to gain ground just to get to zero.
My advice is that you initiate face-to-face conversations with her parents (don’t go back and forth between you, her, her parents, back to her, then back to you!) and assure them that you would never do anything if you thought it would hurt their daughter, that you couldn’t imagine anything but her happiness, and that you would do everything within your abilities to see that she is well taken care of. That’s what a parent wants to know. Then, of course, you must prove it.
Ask them what it will take from you to win their trust; then make every effort to do it. If you got off on the wrong foot with them, or you’re on the wrong foot with them now, ask to start over.
I believe that one of the primary purposes of Family is to be a crucible that God uses to purify our hearts and transform us into the image of Christ. Extended family is a part of that. Let God use it to bring the transformation in your own heart that He wants to bring, and leave it to Him work out the rest in others.
There is, of course, another side of this discussion, which is leaving and cleaving in a healthy and biblical way. That doesn’t just happen overnight. But we’ll save that for a future Boundless Answers.
Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.