In the midst of a series of articles I wrote about dating and marriage, I started getting the impression that some readers believe that those who think about marriage at all think about it too much.
A common argument against my understanding of marriage runs something like this:
The hope of marriage is great, but it’s not something you should think about much, or it will take away from your relationship with God. It will become its own god, reinforced by any number of chick flicks, romance novels, TV shows and movies. Besides, since when is marriage the road to wholeness or fulfillment? God should be our priority and our heart’s desire. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be marriage but God’s will.
I’m familiar enough with this challenge because I used to pine for the day I’d finally be wed. I was only 13 when I started dreaming, in great detail, about my wedding day. I spent hours poring over bridal magazines with my girlfriends, imagining what the big event would be like, complete with heart-stopping romantic scenarios and gauzy images of diamonds and flowers.
I know from my own experience that it’s not healthy — or productive — to obsess about marriage. On a practical level, obsessing undermines the goal. I’ve never met a guy who was drawn to the “desperate to get married” type. But the objection goes even deeper than that. Doesn’t actively looking for someone to marry keep us from focusing on God? Isn’t faith in God’s ability to bring our mate to us enough? Doesn’t looking for a mate tell God that we don’t trust Him to provide for us?
It sounds reasonable enough. If you can’t think about marriage without obsessing about what’s not yet to be, then redirect your thoughts. Don’t think about it. As the Song of Solomon says, “Do not awaken or arouse love until it so desires” (2:7).
The argument against a proactive effort to get married is rooted in a belief about priorities. My critics say I risk prioritizing marriage over God’s will.
But what if God’s will for your life is marriage? Isn’t it possible that if you don’t think about it, you risk missing out on God’s will?
The inner struggle to keep a right perspective about the longing for marriage reminds me of an annual post holiday tradition in my family. Every Jan. 2, we all sit around and vow, “We’ll never eat again!” Still feeling the bloat caused by weeks of holiday favorites — turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes with extra butter, and the “just one more cookie” mentality — we promise to survive on lettuce and filtered water.
But we all know it won’t be long before we stop feeling stuffed and are actually, legitimately, hungry again. If we don’t eat, we’ll die. Our bodies were designed to run on food. To avoid that overstuffed feeling we simply need to make healthy choices and know when to stop eating.
Our desire for marriage is similar to our need for food. It’s part of our design. Our desire for marriage is similar to our need for food. It’s part of our design. Obsessing is never a good thing in relationships or food. But saying you’ll never eat again can lead to anorexia, and saying you’ll never think about marriage (and by default, potential marriage partners) can lead to irresistible temptation.
If you lack a vision for marriage, you’re setting yourself up for lax sexual standards, relationships without momentum, and heartache. If you don’t have a deliberate goal in mind — either single service or Christian marriage between two chaste believers — it’s pretty easy to fall prey to sexual temptation. And many are falling. According to pollster George Barna, “Among 21-year-olds, fewer than 1 out of 5 are married, and more than 4 out of 5 have had sexual intercourse — most of them with more than one partner.”George Barna, Single Focus (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003), 43.=”footnote”>
Maybe the answer to my readers’ dilemma isn’t to stop thinking about marriage, but to think about it differently.
The hope of marriage is an antidote to promiscuity. If you believe in Christian marriage and are purposefully working toward it, it’s a lot easier to set physical boundaries and character expectations in dating. Not only do those boundaries help you obey God’s command to save sex for marriage, they increase the likelihood that the men you’re spending time with will be good candidates for marriage.
There is a time and place to put thoughts of romance, marriage and sex out of your mind: when you’re clearly called to single service. But that calling isn’t for everyone. In fact, most Christians are called to marriage. Professor Theophilus said it well:
Some people — especially guys — avoid marriage because they’re too selfish to get married. Actually marriage and family are one of God’s ways of breaking us out of our selfishness…. Jesus says that a few people are set aside by God for an unmarried way of life for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.Matthew 19:10-12 Paul talks about this too.1 Corinthians 7 But Jesus makes clear that the single life is difficult. Those who are called to it should follow it; those who aren’t shouldn’t try.=”footnote”>
That’s not to say that if you’re called to marriage then you have the green light to entertain romantic or sexual fantasies. As Christians we’re all commanded to be pure in our thought life. That requires discipline. It’s just that those in single service shouldn’t think about the intricacies of navigating romantic relationships with the opposite sex, while those who are called to marriage should.
So what does right thinking about marriage look like?
1. Marriage is a good thing.
God created marriage for men and women, and it’s natural to want to be married. It took me awhile to embrace this truth. By the time I was 25 and still single, I was embarrassed to admit I wanted to get married. I figured it wasn’t very spiritual to desire a relationship with the opposite sex.
It wasn’t until I walked down the aisle that I realized just how wrong I’d been. There’s nothing more representative of our relationship with God than the joining of a husband and wife. (“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:31-32].)
But the sexual element of marriage, though essential, is only a small part of the picture. The substance of marriage is sacrifice. It’s laying down my desires, my plans, my will, for another. And nothing I experienced before getting married had the power to shape my character like my relationship with Steve. (Until we had a baby, that is. Then I realized my character development was just getting started.)
2. Marriage is not about gift registries.
Getting married is worth celebrating. When it was my turn to walk down the aisle, I relished all the details: tasting cakes, ordering flowers, choosing menus, picking dress fabrics, registering for China and stemware, and buying my trousseau. But those activities were just accessories, not the point of the occasion. Most exciting was knowing I would soon be uniting my soul with another, becoming one. More than having my dream wedding, my goal was a solid relationship.
3. If you’re called to it, you should pursue it.
If you’re called to be a pastor, you go to seminary. If you’re called to be a doctor, you go to medical school. Most people set goals on the path toward realizing their calling. Why should marriage be any different?
After years of praying for my future mate and thinking that was all I could do, I realized I needed to be intentional about my desire for marriage and family. (For more details, see “Finding a Husband.”) I needed to be realistic about my prospects and honest about what I brought to the table, deliberate about how I spent my time, and resourceful. I had to put aside whimsical romantic notions and grab onto the truth of what marriage is and what it isn’t.
And that brings me back to the opening objection. My critics argue that Christians think about marriage too much, casting it as the only road to wholeness and fulfillment. They say wholeness can only be found in a union with Christ.
Christian marriage doesn’t usurp our union with Christ; it enhances it. I need God more than I did before I was married. The struggle of living with another human day-in and day-out deepens my need for God. And it’s only when I try to get all my needs met in my husband that I’m truly disappointed.
A great Christian writer, Francis de Sales, said it this way: “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other. It is a perpetual exercise of mortification…. From this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.”Francis de Sales, Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 1995), 42.=”footnote”>
I do find my fulfillment in Christ. I am whole in Him. But that wholeness isn’t solitary. God doesn’t require us to disconnect from the world around us; especially the things — like marriage — that He created for us.
Copyright 2004 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.