I was 28 when I married my best friend. I don't know if you would consider that "marrying young." I didn't think so back then, and I still don't. One of the byproducts of being married is that you soon start seeing through the myths and lies that culture puts in your head during your single years.
One of the biggest consequences of not understanding God’s design for marriage is that, as singles, we can live in great fear and uncertainty about marriage. This fear and uncertainty is often, though not always, the root of the growing cultural trend towards delaying marriage until later in life. Consequently, those who delay or forego marriage, end up delaying the opportunity to experience first-hand the redemptive power of God’s grace through an intimate relationship with a spouse. Marriage, more than anything else in life, gives you a hands-on glimpse at how vast is God’s love for us, and just how much he desires to be intimate with us.
While I’m not a marriage expert by any means, in my eight years of marriage so far, I've learned quite a few things. I'd like to share a few key lessons I suspect apply to most if not all couples. I hope they will challenge you and encourage you, my single friends, to prepare for marriage and even pursue the goal of getting married young.
To set the stage, let me tell you what I think have been the most essential character traits for enjoying and sustaining a healthy, albeit imperfect, marriage.
- The ability to accept admonishment and confrontation.
- The ability to seek and accept forgiveness.
- Being teachable and committed to pursuing maturity and seeking to develop Christ-like attributes.
- The ability to be vulnerable with your spouse and the commitment to get better at it.
Regardless of what kind of example you’ve seen lived out in your own home, marriage takes a lot of hard, intentional work. Despite what you may have seen or heard, the purpose of marriage is not to make you feel good about yourself or to make you happy. It is to help you grow in character and become more like Christ. God has modeled such selfless, gracious love for us. He loved us while we were yet sinners. But it will take a willingness to practice such traits if you are to reap the rewards, blessings and joy that God designed for marriage. If you keep your eyes open, you will come to see, understand, and know God better than ever before.
So don’t take marriage lightly—or your dating relationships, for that matter. That said, here are some things marriage can do for you, and some reasons to avoid unnecessarily delaying your own marriage.
Some years before I got married, I was sharing with a mentor that I wanted to get better at being faithful in reading the Bible and having a time of prayer before getting married. His advice to help me work on that area: get married! “A wife is God’s gift to you,” he told me, “and if you are both seeking to grow closer to God, she will remind you and help you get better at it.”
Marriage brings another person closer to you than ever before. Whatever character flaws you’ve managed to hide from friends and family, and even from yourself, will be revealed. Be ready for that, and welcome the opportunity each moment of conflict affords you to identify an area that needs polishing. Embrace the process of becoming more like Christ.
Don’t wait to have all your moral or character “ducks” in a row. Of course, each situation is different, but assuming you have the previously listed character traits in practice in your life, get married!
Marriage does wonders for your finances:
I got engaged after a year of dating. When I handed my future wife her ring, I had been unemployed or underemployed for almost two years and was in a huge amount of consumer debt. I’m too embarrassed about it to actually write the dollar amount. On top of that, I confess that back then, I had atrocious spending habits and a huge lack of financial discipline. I was actively job-seeking and decided that I would accept the best job offer available on the Friday of the week I was planning to get engaged. I had several opportunities in the works and did several job interviews in the week prior to my planned engagement date. My financial “ducks” were not in a row.
Two days after getting engaged, I accepted a great job offer with a big non-profit organization. Knowing that I wanted to get married was a huge motivator. I was ready to do whatever it took to start earning, and I was willing to accept help and coaching in the area of finances. My then fiancé encouraged me each step of the way and affirmed my value as an individual, despite being unemployed and her belief in what I could do, despite the present circumstances at that time.
God knew what I needed, even if I did not exactly recognize it. My wife is just about the most frugal person I know. Her maturity and ability to defer present desires for future reward constantly challenges me. Once we were married, we rented a small apartment in a bad part of town from a co-worker. We had some scary evenings that may have included a drug deal in our building’s parking lot. But those first few years allowed us grow closer, to practice living frugally, and to get ourselves on better financial footing before kids came into the picture. It helped my extremely frugal wife learn to trust in the Lord’s provision more and more. And it helped me learn to be self-controlled and learn to enjoy things that don’t require spending money. Most importantly, it helped us both draw closer to each other and learn to be one in how we made financial decisions.
Back when I was still dating, one of my pastors counseled me to wait a few years before pursuing marriage—to get out of debt and get in better financial shape. I don’t know why, because I don’t know that I thought about it rationally, but I decided that it was not worth waiting. Had I decided to wait, it may have been two or three years before I could have gotten married under those criteria.
I would never suggest you disregard good counsel. And I don’t want you to think your financial health doesn’t matter – it does! But two give better return than one. Together, my wife and I did more for our finances, and for our character in the area of finances, than we would have done separately. Consider your financial challenges carefully, and be willing to sacrifice lifestyle standards of this world for the blessings and sanctification that come with marriage.
Lifestyle habits are easy to make and hard to break:
Some of the biggest challenges that I discovered with marriage are the huge… um, I mean silly little differences we each bring into marriage. No matter how hard you try to look for a “compatible” woman who shares many things in common with you, I can assure you it is impossible. I don’t have scientific research behind that, but everything I see in my marriage and in the marriages of others tell me there are no two humans alike. The biggest source of conflict many times are the smallest, silliest of things…like how to do the dishes, or whether the bed sheets should be tucked-in or un-tucked.
The fact is that humans are creatures of habit. The longer you live as a single person, the more patterns and habits you build into your life. The more entrenched the habits, and the bigger the chance that one of those “it’s just the way I do it” things is going to clash with your future spouse. It’s going to happen no matter what, but the sooner you get married, the sooner you can start developing habits and lifestyle patterns together.
Marriage is all about developing oneness. So make sure you consider if you’re having trouble developing strong relationships with good, mature Godly women simply because of things that should be considered lifestyle choices and not moral imperatives. God may ask you to give up some of your habits and patterns for the sake of your spouse. Start practicing that today, if you’re still single, and don’t let a difference like that hold you back from marriage.
Don’t let ambition get in the way:
I know a young man I mentored during his last year of high school. We had a lot of conversations about romance, dating and marriage. I challenged him and a few other guys in the group to consider getting married young and to live intentionally striving to get ready for marriage sooner rather than later. I don’t know what sort of influence my words had in his life, but he and his long-time girlfriend decided to marry while they were still in their first year of college. One of them switched schools in order to be together, and they attend classes and live together. Of course, I don’t have the full picture of what their finances look like, but I share the story to say that when there is a will, there is a way. I’m pretty sure they are going to come out of their college years with a more unified lifestyle and shared habits that can only strengthen their marriage. And they will have the shared joys and experience of their college years to cherish for years to come.
In my own case, I wanted to pursue graduate school, so my wife and I agreed I should go back to school within a few months after we got married. It was tough—I won’t lie. Working a full time job and taking night-classes twice a week and doing homework on two other nights a week was hard, not just on me but on my wife. We set boundaries to ensure I still spent time with her and did not let school hurt our marriage. Eventually I switched to an online program so I could at least be home and avoid commuting to class. My wife pushed me and held me accountable to do the work in applying for and getting scholarships so our finances would not suffer. The second income she brought in allowed us to continue saving for a future home, even while I was spending part of our income on books. If I had not been married, I don’t think I would have a graduate degree today. The fact is getting married when we did allowed us to get out of debt, save for a home, and get on a solid financial footing. I could not have done it without her.
If God has placed a good, Godly woman in your life, consider whether you are allowing our culture’s lies about priorities get in the way of the blessings God wants to give you. Don’t let ambition get in the way of marriage.
Don't allow fear to drive your marital decisions:
God works differently and guides differently for each person. My intent is not to discount what God is doing in your life or how He is guiding you, but rather to challenge singles to make sure you’re not waiting due to cultural norms that don't line up with God's design. How long you date or how long you’re engaged is not the issue. Rather make sure you don't just settle for the world's standard for what life should be like -- "finish college, enjoy life, get rich, travel, date around, and maybe...once you've lived, then get married." Sometimes, I think our modern day culture treats marriage like it treats retirement - do it once you’ve experienced life and don't have anything better to do. That's the message I see singles getting...even inside the church. If you believe that, you’re going to miss out.
As I said before, marriage is not something to be taken lightly. If you’ve resisted growing up and you’ve refused to allow God to work in your life’s character weaknesses, marriage won’t change any of that. But if you are a man who has been seeking to be more like Christ, marriage can be the greatest and most beneficial thing to ever happen to you. Don’t believe the lies our culture feeds us. Don’t allow fear to drive your decision making. Marriage is a good thing and worth pursuing with courage and boldness.