We all do it. We all recognize it. We watch as they leave, hand in hand, with wrinkled smiles as they sit quietly on some park bench watching the birds. Of course they can be comfortably silent, because they have been in conversation for 50 years of marriage or more. This lull in the conversation is only temporary, they are catching their breaths before the next part of their story. And the rest of us, well, we can’t help but applaud inside while the question burns in us: “Just how did you know you were so right for each other?” I know I’ve done this, and if my students are any indication, this is a question we all ask from time to time. Because I’ve had the pleasure of talking with a few of these couples that question, and because they usually love to share their stories, the next few paragraphs are just a modest attempt at collecting some of the best things told to me by those who have seemingly found “the one” and never looked back.
While for some people it certainly feels like every relationship could be “the one,” it doesn’t take long for others to almost immediately begin worrying about making the wrong decision. Questions of compatibility loom large in our minds, and suddenly small things become big things or we become unsure of the decisions we are making. “What if they aren’t right for me?” I myself used to think God was, or could be, preparing that “one person” for us and then, “what if I didn’t recognize her when I found her?” While it may make some sense at first, perhaps God is actually preparing us for a purpose, instead of a particular person, and in this purpose marriage is just a part. It may be a big part, but it is not an end in itself. The truth is when we get caught up in worrying about whether someone is or isn’t the one, we either let things slide that would never slide with anyone else, or we heap on ourselves undue stress that actually hinder us from enjoying the person for who they truly are. This can mean that sometimes we try to force the person we are with into the box we label “the one” and we never see them for who they truly are. People are neither a means nor an ends. Those are the two opposite extremes of using people. Instead, I encourage everyone to discover their purpose. God is good, and just maybe He is wiser than we are, and He would never let our happiness depend on something we may lose.
I’ve been told that marriage is both a wonderful gift, and hard work. One of my favorite teachers assures me: “Marriage will challenge you in every area of your life. It’s a commitment that will force you to make the most difficult choices you’ve ever had to make, decisions that make you deal with your lust, greed, selfishness, need to be in control, temper, and just about every other area of temptation.” It will call a maturity out of you and shape you unlike any other kind of earthly relationship. In fact, some Christians consider it to be one of the means of grace by which “heaven meets earth.” I think they may be right. We know that marriage is just a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and His church. Because of what Christ accomplished, we don’t have to settle for anything less than the real thing. The real thing is already here and available to us now.
If this is true, we shouldn’t be surprised that there is a lot written in the Bible about this question. The Bible begins with a romance in a garden between Adam and Eve, and through marriage after marriage and romance after romance, it ends in a wedding feast bigger and better than any wedding party you and I have ever been a part of. Once again, the former is still just a foreshadowing of the latter. The joining of man and woman in the garden is a picture for us how heaven and earth will one day be joined together through the fateful reunion of Christ and his people in the new heavens and new earth. Romance is a big deal in Scripture. The story of the Bible is, in fact, one long romance that not even John Legend or Nicholas Sparks could have dreamed up. It’s no surprise that along the way we find some insights about marriage and romance, here are four that I constantly go back to:
- Are you actively pursuing a relationship with God on a daily basis? (Psalm 41:1, Luke 14:26, James 4)
Also, I know it should go without saying, but let me be clear: If you aren’t good at being alone with God, you’re looking for a partner because you’re lonely. If you don’t love yourself, you’ll become jealous of the love and energy you give to another person because you never gave it to yourself. You’ll only drag somebody into a relationship that they don’t deserve to be in, and neither do you. Don’t be part of the chain reaction of serial daters and rebounders. Instead, what would it look like to engage someone with a heart that’s already full?
- Have you confirmed the vocation that God seems to be calling you towards, and are you doing it? (Genesis 2:22, 2 Samuel 11)
This one has two sides: On the one hand, men you can’t lead a lady anywhere you aren’t already going yourself. Ladies, if he doesn’t know where he’s going, don’t let him piggyback on your plans. A man without a plan, isn’t. On the other hand, marriage should be a cornerstone on which you build the rest of your life. It’s ok not to have every detail smoothed out, but realize that you two are both being called by God towards something that will glorify God. A good marriage is when two people can glorify God best, together.
- Could they answer yes to both questions above? (2 Corinthians 6:14, Hosea-just read the whole book.)
Let’s leave the savior complexes where they belong. None of us have any business making choices off of charm and good looks. The Bible says to “fight the devil” but to “flee from lust.” I’m not sure we take that seriously enough. Ladies, these are moments when he will be at his kindest. If you don’t see good qualities in him now, if he is not already displaying them in the stressful situations as much as the peaceful ones, don’t waste any time looking for them. They aren’t there. Men, if you see in her a lack of respect for your boundaries, if she thinks it is funny to press your buttons, do not let a moment of fun become the foundation for a lifetime of regret. Your wife is a treasure, don’t trade a million-dollar future for a nickel “right now.” There’s a difference between a good choice, and the best choice. You’ll know it in the moment, and wish you had paid attention in hindsight.
- Do you have trustworthy people that think you two would work well together, can instruct you, and can hold you accountable so that you two can be as happy as possible? (Genesis 24, Ruth 3)
Cultures that place consider marriage a family decision seem strange to us, but maybe the rest of the world is on to something. There is valuable input involved when you get your parent’s blessing, they care for you and can often see potential pitfalls and help you avoid the same mistakes they made. If Godly parents aren’t an option, find a pastor or mentor that knows you both well. You won’t regret their counsel. Later, a community of trustworthy counsel can be a source of relief and strength when life gets rough.
- If the answer is yes to all of these, then go for it! Seriously, do it. How? Don’t be awkward, don’t be too serious, but respect one another- Just have fun!
But realize they are not “the one” until you promise yourself, all of your wishes and precautions, to that person for better or worse. Don’t say “I do” until you are ready to say “I do not” to everyone else. Not a moment sooner, and you aren’t obligated to do anything for that person until they are the person. When you have taken those vows, that’s when he or she becomes “the one.” God delights in filling a marriage with more of Himself to those who ask. These guidelines will help us know when the timing is right, as well as when the person is right.
Love, the real romance, is not merely a feeling. It’s a promise. When things get tough, it won’t be the feelings that get you through, it will be the promise that you made to one another. They say that love is blind, but nothing can be further from the truth. Love is not blind, it is bound. It is the nature of love to bind itself to another person. Binding yourself to one person is a small price to pay compared to the marvelous honor of sharing life together with anyone at all. When you are bound, in spite of their weaknesses, in spite of yours, that is when you have found true love. This is because true love is neither a promise built on your own merits, nor is it carried out in your own strengths. It is a promise built on the very nature of Christ himself. Until we understand the cross, we cannot understand why being committed to what is right must take priority over what we prefer. All those things that we see in Christ- forgiveness, self-sacrifice, patient wisdom, and submission- all of those things are what transforms a happy romance into a life-long marriage.
It takes both emotion and promise. Without the promise, there is anxiety, without emotion, it is a drudgery. If we pursue a person because we have deep feelings for them, those feelings will come and go- and if you have ever lost them, take heart because they will come again- but this is why we shouldn’t choose people based on how we feel. Instead, marry the person because they draw you deeper into Christ. The feeling of falling in love is wonderful. In one fell swoop you may very well find yourself able to fulfill the entirety off the law towards at least one person. Real love is a steady wish for the other person’s best, at whatever cost to yourself. Yes, that is an amazing experience for sure. It feels like freedom because it is, at least towards one person. Yet, there are many things below it, and there are many things above it. It has to be emphasized- those feelings do not last, and that’s a good thing. If “happily ever after” meant “and they went on feeling the same way about one another forever as they did the day they fell in love” what would become of them? Their jobs, their friendships, or even their health? We were made for love, but not to be in-love all the time forever. We were instead made for a kind of falling in love, together; where the love between the two lovers is not turned inward upon themselves, but outward, with a reach towards Heaven that therefore encompasses the whole earth with it. The object of this love is not solely about one another’s best, it is a love for all of life. This is the most selfless kind of love imaginable. If we do not listen to those precautions given above- especially to those voices that want the very best for us- we may find ourselves betrayed by those same feelings we had trusted, and instead of happiness we find only bitterness. Instead, we look and listen for the true love. It will be the quiet whisper of freedom, because the voice is more humble than temptation and yet more melodic than folly. That is the kind of true love that leads to joy. It is this quieter love on which the engine of marriage is run. Being in love was just the explosion that started it all.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think any of us can know if you are marrying the right person or marrying the wrong person. I don’t think we are commanded to love just one person. Instead, and this has been assured to me by many happily married old men, treat the wrong person like the right person. You may discover that they were the right person all along. In this way, it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person.
So in the words of a wonderful couple I had the pleasure of meeting at a little park in an unassuming town called New Bern, if you find yourself wondering, “Just how did they know?” that’s the beginning of your answer, “We were ready.” I thank them for their advice.
Hey single people, I’ve got good news for you too! Check out Sam Alberry’s brief article here, it’s been one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject. When people tell you that you can’t live a life of fulfillment as a single person, don’t believe em.
Ladies, thank you for reading, if you do nothing else, watch this video sent to me by a friend, it’s simply amazing.
For those of you that are as clueless as I am, or maybe you’re just getting started and could use some advice- here’s a cool website filled with good stuff on marriage, dating, and what makes it work.
For everyone else, as always, leave a comment, ask a question, have a conversation, and Thanks for reading!