Four ways to prepare couples for marriages that will last a lifetime
Having been a college/20-something pastor for the last decade, I have lived in the land of dating, engagement and wedding officiating. My weekends are regularly filled with beautiful flowers, “Here Comes the Bride” and mediocre reception musicians. Officiating weddings is fun, and a lot of energy is poured into making this a special and memorable day. But there is so much more that must be considered. Have we spent more energy pulling off a wedding and less on preparing to make a marriage last a lifetime?
I have been asked “How do I know if she is the one?” more times than I can count, taught about dating and marriage multiple times, and spent endless hours in premarital counseling. Thinking about this sacred subject has been a necessity for me. Here are a few things I have come to realize in trying to prepare young adults for marriage.
Paint a realistic picture. Marriage is a beautiful thing, designed by God. There is fulfillment and joy for two people that “submit themselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). But having a great marriage takes a lot of work. When we get caught up in the enchanting imagery of Ephesians 5, we have to remember that it is an invitation to the death of self. It is easy to be a servant when people praise us for it, but the test is will we still serve when people treat us like servants?
Emphasize servanthood. Not long ago one of our boys woke up in the middle of the night and my wife, Jossie, asked me to go check on him. I would like to say that I naturally popped out of bed, settled our son and then asked if there were any clothes my wife needed ironing while I was up. Instead, I made a calculated choice to serve in that moment, slowly falling out of bed in the middle of the night to allow her some more sleep. It is easy to talk about laying your life down; the key is actually doing it.
The best way I know how to do this is to help people know that “marriage is not about you.” This runs counter to our culture, which says, “If you aren’t happy, get out. You can do better.” The fact is that marriage is about Jesus. It is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church, and a refining tool that chips away at our selfishness to help us become more like Jesus.
Address cohabitation. I believe that living together before marriage is not a good idea. Our culture adheres to the belief that “if it feels good, do it.” The
problem with this philosophy is that it puts my desires and feelings of what is good ahead of biblical truth and tested wisdom. Though the Bible does not specifically state, “thou shalt not live together before getting married,” it does clearly communicate God’s desire for us to live a pure life (I Thess. 4:7) and avoid sexual
immorality (I Cor. 6:18). Living together certainly makes that more difficult.
Don’t just inspire hope ... teach skills. Everyone hopes that marriage will last a lifetime, and that they will have a loving family that stands up against the odds. No guy stands at the altar and thinks, “I am going to cheat on this girl, break her heart and destroy her dreams.” And no girl secretly thinks, “This is going to be an utter failure, and I am going to do this three more times.” The hopes are high, so why are there so many divorces and unhealthy families? I suggest it is because there has been too much inspiration and not enough skill development. I love the interlocking of character with skills that described King David’s leadership in Ps. 78:72 (NLT): “He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.”
Let the engaged couples be excited about marriage for such is the way it should be. But optimism must be coupled with skills—skills to resolve conflict, communicate effectively, follow a budget and forgive. Divorce happens when there is a loss of hope. But could it be that underdeveloped skills led them there?
Aaron Stern is the college/20-something pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the author of What’s Your Secret? He has been married to his wife, Jossie, for 16 years, and they have four sons. Find out more at aaronstern.com.