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The more you read about preparing for marriage, the more questions you may have. Should I kiss dating goodbye, or is courtship fundamentally flawed? Are the only two alternatives cohabitation or arranged marriage? As a parent, where do you draw the line between being careless and being controlling?
It's easy to want a formula when it comes to relationships. Marriage is risky. Who wouldn't want to minimize that risk? Is there a universal formula: insert relationship, avoid heartbreak, live happily ever after? Of course not. Yet from the hype that you hear in some Christian circles, you'd think it's been discovered, and it's called courtship.
We aren't opposed to the courtship formula. It was a reaction from the directionless dating of the previous generation, and it emphasizes that love is not a game, that family is important, and that commitment is not to be feared but expected. However, it's led over the years to some unhelpful ideas. Most prevelant is the idea that courtship is the only Bible-approved method of finding a spouse. Worse than that is the idea that if you do courtship “right” you will end up with a compatible spouse and a problem-free—or at least, problem-low—marriage.
These ideas aren't encouraged explicitly, but implicitly. And they have no doubt been complicit in the breakup and downfall of quite a few recent marriages and institutions. The problem lies in the fact that young men and women are told (or assume) that this formula will secure them a happy marriage. That leads to a nasty surprise when they reach a hard patch later, because didn't they do it “right?”
When it comes down to it, formulas are just attempts to control the unavoidable pain that comes with love. Despite what American culture believes, there is no way to truly minimize your risk of pain. All love has an element of risk. That's why love and marriage are such powerful pictures of the Gospel. Christ, for the joy that was set before Him, poured out Himself in love for us even though pain and death were certain. Love meant laying down His life and taking up the cross. It meant struggling and fighting, not for earthly happiness, but for eternal joy.
There is a great deal of disillusionment happening in some of these Christian circles. Disillusionment is not necessarily a bad thing. Marriage can become an idol, and the idols are being smashed. But we encourage you to act not from a spirit of reaction or of fear. Formulas and methods can give you helpful guidelines but they aren't guarantees to a happy marriage, relationship, or life. Read books on preparing for marriage, by all means, but do so with a discerning eye.
Here are a few things you can do right now that will serve you well whether or not you get married. Practice making thoughtful choices. Remember that you have a voice. Stop avoiding good things simply because they bring you short term pain. Don't think you have to marry the first woman you pursue or the first man that makes a move. Remember that joy is not found through avoiding pain. Relationships are messy, and yours will not be the exception.
When preparing for marriage you must strive to be wise and avoid temptation. Marriage is for the rest of your life, and you should build on a solid foundation. But don't let the inevitability of pain scare you away from the glorious raw struggle that is love. Don't hide from it or attempt to control it. Embrace it. All real, vulnerable, shameless love has an element of Christ.
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