We never intended to scare the engaged couple, but that is exactly what happened.
Their faces said it all. No longer were they excited about the prospect of marriage, but they were frightened concerning the impending storm awaiting them. In perfect tandem, my wife and I sat across the table and barraged them with all the possible marriage landmines awaiting them after the honeymoon. As soon as I finished warning them concerning traps regarding sexual intimacy, she hit them with the dangers of financial missteps, and then I explained how in-laws can become outlaws very quickly. We continued until they were up against the ropes too exhausted to maintain their defenses. We had experienced in our own marriage and in other marriages how issues can quickly onslaught a couple, and we were going to enlighten these young whippersnappers and heighten their senses.
After we removed the blinders from this young couple concerning unrealistic marital expectations, we calmly reassured them,
“Don’t forget, next to salvation, marriage is the greatest gift God will ever give you.”
They just stared in disbelief. While they didn’t admit it, I had a suspicious feeling that they thought we were a couple of lunatics who lied to them concerning our “Christianese” conclusion.
As we drove off that night, we realized we needed to work on our delivery. We did not change the content of our counsel but we did change the order of our counsel. We still address the same issues but tackle them in a different way. Next to salvation, marriage is the greatest gift God gives us, but if not careful, we can mishandle this glorious offering from the Lord.
Preparing for Marriage
I have been privileged to officiate many wedding ceremonies in my time as a pastor. I feel the weight of such a pivotal and precious responsibility. While I try to share as much information as possible during premarital counseling sessions, I always want to give more.
In one sense, you are never prepared for marriage. On my wedding day, I woke up in my empty house and thought, “I can’t get married. I still like to play video games.” Certain aspects of marriage must be learned via experience. Books and podcasts can only teach you so much, but once you are married, you begin to earn advanced degrees or flunk out at rapid rates. In many regards, you won’t be fully prepared for marriage until you are married.
In another sense, you must prepare yourself for marriage. Every effort invested in preparation will reap extreme benefits for you and your spouse.
If experience is the only teacher for marital bliss, then all marriages are doomed for failure.
I simply refuse to believe that. You must be aware of the potential marital strife without causing it to handicap your initial efforts. There is a fine line between awareness and fear but it is important to determine it.
As I think through components that helped new marriages thrive, many of them worked on four key areas during the engagement.
- Work on Sanctification for God’s Glory and Your Fiancé’s Benefit. Sanctification means that you are growing in Christ. It is the process of becoming more like him (Rom. 6:18; Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 2:20; 1 Thess. 4:3; 2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Phil. 1:6). Your fiancé will benefit if you are more like Jesus. What are you currently doing to draw closer to Jesus?
- Prepare More for the Marriage Than the Wedding. Once engaged, most couples use the majority of their time together planning details for a 25-minute service and a 90-minute party while neglecting to cultivate the union that should last for a lifetime. You won’t enjoy the photo album of that day if the marriage it represents goes down in flames. Commit to working on the details, but carve out time where you nurture the relationship during your engagement. Don’t miss the one to whom you are engaged during the engagement. Make your desire for each other (Song of Sol. 7:10) and not just a good ceremony.
- Surround Yourselves with Friends Who Love Marriage. If all of the influential people in your life are negative about marriage, your perspective will change (Ps. 1:1; Prov. 13:20). I recommend that you join a discipleship group within your church as individuals or as a couple that will help spur you on to love and good deeds during this time (Heb. 10:24-25). If you choose a co-ed group, ensure that you have some outside accountability (Prov. 27:17) to protect yourselves from sin that can easily beset you during engagement (Heb. 12:1).
- Learn from an Older Couple Whose Love Is Evident. Scripture commands for older generations to teach the younger generations (Titus 2:3-5; Ps. 145:4; 2 Tim. 2:2; Ps. 71:18; 1 Cor. 11:1). Oftentimes, our churches segregate age divisions to all of our detriment. Find a couple who has been married for a while and are obviously still thrilled by the union. Avoid older naysayers who demean their spouses in public. Seek out a couple who love marriage like Jesus loves marriage and take them out for dinner. Ask them questions and glean insight from their wisdom.
All of these four steps honestly come down to working on four relationships:
If you are preparing for marriage, I pray you begin to focus in on cultivating these relationships.
Marriage is a great gift. Work hard so you can enjoy it fully.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.