I have performed many premarital counseling sessions throughout my years of pastoral ministry. When able, I love for my wife to join me for at least one session so the couple can hear her unique wisdom and perspective. Each time we lead a counseling session, I find we rethink what we say and how we say it.
While we’ve prepared many couples for marriage, one session stands out in my mind. My wife and I never intended to scare the engaged couple, but that is precisely what happened. Their fearful faces said it all as we wrapped up that particular premarital counseling session. No longer were they excited about the prospect of marriage, but they were frightened concerning the impending storm that was seemingly awaiting them.
My wife and I sat across the table in perfect tandem and barraged them with all the potential marriage landmines awaiting them after the honeymoon. As soon as I finished warning them concerning issues regarding communication breakdowns, she hit them with the dangers of financial missteps. Then I explained how in-laws could become outlaws very quickly. We were very good at scaring them very well.
We continued until they were up against the ropes and too exhausted to maintain their defenses. Using the experience of our marriage and watching other marriages revealed how common issues can quickly onslaught a couple. With such information, we were eager to enlighten these young whippersnappers to heighten their senses and protect their relationship with one another. After removing the blinders from their unrealistic marital expectations, we calmly reassured them, “Now, don’t forget, marriage is the greatest gift God will ever give you next to salvation.” 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 about marriage.
As we drove off that night, we realized our need to work on the delivery. We did not change the content of our counsel necessarily, but we did change the order and possibly the spirit of our counsel. While still addressing the same issues, we tackle them differently. Next to salvation, marriage is the greatest gift God gives us, but if not careful, we can mishandle this glorious offering from the Lord and create unnecessary and unfortunate pain.
Before we go any further, let me make sure you understand one thing about my perspective: I do not think you can have a fully healthy marriage without the Lord’s wisdom. If God created marriage, I believe He has a superior perspective and the critical path to success. You may have seen a marriage that seemed healthy from those who don’t follow God. I have as well. A marriage may lack godly people but exhibits godly traits like a broken clock displaying the right time at least twice a day. People may show signs of joy, health, and peace within marriage even if they don’t know Jesus, but I do not believe they can experience the best that it can be, should be, or is designed to be apart from Him. Like the expensive technological device not used to its total capacity because the owner never opened the instructional manual, I believe that many marriages never experience the health and wholeness God intended marriage to be because His Word is never consulted.
I have been privileged to officiate many wedding ceremonies as a pastor. I feel the weight of such a pivotal and unique responsibility. While sharing as much information as possible during premarital counseling sessions, I always want to provide more. There is simply too much to unpack.
In one sense, you are never prepared for marriage. I woke up in my empty doublewide trailer on my wedding day and thought, “I can’t get married. I still feel like a kid in so many ways.” Undoubtedly, certain aspects of marriage must be learned via experience. Books and podcasts can only teach you so much, but you begin to earn advanced degrees or flunk out at rapid rates once you have tied the knot. In many regards, you won’t be fully prepared for marriage until you are married. In another sense, you must intentionally prepare yourself for marriage. Every effort invested in preparation will reap extreme benefits for you and your spouse.
Experience is a teacher, but it’s not the only teacher. We require preliminary information, or else all of our relationships would suffer. If experience is the only teacher for marital bliss, all marriages are doomed to fail. I simply refuse to believe that. Surely God can make us aware of the potential causes of marital strife without setting us up to be handicapped in our initial efforts.
Experience is not the most reliable teacher; God is.
If God created marriage, we should assume His perspective would be superior to the wisdom of an expert or any amount of experience. Rejoice that He has not kept His view quiet. He has provided His thoughts within the pages of the Bible. What is the most reliable way to equip ourselves for marriage? God has promised that the Bible will help us know what a good marriage looks like and how to obtain such an incredible gift. It is to our senseless peril if we neglect its wisdom. You can avoid specific marital issues by simply learning and applying the truths of God’s Word.