Article Feb 26, 2016

5 reasons to rethink long engagements

In today’s culture, many couples choose to have lengthy engagements, using the extra time for wedding planning, financial planning and relationship building. Though these are important aspects of the engagement period and though every engaged couple has differing circumstances, I’m wondering if it’s time for us to rethink the idea of long engagements. I’m extremely grateful for godly mentors in my life who helped me think through this all-too-common practice. Faithful Christians might disagree on this, but I think there are four reasons to rethink a long engagement:

1. Once there’s a ring on it, temptations intensify.

Ask any Christian married couple how daunting their engagement period was. You would be hard pressed to find a couple who would recommend a long engagement. Many of those whose engagement was long would not encourage it. Engagement is a special and fun season, but waiting much longer than six months will be miserable for you and your fiance.

One of the greatest joys of marriage is sexual intimacy. Sex is a good gift from God to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. Sex unites you to your partner. Until you put that ring on, you truly have no clue the power of the temptations ahead. Long engagements compound the difficulty of escalating temptation. The pressure, from the Enemy, from your own natural desires, and from the culture can overwhelm you and your fiance in extraordinary ways. Unnecessarily long engagements only increase the likelihood of yielding to sexual sin.

2. You aren’t as strong as you think you are.

As Satan begins to attack you during this phase, even the most righteous can fall. Most often, we are the first to believe in ourselves and oftentimes to a fault. Do not fall into the temptation of pride, assuming sheer willpower will get you through a lengthy engagement without sexual temptation playing a major factor. One of Satan’s best weapons is his ability to deceive, and once he deceives, he accuses, bringing about guilt, shame and hopelessness. Long engagements can deceive even the most sanctified of couples. When entering this phase of life, you will need someone who has waded the waters that you will be entering; someone that can hold you accountable and help you and your fiance navigate through the engagement period.

3. Purity prior to the engagement does not guarantee purity after the engagement.

I recently had a conversation with a college sophomore who was recently engaged and was planning a two-year engagement. I cringed as he talked about how they had been successfully pure throughout their lengthy dating relationship and as he naively assumed the two-year engagement would be a piece of cake. I wish I had taken that opportunity to challenge him on his assumptions. I would walk him through the previous two points and share with him how hard a mere five-and-a-half months was for me and my wife. I cannot begin to fathom how treacherous the next couple years will be for the two of them as they continue to seek purity. I hope and pray that the Lord blesses them with that accomplishment, but I can assure you it will not be done without a great deal of outside help.

4. If you’re putting a ring on it, then you should be ready for the wedding bells.

From a kingdom perspective, one that subverts worldliness, purity matters more than planning. Planning is a virtue (don’t get me wrong), but when elevated above holiness, it becomes a vice. There are no hard and fast rules for Christians regarding the length of an engagement period. However, if you are not in a place to get married within a short period of time, you’d be wise to reconsider whether or not you are ready to enter that phase of life. You cannot be overly cautious when entering into the engagement period. This does not mean waiting for the perfect job, making the right amount of money and having the right house in the right neighborhood. It’s unlikely that will happen. No one is ever perfectly prepared for all the challenges that come with marriage. Once you think you’ve arrived, something else will replace that dream. We, by nature, will always be longing for something bigger and better. You do not have to be rich to get married.

Neither my wife or myself had full-time, well paying jobs when we got engaged. She was still in school (and still is), and I was working part-time as a College-Age Minister. By doing it this way, we knew that we were going to be forced to rely on the Lord to provide for us, and it turned out far better than relying on our own power. Had we waited until all of our “ducks were in a row,” we would not have been so aware of how the Lord provided for us. We now have an amazing story of God’s faithfulness in our lives, and I cannot think of a better way to begin a marriage than by relying so strongly on the One who provides.

5. Engagement increases the tension between couples.

Regardless of the length of your engagement, tensions build once you begin this phase of your relationship. Suddenly, you are removed from the “everything is wonderful” phase of your relationship, with its dreaming and dating and few worries, into the pressurized season of wedding planning, financial considerations and the stress of wedding two lives into one. This is the “already, but not yet” phase of relationships. So many things, beyond sex, await you in covenant marriage, but you are unable to take part until the two of you have committed your lives to one another before God and the church. While it may be appealing to have a year to two-year-long engagement, you are only lengthening the inevitable tension that comes with it. Marriage allows you to begin to work out the inevitable relational conflicts as one flesh.

As you think about your future engagement, I hope you will use this as thought-provoking material to drive a healthy conversation with your significant other and those around you.

ERLC2018