By / Sep 15

By the time you read this, I will have walked down the aisle to the man of my dreams, and we’ll have begun our life together as husband and wife. My husband, Michael and I learned several big lessons during our five month engagement. Our dating and engagement seasons were uniquely different than other couples. When I was a teenager, I found out that I can’t have biological children. I’d had years to process this life-changing news, and Michael needed time to wrestle through what barrenness would look like if we continued our relationship. Most people walk through childlessness as a married couple. We didn’t have that luxury. It’s rare to know before you get married that you can’t have children.

My forthcoming book Longing for Motherhood—Finding Hope in the Midst of Childlessness talks a lot more about this journey. We feel like we’ve already been through more hardships than some people go through in the first few years of marriage. Even though neither one of us would have chosen the suffering the Lord has given us, it’s drawn us closer together, and closer to the Lord. We’re excited about joining our lives and stories together, and seeing all that the Lord is going to do in our lives.

My hope is that these lessons will encourage you, and help point your eyes to the Lord.

1. Spend more time planning for your marriage than your wedding

Our wedding day was incredible, but it was also only one day. If all of our time, energy and attention went into wedding planning, then we would have failed. Michael and I were intentional about planning for married life. We attended premarital sessions with our pastor and read helpful books on marriage. (The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller is my favorite) One of the most beneficial things we did was talk through some thought-provoking questions about our marriage.

  • What do we want our marriage to look like?
  • How can we use our marriage to proclaim God’s glory?
  • How can we love and serve others in our marriage?
  • What rhythms do we want to establish?
  • How can we open up our home and practice hospitality?

2. It’s okay not to know everything before entering into marriage

Spend more time planning for your marriage than your wedding.

Marriage isn’t a thing to take lightly, and we realized the seriousness of what we were about to enter into. It was easy to want to know everything about how to be a good spouse, and try to prepare for all the challenges we’ll face. A good friend recently reminded me, being a good spouse is nothing more than being a good Christian. We already know how to love God and serve others. Marriage will be a more pronounced way to live out those two objectives, but it’s special that we are being sanctified with the person we love most. Some Scriptures I’ve been meditating on teach us how to be faithful Christians, and therefore, godly spouses.

“I . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Rom. 12:9-13

3. Everyone’s relationship is different

The amount of unsolicited advice we received once we got engaged was astounding. While I’m so grateful for the wisdom, guidance and counsel offered, it was easy to get overwhelmed. Something that’s been beneficial to remember is that no two relationships are alike. What works for one couple, might not work for ours. It’s important to seek godly wisdom, but we should be able to distinguish between biblical imperatives and personal opinions. Many people quickly blur the two. It’s okay that relationships look different. No two humans are alike, so no two marriages are going to look alike.

4. Communication is crucial

Developing good communication habits is worth its weight in gold. We are by no means perfect in this area, but we have a few practices that are beneficial.

  • Block out regular, uninterrupted time to have deep conversations
  • Ask frequently how the other person is doing
  • Listen to the other person's answers
  • Ask what you can do to love and serve the other person (you might think you know what they need, but asking gives them a chance to share practical needs)
  • If you don’t understand where the other person is coming from or why they are feeling a certain way, ask!
  • It’s better to over communicate than under communicate
  • Learn the language of apology

5. Prayer is the glue

Inevitably, the closer you grow to someone, the more your sin will be exposed, the more you have the capacity to hurt one another, and the more you realize how much of a sinner you actually are. One of the things I love the most about Michael is the fact that he’s quick to lead us into communion with the Father. Whether we had moments of miscommunication, or if we were seeking wisdom on an issue, he would pause and pray. He acknowledges that we can’t have a good relationship apart from Christ’s wisdom, guidance, and love. Prayer truly is the glue that keeps anyone close to one another and to God. It’s amazing how much of a difference praying regularly together and for one another makes in our relationship. Make prayer a priority in your relationship.

Marriage is a blessing, but don’t skirt past the blessing that engagement can be in an effort to get to the wedding day. By God’s grace, a right focus in the engagement season can help propel you toward a marriage that honors the Lord.

By / Feb 12

Imagine keeping a lion in a small cat-carrier. For years. Day after day. Night after night. He roars. He eats. (A lot.) His energy is endless. And yet you keep him caged.

As a single girl in my 30s who was committed, by God's grace, to saving sex for marriage, I felt very much like that caged lion. Sometimes my physical drives were so strong, I despaired—the long, intense fight for purity in a sexually saturated culture seemed impossible. And while there was constant dialogue about men's sexual struggles and temptations, there was this eerie silence when it came to girls'. Was I part man, or was this normal for women?

However, the more I opened up and shared my struggles with other single girls, the more I realized I was indeed normal and in very good company. So why wasn't anyone talking about it?

Or maybe the greater question is, Why do we even want to fight for sexual purity when our desires seem so natural and good—and often feel too powerful to control?

Christ is a better treasure

If I can testify to anything, it's that I found Christ to be a far greater treasure than my sexual desires.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with an agnostic coworker who was, once again, giving me grief about not sleeping around. (Mind you, I had never offered that information at my workplace, but I guess everyone had figured it out based on my lifestyle.) It ended by me saying, “Eric, Jesus is better than sex.” And by the way he looked back at me, I could tell he desperately wanted to know that was true.

I think we all want to know that's true. If sex is the highest good in life, the greatest pleasure we can experience, we're in trouble. Yes, sex is amazing! On this side of marriage, I can testify that God created a really good and pleasurable thing. But it doesn't begin to compare to the infinite pleasures we have in God.

God created sex, then told us to enjoy it only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman; so if He has us wait an excruciatingly long time for it, He is (mercifully) teaching us to meet our very deepest desires in Him alone. That's easy to say; it's incredibly hard to live.

In fact, it's impossible to live. Sometimes my fight against temptation brought me to the end of myself and reminded me that “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You” (Ps. 16:2). I could not boast in my own strength; I was so keenly aware that God Himself was sustaining me, and apart from Him I would quickly lose the battle.

Listening to his promises

During those long years of singleness, this is where the rubber met the road: Would I listen to my passions, or would I listen to his promises?

I remember pounding my pillow, crying out in anguish, even yelling when the flesh seemed too strong to fight for one more day. But it was in those desperate moments that I found God to be exactly who he claims to be. It was in the trenches of the fleshly fight that I learned to take my Commander at his word.

And his Word says that he “makes known to me the path of life; in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

So how can a single woman walk in his fullness of life and joy in the midst of sexual frustration? Here are a few of the ways that helped me:

  1. Memorize and meditate on Scripture. I can't overstate this enough. God's Word has strengthened, sustained, convicted, encouraged, and changed me. Unless we're constantly in the truth, we'll easily fall for lies.
  2. Be accountable. Keep talking! Be open and honest with godly, safe, and wise women in your life. When sin is brought into the light, it loses its power and stops condemning you.
  3. Exercise and eat well. Run or do Pilates or take a dance class. Feed your body good stuff. Sitting in front of chick flicks and eating chocolate cake is not going to help the cause.
  4. Serve others. Channel your frustrated energies into caring for the people around you. Send an encouraging text to someone who's hurting today. Host a meal at your place. Deliver coffee to a mom who's at home with four kids.
  5. Don't compare. Don't keep looking at what your married friends have. Their challenges and sufferings are different. God knows how to make all of us need him desperately in very different ways.
  6. If you're creative, make sure you have a creative outlet. At the end of one particularly rough bout with depression, I realized I'd given up singing and theater and writing and all of the colorful, creative expressions that make me tick. As soon as I began creating again, I revived!
  7. Don't borrow tomorrow's troubles. God has given plenty of grace for today. “I'm going to be single for the rest of my life!” Don't go there.
  8. Take stock of your cultural diet. Evaluate and re-evaluate your movie-watching, music-listening, clothes-wearing habits. Are you feeding or starving the lust of your flesh?
  9. Set hard-and-fast boundaries with men—for your sake and theirs. Hanging out alone with a man never helped me; it usually stirred up desires unnecessarily.
  10. Keep a thankful heart. I can't tell you what a powerful tool this is. Thank God for everything you can think of, big and small—it's like instant heart surgery!

There is so much at stake in our battle for purity. And if you have blown it, join the club. Every last one of us has fallen short of God's purity in one way or another, and we all are in desperate need of his grace. Keep returning to the Lover of your soul. Keep fighting and trusting by the power of the Spirit that is at work within you. God is good, and what he does is good (Ps. 119:68). As I reflect on my 34 years before marriage, I am stunned at God's goodness to me, even when—no, especially when—it took me to the end of myself.

What is one promise or habit you can apply to your own fight for purity?

By / Oct 6

NOTE: Dennis Rainey will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. 

This article is adapted from Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, Preparing for Marriage Devotions for Couples, published by Regal Books.

For many years, e-mails have circulated the country with the outline of a speech attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates titled “11 Rules You Won’t Learn in School About Life.”  It turns out that Gates never wrote these words nor did he deliver the speech—it was all taken from an article written by Charles J. Sykes in 1996. And it really doesn’t matter that Gates wasn’t involved, because the piece does a great job of unmasking how feel-good, politically-correct teachings have created a generation of kids with a false concept of reality.

I thought I’d not only pass on these rules, but also make a few of my own—on marriage.

First, here are the 11 rules of life that you won’t learn in school:

Rule 1: Life is not fair—get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will not make $60,000 per year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping—they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault.  So don’t whine about your mistakes; learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you “find yourself.” Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Sage advice.

After reading this piece, I was inspired to take a crack at something I’d been chewing on:  “11 Rules on Marriage You Won’t Learn in School.”

Rule 1: Marriage isn’t about your happiness.  It’s not about you getting all your needs met through another person.  Practicing self-denial and self-sacrifice, patience, understanding, and forgiveness are the fundamentals of a great marriage.  If you want to be the center of the universe, then there’s a much better chance of that happening if you stay single.

Rule 2: Getting married gives a man a chance to step up and finish growing up.  The best preparation for marriage for a single man is to man up now and keep on becoming the man God created him to be.

Rule 3: It’s okay to have one rookie season, but it’s not okay to repeat your rookie season.  You will make rookie mistakes in your first year of marriage; the key is that you don’t continue making those same mistakes in year five, year 10, or year 20 of your marriage.

Rule 4: It takes a real man to be satisfied with and love one woman for a lifetime.  And it takes a real woman to be content with and respect one man for a lifetime.

Rule 5: Love isn’t a feeling.  Love is commitment.  It’s time to replace the “D-word”—divorce—with the “C-word”—commitment.  Divorce may feel like a happy solution, but it results in long-term toxic baggage.  You can’t begin a marriage without commitment.  You can’t sustain one without it either.  A marriage that goes the distance is really hard work.  If you want something that is easy and has immediate gratification, then go shopping or play a video game.

Rule 6: Online relationships with old high school or college flames, emotional affairs, sexual affairs, and cohabiting are shallow and illegitimate substitutes for the real thing.  Emotional and sexual fidelity in marriage are the real thing.

Rule 7: Women spell romance R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P.  Men spell romance S-E-X.  If you want to speak romance to your spouse, become a student of your spouse, enroll in a lifelong “Romantic Language School,” and become fluent in your spouse’s language.

Rule 8: During courtship, opposites attract.  After marriage, opposites can repel each another.  You married your spouse because he/she is different.  Differences are God’s gift to you to create new capacities in your life.  Different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Rule 9: Pornography robs men of a real relationship with a real person and it poisons real masculinity, replacing it with the toxic killers of shame, deceit, and isolation.  Pornography siphons off a man’s drive for intimacy with his wife.  Marriage is not for wimps.  Accept no substitutes.

Rule 10: As a home is built, it will reflect the builder.  Most couples fail to consult the Master Architect and His blueprints for building a home.  Instead a man and woman marry with two sets of blueprints (his and hers). As they begin building, they discover that a home can’t be built from two very different sets of blueprints.

Rule 11: How you will be remembered has less to do with how much money you make or how much you accomplish and more with how you have loved and lived.

Pass on the rules to a friend who will enjoy them!

This article was originally published at FamilyLife. Used by permission. Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Adapted from Preparing for Marriage Devotions for Couples, by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Copyright © 2013. Used with permission from Regal Books.