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 26

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.