Shhhh…. Is there something about you that you hope no one else ever finds out?
You’re not alone. Everyone has secrets—hurts, abuses, bad habits, fears. Big or small, secrets can destroy you from the inside out. The good news is that confession is more powerful than secrets—or the fear that keeps you from telling them.
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I have four amazing boys - Parker (8), Cohen (6), Brooks (4) and Smith (1) - and I take the job of training them to be men very seriously. I am grieved at the trend I see in our society of boys not becoming men. This has major implications on marriage, children and the Church. I believe our culture has helped 20-somethings extend adolescence rather than transition to adulthood and the Church needs not follow suit. We must reverse the trend!
It was recently Q&A night at theMILL (for an audio of Q&A nights at theMILL click here). The services are always random and nothing short of an adventure as over the course of 45 minutes I answer as many questions as I can on-the-fly taken from those in attendance. I encourage people to not be afraid of doubt as it is a part of faith and to not shy away from questions as they can lead us to truth and faith. I only get through a small percentage of the stack of questions so for a while I have committed to answer a question a week on my blog for a time. This is question #4.
MY BOYFRIEND AND I ARE PLANNING ON GETTING MARRIED, BUT WE WOULD LIKE TO MOVE IN WITH EACH OTHER BEFORE. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
To be blunt, I’m of the opinion that living together before marriage is not a good idea. Our culture and our human nature adhere to the belief that “if it feels good, do it.” The problem with this philosophy is that it puts my desires, feelings and ideas of what is good ahead of biblical truth and tested wisdom.
Though the Bible does not specifically state, “thou shalt not live together before getting married”, it does clearly communicate God’s desire for us to live a pure life (I Thessalonians 4:7) and avoid sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18). If pre-marital purity is your and your fiancé’s goal, moving in together certainly isn’t going to make achieving it any easier. I think you would be needlessly putting your purity to the test by moving in together prior to exchanging vows.
The Bible also clearly says that sex outside of marriage isn’t God’s way. Again, not a “thou shalt not” command but made obvious by the encouragement to avoid fornication and to not commit adultery (adultery: sleeping with someone who is not your spouse). To live together and think that chastity will continue (assuming it has been preserved up to this point) is, I think, naïve. Song of Solomon says, “Don’t awaken love before it’s time” (2:7). I encourage you to preserve the mystery and beauty that is meant for marriage.
Please realize that you are developing patterns now that you will carry into marriage. This is your test-run. I am aware that you may “feel” fine about living together because you are “getting married anyway”, but I implore you to start your marriage off on the right foot – the foundation of self-denial and delayed gratification. Marriage is all about putting your desires aside so you can serve your spouse. It is all about laying your life down as Christ did for His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25). To do what you want is self-centered. As evidence of the need to build a marriage relationship in the way God designed it, check out these trends.
80% of couples that live together without marriage vows separate
60% of couples that are married by the justice of the peace separate
40% of couples that are married in a church separate
1 of 1050 couples who read the Bible together everyday separate
And heck, you’ve got the rest of your lives to live together. A few more months aren’t going to hurt you. Be patient.
First, let me begin by acknowledging that the issues of marriage and singleness are complex and not easily addressed within one blog. This subject is one that has been covered so many times that it can be difficult to separate out what the Bible has to say with the hundreds of other voices weighing in on the subject. Many of us may have painful memories, emotions, insecurities, failures and successes attached to these topics. As with everything that engages our hearts, this subject is deeply personal and I would never presume to speak as if I have all the answers – I do not. With that said, here are a few follow-up responses:
Sacrifice Marriage for Christ. Should we be willing to be single for the cause of Christ? Yes. To give one’s life to Christ is to live completely surrendered to Him. Any desire takes second to the desire for God’s lordship. However, marriage is not an American or a man-made idea. It is God’s idea. For thousands of years, families have created an environment where God’s ways of love, truth, forgiveness and faithfulness can be witnessed day in, day out. I believe both marriage and singleness can advance the kingdom of God and both can be, and are, sacrificial if lived correctly.
Are All Our Desires Fulfilled? No…at least not in this life. I do believe it is possible to desire marriage and not know when or if it will be fulfilled. As I said originally, living with that unknown in any area of life propels us to deeper places of trust and surrender to God in which our heart’s cry becomes, “I want You, God, most of all.”
Is the Desire for Marriage Simply Lust in Disguise? No! I believe any desire allowed to run rampant in our hearts can become lustful. That was my precise reason for writing the blog – I experienced a longing for marriage that threatened to rule me. My journey was one of letting that desire find its proper place through trusting God. Are some people lusting for marriage? Probably. Does that mean the desire for marriage is the same as lust? I don’t think so.
Celebrating Singleness. I do believe that singleness should be more celebrated within the church than it is. There is a temptation to believe that marriage equals arrival within Christian culture. A person’s relationship status does not indicate something about their value or worth to the body of Christ. A few of my best friends are single and I can’t imagine my life without them. It is who they are – not their marriage status – that makes them invaluable to me.
Finally, I have spent the last several years pastoring MILL girls and I find them to be full of purpose, willing to grow, servant-oriented and in love with God. I love them very much and believe that Christ is at work in them.
[NOTE: This is a guest post from Noelle Goodlin. She is theMILL Women's Pastor. She has a Masters in Counseling, a B.A. in Psychology & Literature and a husband named Jacob.]
I don't know about you, but I love hearing people's love stories. As a single person, it encouraged me to hear the ups and downs of other people's courtships -- especially when it ended in marriage. Those stories re-kindled my sometimes flagging hope that one day I would find my life partner too.
In a subtle way, I suppose my interest in others' stories was my way of searching for a formula which might help create my own. I had fully anticipated meeting my husband in college. College came, college went -- no prospects. A couple of years after graduation, I met a man and fell in love, certain that he was the ONE. We broke up, I cut my hair off as an act of mourning. Back to no prospects.
As I hit my mid-twenties and inched toward thirty, I began to wonder if God really cared about this matter as much as everyone told me He did. To be honest, nothing really indicated that He gave it the time of day. So I took matters into my own hands, probing people's relationships and reading books, searching for the key to success. Flirt more? Play hard to get? Several ideas were batted around but one consistently floated to the surface in my Christian circles. It went something like this: "It was when I didn't care about getting married at all that my husband showed up." I don't know how many times I heard some variation of this theme. So I tried my very hardest not to care. I would look in the mirror (not really, but you get the idea) and say, "Self, you don't care if you ever get married. You don't want to get married. You are perfectly content to live alone the remainder of your life."
It didn't work. No matter how hard I tried, I could not kill my desire to get married. The reality was that I cared very much. If I was honest, deep down I really wanted to get married and have a family. And no amount of effort was able to banish the wish. Why? Maybe because marriage is created by God and the longing for it is God-given. That makes sense if you look at how things started: God created Adam and put him in the garden. But God saw that it was not good for him to be alone and so he told Adam to name the animals and look for a mate. It's almost laughable -- bears, cheetahs, and giraffes as a companion for Adam. God is no dummy -- He is all-knowing and he knew that Eve was coming. Do you think he was caught off-guard that an animal didn't satisfy Adam's longing for companionship? I highly doubt it. So why take Adam through such a process? Perhaps God needed to teach Adam about his longing for marriage and how to trust Him, Creator and Father, in the process so that, when he found it, he would be ready.
And what of this rumor that marriage comes to us when we no longer care about it? I suggest that it is not about achieving a state of indifference but rather that the desire finds its proper resting place. It may sound like verbal semantics but the implications of these ideas are quite different. Song of Solomon gives a pretty strong argument for the power of romantic longing and sexual desire; yet, it also issues the caution of being careful to not "arouse or awaken love until it so desires." Then what are we to do?
As Christians, we are invited to live a God-surrendered life. Any desire -- God-given or flesh-derived -- is to be submitted and entrusted to our Heavenly Father. Marriage is godly and wonderful. Nothing is wrong with it and, unlike sinful cravings, you probably won't be able to kill your longing for it. That doesn't mean, though, that we allow it to rule us. The word arouse as used in Song of Solomon implies a choice to stir the pot, if you will. The Message translation says, "Don't excite love, don't stir it up until the time is ripe." What does that look like?
Unfortunately, it's probably not formulaic. God seems to love working things out in the hearts of his children through relational, trust-oriented methods. Psalm 37:4 does come to mind: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Rather than claiming this as an if/then statement (that would be formulas talking again!), what if we approached it as a prayer: "God, I want to be married. At times, I feel like it consumes me and I am helpless to do anything about it. But I love You and choose to trust in You. I believe You care about the things that matter to me. I believe You are a good Father who wants what is best for me. You are Lord over this area of my life and I leave it in your hands."
Four years after I began to wrestle with these ideas, I married a wonderful man. I never lost my desire to be married and, to be honest, I never stopped wrestling with it. The choice to trust God with my future was, and is, a daily one. Indeed, life seems full of these deeply placed longings and subsequent vulnerabilities which push us to greater points of surrender and letting go. That is where the growth is and, for that reason, I am thankful for the process.
Is it possible to become friends after a break up? It is possible but not likely, especially if the relationship was serious. The idea of “just being friends” smacks of idealism. After a relationship ends, healing and readjustment to single life are normal and will happen best when there is time and distance. One of the dynamics I have seen repeatedly is the desire to be a “friend” after a break up and take care of the other person. The motives are good but you have to let it go, know that you aren’t the one to offer comfort and help, and trust that God has someone else to walk alongside them. Jumping straight from dating to friends is nearly impossible due to the history and emotional ties. My recommendation is that you separate and let the relationship become whatever it becomes. Don’t put pressure on it.
What are some helpful ways to overcome break ups, especially when someone breaks up with you but you still love them? The goal is to let them go. The best way I know to help that process happen is to forgive and break soul ties. If you still love them and didn’t want the relationship to end, then I would guess that you are hurt and need to forgive them. You might feel that they owe you an explanation, an apology or a second chance. When we are in pain from someone else’s decision, forgiveness releases them from the debt that you feel they owe you. Depending on how serious and/or physical your relationship was, chances are that you formed emotional, physical, and spiritual soul ties with that other person. Soul ties are deep, binding connections that happen between two people – they can be positive or negative. For example, a husband and a wife share a soul tie. This connection is both positive and necessary. Negative ties are broken through prayer, repentance and renouncing (Renouncing is simply verbally agreeing to break connections with the other person.) Here is a simple sample prayer to break soul ties.
"God, my desire is that my heart belongs completely to you and that I would not be connected in unhealthy ways to others, so I break any negative soul ties I may have with __________. I renounce the emotional, physical and spiritual ties I established with _________, and ask for complete separation and healing in my heart so I would be available to move forward and embrace all that you have for me. Amen."
What is the hardest part of marriage? Selfishness. The biggest temptation that every married person will fight throughout their lives is living for their own good. The commitment made in the wedding vows to lay down one’s life and live for their spouse’s good is more than just pretty language. These commitments are made daily and the opportunities to violate them are endless.
How do you build a solid friendship without getting into a friendlationship? For anyone that doesn’t know the definition of a friendlationship, it is a relationship that is not solely a friendship or clearly a committed relationship. Most dating relationships go through this phase, even if it is for just a short period of time -- the goal is to not stay there. Living in “friendlationship land” is dangerous as it involves the sharing of emotions and the building of intimacy without any commitment. The key to keeping a friendship from getting into the friendlationship zone is communication. Talk about where you are at in the relationship, what you do or do not want, and your expectations for the future. If, without communication, feelings start to build in a friendship, a friendlationship will ensue
A few weeks ago, my wife Jossie and I had the privilege of talking to Air Force Academy cadets at a MILL small group called GodChasers. We shared the story of how we met, dated and got married, followed by answering questions written on 3X5 cards. We took about 45 minutes to answer as many as we could but, inevitably, there wasn’t enough time to answer them all. So here are my responses to some of the ones that went unanswered.
What is the most important advice you can give for a long-distance relationship? I know several people who don’t like long-distance relationships – they are a lot of work and can be a hassle. However, I actually think that there are several benefits to dating from a distance. Talking on the phone or interacting online requires the development of one of the most important variables in a relationship – communication. Without the “distractions” of things to do and places to go, the only thing you have left is what you talk about. Such a heavy emphasis on talking requires diligent work on communicating thoroughly and clearly, establishing expectations and resolving conflicts. From my perspective, if things don’t work long-distance, they likely wouldn’t work living in the same city. That being said, if the relationship is going towards marriage, I recommend that you have a good period of time together in the same city prior to marriage (3-6 months minimum). Though developing good communication is important, it can’t replace that which is learned as you interact in person on a daily basis.
What is the best way to distinguish between our voice and the Holy Spirit when pursuing a girl? You can’t! Your emotions blur your vision. This is why it is so important to have solid, trusted community in your life. Proverbs 19:20-21 says “Listen to advice and accept instruction and in the end you will be wise. Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.” If you are wondering if you should move forward in a relationship, ask trusted friends and leaders for honest input. Their vantage point is one you will never have about your own life. (That means if you don’t hear what you want to, don’t scoff at them). There is great safety in involving friends in your relationships from the beginning; plus, it sets a good precedent if that relationship does get the green light.
I believe that it’s a bad idea to date anyone you can’t marry. What do you think? I agree. Dating with the knowledge that the relationship doesn’t have a long-term future is dangerous. I have heard the “we are just hanging out” line over and over. The problem with “just hanging out” is that, when you spend extended time with someone, you often begin to like him. That leads to problem two: the person you like is often the person with whom you fall in love. So now you are in love with someone you don’t want to marry…that’s dangerous. So when you know the person you are dating is not the one you would like to spend the rest of your life with, end it. In my opinion (and this is only my opinion), it should take no longer than 6-9 months of dating someone to know if you should marry them.
Do you believe in full disclosure in your relationship about your life before you get married? Yes. This does not mean that you need to share all details on the first date (that might scare someone off!) but at least during the engagement season all should be on the table. You and your spouse deserve the full knowledge of the person with whom you are entering a life-long covenant. Doing so sets a culture of honesty and openness in your relationship for the long haul.
What if you want to be married, but never think about it except once every blue moon? Is that okay? What does it mean if you don’t care much about marriage or really pray about it in the meantime? I think you are totally fine. Marriage is about God’s timing, so not worrying about it might actually be a good thing. Just make sure you are open to someone entering your life -- even when you least expect it.
If you have no desire for marriage now or in the future, you may also want to consider and pray about if you have the gift of singleness. The vast majority of people do not have this gift and even the thought of being single for life causes a breakout in hives. However, the apostle Paul says these individuals are to be celebrated (I Corinthians 7). Here are few things that may indicate that you might have this gift.
-You don’t have a burning desire to get married. -You are completely satisfied being single. -You aren’t frustrated that you won’t have sex.
If you are praying that you don’t have the gift, chances are that you probably don’t!
After posting some thoughts last week about the investment necessary to make a marriage last, I received several emails and had a few individual discussions which indicated I hit a soft spot.Couples trying to hold it together who feel like there isn’t an out, but hope they will stumble onto the answers quickly responded.Each of them possesses a deep desire to succeed and a sharp disappointment that things haven’t gone as they expected. They long for their cries of help to be heard outside their relational vacuum.I quickly realized a “part 2” was in order.
In particular, I want to share my perspective on one story I heard. A husband asked me for advice on how to keep things going.He said that he and his wife have more conflict than they have peace. I asked him to describe some of their interactions and disagreements.The husband is out of work and looking for a job. When his wife asks him to help around the house, his first reaction is a complaint followed by the reasons he couldn’t assist her.He felt she was distracting him.
I couldn’t believe his response.My surprise might have come out in my voice…maybe I raised my voice a little, but I was mad!This guy had forgotten what marriage was all about.Marriage is all about the other person – it is not about you!The main reason our culture is so full of broken relationships is that we think our happiness and the protection of our best interests are still our primary priorities after exchanging vows and rings.Ephesians 5 says that the husband is to be like Christ and the wife is to be like the Church – each voluntarily laying down their lives for the other.The happiness of your spouse and the protection of his or her best interest is your number one priority. Marital happiness cannot be achieved without it.
To lay your life down means you put your best interests on the back burner.If they never get met, so be it – the needs and best interest of the other person is your priority.That perspective is what you sign up for when you walk down the aisle.Obviously, in God’s economy, the intended hope is that the other person takes on the same attitude.Then your best interests are served, just not by you!The real rub comes when you are laying your life down and it seems that your spouse isn’t.How easily we fall into the trap of being willing to lay our life down on the condition that the other person does the same.Such an attitude reeks of “contract” thinking rather than “covenant” thinking.
A contract says “I will hold up my end of the bargain as long as you hold up yours.If you don’t, then I am out.”Covenant says “I am committed to you no matter what.I will lay my life down for you even if you don’t.”Sound familiar?Jesus gave his life on a cross with no guarantee of reciprocity.The husband is to be like Jesus!
Stop the selfishness.Stop fighting for your rights and begin fighting for the rights of your spouse.Give your life away.It is the way of Jesus and in so doing we cultivate a trust in the One who truly empowers and directs our relationships.Are we trusting Jesus and His way with our relationships or are we unwilling to surrender control, trust that God will meet our needs even if our spouse does not, and give our lives away?
I do a lot of premarital counseling.I enjoy poking and prodding to find red flags, current issues and potential hurdles.I often find myself pushing through the normal rosy veneer of romantic idealism and fairytale expectations.This plays itself out in the belief that the marriage will be as perfect as the wedding because of the deep love they have for one another.
Not quite as often but every now and then I do marriage counseling for couples in crisis.Some are ready to throw in the towel, others are shocked that things are heading toward the cliff, and the very newly married are surprised by the challenges they have already faced.In any case, they need help.The issues are endless from respect to roles, fidelity to finances.
I know none of these couples walked down the aisle thinking “I am going to cheat on my spouse in a few years,” or “I am looking forward to going off the emotional deep end and creating havoc for years to come,” or “Won’t it be great to do this again when this doesn’t work out.”They all said “I do” with the belief that they would live happily ever after.
So where did things go awry?
I wonder if they locked into the idea that their love for one another and hope for a bright future is all they needed.Though important, a great marriage takes more than strong feelings and good intentions.It requires work.
Jossie and I have been married for thirteen years and have an incredible relationship.We love being married and entered our wedding day with the same rose colored glasses as everyone else (just ask our premarital counselor). That doesn’t mean our relationship has always been a stroll in the park.We have continually chosen to invest energy and effort into our marriage.
Here are a few big ideas which we incorporated early on that have proven extremely helpful in establishing a strong, lasting relationship.
Always be Learning and Growing.Just because the wedding bells have rung, the bouquet has been tossed and sex is a reality doesn’t mean all hills have been climbed.Never think there is nothing new to learn about your spouse or that you have the marriage thing down.With the pressing nature of family, jobs, finances and the “honey do” list, the enrichment of marriage can easily take a back seat.Read books, go to marriage conferences, attend a marriage retreat – there are loads of ways to learn how to be a better spouse. The opportunities to serve, love and communicate are always there.
Invest Your Energy in the Right Places.Our natural tendency often is to spend energy on scrutinizing your spouse rather than taking responsibility for what you have control over.Look at what you can change, where you might be wrong and how you can apologize (you can always say sorry for something!).Doing so takes humility. It is easier to find the reasons why my spouse’s actions make my response justifiable.Stop playing the victim and pointing the finger -- be the change you want to see.
Deal with the Issues.Don’t deny them, brush them under the rug, avoid them or use them against each other.Face them head on.When there is a problem, go after it like it could destroy your marriage…because it could.Problems that don’t get addressed will fester and can eventually undermine the foundations of love, trust and commitment upon which your relationship is built.I am a “do whatever it takes kind of guy” and I have the same attitude towards issues that arise in our marriage whether it be conflict, different expectations or complacency.Talk it through, pray, seek wise counsel, read a book on the subject, go to counseling -- do whatever it takes!Did you know that 70% of couples who go to marriage counseling find solutions but only 30% of couples having marital problems ever make it to a counselor’s office?
Play Together.Life can be stressful and overwhelming so get away and enjoy time with each other.Do something that will make you laugh.It is important to zoom out from the daily grind and remember how much you enjoy being together and why you fell in love in the first place.
These ideas take time, intentionality and sometimes money but the benefits far outweigh the cost.Any other ideas that have been keys for you?Leave a comment and join with me in the hope that this generation can break the trend of broken marriages.