One of my oldest friends called me the other day to ask her how to “get from Point A to Point B” in her dating relationship. When I asked her what she meant, she said, “Marriage just seems so impossible. So far away. I’ve tried so many times to go from dating to marriage, and it fails every time. So how did you get there?”
I could totally appreciate her question. It’s not uncommon in the world or the Church. In our culture that views marriage as the end-all-be-all, and relationships like performances, it makes perfect sense that she would wonder how to get to the “finish line.”
But that’s when it dawned on me that marriage isn’t the finish line, heaven is! I laughed a little and told her, “I’m nowhere near Point B. When my husband and I are on our deathbeds, and we’ve managed to help each other stay close to God, then maybe that’s when I’d be nearing Point B. So, ‘succeeding’ in dating isn’t really the point, anyway.”
If you’re single, and feeling much the same way as my friend, let me invite you to view marriage a bit differently. It will take the pressure off of you to “earn” marriage and help you see prospective spouses much more clearly.
Let’s break this down:
Why Marriage Isn’t the Finish Line
There are many beautiful reasons that God created the gift of marriage.
Support and partnership: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” Genesis 2:18
Companionship: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor… Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” Ecclesiastes 4:9
Enjoyment and intimacy: “Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth. She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love.” Proverbs 5:18-19
There are, of course, many more. (Here is a great article on this topic where I got these ideas!)
Ultimately, God uses marriage to continually refine our characters to be more like Jesus to help get us to heaven. It is his will that all of his children will come to repentance in order to be with him (2 Peter 3:9). And if you’ve been a Christian for any period, you understand the fight to stay repentant!
So, one of the ways that God keeps us in his fold is through marriage. We see this in Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Marriage helps to make us holy. And that, fortunately, or unfortunately, does not happen the second we get married!
Your Wedding Day Is Just the Beginning
Every aspect of a thriving, healthy, godly marriage takes time. No matter how much you prepare for marriage in premarital counseling or otherwise, you don’t say “I do” as a perfect human being. Marriage is a long, refining process.
About this refinement, John Eldredge has this to say in his and his wife’s book, Love and War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of, “We are, all of us, utterly committed and deeply devoted to our ‘style,’ our ‘way,’ our ‘approach to life.’ We have absolutely no intention of giving it up. Not even for love. So God creates an environment where we have to. It’s called marriage.”
Marriage is a relationship where all your ugly character flaws are seen in full display. Where someone is finally around you long enough to notice that your ‘personality quirk’ is actually just selfishness, and it’s also where you have someone to share your daily victories with and who can point out how much you’ve grown, even when you can’t see it yourself!
The point is that marriage is a process with one end goal in mind: Partnering with each other to live godly lives here and eternal lives in heaven.
It would be such a shame if the wedding day was it, and all growth stopped after the cake was cut. If you had to look at your spouse and say, “Now what…?” But thankfully, God has the perfect plan.
I explained to my friend that marriage is like a boat you both are paddling on, trying to get to the other shore. Yes, talking, dating, and courting brought you to the shore where you start this journey–but there’s still a lot of water between where you are and your final destination, where you’re both in heaven. The question is, are they a good rowing partner? Do you want them in that boat with you? Are they going to make getting to the other shore easier or harder?
That, I think, is much more the purpose of dating. Not to succeed in your relationship so you can get married as the end goal–but that you feel confident enough with someone to start the journey towards heaven with them.
What Should You Look for in a “Rowing” Partner?
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/g-stockstudio
There are 1,000 different good things you could look for in a partner, but here is a good starting point and questions to ask yourself:
God is at the center: Do you bring out the best in each other spiritually? Do you point each other to rely on God and not just each other? Do they teach you things about God explicitly and/or through how lovingly they treat you?
You have lots of fun: Are you excited to see them? Do they make the mundane things in life feel more fun? Do you laugh or smile more when you are with them? Do they make the heavy things in life feel lighter?
You trust their character: Do they genuinely apologize when they hurt you? Have you seen consistent growth in their character? Are they committed to improving their spiritual lives? Do they respect your boundaries?
Communication is healthy: Do they listen to you without getting defensive, or apologize when they do get defensive? Do they consider you in what they do? Are you able to thoroughly work through conflict without resentment, even if you need outside help? Do they calm you when you discuss things, or do they make you feel more stressed?
You’re good at partnering: Do you work together well when you have a common project? Do you respect each other’s opinions? Do you complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses? Do you see a future together where you’re both building toward something meaningful and Spirit-led?
Each one of these aspects is crucial to not just getting to the other shore but enjoying life while you get there.
Marriage is a wonderful, wonderful gift. But it is by no means the end goal. If it were, what would we need God for?
Marriage shows us how much we need God to love us as unconditionally as he does. So before you hop into a boat with someone just because they make you feel good or will look good in your wedding pictures, consider how the rest of the journey will go.
And–likewise–if you’re standing at the shore with someone, but feel really confident in all of the above areas, pray to discern if God is looking at you, thinking, “What are they waiting for?” You don’t have to be perfect to get married or have to earn it.
But remember, no matter if you get married or remain single, God is with you every step of the way to heaven.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Pablo Heimplatz
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at Crosswalk.com. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.