I remember a day when I was a teenager, thinking about one day having a wife and children. I thought about how I wanted to be a good man, to care for them well, to provide for and lead them with exemplary character. So as I contemplated that desire I prayed, “God, please don’t give me a wife and kids until I’m READY for them.”
Many people similarly feel that they don’t want to marry until they’re “ready.” However, saying no to marriage because we haven’t met some standard of readiness poses a problem. While my desire to be ready to be a good husband and father was noble, today I have to look back on my teenage self and chuckle. Today I understand the truth.
No one will ever fully be ready for marriage.
Reason #1: Your Character Will Never Be Fully Ready
You’re not perfect. I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you. Another reality is that you never will be perfect in this lifetime. Even for we who follow Christ, reality remains that over the course of a lifetime we won’t become absolutely flawless paragons of virtue. Whenever a marriage is made, it’s made by two inherently selfish people. Even if you don’t think you’re very selfish when you’re single, marriage brings out the flaws in you fast.
I have a good friend who’s married, has two young kids, and is one of the most upstanding and exemplary people I’ve known. Yet he’s told me, “marriage will force the selfishness out of you. Having kids will force out of you whatever selfishness survives marriage.”
No one can develop personal character to a point of perfection before getting married. Rather, marriage is something that pushes us to grow in character in ways we don’t experience while single. God uses marriage as a sanctifying tool. If you want to get married at all, you’re going to have to accept the truth that both you and your spouse will be flawed, fallen people, even if the two of you have committed to following Christ. You’ll experience times when you wrong each other, hurt each other’s feelings, and selfishly put your own interests ahead of each other.
That’s why forgiveness is critical for marriage. It’s not a matter of being perfect before marriage. It’s a matter of two imperfect people forgiving and loving one another within marriage.
One important note, however, is that it’s possible for a person to have character flaws that make marriage a bad idea. Everyone is flawed to some degree upon entering marriage. But if a person is unwilling to yield to God’s sanctifying work in his or her heart, is unwilling to forgive faults, or truly has no desire to become a less selfish person, then marriage is a bad idea. No person can achieve perfection, but a person who is unwilling to allow God to make him or her more perfect in marriage has no business getting married at all. Don’t be such a person, and don’t marry such a person!
Reason #2: Your Circumstances Will Never Be Fully Ready
It’s easy for people to say they’re “not ready for marriage yet.” Meaning, they’re not in a place in life where they feel they’re ready to enter the commitments and challenges of married life. For some, this might be because of their financial or career circumstances. People often want to hold off on getting married until they’re further up the corporate ladder, can afford a home, or have more money in the bank. For others, it might mean they simply don’t want to settle into marriage until they’ve enjoyed preferred experiences such as traveling, living without commitments, or just having some fun years of carefree living. Some people live thinking that once they just reach that different circumstance, once they get that promotion or have enough fun, then they’ll get married.
The problem with this type of thinking is that ideal circumstances are extremely elusive. Life has a way of giving us another shiny goal to chase once we’ve finally gotten our hands on the last one. No matter how much wealth or success you accumulate, there’s always more to chase after. No matter how many years you spend living the carefree, fun-seeking life, you’ll always have the human desire to have fun and please yourself. When we hand the decision of when we marry to our circumstances, we run the risk of our circumstances keeping us away from marriage as the years rush by.
One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Lisa Anderson in her book The Dating Manifesto. Lisa writes,
“The problem with waiting to get your life in order before considering marriage is that you really have no idea when your life will be in order, if ever. I mean, in this culture of wanting more and expecting more, it seems that very few people ‘arrive’ anymore. Yet we’re determined to do things on our terms and our timeline with no messiness or inconvenience. We insist on scripting our stories to suit our hyper-detailed preferences and timelines. Usually this has us going to extremes, especially in regard to marriage and family. We either piddle around, thinking we have all the time in the world, or we shut everything else out and dive headlong into a path of self-defined success and self-improvement, refusing to take on family until our ducks are in a row.
You know what that gets you? It gets you my story – waking up at thirty and discovering you’re still single and thinking it all should’ve been easier than this.” (The Dating Manifesto, pp. 40-41)
There comes a time when we need to put our foot down and decide that we won’t let circumstances keep us away from marriage. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t well consider your circumstances before getting married. The financial, time, and attention demands of marriage and family need to be practically addressed. The key is not letting the absence of those ever-elusive ideal circumstances keep us away from a marriage commitment we should make.
Reason #3: You Can’t Be Ready For What You Can’t Anticipate
At my best friend’s wedding, the minister said something that has deeply stuck with me. He said, “getting married is like signing a contract you’ve never read.” He’s right. When we commit to a spouse for better or worse, for rich or for poor, in health or in sickness, we’re making an irrevocable commitment to stick together even if the worst of life’s possibilities come to pass. No matter what the future will reveal to be in that life-contract, you’ve signed on to it. I suspect that, for some people, if they could have seen what the future would bring the day they got married, they never would have said their vows.
We hope for the best when we marry, but the truth is some people experience the worst. If you could know on the day of your wedding that your spouse would eventually experience major illness, major injury or handicap, loss of faith, major changes in behavior, or tragic death, would you still be ready to marry? I don’t think any of us could say we’d be ready to face the things that dramatically change our lives for the worse. If we wouldn’t be ready for these things if we knew they were coming, how much less can we be ready for them when we don’t know what the future holds? We can’t be ready for the trials we can’t anticipate.
The question then becomes this: are you ready to commit to your spouse come heaven, hell, or anything in between? If you’re willing to sign the unread contract, if you’re willing to pay the personal cost of signing marriage’s blank check, then you’re as ready for the uncertainty of the future as you ever can be.
What I didn’t understand as a teenager is that it’s impossible to be perfectly ready for marriage. However, it is possible to be ready enough. In fact, that’s the most ready we can be. If you’re ready to marry another imperfect person and become more perfect together, if you’re ready to commit to marriage when the circumstances aren’t ideal and work together toward better ones, if you’re ready to sign the unread contract of marriage regardless of what hardships come, then you’re ready enough for marriage.
What do you think? What have you experienced in your own life when it comes to being ready for marriage? Please share your thoughts with us below in the comments!
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