This morning as I sat praying with Greg, I got to thinking about our many years together. I thought about what pieces of advice I would give to a younger, single woman. The most universally shared advice is, “Don’t settle.” Right? Isn’t that what we tell them? But what does that really mean? Is there better advice we could give?
Greg and I haven’t always prayed together. I remember when we had two kids telling him I think we needed to schedule time to pray together and he didn’t agree and said it would just happen…. Guess what? It didn’t happen. This isn’t a jab at my husband. It just shows that it took him time to realize what we needed to do to be intentional. It took him time to want to make it a priority.
Back to this morning. As I sat here pondering, I wondered if anyone told me not to settle when I made the decision to love Greg and marry him. I wondered if anyone thought I was settling at the age of 19 just because I wanted to be married. True, getting married at 19 is not for everyone. Even at a young age, Greg and I had amazing examples in our parents of godly marriages (who will both celebrate 45 years of marriage this year!) We knew marriage wasn’t a contract, but a covenant. (Greg even wrote a song for me!) We heard the, “Your first year will be the hardest,” and all the advice others want to give a engaged couple.
Here is the kicker: at 19 years old, I knew Greg had potential. He loved the Lord, he was a leader, he loved me, he was willing to do whatever he had to provide for me and our future family. At least, the best he knew how at 19. The same can be said of me. Now, we joke about how mature we thought we were at 19- and while we were probably more mature than most, we still had a lot of growing up to do. We often discuss how it’s not that we love each other more 14 years later, but we love each other differently. Our understanding of what sacrificial love looks like has grown tremendously. We want our marriage to be a picture of God’s love for His bride, the church. We’ve always wanted that, but again, as we grow and mature our comprehension of that has increased.
As we prayed, my mind took me back to all those years ago with Greg. I remembered that when we were dating, I didn’t think he was very funny. Now, he makes me cry from laughing so hard! While our first year of marriage seemed like bliss, the years following weren’t always easy. We had 5 kids in 5 years, we moved a lot, we lived with other people for a time, Greg worked and went to school for a full year. And because my niche is keeping it real, we both had sin that affected each other. It wasn’t always easy, but we were committed to each other and to God.
I never felt like I had settle, nor do I feel that way today one single bit. Yet there were times I felt like I was just surviving under the weight of diapers and laundry. Let’s be honest, with 5 kids in a 5 years, I felt like a milk cow. Always pregnant or nursing. I wouldn’t trade it now, and if I did it over again, I would do it the same way! We’ll look back at pictures and wonder how we did it! However, I would feel frustrated because Greg would need to be at church for an event to lead worship, and I’d be home with the kids. I might have struggle with some pity parties during those years!
Somewhere along the way, we both grew spiritually, little by little. I know it was the daily commitment to our time with God. It was age, maturing physically and mentally. I remember the day Greg told me he thought we needed to start praying together. You know what’s funny? He didn’t even remember the conversation we had all those years ago! I confess, I did laugh at him and threw some sarcasm at him: “Oh, we need to set aside time to pray. Hmm. I wonder who said that 12 years ago?” 😏
So yes, don’t settle. If you are single or dating, and you know he/she doesn’t love the Lord, you are unequally yoked. (2 Corinthians 6:14) Should you choose to stay anyway, then you have to accept what comes after. Just know that there is a reason we need to be yoked with a believer. God isn’t being mean. He has boundaries to protect us, to help us, to keep us from added heartache and hurt. There is no guarantee your spouse will come to salvation after marriage. It’s a risk you’re choosing to take. If you are already married and find yourself in this situation-pray. Read the Word and take it to heart. There is wisdom given to those who are married to an unbelieving spouse. Be obedient to God’s Word.
Don’t marry based on potential. Yes, Greg had great potential, but I knew he was doing his best to love the Lord. I knew he was a follower of Christ, there was no question in my mind about that. It wasn’t an, “I sure hope he finds Jesus after we get married!” Salvation was taken care of; I wasn’t ‘missionary dating.’
Find someone to disciple you as a couple. We often talk about the lack of discipleship we have experienced in our life. I often wonder if we would have had older men and women teaching and leading us towards a godly marriage, if it would have changed things for us. Would it have saved us some hurt that we experienced?
I’m the friend who will tell a soon-to-walk-down-the-aisle bride. “It’s not too late. You haven’t said ‘I do.’ If you have doubts or don’t think you should do this, don’t.” You might be thinking, “Are you kidding me? You say that!” Not to every bride, just the ones I know well and who know me. I’d rather you say, “I’m not getting married today,” then to marry and wish you hadn’t.
So what’s my new piece of advice? Well, it’s not just one thing.
Be patient. Wait on the Lord. No, there is not a perfect man/woman out there. If that’s what you are looking for, stay single. There is not just ‘one’ person out there for you. God has given us free will to choose whom we will marry, so choose wisely. Praise God for His grace because Greg is perfect… for me. He balances me. He’s calm when I’m stressed. He’s patient when I’m not. I’m sure this is also something we have grown into. That’s the beauty of marriage. We are two imperfect people who are striving to please and obey God in our lives as individuals and as a couple. I believe one of the blessings He bestows on us is a marriage where we are perfect for one another. Not just anyone can handle this hot mess!
Marriage isn’t a contract, it’s a covenant between you and God. It’s not a “You take out the trash, and I do the dishes.” It’s 100% effort from both parties, not 50-50. You will grow to pick up the slack when your spouse can’t give a full effort. Honestly, I think we are rarely capable of giving 100% all of the time. You can learn to give grace to one another and help wherever you are needed.
If you know them well enough, you will likely know what you are getting into before you marry. Don’t marry and then try to change your spouse because you don’t like something they’ve always done. You need to know not if you can live without them, but can you live with them!
Lastly, stay away from romance novels or anything that will skew your view of marriage. When I was about 16, I started reading “Christian romance.” My expectations were molded by these books. I thought Greg should be like these men who always said the right things at the right time and in the right way. Have a realistic view of what marriage will be like. Let me tell you a little secret: we won’t get that from our culture or romance novels- Christian or not. Do your best to have proper expectations of marriage.
It takes time for all of us to be who God wants us to be. Greg and I both have matured over time to be the husband and wife we need to be and God desires us to be. I didn’t really know what kind of man Greg would become. I had hopes and dreams. I knew God wanted to use him in mighty ways, and I’ve tried to always speak that over him. My heart is grateful to walk beside him and see him grow more and more each day into a man after God’s heart. I get to follow him as he follows Christ. We are in a place where we get to do ministry together, and its been amazing. It didn’t happen by accident. It’s taken us almost 15 years of marriage to get where we are, and guess what? We still aren’t perfect. We still hurt each other at times. But now, we know how to talk about it. We know how to forgive each other. We know how to extend the grace and mercy shown to us by God, to one another. Marriage takes work, it takes God, it takes grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, humility. But it’s all worth it.