With our fifth anniversary and the family weddings this summer, I’ve been mulling over some ideas about marriage, and I’m sharing some thoughts from conversations with friends and sisters here. I know just enough to spout off a few things but I am basically a five-year-old telling a newborn baby what life is all about.
Everyone’s busy asking, “So how’s the planning going?” There is so much to talk about, to dream for, to plan on when you are getting married. We even read a book about 100 things to talk about before engagement or marriage, encouraging discussion to ensure we prepared for an impossible number of topics. This is well-intentioned, but I think it can accidentally promote the lie that careful planning means you can control the outcome of your days. Is he planning to propose? When is the wedding? Where are you going to live? How will you split the holidays with your families? When do you want to have children? Will one of you stay home with them? What about adoption? Are you going to homeschool? Do you want to travel? Go back to school? Start a business? Buy a house?
Of course, you need to talk about these things, and many others, but you should keep them in perspective. Is it wise to marry someone who doesn’t share your vision for life? No. But it is not wise to marry someone based only on your shared vision for life, either. If circumstances (incomplete list of possibilities: test scores, lost jobs, surprise pregnancies, barrenness, illness, financial hardship, natural disasters, change of heart, governmental collapse, death in the family, End of Days) alter or disrupt that dream, you want to cheerfully weather uncertainty together.
Also, you want unity and agreement when starting life together, but a healthy marriage should spur your maturity, and this usually results in changing your mind about some things. This probably includes things you think are really important right now. It’s good to grow in surprising directions and to be ready for your spouse to do the same.
When I was engaged, I thought I was moving to California for a crazy few years that were supposed to include a shoebox apartment, working for a year, starting a family, and earning two Masters degrees between the two of us, and not necessarily in the order a reasonable person might think. We had done lots of careful planning, and after the deployment we felt like we had grown up quickly, anxious to get our external situation caught up with how we felt inside. Obviously, that’s not what happened. Who plans for hardship? Who plans for messed up military schedules that mean moving to a land of ice and cornfields instead of SoCal, or long PhD programs, church problems, war recovery, faith crises, depression, miscarriages, long years in bad jobs? No one. But that’s our real life. In the breakdown of the original dreams, there have been lots of good things we hadn’t expected, too. The gospel is crucial here: For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ (not in a prayerfully coordinated marriage!) shall all be made alive. There are problems in life – they’ll be there in marriage, no matter how carefully you select a spouse and plan your life, and they’d be there if you were single. If following all the “rules” or carefully planning meant anyone could avoid trouble, it would nullify what God says about humanity and salvation. So when things are messed up, it’s not because we didn’t prepare enough or should have anticipated better. When things work out well, it’s by God’s grace and not because we had our ducks in a row at any point. Either way, you just take it and go with it.
The surprising news: With the right attitude, all this planning is the kind of test that prepares for real life. I’ve found that persevering in marriage calls for lots of dreaming and re-dreaming. And the important part of the planning is not the plans themselves, but the teamwork and unity that grows in the process. In light of this, enjoy the planning and dreaming! Because getting married means you will probably be doing a lot of it for the rest of your life.