Fifteen years ago, I was only days away from completing my undergraduate degree and my mind could not help but wonder what God next had for my life. I knew I was returning to school in the Fall to begin my master’s degree but let’s face it… the question I truly wanted answered was… “Who does God have for me?”
Eric and I had been friends for about a year and a half. During that time, he made it clear he was only interested in being friends (a conversation which came up when I invited him to a friend’s wedding). However, just before the end of my undergrad days, Eric started acting a little different. He suddenly became shy when I asked him to play something on the guitar. He acted weird when I mentioned another guy. Could his feelings be changing? I wondered, but I was not about to ask. My feelings had no intention of being hurt!
On my big day, Eric attended my undergraduate graduation luncheon with the several of my family and friends. I walked him to his car, we talked a few minutes, and then my friends rolled their eyes from afar when we hugged each other goodbye.
Sure… they are “just friends.”
One friend (you know who you are) spent the better part of the Spring semester listening to me question my feelings for him. I am sure at times she wanted to throw me from a moving vehicle. Chances are my friends knew what was coming before I did!
In the following weeks, Eric and I talked on the phone, he sent me an alarm clock when I mentioned I had lost mine, and he asked me questions which seemed suspect for someone who absolutely only wanted to be friends. Maybe his feelings were changing; but, again, there was no way on Earth I was opening myself up to that potential heartache. If he liked me, he was going to have to tell me.
A few weeks later, I visited my college town for a job interview and that is when he revealed his feelings. “You can probably tell I have been missing you.” And, the rest is history. ~smile~ We were married exactly one year later.
During the rest of that summer, Eric went into full on courting/marriage preparation mode. He asked me lots of questions. He read me books over the phone. At his request, we attended a marriage seminar in July (yes, July, as in a month after we started dating). We got engaged in November, Eric bought a house in January, we received premarital counseling in the Spring, and we got married in June. Eric is not one for wasting time or being caught off guard. If there is a way to prepare, then let us prepare!
In retrospect, I am thankful for his forward-thinking nature as I would have been simply content to gaze at him with goo-goo eyes, flirt, cuddle, and be silly for much of that time. My mindset at the time: It will just work out. Let’s have fun! It would have been an enjoyable, but largely unfruitful, year. ~smile~
Reflecting from the Future
Almost fourteen years into this lifetime journey, we still struggle to balance Eric’s ambitious planning nature with my let’s-have-fun-and-procrastinate nature. Even today, we stopped everything to have an impromptu PreEngaged meeting (which I am proud to say I participated in for more than seventeen minutes!). My initial internal response is almost always, “Can we figure this out later?” But, Eric clearly seemed determined to discuss and decide on the topic at hand. Had we not talked through it, he would have remained stuck on his mental hamster wheel. Eric must plan and prepare to be at peace.
I acknowledge that sometimes we must have deep conversations, talk through options, and make plans – even though doing so is much less fun than binge watching Hulu or going out for ice cream. (I fully intend to get ice cream tonight. I cannot stop thinking about ice cream. Anyway…)
What about you and your sweetheart? Are you both preparers? Do you rather wish to handle life as it comes? Or, like many couples, are you opposite from each other – one of you running towards the future and the other admiring every flower along the path? Before getting engaged and married, spend some time observing and discussing this ambition dynamic.
How Do You Feel About Preparing for the Following?
Engagement: Up until about a dozen years ago, Eric and I never even considered pre-engagement counseling as an option. Premarital counseling had always been the go-to for soon-to-be married couples. However, during our internship, we noticed a profound difference between working with dating couples and engaged couples. Both counseling relationships were beneficial, but the pre-engaged couples were truly observing and studying their compatibility and asking, “Are we a good match for each other?” while the engaged couples were asking, “How do we make a marriage work?” Both are great questions, but one should be asked before the other and that is where pre-engagement counseling shines! Feel free to check out our services. For those couples who each fill out an intake, we offer a free thirty-minute consultation so you can get to know us, ask questions, and discuss your counseling goals before deciding to work with us!
Marriage: You are sure to run into people who scoff at the idea of premarital counseling or any type of pre-marriage preparation. They may say something like, “Back in my day, you just got married, loved each other, and just made it work. We didn’t need somebody telling us how to be married.” Or maybe you hear, “Nobody is going to get into my personal business. I don’t care what any counselor recommends. I will marry who I want and have the kind of marriage I want.” Though marriage is full of surprises and you can never be perfectly ready, you can prepare for an array of situations. You can learn to fight well and fair. You can make wise financial decisions. You can discuss hundreds of topics so neither person is shocked when issues arise (e.g., Do we want children? What is the chance we will move out of state? Is it possible one or several of our parents will live with us someday? etc.).
Children: Believe it or not, some couples get married without discussing whether they want children. Or, they talk about whether they want children, but fail to go deeper in their discussion. When they arrive on the scene, children take over a couple’s life. There are easily 300 discussion topics a dating or engaged couple can find specifically regarding children. If you think marriage is something you can never fully prepare for, children take it up a few hundred notches. They are an incredible blessing, but a weighty one and it is only fair to them and your relationship to discuss, pray, and prepare (as best you can) to be parents someday.
Finances: Whether you have millions of dollars at your disposal or five dollars in your checking account, financial differences can drive a couple apart. Not only do couples need to plan for their financial future, but they need to discover how they relate to money. Do we see eye-to-eye on spending, saving, investing, giving, etc.? Finances are often blamed when couples divorce and financial problems add considerable stress to couples who are already dealing with pressure in other areas.
Seven-Year-Itch: It is common for couples who have been married a while to come to a crossroads in their relationship. Are we working? Is it worth the fight? What else is out there? What needs to change? Are we the same people we were when we married? Newlywed couples may not believe this day is coming for them, but it is better to plan for it than to deny it and be caught off guard. What can you do to be ready for this questioning season of life? What can you do throughout your first several years to ward off the seven-year-itch (and the fourteen-year-itch…)?
Grief: There is no amount of preparation which can prepare us for losing a loved one. However, we can put effort into having no regrets. We can document our days so we have tangible memories to cling to when the pain is strong. We can be diligent in communicating our love to those we cherish.
Eternity: The most important aspect of marriage, and one which is commonly neglected, is that of a joint relationship with God. Well-meaning couples skip Bible reading and prayer together a few nights in a row, and then a few more. The cares of the world take over and preparing for tomorrow takes center stage in our minds. But, in those sober, quiet moments, we remember these earthly cares only amount to a few seconds compared with eternity. How are we preparing for that?
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV)
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ”Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13, ESV)
Pop Open Those Creed Notebooks
The questions this week are simple. Answer individually and then discuss the reasons for your numbers with each other. On a scale from 1-10 (1 being no preparation and 10 being significant preparation):
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for engagement?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for marriage?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for children/parenthood?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for marital finances?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for the seven-year-itch?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for grief?
- … how much effort do you believe you should put into preparing for eternity?
What Does the Bible Say?
Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house. (Proverbs 24:27, ESV)
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3, ESV)
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28, ESV)
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4, ESV)
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. (Proverbs 20:4, ESV)
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22, ESV)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21, ESV)
This last verse is a good reminder that we can plan and prepare, but at the end of the day, the Lord’s purpose will be realized. We should plan, prepare, and not drift aimlessly through life, but we must also hold our plans with an open hand acknowledging who is truly in control of our lives.
Prepare Your Fields for Rain
As the story goes, two farmers prayed for rain. One went and prepared his field and dug trenches, expecting God to bring the rain; whereas, the other did not. Both prayed, but only one showed his faith in God’s ability and goodness to provide the rain. We can pray for what we desire – a wonderful marriage, thriving children, financial stability, career fulfillment, and ministry opportunities – but if we do not prepare to receive what we ask God to bring, are we showing faith? Are we evidencing genuine belief He will provide?
In your creeds, we encourage you to prepare for rain. Show not only what you believe about God but what you believe about His faithfulness to provide. We can believe in God without believing He is faithful and involved in the small details of our lives.
Ice Cream Time!
With that said, I think I am going to prepare myself for some dessert. A simple, vanilla ice cream cone from McDonald’s has been on my mind for days and I am ready to receive it!
Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation. – Zig Ziglar
How much do you and your significant other like to prepare for upcoming life events?