Postponing Love

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’m looking for the most thorough, rigorous Christian premarital counseling book that you’re aware of. I need recommendations for a Christian couple that’s recklessly rushing towards marriage after spending very little time together. They’re determined to hold their wedding asap, but they’re also very open to premarital counseling and any books we recommend to them. I’m looking for a book that challenges naivete and the fairy tale they’ve spun for themselves about the necessity to get married now, without experiencing each other over time.  Many thanks!

 

Dana

 


 

Dear Dana,

 

This couple is blessed to have such a caring friend, and they may need your friendship more in the months to come if they are rushing into marriage. Before I address your question, I’d like to address your underlying fear. While there is some evidence to indicate that a longer dating relationship gives marriage a better chance of success, it is far from the only factor. The Bible does not presume that a bride and groom even KNOW one another before they marry. It gives them the same advice as it gives couples in longer dating relationships: to love and respect one another (Col. 3:18-19), not to divorce (Matt. 19:1-6) and to work as a team to build God’s Kingdom (Ps. 45). If both spouses love Jesus and are even more committed to Him than they are to each other, that will give them the strength, wisdom and grace they need to create a loving partnership. Other factors, such as their cultural value systems, family support, income and communication styles are also very important, and those are things that should come out in premarital counseling. But be warned: I have tried to talk people into postponing marriage with very little success. Those in love are thinking not primarily with their heads, but with their hearts filtered through Cupid’s chemicals. Give them all your best advice, but in the end, YOU must trust God for His work in their lives – through a happy marriage or an unhappy one.

 

While I know of no resource which deliberately bursts young love’s balloon, there are some books below that I would recommend, in no particular order. I would also recommend that the couple talk with a pastor or counselor who is trained in premarital work, someone who can speak into their lives with compassion and wisdom. May God guide them – and you, too, as you walk alongside them.

 

Thing I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman

(Contains exercises and discussion questions.)

 

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

(Covers the basics of Christian marriage thoroughly.)

 

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (A different, deeper perspective on marriage.)

 

Preparing for Marriage by Boehi, et al.

(Contains worksheets on decision-making and relationship evaluation for engaged couples.)

Limited, Fallible, Sinful. Which Is It?

Arguments.So often we heap blame on our own shoulders for a failure we did not intend and could not have prevented. If you’ve ever forgotten to pick up your child from school, given a less-than-stellar business presentation or executed a pratfall instead of a grand entrance, then you know what I mean. We fail (again and again) to live up to anyone’s standard of perfection, especially our own. When humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, we became broken creatures prone to failure, but how we view that failure determines how we will handle it. So let’s take a look at several different kinds of human imperfection.

 

Limited.  Being limited is part of being human. Even in Heaven, we probably won’t be able to transcend time, know others’ thoughts or interact with millions of people at once. One person can only know, do and care a limited amount, and there is nothing bad about that. God called us “very good” (Gen. 1:31) even with our limitations. When you have to say “no” to ministry because you are already taking care of your family, when you didn’t realize your boyfriend wanted you to be at his soccer practice and when you tried all day but couldn’t reach your mother on her birthday, you are experiencing your own limitations. Any guilt you might feel about that is not coming from God.

 

Fallible.  We make mistakes. Our brains, hands and hearts don’t work as well as God originally created them to. With the best of intentions, we still fall short. We use the wrong name, forget the anniversary, lose our cell phone. Brennan Manning said (I wish I could quote this) he wanted to learn to be open and amused about his own mistakes, seeing them as good reminders of the human condition and his constant need for God’s grace. Our world would be a much better place if we could all give that kind of grace to ourselves and others. Our mistakes are not outside God’s ability to use them, and they are not sinful. You probably wouldn’t feel too guilty about getting a math problem wrong. You’d acknowledge your condition (just not that good at math) and go find a calculator! That’s what we need to do with all our mistakes: acknowledge that we are just not that good at life (NO ONE is), and ask for the help we need. 

 

Sinful.  We tend to put everything in this category which is why we feel so guilty about so much. We should feel guilty about sin – that’s what guilt is for! Sin occurs when we know what we should do before God, and we do something else (see James 4:17, Rom. 14:23 and 1 John 3:4-6, for example). Sin is, in its essence, rebellion against God. Fortunately, there is a remedy for sin and its guilt. We can take them to the cross and drop them there, running free because we know Christ already paid our debt. While guilt can be one indicator of sin, it’s not foolproof. So the next time you feel guilty, ask yourself this question: “Did I sin?” Whenever you can say, “Yes,” run – do not walk – to the cross with your repentance. Afterward, any guilt you continue to feel is not coming from God. And if you answer, “No,” then you should really be thinking about one of the other categories above.

Ruined: a book review

imageEvery summer it seems there is at least one book I’m still thinking about long after the windows are closed and the kids are back in school, a book I ponder and advise others to read. I’m not a fan of novels, but I do range far and wide, so we are talking about nonfiction from Destiny of the Republic to Wild Trees to The Soul of Shame and all the meaty, thrilling, deeply moving words in between. This year that memorable book is Ruined: a memoir by Ruth Everhart.

 

The author is a wife, a mother, a Presbyterian pastor, a blogger and a survivor of sexual violence. She and her roommates were held at gunpoint and raped during a long night of terror while seniors at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1978. As Reverend Everhart describes that night and its aftermath, you can feel her pain through the pages, a pain that goes far beyond the experience of her body to lacerations of the mind and spirit. Her journey includes an honest grappling with the sovereignty of God, a search for the true meaning of grace and a deep sense of compassion for all the lost and hurting souls in the world, especially those who feel they’ve been ruined.

 

While the book deals with heavy subjects, it is immensely readable – I finished its 300 pages in a day and a half. Everhart’s style is direct but intimate, taking the reader to the edge of evil, then pulling back to reveal an interior world straining toward light and love. It is a mark of her long healing that she has compassion not only for her sister sufferers but also for herself. “You are more than your sexual history. You are more than what happens to you. You are immensely valuable… Nothing is more washable than human skin. It is the most washable substance on earth. Thank God.” (p. 306)

 

I will recommend this book to my counseling clients, to others in ministry and to my friends. I will reflect upon it as I consider my own life journey and the scars I bear. I will think of it as I look around this vulnerable planet at all the things I might be tempted to believe are ruined. And I will return to it whenever I need the most powerful message Ms. Everhart offers her readers: hope.

 


 

Note: I did not receive a free copy of this book nor was I compensated in any way for this review. I first heard about it through the wonderful book blog/newsletter at Hearts & Minds books. Please check them out!