As I look back over twenty-five years of marriage, I am grateful for the countless blessings of being with one woman whom I love and who loves me so faithfully. Through many highs and lows, we have grown closer together as we have persevered through life's struggles. As a result, I have developed a few convictions and beliefs about how a young man can and should find his wife and embark on his journey with her. To all my 20-something friends, I honestly believe that every young man who is truly interested in entering into a marriage covenant with a young woman should embrace the following seven critical pieces of advice. Ignore them at the risk of missing out on the blessing. Embrace them and you can expect a depth of relationship experienced nowhere else.
1. WORK REALLY HARD AT BECOMING A REALLY GOOD LISTENER.
Get your mind off yourself and cultivate a heart of understanding. Read her. Study her. Know her. Listen very carefully, not merely to the words spoken, but for their meaning and motive. Get really good at listening to understand the young woman you are pursuing--her hurts, her fears, her opinions, her suggestions and perspectives. Forget about the selfies. Take up the practice of self-forgetfulness and get to know her as a female human being made in God's image. Do away with sarcasm and self promotion. No more competitive debate or manipulative questions. Status updates are quick and shallow. Texting on screen is fine for information, but talking in person leads to transformation and real intimacy. Take the time to dive deep into her world. There is a lot of wisdom to learn and life to experience, but you have to learn to really listen, understand, and empathize.
2. PROTECT THE GIRL AS THOUGH SHE WERE YOUR FUTURE WIFE.
Show her respect as a co-heir of the gift of life. Keep her from harm. Shield her from lies. Guard her heart with truth. Rarely is it possible to protect yourself and her from danger at the same time. Be a humble servant willing to lay down your life for her sake. Be willing to experience rejection even as you pursue her heart. Lead her not into temptation, but protect her from the harm and deception of the lying one. Work really hard to care for her needs. Providing and protecting go hand in hand. Plan your date night, but be flexible. Pay for dinner. Don't waste her time with immature games or silly charades. Don't lead her on with subtle hints or unclear signals. She's a creation of God. A beautiful image-bearer. A daughter of the King. A gift from the Father. So, take care of her like a sister, not because she is helpless or unable, but to show her that she is valuable and worthy of respect.
3. KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF HER BODY.
Whether she's your future wife, or someone else's, her body is not for your touch and your touch is not ready for her body. "Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases." Intimate touch is a beautiful thing, but covenant commitment must come before a passionate consummation. Until that sacred moment of selfless and permanent promise, don't defile the future marriage bed by prematurely putting your hands where they don't belong. Her body, dressed or undressed, is not yours to caress, and outside the bond of marriage, it starts something you are not permitted to finish. Furthermore, there is a thin line between playful petting and abusive exploitation. If you're not ready for lifelong commitment, then you are not ready for the natural progression of sexual attraction that is designed to be completed in love. So, for the sake of her honor and your reputation, keep your hands off her body.
4. SHIELD YOUR EYES FROM ALL FORMS OF NUDITY.
There is nothing promising about pornography. It's end is empty. It's root is evil. It's agenda is addictive. The user becomes the used. The situated self is loss to the industry as desire and impulse yield to death and despair. So, shield your eyes. No double takes. Filter the bandwidth. Block the popups. Barricade the door. Build a wall of protection between your hormones and half-dressed women. The beauty of her figure was not created to be recorded or exploited, by you, the pimp or the advertising industry. There is nothing lovely about Lolita. There is nothing lasting about lust. There is nothing life-giving about loose living. On the contrary, the greatest sexual pleasure is found when you and your wife are willing to bare your skin and your souls - your flesh and your fears - in the safety of an exclusive and permanent covenant bond. Anything else leads to shattered dreams, shameful memories and abused lives. Don't permit the lenses of your pupils to let in perverted promiscuity, and don't become close and intimate with a young woman who is so weak in character and moral purity that she is willing to bare her body for your temporary illicit pleasure.
5. RUN AWAY FROM THE HOOK-UP CULTURE.
There is no such thing as "friends with benefits". They are not true friends, and there are no benefits there. Hooking up is demeaning to women, devalues their dignity, and destroys self worth. Casual sex is for cowards who do not possess the character of real and solid commitment. Regardless of what those involved may say, in reality, dorm room sleepovers, frat house "hang outs" and apartment rendezvous are precursors to the porn industry and are no different in intent and kind, only by degree and severity. Listen up young man! Do not be a complicit player in the hook-up game. For it is nothing less than the training ground and the practice field that is grooming the next generation of perpetrators and victims. If you choose to play, then prepare to pay. There is no such thing as free sex. It is either purchased with devastating consequences or covenant love. The latter is a much better deal and is infinitely more fulfilling.
6. BECOME MARRIAGEABLE BY TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.
Don't wait until you are married to become marriage material. Live everyday like you're planning to marry. Take marriage seriously by taking dating seriously. Pursue a young woman for keeps, or don't pursue at all. Work hard to earn honest money. Live on a budget. Stay out of debt. Save up for a ring. Be a giver, not a taker. Dream with direction, not delusion. Master your craft by always being teachable. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." Listen to wise counsel regarding behaviors you need to change, even if they seem small and insignificant. Deal with past trauma. Heal from past hurts. Grow from past failures. Stay away from blame shifting. Refuse to be passive. Listen to your heart, but don't lead with it. Own up to all mistakes, accept the consequences of all poor choices, and confess and repent of all known sin. In short, take responsibility, don't push it away.
7. BE PATIENT, BUT NOT FEARFUL.
Don't rush into a relationship, and don't rush the relationship either. Cultivate your friendship like a gardner. Growing a friendship is more like planting a seed than transplanting a tree. Healthy relationships require nourishment over time and consistent attention to the small things. And not only nourishment but also exercise. Like physical fitness, relationships require a measure of self-control and discipline. More like a marathon than a sprint. But, after much patience and perseverance, at some point, the time will be right to move forward. When that time comes, don't let fear dictate. If you are controlled by fear in figuring it out, then you will be controlled by fear in living it out. Don't be afraid of making a mistake or messing up God's plan. Who do you think you are? There is no such thing as the perfect soul mate, so stop waiting for the "stars to align" and start making marriage a priority sooner than later. There are thousands of young women with whom you could experience a fulfilling spiritual friendship on the journey to the new creation. Life on this earth is really very short. There is no marriage beyond the grave. So be patient for sure, but don't spend too much time trying to get to know your future mate. You will have the rest of your life for this endeavor. "We never know whom we marry; we just think we do." Don't waste your time looking for the perfect girl or trying to become the perfect guy. Neither of you will be the same person after your vows anyway. Instead, prepare yourself to love and to care for the stranger you will marry. The spiritual journey you will take together will change you more than you can imagine. So do not let your heart be overcome by fear or overwhelmed with doubt. Instead, have courage, trust God and jump in!
Cheering and praying for you,