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Lately I’ve been preoccupied thinking about dating, engagement, and marriage (because my daughter got engaged! Yay!). And so I’ve written a number of things lately on why young people should prioritize relationships even in college, and why you need to be careful who you give your heart to. But there’s one more piece of advice that I have for late teens early twenty somethings, and it’s going to be controversial. But I’m going to say it anyway.
If you want to get married, then make yourself available to get married.
That may not sound controversial yet, but here’s the thing: that’s actually the opposite of what we’re often taught in church, and it’s certainly the opposite of what kids will hear in school. And my fear is that many young people who desperately do want to get married are acting in ways that make marriage less likely.
First, though, a caveat: Marriage is not the most important thing in anyone’s life. God is the most important thing in anyone’s life. And you can have a full and complete life without being married. I am not saying that we should raise our kids to obsess over getting married or to worry about getting married. But I do believe that if this is a goal that they have that they should live in such a way to make that goal more likely.
So here’s where the controversial part comes in: if you spend five years teaching English in Japan or China or wherever, you decrease your chances of finding a spouse. That doesn’t mean you WON’T find a spouse; you just decrease your chances. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if you feel called by God to go somewhere you shouldn’t go; it’s just that I think many twenty-somethings want to have these “experiences” before they get tied down, but in so doing they limit their chances to get tied down.
If you want to get married, it is smart to spend your time where there are large numbers of potential mates.
I have a young friend named Daniel who felt called to go to the mission field, so he moved to Central America in his early to mid-twenties. Yet while leading a youth group from North America on a short term missions one summer, he met a youth group leader. A woman. Who was wonderful. And they married recently. I know another young woman who was serving in India who met the leader of another short term missions group, and they were recently married. If God is calling you somewhere, you go. Absolutely.
But studying abroad for a year? Taking a few years to backpack across the world? Even living for two years on a cruise ship? Nope. If you want to get married, and it’s really important to you, then go where you will find a whole ton of young, Christian potential spouses.
There’s another exception: I heard the story recently of one man who became a Christian at 22 after leading a really messed up life. He took the next two years on the mission field just serving so that he could get to know God better. After that, he came home, went to seminary, met his wife, and the rest is history. Sometimes we need those few years to find ourselves if we have a lot of issues to deal with. But if you don’t, then don’t take yourself out of the pool of marriageable people at a prime time in your life.
I have served on the mission field with my husband AFTER I’ve been married, and we’re planning to again. Getting married does not end your dreams of travel or service. In fact, I’ve traveled more and served more since being married than I did before I was married.
Be very careful about what kind of post-secondary education you choose.
I would venture to say that about half of married people met their spouses in school–either in high school or in college. Those school years are vitally important, because they occur right at the time that we’re getting to the age where marriage is possible, and we’re with the largest number of people our own age at the same time.
And I think that’s why so many people send their kids to Christian universities. You get to meet other Christians, after all! There’s a reason we call them Bridal Colleges, not Bible Colleges!
But hold on a second. The majority of Christian universities have a terrible sex ratio of about 70 girls to 30 guys. Think about that: for every guy, there are at least two girls. So if you have a daughter, do you really think that’s the best place to send her? (If you have a son, he’s practically guaranteed to meet a wife. A daughter? Not so much.)
It may certainly be the best place if it’s the education you’re after, but having been to a secular university and attended the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship group there (and met my husband there), I can tell you that you can get a lot of Christian training at the secular university Christian groups, too. In fact, those Christians are often extremely strong in their faith, because they’re in a secular environment but they’re choosing to spend the majority of their free time in Christian study and service.
That’s where my daughter met her fiance, too. And the opportunities for learning evangelism are amazing! My daughter has become a major evangelist when she didn’t even know she had the gift.
Secular university is not for everyone, but I’m just saying that one shouldn’t assume that one will marry just because you go to a Christian university. If you’re female, your chances are actually better at a Christian group in a secular university where the sex ratios are more even.
If you do choose a Christian education, then, make sure it’s in a city with a wide range of church options that have large college and career groups, so that you can meet other people in a church setting.
Don’t just believe “God will send me a spouse if I trust him”
A lot of girls (and it’s especially girls) are sitting at home on Friday nights, reading Christian books, watching romantic comedies, eating ice cream, and praying that God will send them a spouse.
And that seems like trust. They’re wrestling with God about not getting anxious about it. They’re learning to let it go. They’re not obsessing.
But does God really do that? Does God answer our prayers without requiring us to do anything at all? Is that the best way of demonstrating trust–to remain safely in our comfort zone, not doing anything scary, while waiting for God to show up? Or does he want us to stretch ourselves a bit?
It’s scary to join a whole bunch of college and career groups. It’s scary to invite people back to your house for dinner or for movies and popcorn. It’s scary to take up people you don’t know well on their offer of “do you want to hang out on Saturday?” But the truth is that most of us marry someone that we meet through our social circle. You meet a friend of a friend, or a cousin of a friend, or a brother of a co-worker. You know what I mean.
But to do that, you have to have friends. Hang out where there are other strong Christians. Volunteer in places that you care about. Serve in a lot of ministries in church. Serve on short-term missions trips. Go to weekend retreats. These are all great places to meet a wide variety of people–but, even better, they’re all great places to build your faith and to build yourself as a person.
In the church, we often give people the message, “You can do whatever you want, and God will provide.” I don’t think that’s true. I think we need to prioritize and put first things first. If you hibernate for five years in grad school, never talking to anyone, I’m not sure a mate will just show up. If you stay living at home after high school in your small town with few Christian marriageable options, then I’m not sure a handsome perfect guy will suddenly move in next door. Sometimes we need to move away to a larger city with bigger churches.
This is one of the main messages in Gary Thomas’ excellent book Sacred Search, too. If you want to get married, then get serious about making friends and growing your social connections. Live out your dreams!
Look, I am writing this for people who want to get married. If that is not your main goal–if you are focused more on career or on missions or on something else–then that honestly is fine. I believe that God puts stirrings in our heart that we are to follow.
But my fear is that we are not teaching young people the common sense facts about finding a mate. So if marriage matters, make yourself marriageable, and that includes putting yourself out there. It’s scary. It takes some risk. It takes a lot of time–you won’t get to stay home and watch Netflix as much. But it is worth it, and I encourage you, if it is important to you, to get out there and live a big life and meet lots of people! Then, even if you don’t marry, you’ll still have a wide circle of friends, a wide number of interests, and a really full life. And that’s worth it, too.