|This is Pastor Rick. Don't make him mad.|
I just finished listening to the second sermon in Pastor (Dr.) Rick McKinley's latest sermon series, "Love. Sex. God" Predictably, it is awesome. But it's not awesome because it's predictable. His advie is counter-cultural, especially counter to the culture of Portland, Oregon. Portland is a very "progressive" city and prides itself on its tolerance, its diversity of ways of living, and being weird. Truly, there are bumper stickers that say "Keep Portland Weird." But in Portland, what would REALLY be weird would be to be a person who believes in (and practices!) reserving sex only for the covenantal marriage of one man and one woman. Such people would likely be seen as quaint (at best) and more likely as regressively puritanical and out of touch with reality.
And here's his even WEIRDER idea: Christian parents are actually doing their children a disservice when they encourage them to put off early marriages. To paraphrase Rick, if your nineteen year old son or daughter comes to you and says they've met someone wonderful who loves Jesus and loves them and wants to serve them and grow with them in marriage, and they want to get married in six months, do NOT try to discourage them merely because (A) they are young and (B) six months is not very long. There is a pervading cultural attitude--alive and well in the church, I might add--that says it is insane to marry at a young age. Culture would tell you it's insane because you need to play the field, date (and sleep) around so you can know what kind of men or women are out there and what you are looking for, and because you've hardly even begun to figure yourself out, so how can you make a lifetime commitment to someone else? The church spin on that is that you need to make sure you have all your affairs in order and can support yourself and your spouse before you get married, and make sure you're fully mature and ready to enter into the difficulties that marriage can pose. Well, I can certainly attest to the fact that marriage can be difficult and I imagine that marrying someone who already owns their own home and has a six figure salary job could be quite nice from a worldly standpoint (although I have no experience with that). But I agree with Rick that as long as the two people in question are both going into the marriage with eyes wide open to the potential hardships and a solid commitment to Christ and the covenant they are about to make, age and socioeconomic status are of little importance.
I think of Andy and Alishia. Both were 20 when they met (at church) and started hanging out. I might have their timeline a bit off, but I think they started hanging out somewhere around the end of 2010. By May of 2011 (at Ruby's first birthday party), they were a couple, and shortly thereafter they became engaged. They got married in January of 2012: Andy was a few weeks shy of turning 22 and Alishia was 21. Their courtship and engagement process was probably under a year total. When they were telling people that they were engaged, they faced a great deal of skepticism from friends and family about the whole thing, and most of it hinged on their age and not having all their ducks in a row. Andy didn't own a house; in fact, he lived with his mom. He was beginning his own tutoring business and it was slow-going. Alishia had a job as a pool and hot tub technician but quit it shortly before the wedding because it was extremely physically demanding and was bad on her back and joints. Any "normal" couple would have perhaps moved in together and saved up for a few years before getting married. Any "normal Christian" couple might not have moved in together, but they would have waited for at least a year or 18 months or two years, which for some reason is thought to be a more "respectable" amount of time to be engaged, but still remained chaste. Sounds torturous.
Allen and I were sympathetic to and supportive of them in their desire to get married young and quickly because we had been in a similar boat; a faster track, even. We went from total strangers to man and wife in 8 months, thanks in part to hearing Pastor Rick speak on this same topic while we were attending Imago Dei together early on. Now, I am not wholesale recommending that approach for everyone. But I am suggesting that maybe the church should be focusing less on getting 18 year olds to sign abstinence pledges to guilt trip them through college and more on getting them to think about what they are looking for in a spouse and what marriage means, and not scolding them or writing them off when they say, "We are okay with being a broke young couple if it means we're following the Lord and worshipping Him together in marriage."
I know a lady who has two daughters. One is 21 and the other is 19; the 21 year old just got married (while she was still 20) and the 19 year old is getting married in the coming spring. I've also heard all of the shocked gasps from those to whom she reveals this information. "What's the rush?" "My goodness, they're scarcely more than children themselves!" "That's so young!" "Aren't they worried about finishing school first?" I don't know the reasons behind why the girls decided to marry early and marry young, but I don't automatically think they are nuts. Would Allen have made a better husband if I waited until he were done with school (which would have tacked an additional 4 or 5 years onto our engagement)? He might have made a less busy husband, but not necessarily better. Would Allen have made a better husband if he had already found a job that paid five figures (forget six, five is good enough for us right now!!!)? We might be more financially at ease, but I don't think that would have improved our marriage.
My parents had a shortish dating period but a two year engagement. My mom spoke highly of long engagements for young people as a way to learn more about each other and figure things out. She never mentioned whether or not she and my dad (both Christians then as now) remained chaste during those two years, and I never asked because I didn't want to offend her. Still don't; it's water under their 32-years-of-marriage-bridge, anyway. I always assumed they did everything perfectly because, well, they were my parents. They didn't make mistakes. From what I could see, they had a perfect love story, perfect courtship, and perfect marriage. I never saw them argue and never saw evidence of any strain in the relationship, and still don't. They are great friends and companions and I fully expect to be cheering for them at their golden anniversary with them in 18 years, Lord willing. And to be fair, when I told my parents that Allen and I were planning to be married, they did not try to stop me. But I was also 25, almost 26. I had finished my schooling and had a masters degree. I had a good job that could easily support myself and my husband. I owned a car. Aside from owning a house, I had already checked off all the boxes under the list of "Things To Do Before Getting Married." If I had been Allen's same age (he was 21, almost 22 when we got married), and still in college, would they have changed their tune?
Okay Mrs. Wise Guy, you say. It's easy for YOU to talk because you are so far removed from that future possibility with your kids. But what about if your kids come home at 18 or 19 and say they want to get married? Yes, what about when Ruby or Max gets to be that age? As a teacher, I know what young people are like, and I'm not THAT far removed from being a late teen and early 20 something. O, the DRAMA!! O, the CRUSHES!! O, the feeling that if so-and-so did not return my love I would probably DIE A SAD OLD MAID. In my case, I was clearly not mature enough to be married at age 21, and God made that clear by preventing any of the men that I was desperately interested in from being interested in me. Although I was SO not okay with it at the time, I can now clearly see that I would have been a trainwreck of a wife had I married young. It's still not easy to be a wife now that I'm 28, but I think I'm a lot better at it than I would have been younger.
But even so...God uses trainwrecks, doesn't he? My friend Katie (who got married last Saturday!) had a cousin who got married when she was 18 or 19, I can't remember which. About a year into the marriage the cousin was not doing so hot. Basically, she was acting really selfishly (oh, and Newsflash! Being married will help you uncover all the selfishness you never knew you had. And then you have kids and discover there's even MORE selfishness and that you are basically a wretch.) But God used women in her life (including Katie) to speak some sense and rebuke to her and it helped her grow into a more mature person and a better wife. I'm sure that people would be able to find lots of stories of couples who married young and got divorced a few years later, and that happens...but heck, with the divorce rate at nearly 50%, seems like a couple that marries young has the same odds as on that marries later on in life or marries after living together for years.
And I would rather have Ruby or Max marry young out of Christian conviction and a desire not to sin sexually than to see them be more "conventional" in all of its implications. If we're Christians, then we are called to live a different story, one that makes people sit up and take notice! If children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior, those arrows are meant to be shot and sent out into the world to change things. That's scary for the parents but ultimately their calling. I would not counsel them to be "safe" in terms of worldly safety. As was said of Aslan, "Safe? Of course he isn't safe! But he's good. And he's the king."
Well, I have gone on at length about all of this, and for what? I suppose that I just get a little excited when I hear about something that makes sense and I want to share it. Seriously, whether you're single, engaged, married, divorced, widowed, whatever, listen to the sermon series. Even if you're not an "evangelical Christian." Pastor Rick is an engaging speaker and you won't be bored, and you'll certainly find something that will rile you up and get you thinking. Thinking: it's what's for dinner. Okay, I must be tired if I'm starting to come up with sentences like that! Good night, all.