Monday, May 18, 2020

Preparing for Marriage: Self-Improvement

In a previous article, I recommended that Christian singles make an intentional effort to move toward marriage. If you don't aim for marriage and take concrete steps to get there, you may marry much later than you should or, potentially, not marry at all. So, how do you move towards marriage? It can help to have some practical ways to prepare for marriage. That's why I'm starting a series on the topic.

There are several ways to move toward marriage besides building a romantic relationship. You don't need a boyfriend or girlfriend right now in order to prepare yourself for marriage.

Even if you are dating or engaged, there are probably ways you still need to prepare for marriage. And if you aren't dating or engaged now, you can still move toward marriage by preparing yourself in several areas.

I would group these kinds of pursuits into 3 categories: Self-improvement, searching for a partner, and initiating a relationship. In this post, I will talk about ways to improve yourself in order to make yourself more ready for marriage. 

We all have areas we could improve. Working on yourself is something you can do without a date and will help you get closer to marriage readiness. You don't have to reach some magical "readiness" point before you can pursue a relationship or move toward marriage, but some facets of your marriage resume, as it were, are more helpful than others. 

Good Character

The most important aspect of preparing for marriage is developing good character. This is something all Christians should do anyway, whether or not they marry. So you can't go wrong in improving your character. The effort will never be wasted. Identify your character flaws (we all have them) and work on them through prayer, Bible study, practicing better behavior, finding mentors who will help you, and seeking the accountability of the body of Christ. Whether you struggle with anger, lust, laziness, greed, gluttony, pride, selfishness, or any other sin, God calls you to grow in grace and to overcome these sins through the power of the Holy Spirit. Study the Fruit of the Spirit and develop them in your life. They are attractive on everybody and very useful for building a strong marriage.

This point cannot be overemphasized. Your character defines how you will treat your future spouse, as well as everyone else. Your character defines whether you will be faithful, trustworthy, kind, encouraging, loving, and self-controlled. The marriage you build will depend directly and unavoidably on what kind of people you and your spouse are. There is no substitute for good character. It is vital to a good marriage. You should be looking for a spouse of good character, but you should also be a person of good character. You want to be the kind of person that the kind of spouse you are looking for will want to marry.

Social Skills

Another area to work on is social skills. Some people have more difficulty in social interactions than others. If this is something you struggle with, learning how to develop your social skills may help you meet, attract, and build a relationship with a good potential spouse. Social skills are about learning to put other people at ease around you and carry on pleasant and useful interactions with them. Building a relationship headed toward marriage usually begins when someone finds you interesting and pleasant to be around. Social skills really help with that.

Social skills include things like how to introduce yourself, how to make small talk, how to pay attention to non-verbal cues from people, how to have a conversation without either dominating it or making the other person work to draw you out, how to be considerate of other people's feelings, how to confront someone gently, how to apologize, and how to smooth over social tensions. If you are especially shy, cocky, awkward, withdrawn, brash, or insensitive, it can affect how other people see you and how willing they are to get to know you better. You might have lots of great qualities, but if they never get to know you, they won't know that. Don't let poor social skills scuttle your chances of building stable and rewarding relationships. Like building good character, developing good social skills is useful even for those who do not marry. So it is not wasted effort.

Financial Wisdom

One very useful area of self-improvement is financial preparation. Financial issues are one of the most common problems within marriage. Being financially stable and having good money habits helps get a marriage off to an easier start. Now, money is not everything. It's not about how much money you have, per se. It's about how wise you are with the money you have. You don't need a 5-figure nest egg before you marry. However, you do need to know how to live within your means, save for the future, avoid wasteful spending, and pay bills on time, at the very minimum.

For men, it is important that they develop a stable career that can provide for a family. God has called men to be the providers, which means that men preparing for marriage should be demonstrating that they can provide for a family while women preparing for marriage should be learning how to live within their future husband's income. Women should be evaluating potential husbands on their work ethic and responsibility with money because they will need to rely on their husband for provision. If he can't keep a job or spends as much or more than he makes, run away, ladies. Similarly, men should be evaluating potential wives by their ability to handle money wisely, such as living frugally and understanding the value of money. Preparing to show a potential spouse that you can handle money wisely is a big part of being attractive as a marriage partner.

Physical Attractiveness

Yet another area of preparation is physical preparation. This includes physical fitness, mental health, personal grooming, and overall appearance. Let's be honest. You're obviously going to be more attractive to the opposite sex if you're not an overweight couch potato wearing sloppy or dirty clothes and you bathe and groom yourself and don't have neurotic or obsessive tendencies. Get yourself as healthy and attractive as you can.

Of course, health and physical appearance is not everything. Not everyone is model material. Most of us have imperfections. Some people have health problems that are not their fault and that they can't change. Plus, you are likely to have to deal with various health problems as you age and a marriage is going to have to hold up in sickness and in health.

However, if you're trying to get someone to want to get to know you in the first place, make sure any health or appearance issues you have aren't of your own making. And do your best with what you have when it comes to your appearance. Sometimes a change in hairstyle or clothing or exercise habits can make a big difference. Ask some trustworthy friends if there are changes you can make that would make you more attractive.

Another aspect of the physical attractiveness issue is being honest about your own attractiveness. Like it or not, most people marry someone who is similar in physical attractiveness to themselves. If you're a super model, you can probably be really picky about who you go out with, but if you're average, holding out for a super model means you're going to stay single. Be realistic.

Other Useful Skills

One other way to prepare for marriage is to develop skills, habits, and hobbies that will make your future marriage more enjoyable and make you more attractive to potential spouses. Most people like to be around people who can do cool or useful things. Plus, sharing a common interest or hobby is a great way to meet new people. So find something you like to do and pursue it.

For men, learn to do handyman work like basic plumbing, electrical, or carpentry. It saves a lot of money if you can fix simple broken things around the house. It can also be helpful if you can do simple maintenance on vehicles like changing the oil or fixing a flat tire. A lot of women really appreciate a man who knows how to do these kinds of things.

For women, learn how to cook. Food is something your family needs every single day. Making a variety of delicious, nutritious foods on a budget is a vital skill. Developing your skills as a good cook is also a great way to catch a man's attention. Most men would prefer a wife who knows how to cook.

For both sexes, learn more about the Bible. You can never know too much about the Bible. Develop your apologetics skills. Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about your faith. This is not only a Biblical command and very attractive to godly potential spouses, but very useful when you have children as you will need to disciple them in the faith. This is also an important part of developing good character. Don't just learn what it says, but practice what it teaches.

If you have spare time and you have your character and social skills and finances in good order, find a hobby you enjoy and pursue it. These can include things like hiking, bird-watching, sewing, coin collecting, flying an airplane, building model cars, painting or drawing, playing a musical instrument, or something similar. Having something that makes you unique and shows you to be capable of investing time in something worthwhile make you a more interesting person. And you just might find someone else who appreciates your particular skills or shares your passion.


These are just some of the major ways you can improve yourself as you prepare for marriage. And you don't have to stop after you're married either. All of us can improve in various ways. 


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Marriage Role Reversal Will Make Husbands and Wives Feel Unhappy and Unloved

In my last post, I discussed how children need discipline in order to feel loved. You can give them gifts and attention and let them do all kinds of fun things, but they won't feel properly loved unless they are disciplined. God designed children to need discipline, and when they don't get it, they will be unhappy and feel isolated and alone and unloved. It's an emotional need that is not being met.

There's an interesting parallel in marriage. God designed women to need leadership from their husbands in order to feel loved. Not only did God give the husband the position of authority and leadership in the home, but He did so because it is best for both men and women.

Men have a need to lead. They're designed for it. They don't feel loved if their wives don't follow their lead. At the same time, God made women to need to be led. They don't feel loved if they are in control. They feel abandoned and lonely when they aren't following their husband's lead. They need the husband to be the head, to lead them and protect them - physically and emotionally.

What too often happens in a marriage is that the wife pushes for control. She thinks she wants to take the lead. She's trying to get her way because we always want our own way, even when it's not good for us. This is the sinful tendency of all of us. Ever since the fall, the main temptation of women is to try to take the lead in marriage.

So this newly married woman starts pushing for control. She may not even realize that is what she is doing. It's just that she knows so much more than her husband, or she feels really strongly that a certain course of action is the right one, or she can't see why they should do what her husband wants instead of what she wants since he's supposed to want to please her, right? There are all kinds of reasons that she can come up with that she's right and her husband is wrong. But she's sure her husband should be doing this her way and she lets him know it.

Meanwhile, the husband's greatest temptation is to give in to his wife - to be passive and follow her lead. Leading isn't always easy. It means taking the flak when people don't agree and taking the blame if things don't turn out well. It means being somewhat alone because you're the only one who has the responsibility of making the final decision. It means making a lot of effort to weigh the possible choices and settle on one. It's often easier to follow than to lead. So ever since the fall, this is the temptation for men. They find it easier to give up their proper position of leadership and follow instead.

So the wife is letting her displeasure be known and pushing for the husband to give in to her choice instead. Leading takes a lot of effort and it isn't getting him any brownie points because she's mad or upset over what he's trying to do. So he gives in.

The problem develops when this becomes a pattern. Over time, it becomes easier and easier for the husband to give in and easier and easier for the wife to push for her way. They reverse roles. Now, she's the leader and he's the follower. But neither finds this situation satisfying.

The husband doesn't feel loved because his wife isn't following his lead. His emotional needs are not being met. She's telling him what to do. She's more like his mother than his wife. (Now, that will kill attraction in a hurry.) She doesn't trust him to make decisions by himself. She doesn't respect him enough to follow him.

The wife doesn't feel loved because she isn't being led. Her emotional needs are not being met. How can she feel loved when he's left her alone to have to make all the decisions, without his protection? She can't respect him when he isn't strong enough to take the lead. She needs the security of having a strong man, and she feels exposed and vulnerable when her man isn't leading. She might think she wants the leadership when it comes to getting her way, but the burden of leading weighs on her because it's a burden she was never designed to bear.

This is the situation so many marriages develop. It's even worse today than for many in the past because our society actively pushes role reversal. The husband isn't leading. The wife isn't being led. And both are unhappy. They can't connect well because they're not in their proper roles. They both feel isolated, unheard, unloved, and frustrated, but they may not be able to discern why. In many cases, they decide they have drifted apart and they divorce. They both believe the other person isn't who they married any more and things didn't turn out the way they thought.

In reality, they're suffering a lack of proper marriage roles. Men and women are designed for different things. Marriage has a particular design that fulfills the needs of both spouses, if they stick to their roles. Men and women have different needs. Men need to lead to feel loved. Women need to be led in order to feel loved. If they stay in their proper roles, and if both are being generous to one another, then they will both feel loved. But when they reverse roles, they don't feel satisfied or loved.

The Bible tells us all of this. It tells the husband that he is the head (Ephesians 5:23) and calls him to lead and protect his wife. It tells the wife to be sure she submits to her husband's leadership and respects him (Ephesians 5:22, 33). These aren't arbitrary rules. They are rooted in God's design for men and women since creation. The leadership of husbands and the submission of wives is also intended to reflect the union of Christ and the church. Imagine if Christ were to constantly give in to the church because the church wants its own way. That's not how it works. And a marriage doesn't work properly when husband and wife leave their designed roles either. Christ is the head of the church. This is not only good for Christ, but good for the church. In the same way, husbands are supposed to be the head of the home. This is not only good for the husband, but also good for the wife.

The modern church has too often ignored or flouted God's design for marriage by not upholding Biblical marriage roles. Some deny that there are any proper marriage roles in the first place. Others claim there are roles, but then rob those roles of any power or usefulness by claiming a husband leads by giving in to his wife. They usually call this "servant leadership." They think a husband leads by serving his wife, catering to her desires and doing what she thinks is best in an attempt to make her happy. This is not only unbiblical, but it doesn't work.

While serving one another is an important part of marriage, it is not correct to say that a husband should lead by serving his wife. That's just a back door to have the wife in charge. If you tell a man to lead by serving his wife, what you're telling him is that he has to make his wife happy as his first priority. When she wants or needs something, he should serve her, and then call that leadership. But in saying this, you've made the desires of the wife the gold standard of what needs to be done. In order to be a "leader," he has to do things for her that she wants. So she's really in charge. She's setting the goals.

Saying a man leads by serving has it all backwards. The truth is, a man serves his wife by leading her. He may serve her in other ways too, but leadership - real leadership - is a service to his wife that she needs him to perform. Every marriage needs leadership, and being the leader of a marriage is good for a man, but bad for a woman. The wife needs her husband to lead in order to be happy, fulfilled, protected, and in proper relationship with her husband. That's the way God designed it.

So let's do away with this silly nonsense of leading by serving. Leadership means setting goals and then pursuing those goals and giving instructions to those under that authority, even if those under that leadership do not like or agree with them. Ideally, that leadership will be kind and gentle rather than harsh. Ideally, the wife will agree with the goals of her husband. But the goals are set by the leader. Whoever is setting the goals is the leader.

We need men to step up and lead - really lead - in their homes and families. To do that, we have to stop telling them they lead by doing what their wife wants or what she is comfortable with. Instead, we need to be telling them that leading is serving their wives. She needs him to actually lead, and so do our families, our churches, and our society.

We also need wives to purposely choose to follow their husbands. They need to encourage their men in their leadership roles and submit to his authority. They need to stop pushing for their way. They need to respect their husbands. This makes everyone happier in the long run and builds the marriage rather than tearing it down.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Discipline Helps Children Feel Loved

We were watching Little House on the Prairie last night with the kids, and it was in the last season where the Olesons have a little girl named Nancy. Nancy is a spoiled little brat who throws a fit whenever she doesn't get her way. She wants attention all the time, and she gets it. But she's always saying how everyone hates her, even her parents, if they deny her the slightest thing she wants. She eventually runs away when her older sister, Nellie, comes back to town and takes up all the attention for awhile. She really believes no one loves her despite all the attention and gifts showered on her on a regular basis.

It occurred to me that this is very accurate. Nancy was suffering a huge lack of discipline. She wasn't being trained to behave herself and think of others. She was allowed to do whatever she wanted all the time, without consequence. This made her feel very unloved. 

It might seem counter-intuitive to a lot of parents today, but children who are spoiled do not feel loved and are not happy. Some parents try to make their children feel happy by showering them with gifts and letting them do whatever they want, but this does not work. Oh, they will feel happy momentarily when they get presents or get away with bad behavior, but they become more and more unhappy over time. 

Now, does a child know they need discipline? Of course not. They're children. They're immature. They don't like discipline as it is very unpleasant at the time. But God has designed children to feel safe and happy and loved when they are disciplined. They won't feel love if they don't get discipline. They need to know there are limits on their behavior. They need to be taught. If they don't get discipline, they can't feel love properly. And the reason they won't feel loved is because they aren't being loved properly. Parents who love their children discipline them. The Bible even tells us that.

Proverbs 13:24 He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. 

Proverbs 3:11-12 My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. 

Love doesn't just mean having happy thoughts about someone. It means doing what is truly good for them. It is good and necessary for children to be disciplined. They have to be taught to behave. They need consequences when they do wrong. They have to be taught that their own desires are not the standard and how to deny themselves for the sake of others. This will make them happy. Indulgence will not.

If you love your children, you will discipline them. It's not the easy road, but it is far better for everyone in the long run when children are trained to act properly and think of people besides themselves. Children also need training in how to control their emotions. A child who is constantly at the mercy of their emotions is an unhappy child. Parents have to give their children the tools of self-control and a moral compass by disciplining them. This is what love does. It provides for the spiritual and mental needs of the child. They can't feel your love if you don't.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Functional Orphans: How Lack of Discipline Hurts Children

I was in the church nursery the other day and I noticed again how interactions with my own children are different from interactions with other people's children. My children are my responsibility. Thus, when my children misbehave, I correct and discipline them. But when I am watching someone else's child, there's not a lot I can do to correct their misbehavior. I can gently encourage them not to hit, bite, or push other children and tell them it's not nice and then try to redirect them, but it's not my place to discipline them or explain to them why they should be kind to others. That is the job of their own parents.

So why am I telling you this? It occurred to me that this soft, hands-off approach we use for dealing with unruly children in the nursery is no longer reserved for temporary caretakers in our society. Many are pushing parents to treat their own children in this way - never punishing or correcting them, but only gently encouraging them to behave and redirecting them to other activities. This isn't fringe either. It's pretty mainstream advice.

It's no surprise, given this approach, that so many children these days are badly behaved, anxious, and lack self-control. But it's not just poor parenting to allow children to disobey and hurt others and throw fits and so on without disciplining them. It's treating the children as if they were someone else's children. It's a failure to parent at all.

The Bible has something to say about this topic as well.
Hebrews 12:6-8 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
So, the Bible tells us that parents who don't discipline their children are treating them as if they were not their children. Discipline is one of the main responsibilities of parents. Undisciplined children are functional orphans. They have no parents. They have someone who meets basic physical needs and manages them so they don't get seriously injured, much like a daycare worker might, but they aren't getting the training they desperately need. They aren't being disciplined.

Why doesn't anybody notice this? A large part of the reason is that our society has a hollow and abbreviated understanding of the role of parents. Everything is supposed to be delegated to a professional these days. Education? That's what school teachers are for. Spiritual training? Take them to church to be taught. Sports? Find a good coach.

The one thing most people still agree that parents are supposed to do for their children is foot the bill for all their collection of experiences. But if your view of parenting is that it’s a mostly managerial position involving paying for a host of experts to provide your child with the proper inputs and making sure they appear at the proper places at the proper times, that’s a poor substitute for actual parenting. (It also makes sense of the weird trend to ask parents of large families how they intend to pay for all their children’s luxuries like a college education. I guess if the main role of parents is to pay for everything, you better not have too many kids or else it gets expensive and you might not be able to afford the best experts.)

Along with this view of parenting, you get the rise of the term “quality time.” Rather than spend quantity time with their children (which is how almost all parents did it in the past), parents today are encouraged to spend quality time. This is usually interpreted as having special, memorable experiences together on the rare occasions you are together, often involving the spending of lots of money (are you seeing a trend here?). Parents don’t have the opportunity to spend quantity time with their kids because they’re too busy making money to pay for all the quality time. In those special times when parents are actually present with their children and actively engaged, they are trying so hard to have pleasant “quality time” that they don’t want to ruin the moment with such unpleasant matters as discipline. They don’t want to be the bad guy when they finally interact with their kids. So I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the rise of laissez-faire parenting coincides with the rise of absent and distracted parents.

Of course, not all households with two busy, working parents fail to discipline their children. And even some otherwise involved parents have fallen for the “gentle parenting” nonsense that says they should never punish their children. These are societal trends, not descriptions of any particular homes. But there is a lot of overlap.

The sad thing about these trends is that many children today are suffering a tremendous lack of parenting. They are growing up as functional orphans. There is no substitute for careful, involved, loving parents who discipline their children and teach them. This necessarily requires quantity time, not just quality time. You can’t raise children by long distance or by a collection of babysitters, teachers, coaches, and other professionals (or grandparents). You have to be there. And you have to discipline your children. They need it desperately.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Submission on Matters of Conscience

"My husband wants me to do something, but I have a conviction against it." This is one of the most misunderstood issues in conservative Christian circles.

Most conservative Christian women will agree that women are to submit to their husbands and that God has given the husband the position of leader of the home. However, we often don't realize the extent to which feminism and individualism have infected our thinking and we often fail to renew our minds with the scriptures. The issue of conscience is one of the most problematic areas where I see a lot of otherwise obedient wives justify their rebellion because of their personal convictions.

The Bible teaches women to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:24). This is a very inclusive statement. It does not say to obey except where we have very serious disagreement. It does not say to obey only if we don't have any personal convictions against it. It says we are to submit in everything. Every. Thing. 

We know that God's authority is higher than our husband's. Thus, husbands do not have authority to overrule God. If God has commanded something in scripture, we must obey God over our husbands in such cases. So, for example, God's word tells us that we are not to murder. If a husband were to command his wife to murder, such as getting an abortion, then she should not obey that command. She must obey God over her husband where they directly contradict. But our conscience is not God. Our personal convictions are not commands from God. We cannot elevate our convictions over God's clear command to obey our husbands.

There is a very relevant passage for this issue in Numbers 30. Yes, this is the Old Testament, but the principle still applies because this is God commanding women on how they are to handle sacred vows to God. While a woman is under the authority of her husband or her father, and she makes a sacred vow to God on some subject, she is obligated to perform what she vowed unless her husband or father forbid her. Keep in mind that these sacred vows are generally considered very binding. They are usually made in response to some conviction. Yet if her husband (or father, if she is unmarried) disallows her, she is freed from her vow and not bound to fulfill it. If her husband forbids her to fulfill her vow when he first hears of it, then she is freed from the vow and there is no sin for not fulfilling it. If her husband allows it at first and later disallows it, she is still to obey her husband, but the sin for not fulfilling the vow will fall on her husband for forbidding her. Read the whole chapter for yourself. It's very clear. Either way, her responsibility from God is to obey her husband. This is very clear teaching on how far a husband's authority extends. The husband's authority trumps the wife's conscience and even her sacred vow made to God because God has given this authority to the husband.

So where does this leave modern women? Too often, our society and even Christian culture tells us that what we feel very strongly is supremely important. In Christian circles, we speak of personal convictions very soberly, and this is warranted. All other things being equal, we are not to violate our conscience. Yet when a husband commands his wife, all other things are not equal. It sounds very pious to say that we have a personal conviction and thus cannot obey our husbands. Yet this is not what the Bible teaches us about such matters. The authority of the husband extends over our personal convictions.

There is a very good reason for this hierarchy of authority. If the wife can feel a strong personal conviction and act counter to her husbands authority because of it, this would essentially eliminate the husband's authority on most matters. All a wife needs to do is genuinely believe that her own plan is morally superior in some way to her husband's plan, and magically she has a conviction about it and doesn't have to obey her husband. This leads, not only to women disobeying their husbands on all manner of issues, but believing themselves to be more pious than their husband and looking down on him. He is asking her to violate her conscience, so in her eyes, he's asking her to sin. She's the good one who would never dream of doing such a thing while he's the bad guy. This false piety kills marriages, tears apart families, and gives women a rationalization for their disobedience while feeling superior for it.

I have seen this problem appear on many issues, and in many cases, the preference of the wife is an otherwise good thing. Maybe she wants to wear dresses all the time to be modest or wants to give more money to the church. Perhaps she believes they should homeschool their children. She might want to reduce sugar in their diet or have a family prayer time every morning. These things are perfectly good choices, and ones I would often recommend. But when a wife uses her belief that these things are good to overrule her husband and ignore his God-given authority to lead his household under the excuse that she has a conviction, then she is being disobedient and destroying her home. No longer is she submitting. Instead, she is ruling the house with her own preferences and views.

Instead of giving women the ability to set aside the husband's authority whenever she has a strong feeling that something is right or wrong, the Bible commands her to submit to her husband. Only where God has specifically commanded in scripture is she bound to obey God over her husband. That way, it's not up to her internal feelings or moral leanings, which might be misguided. Her conscience is not the leader of the home. Her husband is. This is God's very good design for the family and we cannot improve upon it.