TRUE OR FALSE. In order to be an expert at something, I need to start developing my skills in something related to that particular field. I need to try it out.
I need to dabble with it (or something similar to it) to decide if that thing I’m desiring is really for me—if not now, then in the future—so that one day, if it’s really meant to be, not only will I be prepared, but I will be an expert in that field.
The answer for this would be TRUE, if we were talking about the field of sports or the arts.
But this, unfortunately, is not always the case for dating. Especially if it’s going from dating one person to another.
Dating isn’t the same thing as marriage. If we took the case above seriously, then we should’ve gotten married already just to test if it was something for us or something we’ll be experts in.
Before we go anywhere, let me tell you that I’m not discouraging dating. I believe in a proper time to date. Dating can have two definitions:
a) casually hanging out with people of the opposite sex; or
b) exclusively dating one person.
I love the idea of dating definition A, so long as it is clear to both parties that this is where they stand. Having this presents a healthy environment for people to just be friends, without the pressure of obsessing if he or she is “the one”.
But when the time comes and you want to get intentional with a specific someone, and it’s your “season” to date definition B (i.e. God is giving you the go signal), then date away. It’s a great time and opportunity to discover a lot about yourself, the other person, how to interact with opposite sex, and what you really want in a partner. What’s not healthy, however, is doing a lot of dating definition B because you think this is the best way to prepare for marriage.
But I also believe in a season to be single, which adds another side to it. And if you’re in this season, what if I told you that there still is a way to prepare for marriage even if it doesn’t require another person to be part of the equation?
I attended an event last year for students and young professionals who grew up in church. During the question and answer portion, there was one particular question about dating that really stuck with me, “Is it okay to be in consecutive romantic relationships?”
To this, one of the panelists answered what has become perhaps one of those monumental pieces of wisdom that’s stayed with me on the topic of dating. This is what he said:
“The fear might be, well how will I ever get married eventually, if I don’t even know how to be in a romantic relationship? Well, here’s the thing. The world shows you a dating process. And we think, I need to learn that in order to get married.
That’s completely irrelevant to marriage. Everything that you’re seeing your classmates or your friends do in flirting with one another and getting in and out of relationships… that’s the complete opposite of what marriage looks like.
It doesn’t look like that at all… It’s like saying, I want to learn how to be a better ballerina, so I’m going to take sumo classes. No, that’s the opposite. It’s the opposite skill set. You are not becoming a better ballerina, you’re becoming a worse ballet dancer by doing that, and that’s how it works.
So you actually, by learning to love God,… by honoring God, dying to yourself—you’re getting better practice in marriage, seriously, right now, than the majority of people in your schools.
So you’re not missing out. Do you understand? You’re not missing out. When the time comes, it’ll happen, and you’re gonna make great husbands, you’re gonna make great wives, because that training is what God’s developing you in.”
Coming from this, how do you prepare for marriage when you’re single and not dating anyone right now?
The number one relationship you should invest in before you are married and before you are dating anyone is your relationship with God.
Learn to satisfy yourself alone with God. Because nothing, not even your future spouse, will satisfy you like God can.
Learn to get your ultimate security and identity from Him. God, your creator, and not your future spouse, will define who we are. And it’s important to know who we are before we drag someone else into an identity crisis. Also, another thing I’ve learned from people who have counseled married couples and married couples themselves is that having a spouse doesn’t guarantee security or an escape from loneliness. It is only when we experience God’s love when we feel most at home.
Learn to hear from God. Get into the habit of reading His Word. Because when you’re already tied to someone and you’re at wits ends with them or in a crisis with them, the habit of reaching for, hearing, and trusting in what God has to say will come in handy when you need it the most.
Learn to obey His voice. Because when God puts two people together, it’s for a mission that’s built for two…and that mission is going to be a thrilling, yet the most challenging things to fulfill if you haven’t practiced obeying God in the little, and when you were still single.
Learn to trust in His promises. As hard as it is now, God has a promise for you in this season just as much as He has a promise for you in the next one. Start exercising the faith to believe for greater things. Start with yourself now as a single, for it will progress to your future marriage and kids when the time comes.
God is love, and is the ultimate source of love. If you don’t know how to draw from His love right now, what makes you think you can give love to another person someday? Especially when that other person is hard, difficult, and just as broken as you are?
Don’t just be acquainted with God’s love now. Immerse and drown yourself in it in this season as a single, so that when he or she comes, it stands an even greater likelihood to overflow to him or her.
Your single life is one of two of the most free time you’ll ever have in your life. The next time you’ll probably have this much time is after your kids have turned to adults, and you’ve retired. So what are you waiting for?
Don’t just hide yourself in your room. Meet people (but in the right places of course). Volunteer at church. Volunteer for your community. Join an organization or a cause.
How will you expect to be married one day when you don’t immerse yourself in community? For the women in particular, how do you expect to be spotted by your future spouse if you’re locked up in your room or that same old seat you occupy every Sunday at church?
For me, I realized that the place where I would most likely meet my future spouse would be at church. Next to it would probably be in a place with books or good coffee. But definitely not in a bar.
So, while we are still single, who are the people we can love on? Here are some people groups I’ve discovered—
>Your small group. Learning the ability to be vulnerable with your future spouse (following your vulnerability with God that is) can start here, because a lot of opening up and communicating happens whenever you meet (if you don’t want to share your life with and to these people, then you might want to rethink going here). Learning the ability to sympathize and empathize for your future spouse starts here, because this is the venue where you get to encourage, be there, be accountable to, pray for, and stand with one another.
>Your community. Whether it’s in church or outside church. In fact, the more diverse, the better. Learning the ability to build and share life with your future spouse starts here, because a lot of bantering, debating, sharpening, and learning within a group happens. You’ll also learn how to think outside your own comforts, and interact with people from different backgrounds. You don’t need to make an actual family to have a family. If you look long and hard enough, you’ll find a community (no matter how small) that you could call ‘family’. They will, like your future family, be the ones you will call when it matters the most
>People who don’t necessarily agree or share the same beliefs as you. They could be people who don’t go to church or are allergic to church. Even if they don’t share the same beliefs, they are the best people to practice loving to when you don’t agree on the same thing. Learn to love people who are different from the people you usually surround yourself with. Learn to love people who don’t agree with you. Learn to love people who think differently, with no agenda to force them to agree or share the same beliefs as you. Learn to love on people. People who get into relationships and get married do not share the same exact background and belief systems when they grow up, so it’s helpful to know how to navigate the differences that arise from it.
When asked about the two greatest commandments, Jesus said two things. Not ten. Not 613. Two things: Love God. Love people.
Start with loving God. Fall deeper and deeper in love with God. When you are so caught up in God’s love, you can’t help but share it. That love will produce fruits of the Spirit which you can exercise when you’re married.
Then start learning to love people. Practice serving. Practice forgiving. Practice trusting and not judging. Practice adjusting to differences and learning how make that work. You will be doing all these, and so much more, when you’re married.
I like what the panelist said towards the end:
“Don’t ever believe that lie that you’re like some kid that’s kept back. You’re like some teenager in kindergarten. No you’re not. You’re actually far more ahead than you think. And it’s not because you’re better, but because God is in you, okay? So you guys are fine. You’re doing alright.”
Preparing for marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t require having your heart broken several times by several different people. It doesn’t require trying on different people before finding the “right” one. It doesn’t require a stellar performance in Loving God and others 101, which could lead to pride and performance mentality.
It requires one thing: love. The love of God. The kind of love that loved you not because you’re great, not because you’re deserving, and certainly not because you’re perfect. The kind of love that gives, yet doesn’t expect a thing, and by that, receives everything.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, 13