Why you should only relate when ready for marriage
One of the constant questions I’ve had directed at me in my short span of discipleship ministry is ‘when is the right time to relate?’. I’ve never had a direct answer. I doubt any man would know a specific time for everyone; such a claim would in fact be foolish. But there definitely must be a suitable time for people to get into a relationship bound for marriage regardless of the varying contexts. It’s in fact not even a question of should, but rather can. It would be absurd for example to hear of a fourteen-year-old planning for marriage, at least in my context.
Young Christians in University perhaps struggle with this question more than anyone else. That’s funny, especially because you expect their days to be spent thinking about studies, career opportunities and serving God in their campus. But if there’s a group more preoccupied with the future than with anything else, it’s these guys. I sometimes sit with some of them and I can tell they so can’t wait to be in a relationship. Then I ask them when they would like to get married and this follows, “maybe five years from now. I still have two years to complete my studies, then maybe use three more years to settle in my career before I can think about marriage.”
I’m often left thinking, “if you are not in a hurry to start a marriage, why on earth are you in a hurry to enter into a relationship leading to one!” I won’t go into a discussion on when someone could be considered mature enough for a relationship, I already addressed that in an earlier post. My focus rather is on the one reason why people shouldn’t start relationships until they are thinking marriage, and that is time. Again there are no specifics, but my argument is that relationships shouldn’t take unnecessarily too long.
Usually the excuse of taking time to know each other better constitutes the first line of defense. I’ve said it before and won’t mind saying it here again; we shouldn’t go into relationships to know each other better, but because we know each other well enough to risk life together. Friendship should always precede a dating relationship. Pastor David Ewagata says that in relationships people bring what they have, but in marriage they bring who they are. I think it won’t be outrageous replacing marriage in his quote with friendship; because in terms of honesty, a friendship is the closest thing to a marriage than a dating relationship.
My main concern with dating too long is the whole issue of purity. Purity is a good thing, and good things are worth desiring. The joy of knowing you knew each other sexually for the first time on the night of your wedding must be something worth fighting for. But too many of us don’t get the privilege to relish that. Along the way we kiss, loosen a zip, move our hands beneath a blouse, rub our bodies against each other (even if with clothes on), and end up with a cloud of guilt over our heads instead of being cheered on by a cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). The wedding night is hardly the start of an experience long awaited, but the continuation of one with only changed settings. Giving a thief ownership of a stolen possession doesn’t change him/her from being a thief, does it?
In as much as waiting long might add to the fulfillment, it also does add to the temptation. I find it a big problem when a Christian couple would want to date for five years, because that only means they will be exposed to sexual temptation for five good years. Worse even is when a couple tells you they have no idea when they hope to get married. I strongly believe relationships should be time bound. One doesn’t have to know exactly when they will get married, but at least they should have a time in the near future they hope to get married. Too many temptations can be easily averted by simply giving purpose to the relationship, and marriage is that purpose. This is true for sexual temptation too.
I remember once sharing with my mentor that I was struggling with purity. He was really gracious in how he handled me. I wondered why I had taken too long to tell him. While I thought he would condemn my sexual desires as evil and pray fire down to consume them, he in fact affirmed them as good and God given. The desires are meant to be fulfilled, not fought, of course only in marriage. Only sexual distortions are evil and should be fought against, and these will mean various things for various people. I liked his advice, that if it were possible I should bring the wedding closer. Some may see that as using marriage as an excuse to have sex, but it’s not. Paul himself advises the same (1 Cor 7:8, 36).
If marriage is to be the goal for any relationship, then only people ready for marriage should start a relationship. But is that always the case? Too often you’ll find two individuals really interested in each other but have years to go before they can be ready to get married. My advice to such is simple; remain as friends. I know that’s not easy, but it’s a lot easier than dating for five or six years and trying to remain pure. The reason is because the jump from friendship to dating is not just a verbal commitment. Minds and emotions are involved too. This shift introduces a whole new level of ownership of the other person which carries with it certain expectations. While someone won’t demand of a friend to call them every night and wish them goodnight for example, they will expect this from someone they are in a relationship with.
Committing to a relationship creates new emotional needs that obviously have to be met by the other person. Love will definitely intensify and this will lead to more vulnerability towards each other. The thing with romantic love is that it will always seek to be expressed; and though we may meet that with exchanging lovely text messages, going out on dates, etcetera, these still won’t be sufficient. A physical exchange is the ultimate way to express romantic love, and that’s why our bodies will always keep pushing. Now imagine fighting such an urge for five years. Will that not be awakening love before it’s time? (Song of Songs 2:7).
Purity is such a precious thing worth fighting for with whatever means possible; even refraining from a relationship until when ready. I haven’t had it easy, and so many times struggled with keeping my hands off Isla. There’s this time God convicted me of a truth that really broke my heart. He warned that cheating on Him with my fiancée is a sure sign I can cheat on her with another woman! The shock brought me to tears. If there’s something I hate is watching marriages disintegrate at the altar of sex/ adultery. It’s the last thing I would want for my marriage. Yet there I was, sowing the same seeds for my marriage before it even starts.
My heart was broken to repentance. I hope this truth pierces you too and frees you from your struggle; that if you cannot be faithful to God with your partner, you just cannot be faithful to him/her. That if you cannot respect your partner as your brother or sister (1 Tim 5:2)and keep your hands off him/her before you are married, you will not respect him/her as your spouse and keep your heart off other men or women when married. The world might teach that faithfulness in a relationship is sinning only with your partner, but that’s not true. Faithfulness in a relationship is not sinning against God, not even with your partner!
Purely by God’s grace we haven’t had sex yet. Believe me if it were upon me we would have, and this I say with no pride at all. I can’t thank God enough for Isla. She each time would speak me back to sobriety. A few months ago we decided we won’t walk any closer to the edge trying to figure out how far we can go before we fall anymore, and so we just don’t allow ourselves to be alone together. We know how prone to wander we are, so we just won’t give room to sin. At the time when I was struggling, I remember my director sharing wisdom that helped me take responsibility. He said in most instances when couples fall to sexual sin, men are to blame. His reason was that men are charged with leadership and women are designed to follow our lead wherever it goes.
That’s not to say the woman is sans blame. You do know that it will call for crazy grace for the woman to follow the man unto godliness that goes against her fleshly desires. I don’t expect for instance that it will be easy convincing Isla someday to leave our home for another culture to serve as missionaries there. She will say yes hopefully, but not without worrying about the kids and leaving every security and comfort behind I’m sure. In a similar fashion, it should require so much grace for her to resist the temptation to follow me unto sinfulness that she finds pleasing to her flesh. Even so, she must understand that her greatest desire should be to honor God and in so doing I’ll be honored too, whether I find it pleasing or not.
I hope then that men will take the lead at fighting for purity. We are the ones who propose anyway, and so I pray we will be patient enough to wait until we are ready to be husbands before we can seek out wives (not girlfriends) – Prov 18:22. I should caution that reducing the period of dating to a few reasonable months or years doesn’t necessarily guarantee you won’t fall. Some people can expose themselves to temptation in three months of dating in worse ways than others may ever do in three years. It’s all a matter of the integrity of the heart; realizing what’s at stake and desiring to honor God at whatever cost. If you’ve fallen, God is able by His grace and mercy to restore you. My prayer though is that we will desire more that grace and mercy will keep us from falling.
It is with great pleasure that we, Isla Ambiyo and Joseph Okoth, invite you to our wedding. It will be at All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, right after Uhuru Park, on Friday Nov 18th from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. If you wish to send any gift in support to our wedding and marriage beyond, you can MPESA to 0715147434, or deposit to Cooperative bank – 01108140475000. May God bless you as we look forward to seeing you there.