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I received an email some weeks ago from a dear younger sister approaching marriage. It was peppered with question marks, sincere queries from a woman that truly wants to be the best wife that she can. As I read them over, I thought how blessed her future husband already is to have a girl so desirous of fulfilling God’s potential as his mate. Her attitude, far from a self-righteous sense of ‘knowing it all’, was humble and honest and teachable towards God. I sincerely wonder if there is a more valuable trait in a woman about to be married—I can only think that the Lord will be able to do beautiful things indeed with such a cooperative heart.

I’ll admit, her questions overwhelmed me a little. They were so broad, so pointed: What was the one thing you were least prepared for in marriage and wish now that you would have known? What surprised you? What’s one thing you would tell any bride-to-be to help her as she prepares for marriage? I smiled over my limited perspective of 7 years, 9 months and 2 days—a baby compared to so many other married women I know and admire. And I knew that any response I could formulate would but barely scratch the surface. But in my head, I heard other girls asking me the very same things since I’ve been married. I heard myself not too many years since asking the same questions of my friends who married before me. If I had her—or any of you—sitting here on my front porch, rocking lazily to and fro and sipping iced tea, with all the time in the world to chat, I would have ever so much more than ‘one thing’ to say… So grab your iced tea and pull up a rocking chair!

If you’re not engaged, or even close to it, please don’t skip over this post! So much—I’d venture to say almost all—of the sisterly advice my heart is brimming with can be of use well before your intended ever shows his face, if only in the realm of your ideals. If you aspire as a girl towards a Christ-centered, fulfilling, dynamic marriage, your values will grow in that direction, as a plant towards the light of the sun. True love and beautiful marriages really do exist. And the dreams God allows us to dare to dream in our girlhood are, I believe, where such marriages are born.

That’s not to say the course ahead will run smooth by any means… I think the Bard had some wise words on that account. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to have faith in something so beautiful that only God could have thought it up in the first place. It’s worth it to learn to wait on Him and hope in Him and to find, after all, that He is the Lover of your soul. It is worth it—all the longing and disappointed hopes and even heartache that may lay before you—to be able to one day stand before the person you love best in the whole wide world, wearing a white dress and veil, and to look up at him and say, ‘I have waited for God and I have waited for you.’

We have spent an enormous amount of time compiling and cataloguing an index of Courtship Stories here. We didn’t do it to breed discontent, or to give the married girls a chance to brag. We did it to ‘direct our eyes to the First Love’, to keep us in remembrance that the ‘best maker of marriages’ has an endless store of blessing to bestow—and equally infinite resources of creativity with which to confer it. Even if you have all the testimonies memorized, take a glance through them this week and see if you are not struck with the fact that not one of them looks like any of the others. Any more than I look like any of you. Or vice versa. God has not run out of ideas. He has not run out of dreams for his precious children: I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

So that’s my first piece of advice for a good marriage:

Believe that good marriages exist in the grace of God.

Believe that God intends for you to be married unless you have a very specific calling otherwise. Believe that it can be a ‘dream come true’ of oneness and closeness and fellowship and downright fun! And remember that it is worse than pointless to try and figure out how God is going to unfold your story. I’ll be honest and say that my sweet husband is really closer to what I dreamed of as a 16-year-old than what I allowed myself to hope for as a jaded 23-year-old. But never in a million years could I have imagined how God would bring a man of his stature and caliber into my life—from the next town over, no less!

Every point has its counterpoint. Taken alone, this first bit of ‘advice’ can be dangerously construed into a ‘God-is-going-to-give-me-everything-I-want-because-He-loves-me’ kind of doctrine, and that’s certainly the last thing I would ever espouse. But hopefully I can give a somewhat balanced perspective on my favorite topic!

If you are not content single you will not be content married.

My next piece of ‘advice’ is so old and oft-repeated that I fear it has begun to lose some of its original meaning—or, worse yet, assume an implication that it never should have. But at the risk of some of you rolling your eyes and heaving a great sigh and saying, “Oh, that again,”  I’m going to throw it into the ring once more. Because I think it’s that important. Here it is:

If you are not content single you will not be content married.

It looks so heartless in type, doesn’t it? And something within us balks at such a hard-and-fast statement. Of course, it goes without saying that God can do a work of grace in anyone’s life, no matter where they are or where they have been; He does it every single day. He can take us from disgruntlement to perfect rest in a twinkling of an eye—if we will let Him. Plenty of women have found contentment after marriage, we want to say. They got what they wanted and they are happy. Perhaps that’s true—it’s between them and God. But allow me to gently expostulate: wouldn’t it be better to have our hearts grounded in contentment before they are ever wrung by the pain and bliss of love? Before the uncertainties and cares of life wear us down into thinking that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t exist?

And whoever said that getting what we want makes us happy? The Israelites got the quail they wanted in the dessert, and, with it, ‘leanness to their souls’. That sounds absolutely dreadful to me. How much better to go to your husband—and one day, your Lord—with arms full of bounty, the rich harvest of a happy and productive single life! This is not to over-simplify a very difficult discipline of a faithful Christian walk. It is hard, I know—actually, it’s impossible apart from God’s grace. And one magic click of a spiritual button somewhere is not going to have you set up for life. Contentment is a lesson we all must confront again and again. Even the Apostle Paul had to ‘learn contentment’.

But the principle holds, no matter how many disclaimers and provisos are propped up alongside it. Because, let me tell you, the waiting does not end once you are married. Ask any woman who has dealt with infertility. Or a military wife who doesn’t know where she’ll be living from one year to the next. Or a couple pouring their very soul’s energy into a church that seems indifferent, hoping and yearning for God’s Spirit to move—or move them.

Somewhere along the way, I think this idea has been twisted into the notion that real contentment means we have lost all longing for the desire that made us unhappy in the first place. That’s hogwash, for lack of a better word. (Jeannie has handled this topic beautifully in her series Content But Not Complete, and I recommend a regular re-reading of it if you are in a waiting stage…which is pretty much all of us.) It is perfectly possible for our hearts to break with joy and yearning at the same time. A miracle, yes, but all things are possible with God. He takes our surrender and transforms it into a threshold of true fulfillment.

A contented, grateful, happy heart is one of the best gifts that we can give to our husbands. It is a critical foundation block of a heaven-on-earth marriage. A woman who has found the freedom to be at peace with God’s plan for her life also frees her man from any of the selfish ambitions that are a by-product of discontent. He is at liberty to face the future with her, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, knowing that when the battle of each day is done he will always have a heart that he can trust in waiting for him at its close.

A contented, grateful, happy heart is one of the best gifts that we can give to our husbands.

Not long before my wedding I had a heart-to-heart with one of my very best friends. She had been married for several years and had a relationship with her husband that I much admired. I wanted to know if she had any secrets for me, any wise words of counsel that would start me off on the right foot as the wife I so dearly longed to be myself. She smiled and sighed and looked thoughtful. And then she laughed, for once in her life completely speechless. (I now know exactly how she felt—Where to begin?!.)

“I’ll write you a letter,” she finally declared with a grin.

A few days later an envelope with a picture of Anne and Diana appeared in the mailbox, the last missive I ever received in my maiden name. Inside I found pages of closely-written lines, in a handwriting as dear and unpredictable as my sweet friend herself. She had many things to say to me, words of loving exhortation, cheerful reminders, glad-hearted promises of the joy that lay before me, and I cherished them all. But if the whole tone and flavor of her letter could be gathered up in a nutshell, it would look like this:

Share life.

Don’t stop dating once you are married. Take the extra pains you would have during your courtship to enter fully into the pursuits and pleasures of your beloved. Allow yourself to be stretched and broadened by the limitless horizons of this wonderful personality you have pledged your life to. Grow, change, expand, burst into flower!

All too often, married couples eventually lose the wonder of their first fascination with each other. But it doesn’t have to be this way—indeed, I firmly believe that God had something totally different in mind than cordial compatibility when He gave us the gift of marriage. Ecclesiastes exults, Enjoy life with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life…which He hath given thee! In Proverbs we are told that a man should always be ‘carried away’ with love for his wife. There’s no doubt that the Song of Songs espouses a marriage of perpetual and increasing rapture.

Of course, there is a comfort and familiarity in marriage that comes with time and this is very sweet. I would only say, don’t get so comfortable that you neglect to do the things that you once did to show your man that simply being with him is the dearest pastime on earth. The friend who thus exhorted me loves hunting and fishing and camping with her man. Another friend with a houseful of little children arranges occasional days when she and her husband can just be together and ‘pal around’. I feel almost intoxicatingly loved when Philip takes the time to read a book with me or listen to a symphony or sit on the front porch and watch the sunset.

Sheldon Vanauken had an insight that is still unique, thirty years after his book A Severe Mercy was published:

The killer of love is creeping separateness. Inloveness is a gift of the gods, but then it is up to the lovers to cherish or to ruin. Taking love for granted, especially after marriage. Ceasing to do things together. Finding separate interests. ‘We’ turning to ‘I’…Against creeping separateness we would oppose the great principle of sharing.

Every moment that a Christian husband and wife have truly shared works like a golden thread, slowly, carefully, purposefully weaving their hearts together with God into a ‘three-fold cord [that] is not quickly broken’. It’s worth all the work and energy and time required–and do not expect it to be otherwise. But your love will be a thing of beauty, a radiant witness to the First Love. A joy forever.

At one of the parties before our wedding, an elegant dinner hosted by dear and gracious friends of my parents, Philip and I found ourselves in a quiet corner chatting over coffee with a couple we deeply admired. They were much older than us by some forty years, but there was an unspoken kinship among us, a like-minded ideal of a truly happy marriage—one upon the very threshold, the other in smiling triumph many paces down the road ahead. As our talk gravitated naturally towards the great step Philip and I were preparing to take, the wife spoke up in her very decided yet altogether lady-like way:

“I have just one piece of advice for you,” she told us, scanning our expressions to make sure we were comprehending, “and it’s this…

“If you always agree on everything, one of you is expendable.”

One of you is redundant. One of you is getting walked over.

We all like to think that when we’ve waited for the right one, fall in love and get married, that everything’s going to go along swimmingly with never a ripple of dispute. Sure, we tell ourselves with a judicious inner nod, married people have their troubles just like everyone else. Married people have flat tires and lost jobs and children with chicken pox. Some married people even argue. But not us—we’ll never do that. We love each other way too much to ever disagree about anything.

But hopefully we soon learn what God and Mrs. McCrae knew all along: differences of opinion are a completely natural, and more, a healthy aspect of a truly loving relationship. How else are we to grow, if not challenged by the other? What need have we of ‘iron sharpening iron’ if we’re already perfected to begin with? If we are not prepared, however, for these occasional divergences from what we think is right, some panic button down inside of us can send out a false alarm of anger or fear. An over-reaction. An outburst or a withdrawal. A fight.As much as we hate to be reminded of it, we are all sinful creatures. And the intimacy of marriage is only going to high-light this. If nothing can give you joy like the sunshine of your beloved’s favor and understanding, conversely, nothing can bewilder you with pain like even a momentary loss of communion. Disagreements come with the territory; it’s all part of the game—no two people, no matter how much in love, in understanding, are ever going to look at things exactly alike. But it doesn’t have to get ugly. It can actually be interesting—it can even be fun if we play by the rules. And, no matter how mature we are or otherwise, it can always be a moment of God’s grace.

So here’s my little watchword for the week:

Play fair.

  • Don’t ever walk out the room in anger or hang up the phone on your spouse. If you need time alone to cool off, express this calmly.
  • Decide beforehand not to use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’ in the midst of a disagreement. (And, for the record, ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ should be equally taboo in an apology.)
  • Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. He’s every bit as entitled to his opinion as you are.
  • There’s a reason the Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger—it’s all too easy to get lazy with our misunderstandings.
  • Keep in mind that I Corinthians 13 is really all the rules of engagement we need. And that we have the grace of our Lord at our fingertips—if we will only remember to ask for it.

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

36 Comments

  1. I was browsing the archives when I cam across this series on marriage. What a true gem, and very much needed today. What a treasure it must have been to receive such a heartfelt letter from a dear friend. I find it difficult to find other like minded women who want to better their marriages. Maybe someday I will find a kindred spirit who will encourage, and point me ever onward.

  2. I heartily enjoy these, Lanier!

  3. jamiegirl says:

    Thats really good advice… heheheeee maybe someday I’ll be able to try it out!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lanier,

    There is SO much wisdom and truth in this- for every relationship.

    I’m learning slowly bu surely that these “guidelines” or “rules” are so necessary for healthy differences.

    ~Katie B.

  5. I add my thanks as well, Lanier. There is a graciousness about your writing I so appreciate!

    (If these go into your book–I think I might have to buy it just for these articles.)

  6. lizzykristine says:

    Not being married yet, I can only speak for the pre-marriage time. But we have had our share of disagreements, some more intense than others. 🙂 It is hard, sometimes even scary, but overall we have really valued those differences because we know it is a sign of honesty and depth.
    Good post, Lanier! I hope this series is a long one because I’m enjoying it!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this great post! I needed to hear that… Greetings, Debbie

  8. Chantel H. says:

    These articles have been such a blessing- so full of truly biblical counsel- things I KNOW will work, if they are applied.

    Thank you, Lanier. 🙂

  9. Catherine Ann says:

    I found this article to be so encouraging! Before we were engaged, all that anyone wanted to know was WHEN we would become engaged. Naturally, I expected there to be much joy when the announcement was made and although there has been excitement, we have also recieved some very negative and bitter comments, even in the church, such as “You’re happy now, but just wait six months” “Watch, you’re going to drive eachother crazy” “All you’re feeling now is infatuation”. After all this, I’ve been thirsting for some up-lifting, Biblical and practical advice. Thanks for posting this article. Hope to see more of it’s kind soon!

    God Bless,
    Catherine Ann

  10. Thanks for the encouragement!! Although I am not in a relationship, one of the things that I pray for the most is a “deep and abiding love.” My best friend is courting a young man right now, and it is so wonderful to watch both of them “grow, change, expand, burst into flower” as a result of this relationship. Love between a godly man and women is such a wonderful gift!!

  11. Laura Anne says:

    Tucking this little pearl of wisdom away, hoping to use it someday! 🙂

    Blessings,
    LM

  12. Lanier, you truly have a beautiful way with words. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. This series has been worthy of saving and re-reading.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Great and insightful post! Thanks a lot, Lanier!! 🙂 Debbie

  14. This is the desire on my heart-
    That my fiancee and I would continue to cultivate our love for one another far past our wedding and ‘honeymoon’ stage.

    Lanier, your post gives me such hope that my future marriage can be one full of happiness and love.
    I’ve seen so many couples (some very close to me) which has almost no closeness or love left in them- they simple co-exsist.

    I agree with you and your dear friend Lanier- it doesnt have to be that way! God gives us spouses for a reason, so we can see and feel the goodness and mercy of Christ in a tangible way.

  15. Anonymous says:

    WOW. . .simple yet so VERY profound!

    Thank you!

  16. Laura Anne says:

    I so appreciate this….I forget, sometimes, that a battle won doesn’t guarentee I’ll never face the same enemy again. Then I wonder what’s wrong with me when I find myself fighting the same ground….AGAIN!

    Katharine, I loved your humble, honest spirit. And I definitely know where you’re coming from because I have those same experiences! 🙂
    Contentment is definitely a daily decision, just as trust in the Lord is. I believe I’m growing and I see progress– but there is still such a way to go. It’s okay, though. I think realizing our need for improvement keeps us humble and relying on God’s grace.
    Lanier, thanks for the post! I’m enjoying the series.

  17. DelightinginHim says:

    That last paragraph really summed it all up nicely. I have to agree and have seen simply by watching other marriages how being content in all things is necessary, now as I am single and also if/when I am marrried someday. I can honestly say that I have come to a place in my single life where I am content. Being married could add to my happiness but not being married does not steal away today’s joy

  18. lizzykristine says:

    Oh Lanier, I loved this post. It reminded me of Amy Carmichael’s poem “Rose From Brier,” a poem I memorized and clung to for several months (apologies for the format):

    “Thou hast not that, My child, but thou hast Me; / And am not I alone enough for thee? / I know it all, know how thy heart was set / Upon this joy which is not given yet.

    “And well I know how though the wistful days / Thou walkest all the dear familiar ways / As unregarded as a breath of air; / But there in love and longing, always there.

    “I know it all; but from thy brier shall blog / A rose for others. If it were not so / I would have told thee. Come, then, say to Me: / ‘My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.'”

  19. So true Lanier!

    As a young girl I used to think all would be right in the world if only so’n’so would be in my life, or if I has such’n’such.

    If only things were that easy!

    I’ve found time and time again, no matter the life circumstance, there is always something to gripe about. Its not the circumstance that can make us content, but our attitudes and heart.

    I am so loving this series of posts Lanier! You’ve blessed me time and time again in our emails, and you’re only blessing me futher with these words of wisdom!

  20. Katharine says:

    “Contentment is a lesson we all must confront again and again.”

    I so appreciate this….I forget, sometimes, that a battle won doesn’t guarentee I’ll never face the same enemy again. Then I wonder what’s wrong with me when I find myself fighting the same ground….AGAIN!

  21. This is exactly what I’ve been learning lately. To be content, to be patient, is not something I’ve ever been very good at when it comes to waiting for a husband or just waiting for the weekend! Being told that I need to be content without a man before I’ll be ready for marriage has always grated on my nerves because I want a husband not now, but yesterday. 😉 Thanks to a whole lot of prayer in this area, though, I’m finally getting to the point where I can accept this time of singleness, and acknowledge all the areas where I need work before I can even think of being a good wife to someone.

    Thank you again for this series. I hope there will be more forthcoming!
    ~Emily~

  22. Oh Lanier, this was just what my heart needed to hear today! Thank you for the encouragement and the beautiful article. I look forward to reading the rest of the series as it comes.
    ~Emily~

  23. Ben and Esther says:

    Thank you so much for the excellent article:) I’m looking forward to more!

  24. Hello Lanier! Thank you for your words-they are so encouraging and comforting. I do have a question for you! I am a 21 year old woman living at home still. The deep desire of my heart is to be married and to raise a godly family. Right now, however, my parents insist that I work full time. I honor my parents and work wholeheartedly-even getting a recent promotion. How, though, do I reconcile my longing to be something so far away from corporate America to where I am today?

    Thank you for your wisdom~Elyce

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Lanier, for this article. As a single woman still hoping that God has a man out there for me somewhere, I sometimes get frustrated and wonder, “Should I just lower my standards to include the guys here at church, since they’re the only Christian men I know?” Your article encouraged me to keep waiting and hoping, because if God wants me married He knows who and when I’ll meet him!

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!

  26. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story! Your words definitely fulfill the scriptures’ guidelines for uplifting communication…exhort, edify and comfort!

    I must say also how much I appreciate the time and effort that has and still is going into compiling the courtship stories. They have been such a source of encouragement.

    ~Rachel

  27. Oh Lanier……

    Hearing these beautiful and kind words have given me more encouragement then you could ever know.

    Thank you…..

    ~Katie

  28. Yeah! Yahoo! A great series from Lanier! Thank you — I can’t wait to read it all. God bless you, dear sister.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Lanier,

    CAN YOU HAVE TOO HIGH OF EXPECTATIONS???????????

    NOT expectations like color of hair, occupation, personality, etc :-). . .but expectations of character, godliness, standards and such.

    I have heard people say that “expectations set you up for
    disappointment in marriage”. . .should we not have ANY expectations than???

    Thank you for your time in advance!

    HH
    Psalm 37:3-5

  30. Lanier,

    Very encouraging (and I’m already married)! I really like the point you made that “God has not run out of ideas.” It wasn’t too long ago that I was the one reading the courtship stories over and over again going “when is it going to happen for me, Lord?”

    But God is faithful and just in His timing.

    Thanks,
    Jessica

  31. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Lanier for these beautiful thoughts. This has been SUCH an encouragement to my heart. One can get so discouraged waiting a very long time, even when God in His goodness has shown who your beloved is going to be. This surely has been a timely read.

  32. Looking forward to it, Lanier!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Thanks a lot for this encouragement, Lanier! Great!!! 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading more… Debbie

  34. Lanier, I can’t wait for the rest of this series… what you’ve already written here blessed and encourged my soul so much! Thank you for the sisterly advice! Keep it comin’!

  35. Natalie Marie says:

    I already told you, but thanks again for this wonderful piece, Lanier!!

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