My wife, Mandy, and I had one of those frozen-in-time moments the other day. We were hanging out in our new kitchen when I walked over to her, gave her a hug, took her hands in mine and looked into her eyes.
I’ve looked into those same gorgeous hazel-green eyes for over five years now, but something struck me that day as I gazed. I thought to myself: She took so many risks to get married to me. We were only together for six months when we got engaged, and she didn’t know exactly how far I would go in life, but she let herself fall into my arms. She never had any doubts. She entrusted her whole life to me. I don’t deserve her at all.
When I pursued my wife during grad school in the fall of 2008, I knew I didn’t have everything together. In a lot of ways, I was a mess. But I had the most important parts of my life together. And I knew I loved her and wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. Luckily for me, she felt the same way. I don’t know if we were “ready,” but we were ready enough.
I realize it doesn’t happen this easily for most people.
Most people who contemplate marriage wrestle with the question of whether they’re ready. How much do you wait and seriously consider the weight of the decision to get married? When should you hold back and work on yourself for a while? Is any hesitation you feel about marriage a result of wanting to make sure you’ll be a healthy spouse? Or is it just selfishness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Is it both?
At what point do you stop over-thinking things, determine you’re making a good decision and make a jump?
You’re Not Ready and You Never Will Be
I won’t claim to have a cut-and-dry answer to all of these questions, but I will say this: You can never be fully ready for marriage because it’s impossible to be fully ready for marriage.
Nothing can fully prepare you for losing part of yourself while making another person’s life your own. No amount of wise counsel or books or study guides can make you truly understand what it’s like to have and hold another soul, day in and day out—for life. In some ways, getting married is like jumping into that cold swimming pool as a kid: you’ll never be fully ready for it, and you’ll always have a little fear, but once you jump in, you’ll adjust. And pretty soon, what you were so scared of becomes really fun.
To be sure, it’s one thing to say, “I’m not ready for marriage” if you’re truly not ready. If you’re flat broke and directionless or have personal issues so deep you could seriously damage your spouse, it’s a good thing to question whether you’re ready!
But, at some point, when you’re a hardworking, responsible, financially stable, spiritually maturing, Godly adult in a Godly relationship and you’re still questioning whether you’re ready, something’s wrong. If you can’t feel ready by then, you’ll simply never reach a point where you’ll say, “I’ve met the criteria. I’ve gotten myself together. I’m ready for marriage.”
Playing the perpetual not-ready game is like being on a race track with a speeding rubber rabbit that will always outrun you, because the definition of “readiness” will always elude you. Any time I’ve asked a decently mature person who says, “I’m not ready for marriage” how they’ll know when they are ready, they never have a straight answer.
It’s easy to say “I’m not ready” when it’s just a cover for fear and selfishness and not wanting to grow up and take responsibility.
Marriage definitely does mark the end of a lot of freedoms. It can be tough. And that scares a lot of people into thinking it’s not worth it. Many of us, more often than we’re willing to admit, throw out the “not ready” card a little too quickly, because it’s just easier than actually doing the hard work of taking the next step. It’s not that we’re trying to become ready and haven’t arrived; it’s that we just want to be comfortable.
Let Go of Your Expectations
I think another reason we play the “not ready” card is we often have an unrealistic expectation of how far along in life you’re supposed to be before you can get married. Sometimes we see people become married in total immaturity, and we watch their marriages crash and burn, so we overreact and swing the other way by making our standards for marital readiness way too high. Sometimes seeing people struggle in their marriages makes us assume we have to be completely struggle-free before getting married.
If the standard for being ready is having total financial freedom, owning a home, being done with all education, having no personal issues at all, having a retirement plan, and so forth, no wonder so many people say they’re not ready!
But I don’t think we have to put those kinds of ultra-high standards on ourselves. In many ways, we do need to become mature and get certain things together before getting married, like our spiritual condition, our money management, our life direction and so forth. But biblically speaking, there’s no reason to pile on all our unrealistic requirements for marital readiness. Even the most mature, Godly potential spouse is a sinner in need of grace.
Marriage is much more a training zone for personal holiness than an award gala for personal perfection. Sometimes, the very things we think we need to have together before marriage can’t happen without it. Marriage is tough and demanding, but it’s beautiful and totally worth it.
Face the Gray
Admittedly, knowing when to take the step toward marriage is a gray area. But just like with any gray area, you should use discernment and make a decision based on a desire to honor God, not based on selfish preferences. Face the grayness with a humble heart and ask yourself, “How can I glorify God best?”
Keep it simple: You should be asking whether you’d glorify Him better in your singleness or in marriage. If you’ve looked honestly at your life, determined with wise counsel that you’re a responsible and spiritually growing adult and can feel in your heart that you would serve God’s Kingdom better with marriage, you’re ready!
Were Mandy and I ready for marriage when we tied the knot on January 9, 2010? I don’t know, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. Marriage is more formed than found, and sometimes you just have to dig in. I’m glad we did. We were ready enough.