At 24 years young, I am getting to the age where checking social media of any kind leads to an accumulation of engagements, marriages, babies, or dating relationships. Although I am currently in a dating relationship, I know what it feels like to see post after post and feel that twinge of jealousy, resting amid the uncertainty of one’s future.
Growing up, I remained single until 22 years of age and did not go on my first and only first date until that time. Often questioning what was wrong with me, I recall days and nights of agony lying on my floor and crying out to God. Pleading, praying, and dreaming often–it was not until I fully surrendered my desire to be in a relationship that God brought one into my life.
Since that relationship began, I have been dating my significant other for almost three years. While we are attempting to pursue pre-engagement and marriage, an aroma of doubt, shakiness, and fear of the unknown still flood the air. Although being in a dating relationship is excellent ground for preparing for marriage, it is not a requirement. In fact, I believe that one can adequately prepare for marriage regardless of marital or relationship status, or lack thereof.
So how do we prepare for marriage even if we don’t know we’ll ever marry? Scripture provides us with four simple tips for navigating our pursuit of what Matt Chandler calls the “mingling of souls.”
1. Find Yourself and Know Yourself
Before I started dating, it was important to me that I was confident in who I am. A miserable single person will often be a sad dating, engaged, or married person–there couldn’t be a more accurate statement. Regardless of status, an individual needs to be strong in their identity in Christ and not expect anyone else to fulfill that self-esteem for them.
While it is essential that the person you pursue a future with builds up these qualities, you must understand your worth comes from Christ alone.
Personally, I struggle a lot with low self-esteem and body image. For nearly a decade, I hid a battle with borderline anorexia and orthorexia, and regardless of my naturally thin frame, I sought control that left me more than starving for food.
When I started dating, I told my partner of these past issues. I was comforted by the testimony of his struggles. On our first date, I kid you not, I said, “What you see is what you get,” and that’s been my mantra ever since.
All jokes aside, I remind myself daily that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), I am clothed with strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25), and I am confident and bold (2 Timothy 1:7) regardless of outward appearance or what others may think of me.
Body image may always be a struggle, but rest in the promises of Christ, who has called you to reaffirm your identity in Him. In Christ alone is your worth. In Jesus, Christ is your confidence, strength, forgiveness, and nourishment to face another day, regardless of status (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:1).
Finding yourself and knowing yourself come from an identity rooted in the Word Himself, and no person, thing, or status can satisfy, uproot, or replace that.
2. Follow through with Your Commitments
In the book of Jonah, chapters 1-4, we read of an account where a man called by God clearly disobeyed Him and ran away for fear of what it might cost him. Swallowed whole by a great fish of the sea, Jonah learns that nothing good comes of it when he runs from God, but when He surrenders, every spiritual blessing belongs to him.
Before I was a teenager, I met many people like Jonah; they were called to serve, and Christ had much potential in their life, but they were too fearful to see where it might lead them. When I became a teenager myself, I vowed never to be that type of person, but instead, I became bound by overcommitment to serve the entire world.
By the age of sixteen, I was hosting events, volunteering every night, and serving a minimum of five different organizations at the same time. When I got to college, my schedule expanded so much that I had a legend with 15 different colors on it to fulfill each of my commitments.
Looking back on those days now as a full-time teacher and freelancer, I see how stressed I was. Even though I loved it, and keeping those commitments was right, I have learned that it’s better to be excellent at a few things and pour your heart and soul into those, rather than fill the floodgates with mediocre endeavors, no matter how many there might be in number.
With that being said, follow through on your commitments, and prioritize what is important to you before dealing with balancing yours and someone else’s. Nothing is more important than keeping your obligations with the Lord (Psalm 37:4-5, Proverbs 16:3) and learning how to keep those commitments with others.
3. Learn What Stability You Need
Would you buy a house without doors or windows? Would you accept a job that you knew would bankrupt you in six months? While the obvious answer to these questions should be “no,” you’d be surprised how many people invest in relationships without caring for themselves or blinding themselves to red flags.
It has taken me some time to say this confidently, but I attend counseling to ensure that my mental health is as stable as my physical. Every week, I must eat right, exercise often, pray without ceasing, read my Bible, write and reflect, talk with friends, and have fun. Addressing physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, being stable is less about being messy and more about learning how to live in that mess.
Since my dating journey began, I have learned a lot about what it means to be stable. Being stable does not mean pretending you’re perfect, ignoring problems, or thinking you have to be flawless in a relationship. However, it does mean taking the time to invest in self-care and striving to become the best version of yourself.
Besides things like financial independence, living circumstances, parental approval, or virtues and morals, Christ wants us to be stable in Him in every regard. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that we’re His temple, and don’t you think He wants us to care for that temple well?
Working on yourself and caring for yourself is much like a home. You can buy the house and live in it, but without adequately tending to its needs, it will never be able to stand on its own. When the winds come, and the shutters fly off the roof, will you be there to put them back on and patch them back together, or will you turn a blind eye and ignore the deepening destruction? The same applies to dating, engagement, and married relationships.
4. Be Like Jesus
Ultimately, whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or married, the best way to prepare for marriage (even if you never get there or are called to singleness) is to be like Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us that whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, all glory is given to God.
Being like Jesus is not just being kind when you feel like it, but rather when it’s the last thing you want to do. Being like Jesus means understanding that if you wish to love, you will have to go through the pain. Being like Jesus means having the confidence to say, “Lord, I want to be married someday,” but surrendering to add, “nevertheless, your will be done and not mine” (Matthew 26:39).
In NF’s song, “If You Want Love,” the artist notes: “If you want love, you gon’ have to go through the pain. I wish you would have told me. If you want love, you gon’ have to learn how to change. I wish somebody would have told me. If you want trust, you gon’ have to give some away. You gon’ have to give. If you want love, if you want love. If you want love, if you want love.”
I believe that’s true of serving, living, and preparing for that which the good Lord has in store for us today. Some of us might be preparing for a life of singleness, while others anticipate and approach our first relationship, engagement, or marriage. Know that whatever the Lord is doing, He withholds no good thing from those who earnestly seek to honor Him, not even marriage from those who don’t know if they’ll ever marry (Psalm 84:11).
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