From day one in our courtship we set about preparing for marriage. Whilst we got some very dodgy advice from some people, we also got some invaluable advice.
When our courtship was first announced, our pastor gave us the best advice that I’ve ever heard. We were floating above the clouds at the prospect of a new relationship. George was shiny and spotless in my eyes and I was beyond reproach in his. Our pastor gave us a reality check. He knows us both very well and has mentored us individually for several years so there was no hiding. Our pastor gave George a high level summary of the very things I was trying to downplay. You know what they say about saving the ‘crazy’ for later so as not to scare him off. He told George that I was moody and bossy at times (don’t judge, we all have our own). Our pastor also told me that George could be annoying.
Courtship is work
Our pastor made it known in no uncertain terms that we had work to do on this journey of courtship. He told us that we needed to be intentional about preparing for marriage and laying a good foundation. He made us understand that whatever state our relationship was in on the day we exchanged rings, that day would cement our foundation and we would spend our lives building a home on it.
Our pastor was right. In the first few weeks of marriage, we have noticed that we have naturally fallen into the patterns of life that we agreed upon in courtship – even with things like who does the washing up!
Preparing for marriage: Your life is like a duffle bag
Our pastor gave us an analogy that resonated so strongly with me that I repeat it whenever anyone asks me about how to have a successful, godly courtship and prepare for marriage. He said:
Your individual lives are like carrying around a bag each and every day. Over time, you stuff every experience, every triumph or hurt, every bad habit and fear into that bag. Only you and God see what’s in the bag – everyone else sees the expensive, well groomed, leather exterior with the prominently placed, luxury label. That is, until you meet ‘the one’. Then the process of courtship begins – and it is a process.
Unzip that bag
It starts with each of you coming to the table and unzipping your bags. You both have to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent. Each of you gets the opportunity to peer into the other’s bag – brace yourself. What you will see will be the good, the bad and the ugly – but just remember two things: 1. The state of your own bag and 2. God initiated this process and He is only capable of goodness, so if you see it through to the end, something beautiful awaits.
Face up to the truth
Once you’ve inspected the contents of your bags, you have to empty everything out in plain sight and weed out the rubbish. You have to be willing to do two things: be aggressively critical of anything in your courtship partner’s bag that has destructive potential. Bad attitudes, sexual strongholds, ungodly doctrines, unhealthy attachments – everything must go! You have to be willing to call out your partner on the things that they excuse themselves for. The second thing you have to be ready to do is be on the receiving end and listen to the concerns of your partner and mentors with humility and a resolve to get things right. There’s no room for offence or defensiveness if you really want to build a solid home.
Out with the old
Lastly, once you have sorted the trash from the treasure, throw away the former and buy a new bag for the latter. The bible says that we shouldn’t put new wine into old wine skins. Don’t try and shoehorn your courtship into an old frame of reference. Don’t superimpose your fairytale expectations, parent’s way of doing things or past relationships onto what God is doing in your courtship. Drop the old bag – you’ve taken everything good from it already. Get a new bag and put the best of both of you into it. Take a handle each and walk into your marital home with it and as you walk through life together, add precious memories to the bag and guard against filling it up with the wrong things overtime.
What a powerful analogy. It focuses the mind on the true goal of courtship – it’s not pleasure, its preparation.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? – Amos 3:3