Sunday, July 17, 2016

Thoughts on premarital preparation. . .

Having now watched as two of my children have been married and having come to know their spouses, a few thoughts occur to me (always a dangerous thing for a guy with a blog).  We live in a state which pretty much requires premarital counseling.  At least they charge an arm and a leg more for a marriage license if you do not get premarital counseling.  The state is generous in allowing it to be secular or religious, by psychologist or clergy, with recognized program or something more ad hoc.  The logic was (and is) that those informed of marriage and of whom searching questions have been asked will be more likely to remain married than those who get hitched on a whim.  I am not sure if the requirement has born much fruit.  Tennessee, being foursquare in the heart of the Bible belt, has a relatively high divorce rate (much higher among Baptists than among the Lutherans or Roman Catholics who live here).

I did neither premarital preparation for my children -- it is hard enough to meet with relative strangers much less with your own kids and their prospective spouses!  Then I thought about and was forced to rethink the statement.  I guess I did do premarital preparation for my own kids.  I am thinking here not of some formalized process at the Church than I am of what they saw and learned of marriage by growing up in our home.

By the time any engaged couple presents themselves to a pastor with the intention to get married in Church, it is probably too late to have serious impact upon them.  The preparation that is most significant has already taken place. Growing up in a home, watching mom and dad (even if they divorce), those who desire to become husband and wife have already absorbed an informal picture of marriage that has profoundly shaped their expectations of themselves, their spouses, and the institution we call marriage.  For good or for ill, children have already developed pretty entrenched ideas about and values toward marriage, divorce, sex, love, etc... 

Preparation for marriage really begins before the couple have met; it begins with childhood, even, from birth. Though whom you marry is the most important decision you will ever make, the way you see, define, and experience marriage has already been planted within you long before you meet mr. or mrs. right or a question is popped or an answer given.  Premarital preparation can help but the real heavy lifting has already been done at home by mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and other married couples whose lives deeply impact the prospective bride and groom.  Whether this is the kind of preparation that provides an ideal for the couple to strive for or an example of fault and failure they hope to avoid, much of that prep work has already been done before the pastor or therapist or marriage instructor opens the mouth to speak a word. Which is why the definition of marriage matters, why the image of marriage that impacted the children is so important, and why what kids see in the marriage of mom and dad may be the most significant thing they ever learn about what marriage is and what to expect from it. 

Pastors and others assisting a couple can hope to point out areas of concern, prompt the kind of deep conversations we hope have already occurred before this moment, and try to point out particular things a couple ought to address but they cannot undo the bad preparation a couple received growing up in a couple of hours spread over a few weeks.  Nope, this is the problem.  Those leading per-marital classes are not insignificant influences but the greater influence is not there in the room when the couple begin to talk about marriage, about each other, and about why they want to be married (and why to this person).

So pay attention to what happens at home.  Make sure that your children see a godly example and also an example of grace under pressure to forgive what disappointment and failure will surely come.  Make sure that your example to your children holds up a worthy ideal even though we all know that this ideal will not be reached (or at least in full) here on earth.  I can think of no better starting point than a common faith, where husband and wife meet before the cross to exchange the rags of their failures for the righteousness of Christ and where they give up the sins to the blood that cleanses us from all sin.  The pastor or premarital preparer can help but ultimately everyone who sits with a bride and groom desiring to be married must recognize that the example, good or bad, has already had deep and lasting impact on a couple long before the I do's are done.  Parenting matters.  Even the subtle parenting of example.  I wish I had learned that a long time ago.  Now with the society thrust into a time of change and evolution, the damage may have already been done -- no matter how bright the eyes, how wide the love, and how perfect the ceremony.

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