Last week I asked for your opinions about engagements and betrothals. Is an engagement necessary? What does the Bible have to say on this topic? What benefits do we get from spending some time promised but not married? How long should the wait be, and why?
Several people commented that being engaged gives people time to seriously work through issues they had avoided until then. I agree—and thought of a few more things. Here is what I came up with on this subject.
It helps to realize that for the most part, God is silent on how long this waiting period needs to be. The Bible describes cultural norms that called for a period of time between a betrothal and actually living together. While Paul (who strongly urged believers to stay single for the sake of the Gospel) told the Corinthians that it’s better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:9), there are no instructions on the proper length of engagements (a modern construct) or betrothals.
So what are we to do? In our culture, most people are engaged for some period of time between making a decision to wed and actually making life-long vows. There are definite benefits we gain during this time.
First, getting married requires us to change. No matter how perfectly matched, living full time with another person will shape us and stretch us like nothing else we’ve ever attempted. The time between deciding to get married and actually having to live together provides a opportunity for growth. We learn to submit to one another as we talk about finances and budgets and how to meld career goals and how we will deal with in-laws. We move beyond the things that attracted us in the first place—sharing the same dreams, loving his silly grin, our mutual love of German polkas—to specifics: Where will you live? How will you split the chores? Which church will you attend? Will you invite her “unique” sister to Thanksgiving?
We also begin to lose the blinders that new love puts over our eyes. Her once-cute dog begins to resemble a hairy rat. His sweet habit of calling his mother all the time begins to interfere with your adult conversations. The facades we erect when we first meet someone can’t be maintained indefinitely. We descend from cloud nine to find our feet firmly fixed on the ground. Jesus stressed the seriousness of our wedding vows in Matthew 19:8–12, implying that we shouldn’t enter into this covenant lightly. We should spend enough time in prayer that we are convinced of God’s blessing before committing to anything this permanent—and it should be permanent!
When we’re engaged, ideally we spend more time together, dealing with the mundane every-day-ness of life, rather than only interacting when we’re at our best. How did she handle that bad day at the office? Can I stand to be around him when he’s in that horrible mood?
The amount of time needed to work through this process will vary, depending on things like the maturity of each person and how long you have known one another. There may be outside circumstances to consider as well. Some couples prefer to finish a college degree or other commitment before taking on the challenges of a new marriage.
An engagement or betrothal is a huge opportunity to learn patience and self-control, essential parts of a strong marriage. When we’re preparing for a wedding, we deny normal, healthy physical urges in order to focus on matters that are even more important. We spend time in prayer, in listening to God and to one another. We focus on the covenant we will be entering into.
In many ways, it’s like fasting. God gave us hunger so we would eat the food we need to survive. Food itself is a gift for which we give thanks. Yet, at times God calls us to fast, not because food is bad, but because He is better. Fasting gives us an opportunity to sharpen our focus on Him, to listen and wait for His voice, to demonstrate His pre-eminence in our lives. We learn discipline that then helps us in lots of other areas.
Finally, God has a particular fondness for illustrating His truths as parables in our lives. He told the Old Testament prophets to do weird things, just to drive home His point. (Read Hosea for one example, or Ezekiel 4 & 5 for a few more.)
Just as marriage provides a picture of our relationship with Jesus (read Eph. 5:21 – 33), so is the period when we are committed to one another but are waiting to live it out under one roof as husband and wife. In a very real sense, we are “betrothed” to God. We are His bride—the agreement is binding—but we have not yet celebrated the wedding feast. We look forward with anticipation to that day when we will truly be one.
What are your thoughts? How long was your engagement? What did you learn during that time? Would you do things differently now? What advice would you give other couples?