THE GREAT EXCEPTION
Can you help me out here? There must be a version of the Bible out there I haven’t read yet, one that has a mysterious exception clause.
I thought I had the bases covered in my research. I’ve checked out the King James, the English Standard Version, the New King James, the New International Version (both the 1984 and the 2011 editions), the Message, the New Living Translation, the New American Standard, and many others. None of them—not one—contains the exception clause I’m looking for, so if you find it, will you please email me and let me know which version has it? Because apparently it’s the version many singles read.
The exception clause I’m referring to is found in Matthew 6:33. Here’s how it reads in the New King James Version: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The mysterious version I’m looking for, the one I see so many people following and memorizing, goes something like this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, except when you’re choosing someone to marry. In that case, you should follow your emotions, insist on a thrilling romantic attraction and overall relational compatibility that makes the relationship fun, and then all these things will be added unto you.”
Let me ask you: do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that He truly has your best interests at heart, that He would never mislead you—that if you follow His advice, you’re setting yourself up for the best, most meaningful, and most fulfilling life imaginable? Can you count on Him knowing what He’s talking about? Do you think it’s possible that the second most important decision you’ll ever make—who you marry—should be based on Jesus’s fundamental agenda for our lives: seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Do you believe every significant decision we make should be run through this grid? If our choice of marital partner is an exception, what wouldn’t qualify as an exception? If Jesus’s words aren’t relevant for such a crucial decision, why would they have any importance in any lesser decision?
I want to make a promise to you: if you will seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and let that agenda drive your decision regarding whom you choose to marry and refuse to compromise on that, you will set yourself up for a much more fulfilling, spiritually enriching, and overall more satisfying marriage. The degree to which you compromise on this verse is the degree to which you put your future satisfaction in jeopardy and open wide the door to great frustration and even regret.
WHY WE MARRY
If you’re under thirty years old, your generation is the first generation in about a hundred years not to assume that you need to call the phone company when you move into a new apartment or house. In my day, that was one of the first things we did—at college, and then afterward. We “hooked up the phones” so that people could get in touch with us.
Cell phones have demolished that assumption. Most people under thirty don’t even have what used to be referred to as “land lines.” If someone wants to reach you, they have your cell phone; why pay for a line inside your house?
And yet every month, millions of older people who own cell phones still pay thirty to forty dollars to maintain a home phone line, just because they always have.
You can laugh at your parents for not getting how the world has moved on, but there are a few things singles are susceptible to, things you take for granted, that just aren’t true either. Even so, you keep on doing them, because everyone you know blindly accepts certain assumptions—such as the belief that you should seek romantic excitement and sexual chemistry above everything else when it comes to choosing someone to marry.
Our culture is still stuck on viewing marriage through the lens of happiness first and foremost—defining happiness by romantic intensity and sexual chemistry. Since the 1960s, sociologists have found a steady progression of young American men and women who demand more and more of love—yet we’re getting less and less out of our marriages. In 1967, a study of college-age women found that 76 percent of women said they would marry someone if the man had every trait they were looking for, even if they didn’t feel “romantic love” toward them. In more recent research, 91 percent of women said “absolutely not.”1 That’s a huge shift. People have been pursuing such pairings for several generations now, and I’m asking you to be an astute and honest observer: how’s that working out for us?
For starters: how many marriages do you see that are truly happy? I’m not talking about marriages that are less than three years old. Tell me—how many people do you know who have been married ten years or longer whose marriage you envy or even admire?
Notice the trend: most people marry on the basis of perceived happiness, but few remain very happy for very long. And yet, every year, hundreds of thousands of couples think they can be different, so they base their decision on the same premise: we “feel” something special, we seem to be happy together, we’re generally compatible, so let’s get married.
How many failed marriages will it take for us to see that this approach just isn’t working? Make this personal: why do you think it will be any different for you than it has been for the millions of other couples who have already tried this approach?
Are you willing to even consider that the Hollywood version of “falling in love” might just possibly be leading people astray? That, as powerful as romance is, it might not be the best reason to get married?
Here’s just one quick example of how sexual chemistry, apart from any other consideration, can lead us astray. Psychologically, women are more likely to experience romantic love with dominant men, even though dominant men typically demonstrate less ability to express the kind of companionship, relational skills, and emotional attachment that women ultimately desire in a lifelong mate. In other words, women, if you simply follow your feelings, you are more likely to fall in love with a guy who will thrill you for twelve to eighteen months as a boyfriend and then frustrate you for five to six decades as a husband.
Guys, on the other hand, are more inclined to experience romantic love with women they are attracted to physically, yet physical appearance is the thing most likely to change in a person’s life. Marriage isn’t about being young together; it’s about growing old together—and bodies change as we get older. If you don’t marry with that in mind, you’re going to make a major mistake—perhaps the biggest mistake of your life.
What draws most of us into marriage is rarely the ingredient that serves long-term happiness in marriage. Understanding this alone will help you make a wiser choice.
MAYBE BEING IN LOVE ISN’T ENOUGH
I had a sobering conversation with a woman my age. She’s been divorced twice. She was getting serious with another guy, but things had gotten rocky and hurtful. It was so bad, her boyfriend made her cry a couple of times a week. He could be forceful, say mean things, and though he wasn’t physically violent, he could scare her. There were, of course, several positive aspects about the relationship. He could be thoughtful, supportive, occasionally even poetic, but the negative things were, interestingly enough, the very same issues that had led to the breakup of her first two marriages, so you might think they’d be red flags for her. Why would she want to enter into another relationship that would make her miserable? To make matters worse, she wasn’t sure she could trust him—in fact, she’d overheard him telling another woman on the phone that he still loved her. On its own, this seemed quite a devastating analysis, but here’s the thing: she was still in the relationship.
I asked what seemed like some obvious questions: “Why are you still with him? What’s in this for you? Why do you put up with this?”
Her response was immediate: “Because I’m in love with him. I genuinely and deeply love him.”
I paused to set my tone on “as gentle as possible.” This was a minefield, but I was afraid that if I didn’t address the situation, this woman could make yet another serious mistake after already experiencing two blown marriages.
“Were you in love with your first husband?” I asked.
“Definitely. I was devastated when he cheated on me and then left me.”
“And what about your second husband?”
“Yes. It was different, I think, because he fed some ego needs, but of course, I was in love with him.”
“And yet both marriages failed.”
I took a deep breath and tried be as gentle as I could be when I said, “Maybe feeling like you’re in love with someone isn’t enough of a reason for you to get married. Maybe you need to set the bar higher, find something more.”
You won’t hear a character’s friend say this in a romantic comedy. Taylor Swift won’t sing this, Eminem won’t rap it, and Suzanne Collins won’t write it, but it’s true: just because you’re “in love” with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them. The next chapter will explain why I believe this is true, but for now I’m just throwing it out there and asking you to at least consider that romantic attraction, as wonderful and as emotionally intoxicating as it can be, can actually lead you astray as much as it can help you. I’m not talking it down; “connecting” with someone on that level is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it, revel in it, even write a song about it if you want, but don’t bet your life on it.
I’ve seen infatuation lead far more people astray than into satisfying marriages. I’ve seen people fail to pursue a relationship, even though they respected, admired, and loved another person, because there didn’t seem to be that over-the-top, make-my-knees-weak sexual chemistry. And I’ve watched people rush into a relationship that any objective observer could see had some serious problems on the horizon, but the feelings were so intense, it all felt so right, that two people were willing to bet their lives and their future kids’ happiness on it.
I believe both Scripture and science testify that making a lifetime decision about who to marry primarily on the basis of romantic attraction is a very foolish thing to do.
1. If you personally know anyone who has gotten married recently, discuss why you think they got married. Were their decisions based on good reasons? What can you learn from watching others?
2. Do you agree with Gary that Matthew 6:33 should drive your pursuit of a marriage partner? Why or why not?
3. What would make you consider someone as a potential marriage partner? What would definitely disqualify a person in your mind?
4. What was your reaction to Gary’s statement, “Just because you’re ‘in love’ with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them”?
5. How can you and your friends question your assumptions about why you should or shouldn’t be interested in someone as “marriage material”? What assumptions do you need to question? What will it take to do that?
1 Debra Lieberman and Elaine Hatfield, “Passionate Love: Cross-Cultural and Evolutionary Perspectives,” in The New Psychology of Love, ed. Robert Sternberg and Karin Weis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 280.