Passing on a Healthy Expectation for Marriage
By LESLIE LUDY
Several years ago, a young woman told me that her mom was trying to convince her never to get married. “She says that marriage only leads to heartache and regret. She doesn’t want me to go through what she did,” the young woman told me. “She said it is better if I just stay single.”
More and more, Eric and I are encountering this kind of cynical attitude toward marriage. Young people who have seen their parents’ marriages crumble are hesitant to pursue marriage themselves. And parents who have been through pain and heartache in their own marriages often project their experience onto their children’s futures. It’s no wonder that the majority of young adults today do not believe that marriage to one person for a lifetime is even possible. There are so few examples of healthy marriages that they have become the rare exception rather than the rule.
In a world where even Christian marriages are more likely than ever to end in divorce, how can we pass on a different vision to our children? Quite often, parents ask me, “How can I help my children understand God’s perfect pattern for purity and marriage when I did things so wrong in my own life?” Or, “How can I teach my kids about lifelong commitment if I’ve been through a divorce?”
I once heard a couple with a young daughter offer a refreshing perspective in response to these questions: “We may not have done things the right way,” they said, “But we have the opportunity to be a bridge — a stepping stone — for the next generation. We believe that we can help our daughter do things so much better than we did, by helping her learn from our mistakes and pointing her toward God’s pattern from this day forward.”
If you have made mistakes in marriage and romance, be encouraged with this truth: your child’s future does not depend upon your perfection. God can take all of your past mistakes and build them into stepping stones for the next generation. If you are willing to point your children toward God’s pattern and give them a vision for something more, your children do not need to experience the same heartache that you did. You can be instrumental in helping them discover God’s best, no matter what you’ve been through or what mistakes you’ve made.
Remember, you don’t need to be perfect to point your children toward God’s pattern. You simply need to yield your life to the only One who is.
In a world where most marriages are mediocre at best, we must lay our past failures and hurts at His feet, and lean upon His grace to help our children discover something better. Here are some practical ways to get started.
1. Show Them Real-Life Examples
No matter what your past mistakes, you can still help children catch a vision for something more, by pointing out real-life examples of couples who are living out a God-centered relationship. Do you know a young couple who saved their first kiss for their wedding day? Do you see a man who honors his wife? Do you see a wife who builds up her husband? Do you know a couple who has been faithfully married for fifty or more years? Point out these examples to your children, and let your kids spend time around these people if possible. Witnessing solid examples of God’s pattern up-close can go a long way in helping children grasp what is possible in their own future.
When your children are the right age, you can also read them stories of godly relationships from Christian history. Hudson and Maria Taylor, Rees and Elizabeth Howells, Oswald and Biddy Chambers, William and Catherine Booth, Eric and Florence Liddel, and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are just a few examples of Christian couples who exemplified God’s pattern for purity and Christ-centered marriage.
2. Don’t Bash Men
Many modern women have attempted to cover their wounded feminine dreams with an arrogant, haughty disdain for all men. Too many have eagerly bought into our culture’s current trend of “men-bashing” jokes and attitudes. I once saw a man moving a heavy box, and the woman next to me remarked dryly, “That’s the only thing that men are good for, you know.”
When we as women don’t know how to deal with the disappointment of modern manhood, we often choose to cover our emotions with scorn. I have been in numerous conversations in which Christian wives sat around drinking coffee and bashing their husband’s idiotic behavior — laughing and joking with the “all men are hopeless so we might as well get a few laughs out of it” attitude.
But no matter what we have been through, the worst thing we can do is participate in our culture’s scornful bashing of masculinity and label men as brutes who will never change. This attitude only creates guys who shrug and say, “Well, if that’s all she thinks I can be, then why would I bother trying to be anything different?” And not only that, bashing the opposite sex has devastating impact upon our children. Instead of growing up with a healthy view of marriage and relationships, they grow up with a cynical attitude toward love and romance.
God calls us to respect and reverence masculinity, not to scorn and bash it. (See Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:4-6.) If you want the guys around you to start acting more heroic, don’t label them, scorn them, or bash them. Believe that they can become something more. It’s not having faith in a man, but in what our mighty, amazing, triumphant God can do in and through a man. And if you want your children to gain a vision for godly romance, then let your words bring life and encouragement, not sarcasm and disdain. (See James 3:8-10.)
3. Use the Right Words
In the early formative years of your child’s life, your words go a long way in helping them shape their perception of their future. A father of three young daughters told us, “We are raising three princesses in our home. We tell each of our girls that her heart is a precious treasure — that the only man worthy of that treasure is the man God has chosen for her to spend her life with.” Brainstorm for the right words to describe your child’s future. Take some time to write down your vision for your child’s future love story so that you will be ready with the right words to say when the subject comes up.
For example, instead of referring to the time when they will one day “start dating around,” refer to the time when God will one day script a beautiful love story for them. Instead of talking about “all of the boyfriends or girlfriends” they are going to have someday, talk about the “special person that God will bring into their life in His own perfect time and way.” If you take some time to develop the right expression for what you want your child to discover, you won’t be in danger of leading them down the typical cultural path by the words you speak in those early years.
4. Point Your Kids to Christ
As parents, it’s easy to get so caught up in helping our children learn all the right things that we fail to do what truly matters most: lead them into a thriving, intimate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. I shared in my book Set Apart Motherhood:
Studies show that a disturbingly large number of young people who have grown up in Christian homes have left the faith by the time they graduate from college. Many of these young people had godly parents who spent years training them in godly behaviors. They attended Sunday school and church. They went to youth group and had Christian friends. And yet, they never made a covenant exchange with the King of all kings; they never gave their lives to Jesus and entered into a personal, life-transforming relationship with Him.
We have the opportunity and privilege of leading our children into a relationship with Christ, and helping them make that relationship the foundation of every godly behavior in their lives. In their early years, our children must be taught to comply with correct behavior simply to respect the requirements and expectations of their parents and other authorities. But our ultimate goal should be for our children to turn their lives wholeheartedly over to Jesus Christ and to embrace godly behavior out of a heartfelt desire to love, honor, and please their King.2
Ask God to show you ways to help your children not merely believe the right things, but cultivate a genuine daily relationship with Jesus Christ. When He is in His rightful place in our kids’ lives, they will be far less likely to follow the world’s pattern, and far more likely to follow His.