Barrett L. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.

Before you turn the page, because you know you are not nearly close enough to marriage even to think about preparing for it, stick around a bit. This iswritten for you. It is not written for those close to marriage. In fact, if you are engaged, and marriage is around the corner, it is almost too late to think about preparing for marriage in the sense that I am speaking of it.

This article is written for all of you who would like to be married some time in the future, believe (or hope) that it is God’s will for you to marry some time, and desire to enter that marriage relationship in a God-fearing .manner. For you, it is a difficult question, “How shall I prepare for marriage?”

So you have never heard about preparing for marriage before you were serious about marrying. You suppose that you will wait until you are ready to get serious about marriage before you will make any preparations. I hope I can convince you to think differently. The title of this article does not ask the question, “Shall I Prepare For Marriage?” You simply cannot ask that question. It would be like asking, “Shall I prepare to be an adult?” Whether you like it or not, your entire life is preparation for adulthood. The same is true for marriage. For all those whom the Lord has determined will marry, their whole life is a school for married life. What have you been learning?

Some Things You Have No Control Over

The greatest preparation you will have for married life is what you receive in your own home. You will learn how to behave in marriage by the way your parents behave. Either consciously or unconsciously, your marriage behavior will be patterned after the behavior of your parents. It is possible that you learn from the poor behavior of your parents, vowing to yourself never to behave toward your mate in that way. If that happens, I hope that you can still learn from the catechism’s explanation of the fifth commandment, that we “also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand;” and, especially, that you remember that there is no sin that you are not capable of committing yourself, especially those that your parents are good at. This learning would be a conscious lesson.

But most likely your learning about marriage from your parents will be unconscious and passive; you will simply adopt it as your own from their example. Then it is my prayer that your parents (who are probably “listening in” here) will be a good example for you.

How? I pray that you have parents who love each other, and aren’t afraid to show that love to each other when you’re around; I pray that you have parents who speak to each other often, who are truefriends. I hope your father and mother confess their faults to you, and pray for your forgiveness when they sin. I hope your father respects your mother. I hope he loves your mother, and gives good, strong, loving leadership to her and to the children. I hope your mother behaves as a Sarah, cheerfully submitting to your father. I hope your parents arehome together often, spending time with you, talking and having fun. My prayer is that your family spends time around Scripture after meals, discussing it, singing it in the psalms, learning from it.

Indeed, if you don’t learn those things from your parents, where will you learn them? And how will your life be different from theirs?

I also pray that your parents don’t teach you that possessions are everything. I hope they don’t teach you by their example that it’s unnecessary to have a budget. (“We have plenty of money; and we’re assuming you will always have abundance, too.”) I pray that your parents don’t teach you that entertainment is the goal of the weekend, that the whole of spiritual life is showing up at church twice on Sunday, that “remembering the Sabbath” is instructing the kids, “Learn your catechism,” and then jumping in bed for the afternoon. I hope your parents don’t do those things: because your attitude towards money and entertainment, your view of church life and your observance of the sabbath day have a lot to do with the way your marriage is going to go.

I make that prayer, because if you have parents like that, you are going to have a tough time when you become married. This is not to say that a good marriage for you is impossible if you have had this kind of home atmosphere and instruction. A boy who grows up without the advantage of a good high-school and college education surely is at’ a disadvantage, but he can overcome that by getting a good education later on. A young woman who has not had a good family life can overcome that deficit by learning what marriage is all about and praying for grace to learn. But nothing can replace the good example of godly parents for preparing you for your own marriage. And nothing can harm more than parents who teach ungodliness.

Some Things That You Can Do

There are a good many things that you have some control over. I would like to present five exercises to help you prepare for marriage. I also realize that all these are gifts from God and that, apart from His Holy Spirit and grace, are impossible. (Pray and work!)

Learn to love others.

Husband and wife will be happy if they love each other. When there is true love in practice, their marriage will be sound. A man treats his wife well when he loves her. The wife will submit to her husband when she loves him. And both will submit in obedience to God in other areas, because true love for each other comes out of their prior love for God.

But true love is giving to another person. Far from being only giddy feelings that magically appear or disappear, love is a spiritual bond that comes to expression in actions. God’s love for us gave His Son to die. A man’s love for his wife brings him to give time and energy to her. A wife’s love for her husband makes her give herself as a true “helper,” suited for him. Loving giving does not come easily, and will not last for a young man or young woman who never practiced that kind of giving love before marriage. One great problem for marriages today is the attitude that everything I do must be for me. The young person who lives with that mindset is bound to have problems in marriage. Love is selfless giving.

If loving others in that way is difficult, what about loving others who are not always very lovable? This, too, will be required of you when you are married. Your future spouse will not always be as attractive and lovable as when you were dating. Pray for grace to love unlovables. All young people can practice this before marriage. It is not easy, but comes by grace.

Learn to submit to others.

Marriage means submission, especially for the wife. If there is anything that is contrary to our natures, it is to submit. Just think of Eve and the fall, Rebekah and the plot to steal the blessing (Gen. 27), Rachel and her idols (Gen. 30, 31) . . . .

It simply will not happen that a young girl who hopes to marry never submits when she’s young, but will for the first time when she marries. This must come with a lifetime of practice. I would warn young men that girls who show no submission to teachers at school and rebel against their parents at home, are giving pretty good indications that they’re not going to submit to your love in marriage either. Also, how does she treat you when you date? Is there any flexibility when your opinions differ? Don’t forget the timely warnings of Solomon in Proverbs 21:9Prov. 19Prov. 27:15, etc.

Pray for the grace of submission to parents and teachers.

Be attractive.

The way to land a fish is to use the right bait. The way a young person is usually led to his or her God-ordained spouse is by being lured by the other’s attractiveness.

There is physical attractiveness. Solomon “sings” of this beautifully. Even though you might not look for a neck “like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers,” (Song of Solomon 4:4), Solomon was praising the physical beauty of his beloved. Physical attractiveness is not something to be slighted. God has made us as human beings to see and appreciate physical beauty in others.

But the lure for a good mate is not mainly physical, but spiritual. I Peter 3 calls women to let their cosmetics be inward—meekness, a quiet spirit, a godly walk; and not outward—hairstyles, jewelry, clothing . . . . The same must be true for the young men. Let them try to cultivate the spiritual graces.

Any good fisherman will tell you that if you want to catch carp, you use carp bait; bullhead, use bullhead bait; trout, you use trout bait. How many young people will fail to see what is on their line until after it is too late to throw it back?

Spiritual beauty not only prepares for marriage by luring a godly partner, but, just as important, prepares you to handle all the issues you will face from the time you have your first row until the day you part in death. . Knowledge of the Bible, the desire to pray, willingness to work through problems biblically and prayerfully, all form the only solid foundation for good married life.

Remain a virgin.

Although there could be a lot said here, I don’t need to say very much about this, except that both the young women and the young men know that this applies to them, and that violation of this important biblical rule means untold misery both before and after marriage.

My hope is that parents, pastors, and counselors and teachers at school, will spell out the details of this vital point, showing the Bible’s warnings about promiscuity and encouragement for virginity.

Learn what friendship is.

This really is the heart of it all. If you learn what friendship is, you will love others, submit to others, be attractive to others, and remain chaste. If you know true friendship, you will stay home with your spouse, have a prayer life together, observe the Sabbath properly, and love to spend time around the Word of God together. Marriage is friendship.

At bottom, our relationship with God is friendship. This is the essence of the covenant. The Bible also describes the relationship between God and the church as a marriage. (Spend some time looking at both the Old and New Testament passages that refer to this.) If our marriages, then, need to reflect the relationship between God and His church, they need to reflect that friendship first of all.

How do you learn about friendship? First, by cultivating your friendship with your God. Speak with Him; tell Him your secrets; listen to His secrets to you in His Word. Learn to enjoy time with Him. Learn the pleasures of His company. Learn to “open up” to Him.

Second, cultivate friendships with others. Make good friends with others of the same sex, but also withothers of the opposite sex, without thinking that it needs to be “serious.” Learn to open up to them, tell them your secrets, your needs, your troubles, your happiness. Learn to listen to them, care for them, love them . . . .

Marriages made of two who have learned about friendship before ever “leaving father and mother” will be (by God’s blessing) marriages that are not only strong, but a great joy for both husband and wife!

Marriage is not to be taken lightly, nor its prospect ignored. You are preparing for marriage right now. How are you doing?