What does one have to say about marrying young? First, though older than many of my readers, I think of myself as being young for a longer time – though I have to consider that through living hard and never easy, there are benefits to learning  through hindsight! Yes, I married younger than most people I know today. I was just eighteen and still in school. Forty eight years my husband, Lau still tells me daily that he loves me more today than yesterday, and less than tomorrow.  I repeat the same mantra to him, and mean every word.   When someone looks at our old wedding snapshots (yes, snapshots in black and white—we had no professionally-crafted gorgeous album like the ones young friends share today.)  Our few pictures are unforgettable, as were some of the incidents that surrounded our wedding.

The day before our  wedding, Lau drove three hours plus  to São Paulo to look for the justice of the peace who had forgotten to sign the petition for our civil wedding (in Brazil of those days, one had to have a civil wedding with a justice before celebrating  the religious wedding in church). After trying three or four restaurants, he found the judge and gave him the document, which he signed, and returned to Araras, where we were married.

While my future husband was going through the rat race to get everything ready, one of my childhood friends, who was also engaged and had come to see us tie the knot, asked me, “Do you ever have doubts about whether you should get married or not?” I told her, “If there were any doubt, I’d never get married.  We’re still in school, have no money, have nothing but each other…” Shortly after we returned from our three-day honeymoon, I got a letter from that friend telling us that she had broken their engagement.

One of the reasons many Christians marry young is the pressure of sexual attraction – a very normal fact of life. Non-Christians don’t see that as a problem, because premarital sex is a given. Like almost everything in this post-modern world, non-believers believe they are entitled to sex whenever they “feel it’s right”, and so they often “feel good” about having sex without responsibilities or commitment. Many times over. But Christian young people who want to live according to God’s standards are pressed to bursting because the Bible warns to flee promiscuity and sexual sin, and they want to be true to the Word of God. Or else, they live a double standard, saying they obey biblical principles, while in practice, they live exactly like their non-Christian friends. The world preaches that “safe sex” is using protection to avoid pregnancy, STD’s and AIDS. The Bible teaches that safe sex is married sex with one partner to whom one is committed for life: a triple marriage pact between a man, a woman and the God they serve.

Some couples manage to let God rule their hormones and practice chastity until the Lord gives them the green light after the wedding, but many more flounder and almost drown, repent and start again on the path of sexual purity. But that is just one of the aspects that push people toward early marriage.

They say that the teenage years are the best years of one’s life, but if your life is any way like mine was when I was a teen in the sweet, psychodellic sixties, we take issue. Teen years often suck. My parents were at war, stifled by life and so broken they could not see their daughters’ pain. They finally divorced, but my sister and I were never what we would have been, if only .… (that’s one of the myths often dreamed: the idea that if we’d only had better circumstances, better opportunities, less stress, we could have become president of the USA, or a singing actress, a sports super star, or Bill Gates, or at least queen of the prom).  Keeping balanced between what you dream and how your life plays out is no easy task—plus, you seesaw both academically and socially in school, between dreams of successful , good-money-paying work and realities of delivering pizza or babysitting, in relationships where the all-important  “all or nothing” stand leaves you stranded, often alone, with nothing to it.

In one way, teens today have it worse than ever:  their expectations far exceed their realizations, and the result is general, unbridled frustration. You can be anything.  Just do it. Go for it.  Follow your dream. You deserve it – and discover you are just one among the millions who heard the same clichés and took them to heart as personal prophecies – unfulfilled.

Over three thousand years ago, the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come” and despite all the problems of youth, young days are the days where what we think, dream and decide will have repercussions all the days of our life – and to eternity. My decisions to follow Christ, to study and to work for Him, were made in my youth. Wadislau and I made our decision to love each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, for better or worse, when we couldn’t imagine all the twists and turns life would present. But we had a couple of things in our favor.

We married in the Lord. We didn’t just love each other, think it felt right, hope it would work out, or do the best  we could under the circumstances – from day one, the Lord Jesus (and not our growing/ fleeting/sink or swimming love) was the foundation for our marriage. Whatever our lot, we were in it together and no one would pull us apart.

 Jesus reiterated the creation account of Genesis, saying: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast (King James version says ”cleave”) to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh (Matthew 19: 5-6).

The first verb in this affirmation is leave his father and mother. That implies maturity to live independently, no longer under the same roof, financial responsibility or paternal/maternal authority. One has to be mature enough to start a new home – have a job that takes care of basic needs of the couple, and the two join forces and incomes for one good: their home. The home isn’t the house or apartment you buy or rent and set up—home is you and your spouse together, wherever you are.  If we aren’t ready to leave home, we are not ready to marry. Leaving is not abandoning or rebelling, it is leaving well and settled!  If someone leaves his or her parents in anger or bitterness, she or he continues to be influenced by the home of origin and has never “left  home” in fact. It is a matter of growing up emotionally, socially, professionally, financially – undergirded by spiritually.

If the two lovebirds are mature and ready to leave their parents and live independently, the second aspect of Jesus’ admonition is cleave to your spouse.  If you are like we were when I was eighteen and Lau twenty-one, “cleaving and becoming one flesh” was our dream of dreams. Sometimes we forget all it entails: 

besides the obvious and marvelous  working out of a robust sex life – which takes work and practice and doesn’t happen as  a once and for all magic moment – one grows and becomes a loving couple when both invest 100% of all they’ve got.

my spouse is my very best friend – no one else shares our intimacy, our plans or our problems more or better that the two of us. My buddies or mom or whoever do not determine our life together.

we don’t bicker over who earns more or who gets to spend his/her own money on what we want independently. we are one flesh – we decide together what we will do with ourselves, with our money, with our plans. Our goal is “the common good” of the couple. Sometimes one in the partnership is better than the other at administrating, and the other more prodigal at spending, but we have to both agree about what we will do with what we have (or don’t have). Maybe we have to set a limit on what and how we spend – many people sink in a sea of debt before they learn that their money (like their name!) doesn’t belong exclusively to one of them. If I can afford to spend X on lunch money I can’t go out and splurge at a restaurant and expect everything to smooth out miraculously.  Any major financial decision must be weighed by both together!

Becoming one flesh is much more than enjoying sex. Casual sex is a horrid lie because something deep and meaningful can never be casual if it is going to last. And good sex was not made to be forgotten or despised.

Today, most articles about marriage focus on the wedding, and many couples spend way more than they can afford to put on a memorable show, but do not invest anything in their marriage as a leave-cleave-one-flesh one of a kind affair.

 Even if that is not the case, many couples who take too long to get married do so because they want to start out life with all the perks their parents have now – a well-furnished house and maybe money in the bank. One of the advantages of marrying young is that you work together toward your joint goals. Every goal you achieve together draws you closer. That means you work hard and know you won’t immediately have everything you dream of, but both know the cost of things and the value of being together over getting rich.

In the same way, many (if not pregnant when marrying) postpone having kids till they’ve landed their dream job or bought a house. They know they can’t afford having a baby. But one of the reasons God gave us marriage is to have kids! He said “be fruitful and multiply” and children are a blessing from the Lord. Even unfertile couples are blessed by a generous God, and can adopt, or at least help friends with children who struggle by voluntarily babysitting or taking a kid to a ball game so their mom and dad can have a date.  Willing to have kids is a must. Being married means you can be parents – so you’d better prepare for that!  Some of the most wonderful people in the world are products of an unplanned pregnancy, and Christian couples have to plan for the possibility that their love will multiply into a little spit ‘n image of them both, who will grow up to be a person unique and  as  different  as each of you are. So if you are planning to get married, you imply that you will accept the burden and blessing of children with no complaints. That’s part of the package. Of course you will plan, use acceptable birth control – but know that the only one totally in control is the God who made you, and He just might think a kid will temper your life with gladness!

I’ve mentioned matters that are very private and I or any other person, young or old, do not have a right to barge  in or manipulate or tell another human being what they can or cannot do. We are not God. When Lau and I married, we were still in school, yes, but we had left our original homes and were independent and responsible for our own livelihoods. We worked when weren’t in classes – often early morning (at four AM Lau had to get milk freshly milked on a farm!) for the seminary students’ seven AM breakfast. I often was cooking some treat to sell or giving remedial English classes to colleagues until late at night – and we had a commitment to each other and to God (and to those who were going to invest in our missionary support when we graduated) to keep our grades and spirits high. We worked hard! And we stuck together! (And I got pregnant immediately!)

I know life is not the same as it was almost fifty years ago, but neither are we! We often groaned as we became grown, but God in His mercy saw us through and is still working on us. Yes, being old and decrepit does not make us any wiser! What makes Christians—young and old, men and women, well-educated or fairly ignorant—wise is what Proverbs calls “The fear of the Lord”. That is what makes us able to say “I am not afraid of what man (human beings, male or female) can do, for I will trust in Him. Obey Him. Live for Him, whether single or married. That is absolutely the best state in which to live!

Elizabeth Gomes

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