Marriage as a Cornerstone of Life, Not a Capstone
I read two articles this week that included the topic of marriage. The first was titled, “More millennials think it’s a priority to buy a home than to get married or have kids.” The second one was about the passing of Shirley Boone, the wife of entertainer, Pat Boone. The two had been married for 65 years.
These stories bring to mind more than the obvious conclusion that views of marriage have changed since the 1950s. No doubt there are fewer couples, even among those who profess faith in Christ, who believe in waiting until marriage before living together. That’s a real problem the church needs to do more to address. But that’s not the point I want to make in this article.
I’m equally concerned about the growing belief that marriage should be postponed until certain milestones of life have been accomplished. I first heard this idea shared at a conference session led by Florida pastor, Jimmy Scroggins. He suggested that marriage should be a “cornerstone” of our lives rather than a “capstone.” What does that mean?
Today it seems “virtuous” to hear young adults say they want to finish their education, start a career, and, according to this recent news story, even buy a house, before getting married. The average age of those marrying for the first time has risen over the decades due in large part to these perceptions. The delay is extended by more people seeking post-graduate degrees, incurring a lot of student loan debt, and the desire to “get past these milestones” before starting a family. In these cases, marriage becomes a capstone of life’s foundational experiences (topping them off with marriage) rather than making them a cornerstone (building the marriage through these experiences).
Tragically, even some Christian parents inadvertently push their children into living sexually immoral lives by encouraging them to hold off on marriage until they’re “established.” To hear of couples “being together” or engaged for 3, 5, or 10 years is unfortunate. Sure, we should encourage our kids to be wise in their life choices and not to create circumstances that are inherently difficult if they can be avoided. However, it’s naive to believe that most couples abstain from sex into their late twenties or thirties while waiting until “the right time” to get married. Yet, the biblical standard for sexuality has not changed (I Corinthians 7:9).
But more important than the moral implications of delaying marriage is an acknowledgment of the benefits of marrying earlier in life. It’s interesting that in the article about Shirley Boone’s passing, Pat was quoted as saying he asked her father, country legend Red Foley, for her hand in marriage, knowing their family was moving away and that he might lose her if they didn’t get married. The article reads, “the pair eloped and settled in New Jersey….welcomed their four daughters in five years….[and] together they supported each other, as their lives and careers were established.”
Two things struck me about this:
First, they eloped. I’m not encouraging any couple to elope, especially if it’s to escape something. But today, the average wedding costs over $30,000, and many couples seem obligated to all the expensive trappings of “the perfect wedding.” Under these circumstances, it’s understandable they’d want to have a solid career and a good income before spending that much on a wedding. But this would be waiting for a very poor reason.
Second, and this is the key point, “they supported each other, as their lives and careers were established.” They made marriage a cornerstone of their lives. They built it on their shared challenges, their shared hardships, they shared joys, their shared finances, their shared values, their shared aspirations. I must believe that by delaying marriage, couples create a more individualistic identity, one that’s harder to mold into the life of the other as Scripture says we should: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).
It’s through the foundational experiences of life that a married couple strengthen their relationship because they have endured this phase of life together while committed to one another in the sacred union of marriage. As the marriage progresses, their own identities continue to be established; but these identities are formed in light of the identity of the other person. Contrast that to two people who have established their own independent identities trying to make them fit the other’s established identity. How much more healthy might the union be when formed together rather than adapted together later in life?
When my wife, Brandi, and I got married, I had already graduated from college and established a career (albeit very early in that career). But she was still in school. Not only did she finish her education, but we started a family, she worked, and she ultimately went on to get a master’s degree and establish a career in education. She’s now considering more education to advance her career even further. I was earning a master’s degree while our second daughter was born, and I’m working on a second master’s degree now. We don’t believe our marriage hindered our opportunities for our careers, and we’re grateful for the experiences we had growing together early in our married lives.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating marriage at too early an age. Certainly there needs to be a degree of maturity, spiritually and otherwise, before marriage is a good idea. Nor am I saying marrying later in life is a problem if the right person hasn’t been discovered. I’m referring to couples who are in long-term relationships, committed to the other person, and compatible with God’s standards for marriage. In these cases, waiting until fundamental life experiences are completed independently before marrying is not as wise as it may seem. Even more, it may not be biblical.
Consider marriage as a cornerstone of life, not a capstone.