He Said-She Said: Should I Get Married While in Seminary?
- Thursday, February 12, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a Crosswalk.com reader with responses from a male and female point of view. If you’ve got a question about anything related to singleness, please CLICK HERE to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).
QUESTION: I am currently in seminary. I am in the middle of my first year. I still have at least three-and-a-half years left. I have been dating my girlfriend for one year and three months and we want to get married, but seminary makes me not want to get married because my father says that once you're married, all your focus isn't on God but that it's also on someone else's life (Paul says this, not sure where). Now, what should I do? I'm 20 years old. I know I'm a bit too young, and I should wait at least a little longer until 22 maybe. How does this work though? I would have to date her for another four years pretty much and goodness, temptations are strong. Really, really strong. I don't want to mess up but then again, I don't want to ruin what God has for me here in seminary.
HE SAID: Your father is correct in saying marriage will cause you to divide your focus (and time) from solely being on God to being on God and your wife, as Paul attests, and as it should be if you are married.
In everything you do, I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man can’t do that so well. He has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Paul follows up in verse 35 with, “I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” Another translation (NIV) says, “…but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
Despite the initial inference that Paul is denying singles to marry, he explains the reason for saying this is not to restrict us, but rather for our benefit. Paul had lived a life divergent to how God wanted and another life directly in line with what God desired (with undivided devotion to Him). His wisdom, although contrary to the hope of many singles, comes from the experience of both.
Your struggle is not exclusive to single seminary students. The application of leading a life with undivided devotion to the Lord is a battle for everyone, regardless of one’s marital status, sex, age, or occupation. Every person claiming to be a follower of Christ must discover their own calling and direction for and throughout their life. In order to find the answer, we must repeatedly ask ourselves, and prayerfully ask the Lord questions like these ...
- What are my gifts and how can I best use them right now?
- What does “undivided devotion” look like in my life?
- What obstacles are distracting me from it?
- What does God want me to do today?
The premise of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 is probably on the top-5 list of subjects singles don’t want to study or hear about, even though I have heard a teaching on this in every singles group I have been a part of.
The counterpart to this verse is found in Genesis 2:18:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
(I would guess more singles would choose this as their “life verse” than the previous one by Paul.)
I discern four important points in this short verse:
- God understands our need for a partner
- God will take care of it
- The person will be suitable (or right) for us
- God doesn’t say when
According to the Multnomah Biblical Seminary Web site, one-third of Multnomah’s students are married. If this holds remotely true throughout seminaries across the country, there are a lot of people who are pursuing a seminary education while married.
Your decision is not a matter of right and wrong; it is a matter of better and best (as many decisions are). As Paul tells us earlier in 1 Corinthians, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial” (10:23). Our dilemma is figuring out what is most beneficial and the best in God’s plan for us at each moment in our lives.
Here are some questions for you and your girlfriend to discuss:
- What is best for you and your girlfriend at this time in your relationship?
- Which situation can best bring you both closer to the Lord?
- How could marriage best serve you in seminary? How would it distract?
When I am asked by students about my thoughts on marriage (having never been married), I share with them what I have never heard a married couple say to me, “We should have gotten married earlier.” And I still haven’t to this day.
Don’t allow yourself to become fixated on all of the possible problems or paralyzed by the thought of what may or may not happen with either decision. Weigh your options, pray to the Lord for direction, and listen for his voice.
Each person and couple must spend time with the Lord on their own and with their potential spouse praying about the situation and listening for God’s response. It may not (and probably won’t be) answered overnight. You may not hear for a week or a month, but God will have an answer for you.
There is an enlightening article on the Dallas Theological Seminary Web site called, “Seven Ways to Keep Your Marriage Strong During Seminary.” It was written by a female who has been a student and is the spouse of a former student at DTS, and it may be able to shed more light on the situation for you from a different perspective. Click here to read.
SHE SAID: Well, I sure don’t envy you right now. You’ve got some pretty big decisions to make in your life’s journey, and I know how hard that is to do when there seems to be more fog than clear, blue skies on the road ahead of you. Believe me, I’ve been there.
At a young age, you’ve got two, very significant investments going on right now in your life: seminary and a long-term relationship. Both are important to you and you are grappling over which one should have more importance in your life. Or … can you keep investing in both and strike a healthy balance without detrimental consequence?
This is a toughie. And Paul (and your dad, too) knew what he was talking about in 1 Corinthians 7. Everything changes when you get married:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35).
So, what I take away from these verses is that Paul is not prohibiting marriage but merely cautioning those of us who are contemplating such a union. Know what you’re getting into and consider what new perimeters marriage is going to set for your priorities, your energy and your time. Pure and simple, it’s just harder to focus on God and give him our full attention when we’re married. We have a whole new set of responsibilities (a spouse, and perhaps one day children!) that are going to take up more room on the proverbial plate.
Also, earlier in chapter 7, Paul had this to say:
... It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband (vv. 1-2).
… I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (vv. 7-9).
If you have the gift of celibacy, that is one thing (and Paul is saying that it is a good thing!). And not being distracted by someone else will allow you to devote more of your life to the work of the Lord. But since you have expressed that “temptations are strong” when it comes to your girlfriend, then it’s probably safe to say that you have the desire to be married and are not destined for a celibate lifestyle.
As far as I can tell, it sounds as though you are committed to finishing seminary and that your questioning has more to do with what course your relationship with your girlfriend should take. So at this point, it seems as though you have three options given your current situation:
- Continue your seminary training, get engaged and marry soon.
- Continue your seminary training, keep dating and get married later.
- Continue seminary training and take an indefinite break from your relationship.
Although many may say that 20 is too young to get married, I am of the mindset that each couple’s maturity level is different and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps you are very grounded for your age and both you and your girlfriend know what you want in life. You could be very like-minded and are ready to serve together in ministry and could do this even more effectively as husband and wife. I know many couples who have married “young” and were newlyweds during a spouse’s seminary training. In each case, they knew for certain (after much prayerful consideration) that this was God’s plan for their lives. Yes, they had to learn to balance studying and classes with time spent together as husband and wife. But they, like other married couples who are either in seminary or already in the pastorate or in full-time ministry, learned to make it work.
Another consideration, if you feel that your focus would be too divided and if you do think that you have self-control (when it comes to maintaining purity in your relationship), is to postpone marriage, continue dating and focus on school for the next few years. You would still be able to spend time with your girlfriend and remain in each other’s lives. Perhaps you are indeed too young to get married right now. Are you emotionally mature? Are you prepared to take on a wife and everything that that would require of you as a husband (see all of 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5:22-33)? This is where the wise counsel of your family (including your dad) and other discerning Christian elders or mentors who know you well should come into play. Many times those who are closest to us can see what we cannot see. We need this accountability and those who will speak the truth in love as we contemplate major decisions in our lives. If you come to agreement that waiting to marry is best, these years (spent in seminary and continuing to date) will allow you to focus on your studies, mature even more and get to know one another even better before you enter into marriage and begin your career in Christian ministry.
Your final option (that I can see in your scenario) would be to take some time off from your relationship and to focus solely on your seminary studies. If the temptation to be intimate is too strong, it is better to separate for a while than to continue dating (and that goes for any couple, whether in seminary or not). See 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. I am not suggesting that you could never date again or that your girlfriend is not your future wife (she very well may be!). But your desire to remain pure should be a higher priority than your desire to continue dating your girlfriend. If you cannot refrain from sexual immorality and continue to date her (and you are not ready to marry), then you would need to separate and finish out your remaining years of seminary without being in a relationship. You could then reassess your situation (and your relationship) after graduation.
Clearly, from the tone of your question, your heart is heavy and you want to do the right thing. I commend you for being cautious and thoughtful before making any sort of major change—and also for being respectful of and considering your father’s counsel. As I’m sure you already have, continue to take these matters to the Lord in prayer. One way or the other, he will clear away the indecision, give you peace regarding your situation and you will know what path you are supposed to take (Proverbs 3:5-6).
HE is … Cliff Young, a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.
SHE is … Laura MacCorkle, Crosswalk.com’s Senior Entertainment Editor. She loves God, her family and and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who’s counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.
DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We’re just average folk who understand what it’s like to live the solo life in the 21st century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life’s questions, and it’s where we’ll go for guidance when responding to your questions.
GOT A QUESTION? If you’ve got a question about anything related to living the single life, PLEASE SUBMIT HERE (selected questions will be posted anonymously). While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that He Said-She Said will be an encouragement to you.
**This column first published on February 12, 2009.
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