Sunday, May 24, 2009

Get married: not really an order but an exhortation

It seems to take me forever to read non-fiction these days. Mostly it's because I read in the evenings before switching out my light, and sometimes all I can manage is light fiction. But I do slowly attack the meatier books and always find myself thankful that I've attempted it. There's so much good stuff to learn.

When Get Married, by Candice Watters, first started popping up around the internet and Christian book circles about last year, I was scornful.

The title alone seemed to take all of God's sovereignty out of the concept of meeting someone and instead place the responsibility firmly on the woman alone. That idea scared me. I didn't want to be told that the reason I am single now is because I haven't done enough. The not pretty enough, not smart enough, not outgoing enough, not skinny enough voices are rampant (enough) already.

Also, I'd had enough of women taking the initiative with regards to relationships. The church doesn't need any more of loud feminist agendas, and this new book's bold subtitle, What women can do to help it happen, seemed like the description of a power manual for relationship-savvy girls who want results and want them now.

But the new book became not so new and I found myself in a more comfortable place to finally give the controversial (at least, to me) book a go. It proved to be a case of judging a book not by its cover but by my own preconceptions, and I was delightfully surprised.

What I found in Get Married was a refreshingly unfeministic attitude stemming from a firm grasp of Scripture's complementarian picture of men's and women's roles. Instead of being a how-to manual for scoring the hottest, smartest, wealthiest (oh, and don't forget most godly) guy, Get Married proved to be an encouraging look at Christian marriage and how the postmodern generation has fallen from traditional marriage concepts to embrace independence and freedom -- in spite of the fact that no one seems to be enjoying the results.

Candice Watters' advice is back-to-the-basics, Scriptural stuff. No step-by-step "how to flirt" (I've actually seen this in Christian bookstores) or "interpreting his signals", but simple, healthy discussions on femininity, masculinity, purity, faithfulness, and community. However, those who are looking for help finding a mate won't be disappointed. Watters talks of the value of being part of a Christian community, of placing yourself under the guidance of godly mentors, of evaluating the essential qualities of a marriage partner, of living intentionally with the future goal of marriage in mind, and of defining your relationships to avoid wasted time and foolishly thrown-away pieces of your heart.

Some suggestions offered -- particularly in the chapters 'Living like you're planning to marry' and 'Pray boldly' -- may be taken to extreme and tempt the reader with the idea that she's only single because she hasn't done enough yet to earn or win marriage. This throws away God's grace and suggests He will never give good gifts until we are righteous enough to deserve them. Thankfully, we don't serve that kind of a god. We serve a lavishly-loving, fatherly God who showers us with blessings when we deserve curses, and who pours out good things again and again. A thoughtful reading of this book, along with a balanced idea of God's sovereignty and grace, should avoid that confusion however.

I learnt lots of things from Get Married. I was encouraged in my conviction not to have intimate guy buddies just for the sake of buddydom, and I was convicted of my tendency -- which arose quite possibly in defence of my own singleness -- to think of marriage as inferior to singleness instead of esteeming it as the rich covenant picture the Lord ordained for most of humankind to enjoy.

Get Married: what women can do to help it happen
Candice Watters
Moody Publishers, 2008
Rating: 8/10