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Awkward Moments in Premarital Counseling (Part 2)

(Written by Dying to Control contributor, Mike Ballman)

Here’s what happened on the previous episode of Awkward Moments in Premarital Counseling:

I was sitting with a couple in my office, discussing their relationship and their desire to get married. After I explained what I believe it means to be married, I looked at them in silence until I saw the light go on with one of them. At that point I asked, “Do you see what I’m getting at here?”

Then, in season-finale fashion, the episode ended with this surprising exchange:

“Are you saying we are already married?”

“Yes, yes, I am.”

 

In this week’s episode…

Congratulations, You’re Already Married

Did you see what I did there? I simply helped my counselees see that the marriage ceremony, the legal pronouncement of marriage, is not what makes one married in God’s eyes. Rather, it is the three-part act of marrying another – leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh – that constitutes marriage.

The religious and/or legal ceremony is intended to be a public pronouncement of the couple’s desire to seek God’s blessing and guidance as they enter into the act of marriage.  Unfortunately, most couples put the proverbial cart before the horse and fully enter into the act of marrying long before they ask for and seek God’s blessing and guidance.

Since the couple is already engaged in a marital relationship by having left their parents, cleaved to one another, and become one flesh, the traditional premarital mandate – stop having sex until after the wedding ceremony – does not fully address the primary issue at hand.  The primary issue is that the couple in my office is asking me to plan a ceremony to invoke God’s blessing on their marriage when they have already slighted God by fully entering into the act of marriage without his blessing or guidance.  Therefore, it is my job to help them recognize God as the Giver and Sustainer of their marriage rather than as a ceremonial afterthought.

Consequently, much of my “premarital counseling” actually turns out to be marital counseling with a focus on strengthening the marriage that already exists rather than preparing for a future marriage.

Almost invariably at this point in the conversation I see a sense of relief pour over the faces of the couple as if I were a professor canceling a final exam the week of finals.  You see, I think most, if not all, couples know deep down before they ever step into my office that they are already married and that they have left God out of the union — they just need someone to give them permission to acknowledge the trespass and the safety to come clean with God.  As my good friend and co-contributor to Dying to Control, Leon, would say it, “they know they are hiding from God and they need someone to help them come out from hiding and face him.”  After all it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to recognize that if they are already living together, sharing their money and possessions and having sex — the marriage ceremony will be like singing the national anthem after the super bowl.

Now, to the traditionalist Christian still bothered that I would condone sex before the legal ceremony, let me ask you: what if I’m correct? What if marriage isn’t defined by the words, “I do,” but rather, by what has already been done? What if the couple sitting in my office is already married in the eyes of God? What am I supposed to do with this biblical mandate:

4 “The wife’s body does not belong only to her. It also belongs to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong only to him. It also belongs to his wife. You shouldn’t stop giving yourselves to each other except when you both agree to do so. And that should be only to give yourselves time to pray for a while. Then you should come together again. In that way, Satan will not tempt you when you can’t control yourselves.”  I Cor. 7

For those unwed couples I counsel that I think have fully entered into marriage before the ceremony, I’m not going to tell them to separate until the wedding day, and I’m not going to tell them to stop having sex — I am not going to divide what has already been joined together. What I am going to do is explain the essence of marriage and the implications of this passage and leave the decision to them.

 

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