How do I know who to marry? + Making Decisions Together

Jennie Allen
May 25, 2021

Jennie Allen

Bible teacher, founder of IF:Gathering
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Today we are going to talk about marriage, and if you are not married yet, we're actually going to talk first about who to decide to marry. It's a huge decision, probably the biggest decision you will ever make outside of following Jesus. We're going to talk about that, but we're also going to talk about how we make decisions together in marriage. So hang on tight, it's going to be awesome. Let's go.


WHO SHOULD I MARRY?

Okay, my husband is smiling really big right now because this was his big idea to start this podcast today since it's our anniversary. He had the idea to talk about how we met and fell in love. We were children. We were children. We met at summer camp, and we started throwing the football together. 

You actually can throw the football quite well.

I know.

That was really impressive, and you knew you could. That was your way of flirting.

I mean, it's a skill. I don't know what to say. I mean, girls, just learn to throw a football because then you have something to do with the boy. He was a quarterback too. For him to say that, it's a big deal. I was the powder puff quarterback in my high school. Yes, I was. So I do have skills. It's true.

So we were throwing the football, talking, catching up, and we should've been taking care of kids at camp. Instead, we were flirting with each other.

You should've been. 

Oh yeah, you were on maintenance crew or something. We both probably had something we should've been doing, and we were flirting and talking. We go on a date from there, and we really fell head over heels. Now we were long distance, which we don't recommend, but you can't always help it. We made it work. I mean, we were long distance for a few years, but I think because of that, we wanted to go ahead and get married. We were crazy in love.

Now, I'm going to say something here. I love saying controversial things because it's all I hear from you guys. Only when I say something controversial do you reach out. So I like to drop it in every once in a while. So here's one you're going to go crazy on. There is a verse in the Bible that says, "Do not burn with passion." Like get married. What is the verse, Zac. Help me out. He's going to look it up.

Well, we were those people in college. Now, we did not have sex before we got married, and if you're a believer and that is your commitment, which it should be as a believer, then people sometimes are going to get married younger than you think they should. I'm just going to say I do not think it was wrong for us. Now, we grew up together, and I think both of our parents who are godly supported the decision too because of that. We got married in college. Zac had two years left. I had one year left. We were just madly in love, and there wasn't a real reason not to get married. Finances was a factor, but we did that on our own. Other than my grandmother who helped me finish paying for college, we did not get help from my parents. Except for the times they would always stick $20 bills in our hands as we would walk off. My mom would send me my shampoo that I love. That kind of thing.

So you're saying it was not because you were burning with passion that that's why you needed to marry me in college? 

I'm saying it was. It was.

Oh, it was. 

Yes.

Okay, that's the only reason. Well, there's a verse to that. 1 Corinthians 7:9, this is what you memorized probably. 

Obviously not well enough. 

"But if they cannot exercise self control, they should marry."

Sounds worse.

"For it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

Okay, well that was totally us. We were totally burning with passion. We were long distance. We were running up $500 phone bills a month. Our expenses were less married than it was far apart, but we both love Jesus. So what I want you to hear is before we got married, and I posted this on Instagram one time and it went crazy because I think this is something that we don't talk enough about today. Before we got married, I was not sure. I think you were sure. You were sure you wanted to marry me. I still had some doubts.

I'm simple minded. You're complicated.

It's the truth. I was having doubts, and he was about to propose. I knew it, and I was terrified. I know some of you are listening thinking, "It's because you were only 20 years old." That might be true, but it also was a huge decision. I was thinking, how do I really know that I can say yes to this person for the rest of my life? I don't think more years and getting older always answers that. I certainly wouldn't encourage you to get married young, but if God leads you to that and you have your spouse and you know this is the right person, I don't think it's wrong to get married young. I don't. If our kids came to us and said the same thing, we would have a lot of questions for them. We would want to make sure they were ready, but the age is not the issue. The issue is - is this the right person? I wasn't sure. 

So what I did was I actually made a list, not a pros and cons list, but more of a biblical list of what does it say I should be looking for? What is a spouse? I really just looked at what is a good godly, Christian man do? Who is he? What does he live for? I did. I made a physical list. Everybody's going to want to see the list, but I don't have the list anymore, team. I'm sorry. Maybe in some journal. I should look back.

It just had checks all under my name. Right? Every category.

Totally did, baby. That's the thing. So character-wise, this man, it was sure to me. I didn't hear a voice from the sky saying to marry Zac Allen, but he was a faithful, good man. I remember a mentor that I respected said to me, "That man is like a 35 year old in a 20 year old body." It was true because he just was a faithful, good man, even at 20. 

I do think looking at the qualities of what you're looking for and what you won't settle for is important. On that biblical list, it was not attraction. Now we were burning with passion. That was not an issue.

Is that why you were doubting? Why did you doubt if I checked all the boxes?

Because it was forever, I definitely had fear about that.

That's fair.

At some point, I made a commitment. I said, "This is who I'm going to marry, and I'm not going to go back anymore." I really prayed about it, and I really sought counsel. Everyone that knew him had a peace that he was going to be a faithful, good man. My community supported it. My parents supported it even though we were young. There was not a red or yellow flag anywhere. The only question I had was just commitment. Can I really say yes to somebody for the rest of my life? It felt so long. 

I would say that is something that marks the generation right now. They're afraid to make that commitment. They think there might be something better around the corner. They think maybe this is it, but since I don't 100% know, I'm going to keep looking. Guys, that is not the way the Bible works. That is not the way Christianity works. If this person checks all the boxes spiritually, faithfully, they have good character, and their community says this is a person that is following God, those are the boxes you absolutely need.

The other boxes are not wrong that you feel attracted or that you don't. It's that this is secondary to the issues of godliness and commitment to their community, to living a life that is in pursuit of God.

What would you add to what you should say yes to in marriage? 

Well, I'm just thinking more towards the yellow and red flags. What are those things to heed? I think about so many of your girls at IF:Gathering that have started dating a man. There comes a point where each of them say, "Okay. It's time for us to come sit on your coaches across from you." There's just an expectation within IF:Gathering and our community of people that when a relationship gets to that point, it's usually the guy that we're vetting. He gets to be asked some tough questions. That's our goal. If we can help expose areas of weakness or potentially areas of insecurity or sin that need to be addressed, that is the win. 

When we're talking about red flags, we're talking about yellow flags. If you are a couple right now dating, you need a group of wise people in your life to see your relationship that you're interacting with and that have the ability to have insight and speak into it. You need to be seeking their counsel. If you are not, you are setting yourself up for a life of loneliness, a marriage of isolation, and as soon as the honeymoon and the attraction starts fading, you will find yourself incredibly lonely. You will start discovering things about your spouse, or you will choose not to continue overlooking those things that you saw prior to marriage. You will be screaming for help from somebody.

I just want to encourage you on the front side of engagement.

Even engagement, yes.

Front side of engagement, pre-engagement, seeking that counsel. So many of you are part of churches that offer pre-engagement counseling or you just know a wise couple that's 10, 20, 30 years ahead of you that you just say, "Hey, we're at a place in our relationship where we see this has potential to go somewhere, to even go towards marriage. We want to do everything we can on the front side to be able to learn about each other and to heed wisdom before taking those forever steps."

Decision Making In Our Marriage

We're also going to talk today about decision making in our marriage, and I want to talk about a few different topics that I think people are curious about. The first topic is that we are teammates, and yes I ultimately find my home under the headship of my husband. That means that he really calls the shots when it comes to decisions we don't agree on. I wouldn't say that happens 100% of the time. There are times you're like, "You know what, I don't know enough about that and I don't really care. So I'm going to let you make that decision." But on most things that are big and that really affect us, you filled that responsibility would you say? 

Yeah. This is a biblical responsibility that I've been given as leader of the home to ensure that my family's cared for, that my wife is nourished and cherished, that we collectively as a family, as a marriage, and that we as a family maximize our impact on life. That's a weight that I bear, and it's a responsibility given to me by God. It's not something that I feel alone in. 

Well, it's not something you lured over me. 

Well, you don't feel that, right?

I don't.

Yeah. 

I think it's important that people hear that because I think if they ever hear about a man leading a wife or whatever, that kind of language that you just said. I think it scares people to death, especially women that have been abused or in situations where that has been a patriarchal thing where it's heavy handed. I mean, just listen to the language my husband just used and it's from Ephesians. He says that he's leading our family so that I feel nourished and cherished, which is exactly how I feel. So those of you that feel like this isn't used for my good, this is used as a control technique or anything like that. We would say, "Hey, y'all got to get in counseling or get some wise people around you," because that isn't healthy. That's not the way God meant for this to go.

If you want to hear more about how we actually make decisions together, you can go back to the blog on decisions because we talked a little bit more in depth about this. Ultimately, I want to bring up the word submission again because it is such a scary word to people. I always say it's my favorite word because of how godly my husband is and how he serves and loves us. It has never felt like he is a dictator. He is a servant, and that's what the scripture says. I've watched those verses lived out, and I'm telling you it is God's way. It is such a peaceful, life giving way to live. 

At this point of marriage when we disagree, we laugh because there's so much trust and there's so much rapport and respect for each other that we literally can just laugh at a moment where we disagree. He's like, "Sorry, baby. This is what we're doing." I laugh too because I've learned there is confidence when I submit to him because he is responsible. He is a good man, and he is going to stand before God one day. I love that because if it is the wrong decision, then I get to go, "Hey, he made it." I get to rest in that submission rather than fear of being controlled, but that's not who my husband is. 

Now, there have been times and years of our lives that was more where you went. It wasn't as healthy and you led more out of your insecurity.

Yeah, yeah. In the early years of our marriage, we didn't have that level of trust because we had not made a lot of decisions together. All of a sudden, we were 21 year old kids with major life decisions in front of us. We were doing everything for the first time. It wasn't like we had any experience. When everything's new like that and there's not been a period of 10 years of trust built up, those are harder things. We're two sinners redeemed by God, but we're still sinners married to each other.

One of the first podcast you and I ever did together is called How To Be A Dream Releasing Spouse, and I would encourage all of you to go listen to that. It sets a picture of how we relate and what it looks like for him to lead me and to unleash my gifts in the world. I think a lot of men love that episode because a lot of husbands aren't trying to be mean. I think they just don't have models to follow after, and they don't know what it looks like to love their wives in this way. They think it's controlling them, and they think that's strong leadership. It's just a recipe for complete disaster, which if you look back at Genesis, was part of the curse. It says that the woman's desire would be for her husband, and that he would lord over her. This is part of the curse that we feel these tensions together in marriage.

The ultimate plan of redemption and what Jesus did to break the curse gives us the freedom to actually coexist in ways that are God honoring and life giving. In Ephesians 5:22, it says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, His body and is himself its Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her." That's what leadership is, guys.

"Christ gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to himself and splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body."

Guys, this is a picture that we don't understand. I think every spouse looks at one part of that verse. They look at the part saying, "You don't submit to me. You don't respect me," or the other side, "You don't cherish me. You don't nourish me. You don't love me. You don't take care of me." Because we look at what the other person isn't doing, we never rest into the great picture that God designed in marriage.

We are 24 years in, and that has happened for us. It is God's best, and we have rested into it is the language I would use. We can laugh at our differences. We can laugh when we disagree because we have found there to be great favor and delight in honoring each other, honoring God, and trusting that He has our best interests when we live out this way according to Him. It's not easy. For some of you, this might feel completely impossible because you are in a very difficult and abusive situation. 

Let me say this, we are not approving of abuse. That is not what either of us are saying. In that type of situation, even if it's really hard or just difficult, get counseling. In the case of abuse, you might need to separate for a little while. You definitely need the help of your church and the wisdom of counselors. Please hear me clearly, we are talking about the idea the scripture is painting, not using those verses to club each other over the head and to sit in very toxic, unhealthy situations. Get help. We believe in that. That has helped us. 

In fact, I would say we were about a three out of 10 on this at the beginning of our marriage. Counseling changed everything, which we've told that story as well in the past. 

Okay. A couple of last things before we close out this season, Zac. I know everybody is sad for you to go because they love listening to you.

Wait, I don't get to come back?

You can come back anytime. He doesn't love doing this, but he's so good at it.

Alright. So let's talk about two things. I want to talk about the fact that there are so many choices, and it feels like there are so many little and big decisions to make every day. Talk about how you've seen people navigate when there's too many choices. What do you tell them to do to simplify?

Yeah. There is a paralysis of analysis in the Western world where we have been given so much. We are being marketed to all of the time. We have more disposable income than any other country in the world, any other country at any point in the history of the world. We are being bombarded. We are the target. The consumer is the target of all media and all ads. We have to limit our inputs because our inputs shape our thoughts. The first thing I want to mention would be limiting your inputs if there's paralysis of analysis. When we're talking about making decisions and how to narrow decisions, we're going to say bring wise counsel and bring other people into this decision making process. 

The people around you see you more clearly than you see yourself. They become a mirror to you to see yourself more accurately. Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage called your spouse "God's sin mirror to show you your sin." It's a really accurate picture that we can't hide from our spouse. Our spouse shows us oftentimes our true self. When we're talking about making decisions, we want those people that know us well around us to help us make those decisions. This is important especially when we know that these decisions have significant consequence.

I think decision fatigue has become a little bit of a catchphrase during the pandemic because so many of our normal processes of making decisions were either put on the shelf or eliminated all together. We didn't have the freedom to make decisions. I think what was interesting is that we can't see the idols of our heart until those things that we idolize are actually removed. When there's that gaping hole and they're missing, we recognize, "Oh, that was an idol of my heart." During the pandemic when we lost our freedom, we lost our freedom to move around. We lost our freedom to go into work, and we lost whatever gets us a pat on the back. When those freedoms were lost, I think a lot of us recognized where we were finding our significance. That there was a gaping hole, which when that happens is an incredible provision, an opportunity for growth because we get to see our sin in a fresh way.

So I know many of you still are coming out of PTSD of decision fatigue, and that's where you have to go back to Lamentations 3 of the mercies of God being new every morning. He is the well spring of life. He will give you your portion, your daily manna, but you have to seek Him. Many of us are running on an empty tank, and it's not more sleep and it's not a vacation to the Caribbean. It is finding your rest in God and letting Him fill your tank each and every morning that you wake up. That is the remedy to decision fatigue.

Jennie Allen

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