How would you describe the man you want to marry? What would he be like as a husband, father, and provider?
If you've had numerous godly male role models in your life -- your father, pastor, boss, family friend, uncle, small group leader -- you may already have a mental picture based on the qualities you appreciate in these men. You may see some of the husbands and fathers in your church and think to yourself that you'd like to marry a man just like them. Those are great aspirations to have!
But first you may need to talk to their wives.
Seeing With Eyes of Faith
Why? Because these women didn't marry the husbands they have today. Typically, they married less seasoned men. Thanks to the Holy Spirit's refinements over time, as well as the feminine counsel, influence, and encouragement of these wives, their husbands are different some 20-plus years down the line.
Now take a look at the young men you know. Can you see them with eyes of faith? Like trees in springtime with an impressionistic haze of buds, the potential for growth is strongly evident but it's not yet fully realized.
So here's what I want to impart to you: There is a learning curve to a man's leadership as a husband and father. The qualities you can see in a 50-year-old man's life were developed over 50 years. There are 25 more years of growth ahead for the 25-year-old man before it's fair to compare them. While you are called to be discerning about the characters of the men you befriend or court/date, you also have a part in encouraging these men to grow. In fact, that's part of your learning curve as you prepare for being a wife.
God has given women a position of influence, encouragement, and counsel. This happens in varying degrees in all of our relationships. Entire books have been written on this subject, but I will defer to the concise description of a godly woman's example and influence found in 1 Peter 3:1-5 (NIV, emphasis mine):
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.
The Lord has given women the opportunity to be holy influencers. Unfortunately, many of us try to influence change through the barrage of our words (read: nagging, whining, manipulating) rather than through the purity and reverence in our attitudes that is built upon a gentle trust in God's ability to change people. Entire books have been written on this subject, but I will leave you with the testimony of a friend of mine.
Jared is in his late 20s and has been in a courtship for a few months. He is intentionally pursuing this relationship with marriage in mind, but he is not yet sure if this is definitely what God has for them. No matter the outcome of this particular relationship, Jared has already noticed the positive influence his girlfriend has upon him.
"When I'm with Bethany, I realize she spurs me on toward Christlikeness," he said. "She is quick to confess sin, doesn't hold a grudge, and engages me in true fellowship — not just entertaining conversations. I don't mind being entertained, but what sticks with me is what she brings up when she talks about God."
Jared has been preparing for marriage over the last few years. He has grown in his career and his ability to provide for a family, he has pursued accountability, he has taken on leadership roles in his church, and he has initiated other courtships. Bethany's example, however, has also inspired another important revelation about their relationship.
Jared has noticed that whenever he begins to feel uncertain about the direction of their relationship, it is directly correlated to the status of his relationship with God. Whenever he has begun to be perfunctory or slipshod about his personal devotions, he also becomes uncertain about the courtship. His relationship with God profoundly affects his relationship with Bethany. But God uses Bethany's example and faith to inspire him to keep going. It is an exchange of grace.
At this writing, neither knows what God has for them in their future. Whether or not they marry, the Lord has used this relationship to spur a brother and a sister toward godliness. By the grace of God, they are each building on the learning curves of servant-leadership and (to coin a phrase) "encourager-followership." It is a solid trajectory for a fruitful future — one that requires of eyes of faith and trust toward God to see.