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BEFORE YOU GET Engaged
By David R. Gudgel Brent Gudgel Danielle Fitch
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 David R. Gudgel Brent Gudgel with Danielle Fitch
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWOULD YOU MARRY YOU?
If you ever want to confront someone, I would advise having him sit on the end of a diving board fully clothed, with his legs dangling over the water. Then all you have to do is sit next to him so that you're blocking his access to land. This way he has no escape unless he wants to get wet and look stupid. My mom taught me this. She revealed this clever trick as she coerced me onto the end of a diving board, blocking my escape, and exclaimed, "David, you know I love you, right?"
This is one of the worst phrases you can hear at the beginning of a conversation. I wanted to leave. Little did I know that this conversation on the diving board would change the rest of my life.
I had just begun my freshman year at Fresno City College in the same way I had finished my three years at Hoover High School: I was right back on the road to academic mediocrity. A few months earlier, I had graduated from high school with a 1.99 GPA. I was an underachiever. God had given me a good mind; I just wasn't using it.
My mom knew my potential. That's why she met me late one afternoon at the front door.
"David Ray," she said, "you and I need to go out into the backyard and talk. Right now!"
I preferred my mom calling me Dave rather than David or David Ray. When she called me Dave, I knew whatever she was going to say was no big deal. David could go either way on the good or bad scale. But David Ray always meant the same thing: trouble was coming my way. A David Ray moment was never good.
Mom led me out into the backyard.
"David," she said, "I want you to go over there and sit down on our diving board."
"OK," I said, "but can we make this fast? I have things to do."
"Just be quiet and go over there and sit down."
I went and sat on the diving board. She came and sat down next to me, which forced me farther out over the water.
So there I was, stuck on the diving board with no chance of escape. My mom was quite smart and she knew it as she looked me right in the eyes and uttered that dreaded line, "David, you know I love you, right?"
"Well I can see you've begun your college education the same way you finished high school. I care too much about you to let you do this all over again."
Mom didn't have to clarify the this. I knew what she was talking about. Call this what you want-going through the motions, just getting by, slacking, lack of effort-anyway you look at it, she knew I was still sloughing off at school.
"David, if you don't buckle down and change, you're going to waste your life. Is that what you want to do?"
"Well then, you better do something about it."
I have no idea how many Mom-to-David-Ray conversations I've had over the years, but I do know this: the diving board discussion stuck. It changed me. I look back on it as a defining moment in my life. It was the kick in the posterior I needed to get on track toward realizing my full potential. After that discussion, not only did my attitude toward academics change, but so did other areas of my life.
Shortly after Mom and I talked, I had a long conversation with God about where my life was headed. A year prior, I had made a spiritual commitment to do better with my life in the future than I had in the past. God used Mom on that diving board to put more academic action into that decision. But I was also feeling God leading me to do something about the other areas of my life that also needed a makeover.
Academically, I buckled down and started to get better grades. I actually began to enjoy going to school and trying to do my best. Socially, I made an intentional decision to stop dating girls. Up to that point, I had been on a four-year dating run.
BRENT: Ha-ha. I didn't know this. Did you say you were dating God?
DAD: No, that's ridiculous. You can't date God.
BRENT: That's true, but when I was in college, I went for a time (length to remain undisclosed) without a date and started telling people it was because I was dating God. The funny thing is, as soon as I told people I was "dating my Lord and Savior," I started having all these girls wanting to hang out with me. They said they were also dating God!
Actually, I'm totally kidding. I've never told anyone I was dating God, though I really did take some time off.
DAD: You're so cynical. Where did I go wrong?
BRENT: Sorry. Actually, I know this "time off" can be a good idea. Sorry for joking. It's a serious book and a serious chapter.
For me, if I was going to get my act together, I needed to stop dating for a time and figure out what I wanted out of this area of my life. I also took a close look at my career path. My personal life also had several rough edges in it. I had some unresolved issues that needed to be addressed and made right.
Looking back, my diving-board discussion with Mom and the decisions and changes I made over the next year ultimately made me a better person. I became someone who I not only could like, but others could like too. In fact, after I got on the road to becoming the right person myself, I found Bernice. My relationship with her would probably never have happened had I not gotten my life together the previous year.
As Danielle and I try to figure out this whole engagement and marriage thing, there are hard questions I need to ask about my relationship with Danielle. I need to know if she's ready, but first I guess it makes sense that I should look at myself and ask, "Am I ready to get married?"
It's a huge question. Would I marry myself or want someone to marry me? Am I ready to get married? 'Cause if not, I need to know now and I need to figure out how to get ready. So I'll start by first asking the question, as my dad put it, "Would I marry myself?"
For several years now, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott have taught a course on relationships at Seattle Pacific University. Every time they teach this popular course, they begin the first class with this sentence: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." In their book Relationships, they go on to say, "Most of us tell ourselves, 'If I find the right person, my life will be complete'.... The truth is, the cause of our emptiness is not a case of missing persons in our lives, but a case of incompletion in our soul. In order to build healthy relationships, you must be well on your way to becoming whole or complete."
A dating or engagement relationship, or ultimately a marriage, is only as healthy as the health of the individuals in it. Relational health is vitally connected to individual health. Abigail found that out the hard way.
MARRIED TO A FOOL
The Bible tells us about a woman named Abigail who married Nabal, who was a fool. You have to wonder if she knew fool was what his name meant literally when she married him, or if she found out about his foolishness the hard way. One thing is for sure, Nabal proved just how full of foolishness he was when he told ten of King David's men to take a hike after they had asked him for some food. His insulting response pretty much typified how the Bible describes him. On the one hand, he was incredibly rich, but on the other hand, he was harsh, evil, and worthless. Was he teachable? Hardly. Those who knew him said, "No one can talk to him." Abigail stood out in vivid contrast. She was intelligent, beautiful, and discerning. On one occasion, after her husband had scorned David and his family, she single-handedly was able to prevent David and his army from an avenging slaughter of Nabal and everybody else connected to him. But that couldn't undo Nabal's personhood. Even Abigail said he was worthless. Tragically, Nabal never got it together, relationally or otherwise, before his life was abruptly ended by a heart attack.
Abigail was relationally strong and healthy. Nabal epitomized a lack of health, which inflicted damage on all of his relationships. I'd like to think that each one of us can steer clear of that kind of relational damage if we are willing to pay attention to the personal issues that are keeping us from living in health.
THE PATHWAY TO PERSONAL HEALTH
Neil Clark Warren and Les Parrott have said in their excellent book Love the Life You Live, that personal health and wholeness have three hallmarks:
1. A right relationship with God-your purpose for living and the power to change is grounded in God's unconditional love.
2. A right relationship with others-you sacrificially love others by willingly meeting their needs.
3. A right relationship with yourself-you know who you are and live in congruence with your personality and God-given talents.
Warren and Parrott, along with others who have studied human behavior, weren't the first to suggest that these three relationships are essential signs of health. Years ago, Jesus Himself boiled the essence of personal health down to these same three relationships when he summarized God's relational design this way: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Personal health is vitally connected to our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.
I like to think of my life as having gauges. My first car lacked intelligent gauges. Instead my dashboard had what has been fondly, or not so fondly, called idiot lights. Evidently, car makers had decided that most drivers were too stupid to be able to read oil and coolant gauges, so they installed a light to come on after a problem had already occurred. From my perspective, that's idiocy, because it keeps you from monitoring the gauges and doing something about a possible problem before it becomes critical. For three years I put up with idiot lights in my first car, but when I purchased my second car, I made sure it had at least three critical dashboard gauges-an oil pressure gauge, an engine coolant gauge, and a charging system gauge. After I learned how to read those gauges, I was able to steer clear of what could have been big car problems in the five years I owned that car.
CHECK YOUR GAUGES
When Socrates said, "Know thyself," he was not only quoting one of the "seven sages" of ancient Greece, he was declaring that an unexamined life is not worth living. Several years later, the apostle Paul wrote, "Pay close attention to yourself." One of the ways you can do that is by paying close attention to the three most important gauges in your life. Are they indicating an empty or full tank? Do you need to do something about any or all of these areas of your life? Here are a few things to look for as you consider how full these gauges are in your life.
The Spiritual Gauge
When I meet someone new to me, besides asking them the usual questions like, where do you work? are you in school? where do you live? do you have a family? I like to ask people, do you have any spiritual beliefs? That simple question has opened the door to many significant spiritual conversations. You know what I've found? Most people's spiritual tanks aren't even close to being full. Their spiritual gauges would register just above empty.
I agree with St. Augustine, who prayed, "Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." I believe this life is ultimately not going to make sense until we get connected to God in a personal way. I like the image Paul uses when he prays that his readers would be filled up with "the fullness of God." Jesus had the same thing in mind when He said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." If your spiritual gauge is registering anything less than full in your relationship with God, I'd strongly suggest you talk to a pastor, a friend, or someone who can help you get this part of your life sorted out. It's way too important to ignore. Personally I believe anyone who makes a God connection through Jesus Christ will never be the same. And that's good. God's power released in you will begin to produce qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are the qualities of which a great personal life and strong relationships are made.
In the last six months, two of my guy friends have gotten divorced. They are in their early to midtwenties. Already my friends are getting divorced? I couldn't believe it when I first heard. How could this happen?
When I found out about their divorces, fear quickly crept into my mind. I worried, If they got divorced, does that mean I could? 'Cause they both thought their marriages would last.
But then I started finding out more details, and it became apparent why the divorce happened in both cases. At least, it was apparent to me. I'm not talking about why they ultimately said they were getting divorced, but what I think was at the core of both situations: they were trying to find fulfillment in their relationships. In both cases-whether they were unhappy or a spouse left for someone else-the problem started when someone was looking for fulfillment apart from God.
When a relationship is great and you're in love, of course you find happiness in being with the other person. I've found that with Danielle, and it's wonderful. The problem, though, is when this happiness becomes the driving force of our relationship.
So I ask myself, "Am I with Danielle because I want her to fulfill me?" No. Danielle and I have actually talked about this and we both acknowledge that we can't ultimately fulfill the other, even though we do want to make each other happy. But we know if we're not happy or fulfilled apart, on our own, we won't ultimately be happy together. Maybe for a time, but not a long time (i.e., the rest of our lives).
I think the pursuit of God, individually first and then together as a couple, is the healthy way. So now I have to figure out how to do that.
The Relational Gauge
The relational gauge, maybe more than any other gauge, will reveal how healthy you are. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Everything boils down to the love you have for others. The love referred to here, which is agape love in Greek, goes way beyond sexual love or the love of friendship. This is the love of sacrifice. It shows up in relationships when people don't deserve it.
Once again the goal is to be full of love, but this time toward others. Paul realized how important this love is when he said to his friends at Thessalonica: "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you." When this love is full in a person's life, patience and kindness will prevail. Feelings of jealousy will be done away with. Arrogance and rudeness will be absent. Unselfishness will be prominent. Unrighteous anger won't rear its ugly head. Unmerited forgiveness will be extended. This kind of love won't give in, or give up, or quit giving out.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Actually, if this love was dependent on you or me, its fullness would never be realized in our lives. But as Paul said, you can increase in the fullness of love through God's work in you.
Here's what you want to look for on your relational gauge:
1. Are you a person who loves others more than, or at least as much as, yourself? If not, you have some growing to do before you're ready to be in a serious relationship.
2. Is the direction of your life moving toward the qualities of love described above? Don't get hung up on perfection, but do look for direction. Are you becoming a more loving person? 3. Have you forgiven those who've hurt you in the past? If you haven't, they are continuing to hurt you even now and will affect your present relationships.
Look at your spiritual gauge again. It's been said, "We cannot love until we first experience love." The relational gauge with God and the relational love gauge with others are vitally connected. You can't have one without the other. But when both are increasing, you are going to be well on your way to being a healthy person.
Excerpted from BEFORE YOU GET Engaged by David R. Gudgel Brent Gudgel Danielle Fitch Copyright © 2007 by David R. Gudgel Brent Gudgel with Danielle Fitch . Excerpted by permission.
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