Practical Courtship: “Houston, we have a problem.” SALT Magazine (June-Nov. 2011) by James McDermott
“Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2) “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” (1 Timothy 5:14)
Paul makes it sound simple, doesn’t he? Since there is so much immorality, have a spouse. Young widows: Marry. Of course, there are a lot of people who would love to oblige Paul and simply have a spouse, but for many the counsel is almost cruel because they have experienced long term failure in this area, they have no idea how to go about having a spouse, and Paul left no instructions on how to get one. We continue to hear story after story of oldest girls – godly girls – from large families who are in their mid to late 20s and deeply want a husband, but for whom marriage seems like the impossible dream. Thomas Umstatt in his courtship blog states that marriage amongst homeschoolers by courtship is a rarity. It is also our experience that courtship/betrothal families are finding it abnormally difficult to see their children – and especially their older daughters – married. Many Christian, homeschooling, quiverfull, courtship (CHQC) women have been waiting eagerly and expectantly year after long year to have a spouse, and all they have to show for their waiting are a quickly mounting number of birthdays and a sick heart that the book of Proverbs says comes from hope deferred.
How can this be? CHQC daughters are far more excited about marriage and children than the population at large. The feminist idea that marriage and children should be delayed or avoided for the sake of career has not taken root here. Indeed, the career most CHQC ladies enthusiastically prepare for is housewife. With young women far less likely to be pursuing college and career, and far more likely to give them up for a husband and children, one would expect that young women in this population would marry relatively young and that extended singleness would be relatively rare, but this isn’t the case.
How can we explain, then, the reasons this enthusiastically pro marriage group is struggling to find spouses? One factor must surely be that the population of suitable spouses for CHQC folks is remarkably small. According to Brian Ray, Ph.D. on National Home Education Research website, homeschoolers represent roughly 3% of the population. Truly quiverfull families represent a small fraction of the homeschool population. A Wikipedia entry on Quiverfull estimates there are several thousand families worldwide with most of them residing in the U.S. Estimates to quantify homeschoolers and Quiverfull individuals are difficult, but if several thousand Quiverfull families means 10,000 an average state would have 200 Quiverfull families. Homeschooling and birth control are issues basic to married life and almost impossible to avoid. People who are determined not to compromise their homeschooling, quiverfull beliefs have severely limited options in whom they can marry.
But the small numbers don’t fully explain the problem. Old Order Amish do not believe in birth control and Wikipedia estimates their population to be 249,000. Still, the Amish (and the conservative Mennonites for that matter) don’t seem to struggle finding spouses the way we CHQC folks do. The explanation, of course, is that the Old Order Amish are united by doctrine, practice, and culture. They live near each other. They support one another when disaster strikes. They have established ways of finding a spouse. They have, in a word, community.
The CHQCs, on the other hand, ARE divided by doctrine and practice. Some are Baptist, some Reformed, and some are something else. Some only accept the King James Bible; others accept other translations. Some have strong convictions about girls wearing dresses only and some about head coverings. Some do not. Some will only live in the country. Some follow strict dietary customs (no white flour, white sugar, store bought milk, store bought meat, etc.) Some don’t care so much. Some have very strict standards regarding television, movies, music, and internet surfing. Some not so much. CHQCs do not live in communities and are often isolated from one another. They likely attend a church in which they are a small, distrusted minority. Some attend very small, unstable house churches. Very few churches have a pool of CHQC singles large enough to supply spouses for a large family. And there is little hope for many CHQCs to find spouses for all their children from the people they know personally.
To make matters worse, there is no established way for CHQCs to find a spouse. Spouse finding is much like the political environment in the book of Judges. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Courtship and betrothal have been accepted as alternatives to the immoral hookup and dating practices of the larger culture, but exactly how courtship and dating should actually happen is a mystery to most who hope to marry in this way. On the bright side, we have been far more effective at protecting the purity of our children than our non CHQC parents were, but we are far less effective at seeing our children married. This is a point Thomas Unstatt also points out in his blog. He says that if the goal of courtship is purity, then courtship is a success. On the other hand, if the goal of courtship is marriage, then courtship has been a disaster.
WORKING IN FAITH
Surprisingly, some who haven’t been able to find spouses also deny the problem. They believe God will provide spouses, so they don’t concern themselves with finding them. To be sure, faith is a commendable trait but our faith is no excuse for inactivity. We have faith that God will provide us food but we don’t sit home and wait for it. Most of us work very hard for the food God promises to provide us, because our work is the means God chooses to provide most of us with our sustenance. Indeed, if we don’t work God’s Word says we don’t deserve to eat. So we work for what we need, but we work in faith instead of fear. Likewise, we know that God has promised to build His church and that only He can cause someone to be born again. Nevertheless, we are called to preach the Gospel to all nations and every creature. We dare not sit idly at home. Why should finding a spouse be different? Did Abraham sit idly by and wait for a wife for Isaac? No, he sent his servant to his family in Aram to find a spouse for Isaac there. Did Naomi sit idly by and wait for a husband for Ruth? No, she sent Ruth to the threshing floor to lay at Boaz’s feet.
When we finally recognize the problem and understand that we should work in faith to solve the problem, we can finally begin finding solutions. One might dream we could form communities with our own traditions to help singles find husbands and wives. The Jews had matchmakers. The Scottish had their country dances. The Acadians had their red chimneys (painted to signify a girl of marriagable age lived in the house). The Amish have their Sunday evening barn singing. Even homogeneous, close-knit, geographically compact communities have recognized that singles need some help finding each other. It doesn’t always just happen on its own.
But the dream of community is only a dream for most. The CHQCs are so divided by doctrine, practice, and geography that community is unrealistic. We’re not like the Amish or Mennonites. We don’t live near each other. We are scattered everywhere and many feel isolated. Granted, there are small pockets of like-minded folks who might be able to band together and experience some of the benefits of community. This would be an answer to prayer for many of us. But it is our experience that most CHQCs are too independent to form cohesive communities. We have strong opinions on so many issues and we are used to standing alone against the culture. The independence and strength of will that allow us to homeschool and forego birth control when it seems nearly the whole world – including the believing world – disagrees with us, can also make us difficult to tame. As a group we have a hard time uniting with those we disagree and we disagree with nearly everyone. And even if we could form cohesive communities that would help CHQC singles find spouses, it probably won’t happen in time for those who are looking for a spouse right now.
That being said, the dream of community will remain and will continue to be pursued because for many the impossible dream is better than the sad reality of being at peace with the majority who despise the blessing of children, who use abortifacient (baby killing) birth control pills in order not to have children, and who risk the souls of the children they do have by sending their little ones to officially atheistic schools where most will, not surprisingly, reject the faith of their parents and leave the church as soon as they leave home. (So much for the benefits of socialization!) Many churches have embraced liberal theology, feminism, and psychology. Meanwhile, repentance, self denial, obedience, and holiness are de-emphasized or ignored. Sexual immorality amongst unbelievers – especially young unbelievers – is rampant, but no one wants to talk about it. And churches seem to mimic the public schools, separating us from our children and subjecting them to the kind of influences we tried to protect our children from when we began homeschooling. So we continue to dream and many are ready to make a CHQC community a reality if only a couple of the right families would take the plunge with them.
But until the day we are part of a CHQC community large enough to provide nearly all our singles with spouses, we need to find ways of finding spouses that can be successful in the present reality. Ideally, our children will find their spouses as they go about their daily lives. They will personally have known their prospective spouses in the context of their lives – family, church, work – for some time. But we need to honestly assess our situation, which means we can’t all hold out for the ideal. If we do, we’re liable to have far too many lonely young adults.
MEET NEW CHQCS
Some of us simply need to try harder to meet new CHQCs for the sake of finding a spouse. If there are no potential spouses amongst the people we know or if the potential spouses we know don’t seem interested, we need to shake things up and know new people. We need to get out of our comfort zone and purpose to meet spouse material and their families. Are we doing all we can do to give ourselves (if we are single) or our single children an opportunity to find and be found?
It’s easy to say, however, that we simply need to know more people. It is often much harder to do and even with concerted effort, success is not assured. Those who have tried and failed know what I mean. It is difficult because, as was mentioned earlier, CHQCs are rare, scattered, and divided by doctrine and practice. And if you identify a family with CHQC beliefs with compatible doctrine and practice, there’s a good chance they don’t yet have anyone ready to marry. CHQC beliefs have been rediscovered in significant numbers only recently and the population is young and growing. Thus, there are far fewer adherents at age 25 than there are at 15. Our older children should expect to find it more difficult to find a spouse than our younger ones.
And there are other hurdles to getting to know currently unknown CHQC families. Some families don’t have a list of acquaintances they can invite and if there is no personal connection invitations may not be extended or accepted. We have had personal experience with this problem. We have invited a number families we didn’t know to our home, and most did not respond. Some families have circumstances that make getting to know new families difficult. Perhaps they live in a remote place or are tied down by livestock. Or maybe their work requires them to work exceptionally long hours or unusual hours. Perhaps they don’t have the money to entertain or travel very often. Because CHQCS tend to have large families that require more time and money to support – especially since the children are also educated at home – CHQCs are often preoccupied with their immediate families. They have precious little time and money to attend to the issue of finding spouses.
While some CHQC families lack the ability to get to know like-minded families with potential spouses for their children, others lack the desire. Many CHQC parents are late in getting the idea that their children of marriageable age need a way to get to know like-minded singles their own age. They grew up in a time and place where parents were not involved in the process of finding spouses for their children, and they bring into their own families a similar mindset. Their children have been disconnected from school and many of their daughters from the work environment – the places where most of us found spouses – and embraced a system of finding spouses that demands more parental involvement. But the parents have been slow to embrace or even to understand the role they have made for themselves. Our marriageable age children are being denied the opportunity to marry because we have focused on the negative – how to avoid impurity and how to avoid finding a worldly spouse – and neglected the positive – how to find a godly spouse. Many of us don’t care about expanding our acquaintance base for the sake of our children and we haven’t provided them with a way of finding a spouse on their own.
In other words, our singles have a great need to get to know each other. We parents should have a sense of urgency about increasing our list of acquaintances for our children’s sakes. But we are often oblivious to our responsibility to provide in this area and oblivious to our children’s need. And even if you are blessed to find a family with CHQC singles of marriageable age, there is only a small chance the singles of marriageable age will want to marry each other. This should not be surprising. Standards for CHQC singles and their families are very high. And the high standards pertain to much more than core CHQC beliefs. Standards for Christian character, intelligence, competency, financial preparedness, charm, and beauty are often high as well. This is commendable, but only to a point. There should be high standards, for the problems with marriage and “relationships” in the world and the worldly church is that standards are abysmally low from a biblical perspective. And due to their low standards, the world and the worldly church are reaping a harvest of tears. But if standards are too high, marriage becomes unattainable for too many people. Hopefully, we all know there is no such thing as a perfect spouse. But hopefully, too, we all know that not all our children will be marrying beautiful/ handsome, confident, super personable, financially successful geniuses who are also spiritual giants.
I fear that for some CHQC families, unrealistically high standards will prevent marriages from taking place. In the end, I do believe standards will inevitably be lowered to a point that will allow most CHQC singles to find spouses, but I fear as CHQC singles approach or pass their 30th birthday some will lower their standards too far to avoid a life of loneliness, which could have been avoided if standards would have been realistic at age 20.
In the end, if CHQC families strain with a sense of urgency to put our children of marriageable age in the company of potential spouses, and if standards for spouses are high but not unrealistically high, it would go a long way toward solving the problem but it wouldn’t solve the problem completely. As was said earlier, even groups who are much less divided idealogically, culturally, and geographically have customs that serve as a catalyst for singles of marriageable age to find each other.
Since CHQCs are so disadvantaged in finding spouses in the course of every day life, the need to develop customs that serve as catalysts are that much greater. We need to have frequent and regular functions for singles and their families because the process of getting to know more people is too slow and inefficient for too many of our singles. In our area we have been to some functions, but they have been poorly attended, there always seem to be far more girls than guys, the guys that come don’t seem to be looking for a wife, and our children gave up hope that anything would come of them. Nevertheless, I recommend CHQC singles and their families enthusiastically establish, attend, and promote functions for the purpose of finding a husband or a wife. If our children are going to be able to get to know their future spouse in person instead of over the internet, most of us who are struggling will need local CHQC functions. We need big singles functions with many, many CHQC singles in attendance. This will take creativity, work, and perhaps a bit of money, but many of us just don’t have the connections, the time, or the money to develop relationships that will result in marriages with people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Which brings us to the issue of finding people over the internet. I know most of us CHQCs are reluctant to go this route – and for good reason. Finding people over the internet is risky. We don’t know if the person on the other computer is sincere. He might be out for fun. He might be a thief or a sexual predator. We don’t know enough about people we meet over the internet to know them well enough to marry. Caution is absolutely necessary. And just because a person writes well doesn’t mean he does anything else well. He may be putting his best foot forward and even his best foot may be a mirage. And who knows what he’s like when he’s not on the computer. I think it is possible for people to meet on the internet which will lead to personal meetings that will result in a marriage. We have known people who successfully found Christian spouses via the internet. It is likely we will see this more and more in the CHQC community if there is no other way to find a spouse. I would never tell my children who have been provided no other way to meet potential spouses to forego marriage for fear of the internet. The internet, because of the risks and the difficulty of building personal relationships long distance, should be the means of last resort. But it certainly is a means I would use and recommend my children use if it appears the means of last resort is the only resort. I know the internet is risky, but can it be more risky than Abraham’s plan to find a wife for Isaac or Naomi’s plan to find a husband for Ruth?
One final issue: It doesn’t matter what we do to get our singles together if no one is willing to take the risk involved in taking the initiative. It is common for our young women to wonder why the young men seem so afraid, so immature, and have so little interest in marrying. Now, if our young men were single because they were devoted body and soul to the Lord, I would be the first to defend them. But what we have seen and continue to see is that too many of our young men are really little boys in adult male bodies. If a young man doesn’t have the guts to risk rejection – if he is afraid to talk to a girl or her parents – why should a young woman risk the rest of her life on him? Our young men who are lonely for female companionship (It is not good for the man to be alone. – Genesis 2:18) or burning with passion (It is better to marry than to burn with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:9) should marry. And I think this would describe most young men. Our young men need to grow up, take the initiative, risk rejection, and find godly wives.
Our godly young women should only have to put themselves in a position to be found. This may be more complicated than it sounds if they rarely if ever run into a godly young man who would be willing to accept a girl who is determined to accept all the blessings (children) God is willing to give. Occasionally, a girl who takes the initiative does well for herself (it worked for Ruth), but it is my experience that much more often than not, a man who needs the girl to take the initiative isn’t worth having.
We CHQCs are a people who figured out how to leave the worldly and destructive ways of our culture, our churches, and even our families. Most of us who have children of marriageable age are first generation CHQCs. We are the ones who left. We are the ones who stood our ground. But some of us didn’t think soon enough about what would become of our children when they were old enough to marry. Nearly all of us found our spouses through dating, which often resulted in a series of immoral premarital relationships. We have rightfully rejected this for our children, but we didn’t consider the need to replace what we tore down with something better. Yes, many of our singles have found spouses, but far too many have not, and the way their lives are structured would leave little hope if it were not for the promises of God to provide us with everything we need. God’s promise to take care of our needs should set our hearts at ease, but that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility we have to work for what we need.
My hope and prayer is that parents will give the issue of their children finding spouses the priority it deserves. “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” The person our child marries is probably the most important decision he will ever make. Too many of us are leaving it all to chance until it is too late. My hope and prayer is that there will be a huge effort to know and be known, to visit and be visited. My hope and prayer is that there will be a huge effort to gather our singles together on a regular basis to smooth their path and make their way easier. My hope and prayer is that the principles of purity will not be compromised as we establish a new way for our children to find spouses. May God grant our children godly spouses, and may they prosper in love and holiness, and continue to multiply the witness of the Gospel generation after generation until He returns.