Don’t freak out, but there’s a bear on your right,” my friend whispered in my ear.
Mm-hmm, sure, I thought. For the past hour, she’d been trying to scare me with fake bear warnings as we hiked through Glacier National Park. Still, I turned good-naturedly to look up the hill. To my horror, I linked eyes with a giant black bear.
I froze. Suddenly our all-girls hike didn’t seem like such a bright idea. We were three city girls. While we loved the outdoors, wilderness knowledge wasn’t exactly second hand, if you know what I mean. Wild animals in my neighborhood consisted of rabbits, skunks, and the occasional possum (not to be confused with the neighbor’s cat). Now, here we were in the middle of a forest, face to face with a huge bear.
“Stay calm,” my friend repeated. “Don’t freak out. We don’t want to scare it.”
“Okay,” I responded nervously. “I’ll get the bear spray.”
My hands shook as I clumsily extracted the bear spray from my backpack. What thing do I push? How close does the bear have to get? Do I use the whole can? How do I make sure the bear is downwind so I don’t get this in my face?
I had briefly read through the manual, never believing we would actually encounter a bear. I hadn’t mentally rehearsed its use or even taken the can out and examined it. I just figured that, if the need arose, I would wing it and it would all work out. Brilliant, huh?
Isn’t that how we are with a lot of things? Especially in the area of relationships, we believe knowing about something will get us through it. But does it?
I’ve had many friends who “knew” that sacrifice was necessary in a relationship. They’d read books on it, heard it preached, and listened to married couples talk about it. And they left it at that, figuring they could work on it when they got there. Why waste their time beforehand?
Looking back, many of them now wish they had applied their head knowledge before meeting The One. They realize they should have worked on their characters during their single years. It would have made their transition into a relationship and marriage so much easier.
What are we waiting for?
The more I watch those around me, the more I realize that we should never wait to develop our character. As singles, we get caught up in improving our looks, improving our finances, and improving at our hobbies. Meanwhile, our character gets pushed aside.
We know what the Bible says about the foundations of a good marriage. We’ve listened to sermons and read a few books, so we’re good. Right?
As in my encounter with the bear, knowledge is worthless without application. I needed general knowledge, sure. But I also needed to walk through the process of using the bear spray so that when the time came, I would be ready, not fumbling around and putting our lives in danger.
Similarly, we need more than just the knowledge of what character qualities are necessary for a godly marriage. We need to put them into practice now. In Ephesians 5, God lays out His design for marriage:
Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22).
Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
The wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33).
Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:33).”
Are you practicing selflessness and love? How about respect and submission? Are they a part of your character?
Here are some questions we should ask ourselves:
Guys: Selflessness—Do I put myself first? Do I take care of my own needs before I think of someone else’s needs? Do I prioritize people over my hobbies? Am I following the cultural idea that life is all about me? Is that healthy? Can I die to myself? Can I sacrifice my pride and lead in apology? Am I willing to protect others emotionally and physically, even at a cost to myself?
Girls: Submit—Do I submit to those God has placed in authority over me (parents, pastors, boss, etc.)? Do I have a hard time with submission? Will it get easier or more difficult with marriage? If I struggle with submission, how can I improve in it? Am I allowing the world’s negative mindset regarding submission to influence my view of it? Is that healthy?
Guys: Love—What is love? Do I always act in love, or just when I feel like it? How will that affect a marriage? Can I treat my future wife lovingly, even when she isn’t behaving lovingly towards me? Will I love her more than myself? In what practical ways can I love those around me right now? Can I love another person enough to sacrifice for them?
Girls: Respect—What do I think when TV characters belittle men and make them look like weak idiots? Do I think it’s funny or sad? Do I find myself following Hollywood’s example and disrespecting the men in my life? How will this affect how I treat my future husband?
Wrapping it up
Okay, so back to the bear story. As you probably brilliantly deduced, we survived. And I was very fortunate because I didn’t have to use the bear spray. We just backed slowly away and, thankfully, the bear didn’t follow. But would I risk it again? No way! Next time I will definitely take the time to practice!
Will you join me in actively trying to improve your character? Don’t delay! Get out your Bible, know what it says about Christian character, and apply it with the Holy Spirit’s help. Your character growth will bless those around you, and will one day bless your future spouse as well. What’s more, you’ll bring glory to your Savior as you grow into His image. And isn’t that our ultimate goal as His children?