Source for this image here.
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." (1 Corinthians 7: 2 - 5)
Today Papa Bear and I have been nesting. It has definitely been the sort of day for it! On this first day of December, we breakfasted this morning to the sight of snow falling out the window as we ate. It was very Christmassy and pretty! Within minutes of the snow starting everywhere was frosted with white, and the world seemed soft and still as the big feathery flakes drifted silently down from a leaden sky. The snow was quite heavy and settled for a while, though later it turned to rain and most of it has melted away now. But it has stayed very cold all day, and Papa Bear and I have had a lovely day being cosy indoors together. We have a new routine now with the supermarket shop - we do it now on Fridays, as Papa Bear finishes work early and it means he gets and extra morning at home with me, when we can all take our time and enjoy being a family in a way that we can't so much on the weekdays since the Cubs have been at college. Soon they will finish for Christmas which will be nice! But we like the new pattern of our weekends. This morning Papa Bear helped me to get all the Christmas decorations out of the cupboard. We have lots! Since our very first Christmas together we have been buying a few decorations each year - and after so many years of marriage, that means a lot of baubles and tinsel! In fact we have two Christmas trees - a big one for our living room, and a smaller one that goes in the kitchen. But that's just the trees ... I hope to be able to get some pictures of our Christmas decorations for you once we have trimmed up - we do this together as a family, and plan to do it during the week. I hope it snows while we are doing it!
Our wider culture tells us that it is better to wait to marry until we are older, because that way we will be more mature, and able to conduct a relationship more responsibly, than if we marry as teenagers. But since the UK divorce rate in recent years has been quoted by some sources as being as high as 48% (source), this clearly isn't the case if the first statistic is to be believed. In fact it is widely stated that as many as 50% of couples regret getting married by the end of their first year together!
The view that teenagers won't be responsible enough to enter into a marriage union is linked with the whole cultural concept of childhood, which through the centuries has become more and more extended. Childhood is generally considered to be the time of a human's life between infancy and adulthood - but what exactly is and adult? Some people are physically and emotionally mature by 12 or 13 - and others, many in the society that we live in now, aren't mature emotionally even by the time they reach their twenties. But is this a biological phenomenon, or a social construction, based on the modern concepts of what childhood should mean? The generally held view that childhood should be an idyllic time of innocence and freedom from responsibility seems to have been distorted by modern culture to extend into early adulthood, so that generations of young people have been allowed to have the freedom and priveliges that adults are allowed, without any of the responsibilties. This I am sure is one main reason why so many marriages fail - even though the people entering into them are much older than teenagers. They have been conditioned to believe that being young means being irresponsible - and that sense of entitlement also means that they are also ill equipped to be able to communicate effectively with their spouse, or to understand what their role within the marriage really entails.
In the culture that Papa Bear and I were born into, which is much more traditional than the wider culture around us, it is common for children to be given responsibilities from an early age. From about 4 or 5 we will start to be prepared for our roles as adults - for boys, that means being trained into the profession he will work in as a man, and for girls, learning the art of homemaking and caring for their children. This means that by the time we reach 13 or so, we are ready to take on the responsibilites of adulthood. Boys usually begin working at about 14, though of course not full time. Girls are usually taken out of school if they have been attending, by this age if not earlier, although my sisters and I attended school until 16 - I was a married woman when I sat my final school exams! Mostly, the couple will know each other before they are betrothed. In our case we'd known each other since birth! It was lovely knowing who my husband would be, right from my earliest memories - a very secure and peaceful feeling. I was so happy to leave school to take up my role as Papa Bear's wife. It was what I had been prepared for from childhood - and what I ardently desired - and I was overjoyed to be able to take on my responsibilities at last. It was everything I'd dreamed of and more - Papa Bear was all I could ever have wanted in a husband - and he still is today!
I am sure that this early preparation for marriage is one main factor which has contributed to the stability and endurance of our marriage, despite us marrying so young, alongside of course, the role models and encouragement from those around us - most of our siblings, and our parents and grandparents, were married young like we were, and were very supportive in helping us as young newlyweds. Nowadays, it's more usual for young people in our culture to wait until their early twenties, because they will be financially more secure. It's harder for people to find work than it was in the 1990's, and supporting a family on a single income, as they are expected to do, is a challenge for many young men now. However, we do firmly believe that it was right for us to marry so young. We have grown up together - sharing everything, and our experiences have helped to bond us ever more closely. We share the same values, the same aspirations, the same memories. If we'd waited until 30, our lives would surely be very different.
It's no real surprise that so many marriages end in divorce - the concept that we can carry on independently on our own for many years of adulthood, and then all of a sudden decide that we want to become part of a bonded union of 2 people, is destined to fail. How can a woman who has grown up pleasing herself, pursuing her own goals, considering only her own needs, suddenly adjust her thinking to embrace the life of another person - and potentially, those of her children? The Bible doesn't specifically state the age of marriage, but it's certain that it would have been a lot younger than 30, since people's life expectancy in general in Bible times would have been far less than it is today. But it does tell us that marriage is desirable, and that we should stay together, for this is God's plan (Matthew 19: 2 - 9). The focus is on developing the maturity to sustain the marriage relationship - and if a couple are able to do this at 16, then it is perfectly justifiable for them to marry this young. If they are ready to take on the responsibility, then the union should be celebrated, not frowned upon.
Of course I cannot leave this topic without touching on the issue of teenage pregnancy. In the year 2000, shockingly, more than 7000 under sixteen year olds became pregnant in England (source). It's ironic, isn't it, that the very agencies that condemn marriage at 16, seem to have no problem with these same teenagers entering into physical relationships that they are neither emotionally nor morally ready for (note that the article I link to above focuses on educating children about contraception, not on encouraging abstinence and remaining chaste). Even more tragic than the fact that the vast majority of teenage girls who become pregnant aren't married is the statistic that nearly a quarter of all abortions performed in the UK are on girls under 20 (source). In a secular culture where materialism motivates much of what people do, it's easy to see how this can happen. People expect to be able to have what they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences - even when other lives are at stake. Girls are encouraged to think they can have it all, that they don't need to worry about their own wellbeing because it's always someone else's responsibility. The "have it now" culture of instant gratification that we live in encourages people to be careless and irresponsible, because the focus is on now, not the future. But if we want a secure future, settled, with children - just like the one I dreamed of and am blessed to enjoy today - and which I am sure is still the dream of many young girls - then we must plan for the future. We need to understand what we will need to do to achieve it - and as mothers, it is our reponsibility to be preparing our daughters for this. It's no good thinking we can leave it until they are grown up. If we have that attitude, then they never will grow up, because while we are waiting for it to happen, we are doing it all for them, and never letting them learn the consequences of their behaviour. We need to mould them to be able to take on the mantle of marriage and motherhood with the full understanding of what this means. We can't leave it until it is too late - until they are another statistic.
The problem isn't teenage marriage or even teenage motherhood. It's about making sure our children really understand what their calling is. It isn't about living a life of idyll and irresponsibility, a perpetual childhood like the mythical tale of Peter Pan. It's about modelling good values - about educating them for their future - a future that isn't just qualifications on paper, but qualifications for life. I'm glad I got mine early - it's meant that I've already been able to enjoy many more beautiful years of marriage than many of my peers - and I can certainly recommend it - my life is far happier than any I could ever envisage, as a single woman with a trail of tragic mistakes in my past. Let's not leave it until it's too late to educate our children about their roles as spouses and parents. These are the most important jobs they'll ever do and we owe it to them - and to our Father God - to ensure we teach them well and thoroughly.