Sharon was a God-loving, go-getting, hard-driving, ambitious woman with grand dreams of conquering the world. She had all her plans carefully laid out. She would own her own business by 35, hit her first million by 37, exponentially grow her business and by 40 she would branch out into real estate acquisition. Her ultimate goal was to make millions, not for herself, but to provide a better life for orphaned children in her community. She had felt the pain of being parent-less and passed from relative to relative with no real stability growing up. She knew what it felt like to go to bed hungry and cold. No child should ever have to go through what she went through growing up. She was determined to do everything in her power to rescue, nurture and care for as many orphans as she could.
Mark was a stable, godly, focused man with the ministry on his mind. For as long as he could remember, he had always felt a divine call to be a missionary. Reaching unreached people-groups was his consuming passion. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that he wanted to spend his life preaching, teaching and pastoring in an island community where no Christian church existed. He was committed to living among these forgotten people and reflecting the light and love of Jesus to them.
Then Mark met Sharon. They fell in love, had a whirlwind courtship, got married…and reality struck. You can already tell where their story is heading. Wondering what became of Mark and Sharon? We will never find out because they are entirely fictional but their story illustrates a point which I have observed graphically playing out in some marriages. It is entirely possible to fall in love with someone who shares your Christian values but whose life values are wildly different from yours.
Your values manifest in two different ways; what is right and what is wrong in your view, and what matters to you most. The dictionary supports this distinction in our understanding of values. Values could refer to the principles or standards of behaviour which you subscribe to, including your commitment to live by Biblical standards, but on the other hand values could equally refer to your judgement of what is important in life.
Sometimes Christian singles are encouraged to pursue a relationship with someone because they are both Christians and want to please God with their lives, ignoring the fact that pleasing God means different things to different people. Your desire to please God will play out differently in your life compared to the person who sits next to you in Church on Sunday, based on your values. Your assignment is to find someone whose life values align closely to yours so that you can both stay true to your values in marriage.
To some people, pleasing God simply means living a quiet life raising their families in a godly manner. Others want to go out in the marketplace, business, politics or academia and make a big difference as leaders. Yet others want to dedicate their lives fully to God’s work in some form of ministry, caring spiritually for a lost and dying world. None of these approaches is more noble than the next; they’re just different. What is right for one person may not be right for the other. It’s all a question of what matters to you and how God wired you internally.
Amos 3:3 makes a succinct statement in this regard. “Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren’t going to the same place?” In other words, before you hitch your wagon to someone else’s vehicle, ask yourself “Are we heading in the same direction?” If someone is heading for Australia and the other person is heading for Austria, the destinations sound similar but the direction of travel for those two countries is completely different. The destination you intend to arrive will determine the route you choose to travel in life. If you get in the same vehicle with someone going in a different direction, one of three things will happen; you will arrive at your desired destination and they won’t, they will arrive at their desired destination and you won’t, or neither of you will arrive at your preferred destination.
When people fall in love and emotions are running high, it’s easy to think that these things don’t matter, or that they will sort themselves out with time. Twenty years of counselling married couples suggests otherwise to me. When the music stops and the stars fall out of their eyes, reality collides with fantasy as they slowly come to terms with the fact that one or both of them will need to compromise on their values for the survival of their marriage, and compromise you must. If you are already married to someone whose values are diametrically opposed to yours, compromise is your only option because in God’s eyes the survival of your marriage has to take precedence over your closely held dreams.
When I think about my life and the things that drive me daily, I realise how blessed I am to be married to a man who is driven by a similar impetus. He encourages me to fulfil God’s call for my life because it aligns with God’s call on His life. Our values are congruent. I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I had married a man who dances to the beat of a different drum. I would have had to lay aside all the possibilities before me to embrace a different future. It would have been a painful but inescapable compromise.
Values are critical because they influence how you choose to spend your energy, where you invest your time and how you allocate your money. Consequently, if your values are fundamentally different from your spouse’s, you may love each other but you will not be able to enjoy living with each other until you have made deep and necessary compromises. There will be many fault-lines and potential battlegrounds where you will disagree and there will be no ‘right’ answer. If you want different things in life but you want to be in each other’s lives, something will have to give. You will either have to be faithful to your love or faithful to your values; the best marriages occur when you can be both at the same time.
If you’re considering getting married to someone, spend time exploring with them what their values are. Ask questions and read between the lines of every conversation, trying to sense what matters to them. Crucially, observe their lifestyle. A person’s values are more eloquently conveyed by the life they live than the words they speak. When you observe the trajectory of someone’s life, where they will land is predictable. An oak tree doesn’t become one overnight, but the leaves of the tiny seedling will tell you what it’s future holds. Ask…listen…observe, and above all else be prayerful.