I am basking in the joy of our church’s annual family camp this week. This is the 25th year we have attended camp with this group of fellow-believers! Some of our babies weren’t even born when we started coming to this camp. Now most of them are married, and some are chasing their own little ones around the campground!
In between the great singing and eating, learning and sharing, and grandchild-hugging, I’m still trying to pull my thoughts together for an upcoming workshop on “Christian Courtship in the Real World”. Family camp is a great place to contemplate this topic, because our church community has been such an integral part of the courtships in our family.
The first courtship in the family started right before family camp one summer, and its early stages unfolded in the midst of putt-putt golf games, canoe rides, and late-night group discussions and laughter with lots of other young people in front of our cabin. I smile every time I remember another married young man knowingly telling me during one of those evening gatherings that, “A guy’s never more charming than when he’s courting.”
That same courtship was bookended with another family camp that finished just one week before the wedding day. I remember doing the handsewing on my mother-of-the-bride dress during chapel services and putting programs together with a group of ladies while we visited together.
Then there was the year when the speaker was driving home the point that marriage was good and that the young people in our church should get married. Our son was only too glad to agree. He’d had his girl picked out for years, but he was still trying to finish up his schooling. He was pretty dejected after one particular talk. That discouragement ended before camp was over. His future bride’s parents took him aside and told him he could start courting her later that summer, before he was completely finished with his senior year of college. By the next family camp, they were married.
And then there’s the wedding we’re planning for the end of this summer. That courtship started at this camp last June, when Peter and Susannah first noticed how much they shared in common in their love for Jesus. It wasn’t very long before we got a call asking permission to get to know our daughter better, and now they’re engaged, planning their very community-focused wedding, and happily working together as official camp photographers for the week.
Come to think of it, I think another family courtship had its beginnings at camp, too. Our third-born son chased his future wife (or at least her sister) with slugs impaled on sticks at camp (and she still married him years later).
I know not everyone is privileged to enjoy the rich Christian community that our children have grown up in. We know how blessed we are and thank God for His grace.
But God has made us all part of one Body, His body, the Church. And that body is important when it comes to helping our children marry well.
- First, believing children need to marry believing spouses. Those believers are part of Christ’s body, the Church. Potential spouses for our children are inside the church community.
- The Christian community is a source of counsel and instruction — both to parents as they disciple their children and guide them toward godly marriage, and to the children as they mature and move toward marriage.
Parents can learn from each other, and seek guidance from the church leadership and older, experienced parents. They don’t have to navigate the teen years alone. They don’t have to face the challenges of their children’s romantic interests without support.
Within the context of the church body, children can grow up, hearing the stories of committed, godly married couples, learning from their examples, listening to their advice, heeding their warnings. Often a child will listen and accept from another adult what they may not always be ready to hear from their own parents. The church community can provide a second witness to the truth of what parents are teaching their children.
- The Christian community can keep us accountable. Fellow believers and church leaders can confront and correct us when they see us neglecting our duties to our teenage and young adult children. They can help steer us in the right direction when we inevitably make mistakes.
- The body of believers can fill the gaps that our own parenting leaves. We can’t be everything to our children. God has placed us in a family of believers who will minister to our children and encourage them in their wisdom and growth in the Lord. Their input will be precious as our children grow.
- The Christian community will be a source of counsel and encouragement after our children marry. If we are fully committed to a local body of believers as we raise our children, they will be much more likely to continue on in the church when they marry and start their own households.
- Our children learn to make a commitment and keep it when they see their parents honor their commitment to a faithful body of believers, even when it is hard or when we don’t fully agree with some of the less-essential issues. They will need this example and habit when they face the challenges of married life.
- Marriage is a community event. Yes, it is two people getting married, but it affects far more than just the new husband and wife. Their marriage and its success or failure directly influences the effectiveness of the Church. It will glorify God or it will tell the world that we’re no different than they are.
The marriage of two people also affects the generations that follow them and influences whether those next generations will follow Jesus or turn from the faith.
We can be an independent bunch of people. It’s in our blood. It’s part of our culture. But God’s designed us to be part of a community of believers. We need those fellow-pilgrims. We need that accountability and that support. And our children need it.
I’m heading back out my cabin door. It’s time to get back to playing. Thank you, Lord, for this great blessing — these wonderful, fallen-and-forgiven people who love you and love me and my family. Thank you for their profound effect on my children and on the households they are forming.
(Photo: His and Her Photography)