As a Christian girl in the late eighties and early nineties, I had admittedly eclectic taste in music. My more predictable Paula Abdul, Amy Grant, New Kids on the Block, and Newsboys cassette tapes were stacked neatly on my bookshelf alongside showtunes, a variety of Disney movie soundtracks, the Oak Ridge Boys, The Planets, Abba, and a seventies-era Swedish gospel singer named Evie. But my most prized tape set was The Best of Nat King Cole.
In 1993, when at the age of fourteen I met the sixteen-year-old boy who is now my husband, one song in particular made my heart soar higher than my three-inch-high, curled and feathered bangs. “Old King Cole” must have been crooning with us in mind:
They try to tell us we’re too young,Too young to really be in love.They say that love’s a word,A word we’ve only heard,But can’t begin to know the meaning of.
And yet we’re not too young to knowThis love will last though years may go.And then some day they may recallWe were not too young at all.1
The song “Too Young” became an anthem in my heart. You can read the rest of our story sometime if you’d like, but the short version is this: despite assurances from others that our relationship couldn’t last, I decided at the age of fourteen that Michael Elliott was “the one.” By God’s grace, we defied the skeptics: stayed together through my high school years (went to four proms together!) and got married when I was eighteen and he was twenty, not because of a pregnancy or any other reason except that we simply loved each other and wanted to get married. We had our first baby when I was twenty-one, our sixth (and last) when I was thirty-four, and celebrated twenty-five years of marriage this year. By the nineties’ cultural standards we were unusual. By today’s standards we’d be bananas.
The New Counterculture: Young and Married
“Americans aren’t marrying young anymore” an article at The Hill proclaimed. The article’s data verified the claim:
Young marrieds are a vanishing breed. In 1980, the average American male married at 25; the average woman at 22, U.S. Census data shows. Today, the average first-time groom is 30, and the bride is 28.2
The author goes on to list several potential reasons for the dive in age of first marriage and the serious decline in marriage rates overall (If you’re interested in another alarming statistic, the rate of marriage among women in the United States has gone down over sixty percent in the last fifty years.3), including college education, cohabitation, easy access to birth control and abortion, and even a newly-minted stage of life called “emerging adulthood.”
People who have studied these trends have come to a conclusion, and I agree: in our culture today, instead of marriage being a beginning . . . a launching point . . . a looked-forward-to adventure in which a man and woman experience the ups and downs of adulthood together, it has, even in the church, become an end. A capstone. The icing on the cake of adulthood to be partaken of by two established, successful, career-oriented individuals.
What’s the harm? you might ask. It’s not wrong to delay marriage, is it? Hear me when I say, of course it’s not wrong or sinful for an individual to remain unmarried until a particular age, or for some, never to marry at all. But consider whether by telling our young adults (and I’m using “adult” in the traditional, legal, eighteen-and-over sense) that their focus in their late teens and early twenties should solely be continuing their education and establishing themselves in a career, perhaps while getting a nice car, dating just for fun, traveling, and getting ahead so that in their thirties and forties they can have a shot at living The Good Life™ (whatever that is), we’ve removed from their minds altogether that young marriage is even an option.
In doing so, not only do we deter Christian young men and women from looking for a mate during the time when they are most likely to be around a large variety of people their own age, but we take away their opportunity to enjoy the sweet blessings—and persevere through the real challenges—of getting married young.
Four Blessings and Challenges of Marrying Young
Saying no to one thing inherently means saying yes to something else. Here are four things couples might be saying no to when they say yes to the benefits—and challenges—of marrying young.
1. Saying no to being mom and dad’s dependent; saying yes to financial independence.
If there’s a number one flummoxed parental response to a young couple’s desire to get married, it’s probably something along the lines of “How will you survive? You have no idea how to provide for a family or live on your own. How will you afford college? And rent? And groceries!” All valid points. But what better time to learn the serious lessons of financial management than while you’re still young? Isn’t an explicit goal of Christian parenting to prepare young adults to launch out into the world to make an impact for Christ? If the trope of the jobless, twenty-eight-year-old college grad who lives in his parents’ basement playing video games because he doesn’t feel “called” to work in food service, retail, or as a laborer doesn’t sit well with us, perhaps encouraging young adults to establish financial independence sooner is a good idea anyway.
Does being young and married mean buying your first home on Easy Street? Probably not. But the opportunity to persevere through the latter half of “for richer or poorer” will inevitably draw a new couple closer together—and help them rely on the Lord—a priceless benefit that will last for years to come.
2. Saying no to the “ideal” college or career plan; saying yes to a road less traveled.
In truth, it’s often not as much saying “no” as saying “later,” taking longer, or spending some time off the beaten path. Doing so has some unexpected benefits. For instance, how many traditional college students do you know who feel that they did their best academic work during their freshman and sophomore years? Some might, but many do not. They don’t have enough skin in the game.
Shortly before we married, my husband was two years into his college career but felt that God was calling him to leave the secular university near our hometown and go to a Christian college eight hours away. So I went too. Once we were married, I stayed in school for a couple of semesters, but eventually we needed to buy a car and had other looming expenses . . . and what we were making working twenty or twenty-four hours a week each wasn’t cutting it anymore. We decided that because he was closer to being done, Michael would finish school first, and I would transition to full-time in my retail job to help support us.
He successfully completed his bachelor’s degree in music and later went back for a post-bachelor teaching certificate. I didn’t go back to school until after we had our first two sons. But neither of us worked harder or were more academically successful in college than when we were married with children. There’s something about knowing what’s on the line (and what you’re sacrificing with every hour away from home) that drives you to do your best. Paying your own bills helps too.
3. Saying no to dorm-life or the singles scene; saying yes to building lifelong, intergenerational relationships together.
So a young couple may not experience the 3 a.m. homemade slip and slide down the dorm hall (my husband tells me that was a thing in his dorm), the late night gossip sessions over burnt microwave popcorn, the college party circuit, or even some of the positive benefits that single college-age students enjoy. One thing they will have instead is the opportunity to begin to invest, together, in intergenerational relationships within the local church. Because we were young marrieds in the thick of having children in our twenties, many of our friends at church were in their thirties, forties, and even fifties at the time. The benefits of even casual mentorship through spending time with more mature Christian couples cannot be quantified. We learned so much as we watched our older friends navigate life crises, parenting issues, and day-to-day life as married couples.
Of course getting married young changes your ability to invest copious amounts of time into maintaining the high school or college friendships that you hoped would last forever. With perseverance and care, some will. You just may have to change your expectations of when, where, and how you connect for a while.
4. Saying no to celibacy; saying yes to growing in intimacy and, should the Lord allow, having more children while you’re young.
Statistics on when men and women reach their so-called “sexual peak” aside, the simple truth is that staying sexually pure in both mind and body can be especially difficult during the years when our sex hormones rage the most. At the very least, one benefit of marrying young is having a partner with whom you can freely enjoy God-designed intimacy during those years. To be sure, the battle for sexual purity doesn’t end when you say “I do,” but the opportunity to enjoy sexual freedom in the way that God intended while you’re still young is a sweet blessing (Prov. 5:18).
Most couples who marry young will also have the opportunity to have more children with statistically fewer complications should they choose to take full advantage of their years of peak fertility. The “when” and “how many” questions are personal to each couple, but clearly Scripture encourages married couples to welcome children (and later, grandchildren!) into their family as a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3–5; Prov. 17:6; John 16:21). Starting young typically means more years to enjoy these good gifts from the Lord, and more opportunities to impact the next generation for the cause of Christ.
Beat the Odds
You may be asking, Seriously, are Christian young men and women really ready for marriage?And aren’t divorce rates higher among those who marry young? To the first question I’d respond, who is?!? Is anyone truly ready for the dying to self that is necessary to faithfully uphold a marriage covenant (Eph. 5:22–30)? Yet before sin entered the garden of Eden, God said, “‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.’” That helper was a wife, Eve. “This is why,” Genesis 2:24 says, “A man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” The marriage bond and all that comes with it was a part of God’s plan from the very beginning—a visible, tangible proclamation of the ultimate marriage between the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. Young marrieds will make mistakes. They will fumble and falter. But they will fumble and falter together, and the Lord will take their foibles and turn them into something beautiful, for His glory (Eccl. 4:9–12; Rom. 8:28).
While popular culture would have you believe (perhaps rightly) that “couples who marry before age twenty-eight are statistically more likely to divorce,”4 they’re neglecting one important fact: the relationships of Christian couples (and other couples who describe themselves as religious) tell a different story. In fact, according to research from the Institute for Family Studies, “analyses indicate that religious men and women who married in their twenties without cohabiting first . . . have the lowest odds of divorce in America today.”5
Tell the Story
What I am advocating here, as a mom, as a church member, as a writer and observer of culture, is not that young marriage is the best option for every young person. Clearly many young men and women don’t have the opportunity or the desire to marry. But for those that do, perhaps instead of shaking our heads and wringing our hands, we should embrace young marriages for what they are: a countercultural shout of triumph in the face of the enemy—and the watching world. It’s a shout that says, “The Bridegroom has conquered, and He is coming back for His beloved Bride!”
To the young person reading this, be encouraged by the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Should you choose this countercultural path, you will find no better place to put feet to the apostle’s advice than in your home, in your church, and in your community as a young married couple.
In the end, you just might find, as my dear husband and I learned twenty-five years ago (and continue to learn every day), “We were not too young at all.”
If you’re looking for encouraging resources full of biblical wisdom for couples (of any age!), check out our “Marriage and Dating” resources collection at the Revive Our Hearts store. When you shop at ReviveOurHearts.com, you also partner with us in our mission to help women all over the world thrive in Christ. It’s a win, win!
1 Lyrics.com, STANDS4 LLC, 2023. “Too Young Lyrics.” Accessed September 11, 2023. https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/744246/Nat+King+Cole/Too+Young.
2 Daniel de Visé, “Americans Are Waiting Longer and Longer to Get Married,” The Hill, June 5, 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/4032467-americans-are-waiting-longer-and-longer-to-get-married/#:~:text=Young%20marrieds%20are%20a%20vanishing,and%20the%20bride%20is%2028.
3 Julissa Cruz, “Marriage: More Than a Century of Change,” (FP-13-13), National Center for Family & Marriage Research, https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of-arts-and-sciences/NCFMR/documents/FP/FP-13-13.pdf.
4 Nikhita Mahtani, “The Young Couples On Netflix’s ‘The Ultimatum” Might Want To Wait A Few Years Before Getting Married,” Women’sHealth, April 8, 2022, https://www.womenshealthmag.com/relationships/a39674614/couples-marry-young-divorce/.
5 W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Surprising Case for Marrying Young,” Institute for Family Studies, July 6, 2022, https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-surprising-case-for-marrying-young.
Republished with permission from Blogs.crossmap.com, featuring inspiring Bible verses about Not Too Young: In Praise of Marriage for (Christian) Young Adults.