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Volume 7, Issue 5: Childer

Training Suitors

Douglas Wilson

The Bible teaches a son leaves his parents in order to take a wife, and daughters are given in marriage. Wise parents do not wait until the time arrives for their children to marry to begin thinking about this. The differences in their children, according to sex, should be evident to parents from birth, and consequently their preparation of their children should differ accordingly.

Genesis teaches, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 3:24). When Paul applies this passage, his treatment of it shows that it is a paradigm for all marriages (Eph. 5:17-33). When a son leaves to court a woman, he is fulfilling God's creation design for the formation of marriages. He is not abandoning his parents; he is leaving them, with honor, according to God's Word. His parents do not resent it if they have been submissive to the Word and have been preparing him to do so.
If sons leave, and daughters are given, then each must be trained and equipped accordingly. Daughters should be prepared for courtship and marriage through long-established trust in their parents' selflessness, wisdom, and good will. Sons should of course trust their parents too, but the preparation they undergo is considerably different from that experienced by their sisters.
A son must be trained to leave. Obviously, when he has left, he must stand alone, and when he has taken a wife, he must be equipped to stand as a source of strength for his wife. Preparation for this does not begin when a young man first notices a young woman. His training for courtship begins when he is little.
Strength is necessary because he is not approaching a young girl willing to be impressed by him. He is approaching her sceptical father.
So he must be strong for the process of courtship, but a godly masculine strength cannot be instilled at the last moment. When he is knocked down when he is little, a kindly father must show him how to get up again without tears. Moreover, godly parents will allow him to get into situations where he will probably get knocked down. If a boy is mollycoddled, his search for a wife will tend to be a search for a maternal substitutesomeone to assume the important duties of pampering him and running his life. One of the more frequent causes of such mollycoddling occurs when a mother is bringing up her son without adequate direction from the son's father. Good intentions do not prevent this problem from happening. If he falls out of the tree, he might break his leg. But if he, banned from trees, must spend all his time reading edifying literature, he will be a pantywaist. And it would have been better for his future marital happiness if he had broken his leg in two places.
A suitor must also be self-controlled. This quality does not arrive by Federal Express at the last minute. Parents inculcate character over years. When they look at a two-year-old running around their living room, they must be able to see twenty-years down the road and discipline in line with that vision. When a healthy young man considers a woman he believes to be attractive, he must restrain himself. But the way parents teach a grown son to control his sexual and romantic impulses is by shaping before he has any. His adult impulses are disciplined through a godly handling of his infantile impulses.
A son who is to court a woman must have a deep respect for familial authoritynot just his own family, but all familiesand he must proceed with this understanding of household government clearly in mind. The position held by the father of the woman who interests him must not chafe him. He should rejoice in the fact that he currently has no authority over the woman he wants.
Such a respect originates with a respect for the teaching of Scripture. Household governments are to be respected because God requires it, not because all household governments are managed well. Not all fathers of eligible Christian women are godly and respectable men. This means a son must be taught what it means to salute the uniform, and he is to do it with a whole heart.
If a son has a high view of family authority when he is thinking about his authority in his upcoming marriage, but a low view of it when he considers any other household authority that gets in his way, then he is simply a tyrant looking for subjects. Authority is understood by sons who delight to exercise godly authority and who delight equally in submitting to godly authority.
And this, like so much else, begins in the cradle.

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