Sample Chapter: Before You Get Engaged

(Excerpt from Before You Get Engaged)

Chapter 1: Would You Marry You?

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If you ever want to confront someone, I would advise having him sit on the end of a diving board fully clothed, with his
legs dangling over the water. Then all you have to do is sit next
to him so that you’re blocking his access to land. This way he
has no escape unless he wants to get wet and look stupid. My
mom taught me this. She revealed this clever trick as she
coerced me onto the end of a diving board, blocking my escape,
and exclaimed, “David, you know I love you, right?”

This is one of the worse phrases you can hear at the begin-
ning of a conversation. I wanted to leave. Little did I know that
this conversation on the diving board would change the rest of
my life.

I had just begun my freshman year at Fresno City College
in the same way I had finished my three years at Hoover High
School: I was right back on the road to academic mediocrity. A
few months earlier, I had graduated from high school with a
1.99 GPA. Actually, I wouldn’t have even done that well had it
not been for the A’s I earned in my auto shop, architecture, and
PE classes! When it came to doing my best in required courses
like history, biology, English, and math, I was an under-
achiever. God had given me a good mind; I just wasn’t using it.

My mom knew my potential. That’s why she met me late
one afternoon at the front door, right after I arrived home from
one of my first days in college.

“David Ray,” she said, “you and I need to go out into the
backyard and talk. Right now!”

I preferred my mom calling me Dave rather than David or
David Ray. When she called me Dave, I knew whatever she
was going to say was no big deal. David could go either way
on the good or bad scale. But David Ray always meant the
same thing: trouble was coming my way. A David Ray moment
was never good.

Mom led me out into the backyard.

“David,” she said, “I want you to go over there and sit down
on our diving board.”

“OK,” I said, “but can we make this fast? I have things to do.”
“Just be quiet and go over there and sit down.”
I went and sat on the diving board. She came and sat down next to me, which forced me further out over the water.

Up to that point, I had thought we were fortunate to have
a pool with a diving board, since we lived in Fresno, where God
turned on His weather afterburners in the summer. But at that
moment I wished we didn’t even have a pool. I would have gladly settled for a slip ‘n slide.

So there I was, stuck on the diving board with no chance of
escape. My mom was quite smart and she knew it as she looked
me right in the eyes and uttered that dreaded line, “David, you
know I love you, right?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Well I can see you’ve begun your college education the
same way you finished high school. I care too much about you
to let you do this all over again.”

Mom didn’t have to clarify the this. I knew what she was
talking about. Call this what you want—going through the
motions, just getting by, slacking, lack of effort—anyway you
look at it, she knew I was still sloughing off at school.

“Yes, Mom.”

“David, if you don’t buckle down and change, you’re going
to waste your life. Is that what you want to do?”

“No, Mom.”
“Well then, you better do something about it.”
I have no idea how many Mom-to-David-Ray conversations

I’ve had over the years, but I do know this: the diving board
discussion stuck. It changed me. I look back on it as a defining
moment in my life. In the South they would say, “I got some
sense knocked into me.” It was the kick in the posterior I
needed to get on track toward realizing my full potential. After
that discussion, not only did my attitude toward academics
change, but so did other areas of my life.

Shortly after Mom and I talked, I had a long conversation
with God about where my life was headed. A year prior, I had
made a spiritual commitment to do better with my life in the
future than I had in the past. God used Mom on that diving
board to put more academic action into that decision. But I was
also feeling God’s leadings to do something about the other
areas of my life that also needed a makeover.

Academically, I buckled down and started to get better
grades. I actually began to enjoy going to school and trying to
do my best. Socially, I made an intentional decision to stop dat-
ing girls. Up to that point, I had been on a four-year dating run.


BRENT: Ha-ha. I didn’t know this. Did you say you were dating God?

DAD: No, that’s ridiculous. You can’t date God.

BRENT: That’s true, but when I was in college (a private Christian
school) I went for a time without a date (length to remain
undisclosed) and started telling people it was because I was
dating God. The funny thing is, as soon as I told people I was
“dating my Lord and Savior,” I started having all these girls
wanting to hang out with me. They said they were also dating

Actually, I’m totally kidding. I’ve never told anyone I was dat-
ing God, though I really did take some time off.

DAD: You’re so cynical. Where did I go wrong?

BRENT: Sorry. Actually, I know this “time off” can be a good idea.

Sorry for joking. It’s a serious book and a serious chapter.

For me, if I was going to get my act together, I needed to
stop dating for a time and figure out what I wanted out of this
area of my life. I also took a close look at my career path in
architecture. I considered whether or not spending my life
designing buildings would ultimately be the best use of my life.
My personal life also had several rough edges in it. I had some
unresolved issues that needed to be addressed and made right.

Looking back, my diving board discussion with Mom and
the decisions and changes I made over the next year ultimately
made me a better person. I became someone who not only I could like, but others could like too. In fact, the year following
my personal makeover work, Bernice and I began dating. We
had already been friends, but I was finally ready for something
more. After I got on the road to becoming the right person
myself, I found Bernice. My relationship with this wonderful
person would probably have never happened had I not gotten
my life together the previous year.

As Danielle and I try to figure out this whole engagement and
marriage thing, there are hard questions I need to ask about my
relationship with Danielle. I need to know if she’s ready, but first
I guess it makes sense that I should look at myself and ask, “Am
I ready to get married?”

It’s a huge question. Would I marry myself or want someone
to marry me? Am I ready to get married? ‘Cause if not, I need to
know now and I need to figure out how to get ready. So I’ll start
by first asking the question, as my dad put it, “Would I marry


For several years now, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott have taught a
course on relationships at Seattle Pacific University. Every time
they teach this popular course, they begin the first class with
this sentence: “If you try to find intimacy with another person
before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your rela-
tionships become an attempt to complete yourself.”1 In their
book Relationships they go on to say, “Most of us tell ourselves,
‘If I find the right person, my life will be complete’… The truth
is, the cause of our emptiness is not a case of missing persons
in our lives, but a case of incompletion in our soul. In order to build healthy relationships, you must be well on your way to becoming whole or complete.”2

I can attest to the truth of their findings. A dating or
engagement relationship, or ultimately a marriage, is only as
healthy as the health of the individuals in it. Relational health
is vitally connected to individual health. Abigail found that out
the hard way.


The Bible tells us about a woman named Abigail who married
Nabal, who was a fool. You have to wonder if she knew fool was
what his name meant literally when she married him, or if she
found out about his foolishness the hard way. One thing is for
sure, Nabal proved just how full of foolishness he was when he
told ten of King David’s men to take a hike after they had asked
him for some food. His insulting response pretty much typified
how the Bible describes him. On the one hand, he was incred-
ibly rich, but on the other hand he was harsh, evil, and worth-
less. Was he teachable? Hardly. Those who knew him said, “No
one can speak to him.”3

Abigail stood out in vivid contrast. She was intelligent,
beautiful, and discerning.4 On one occasion, after her husband
had scorned David and his family, she single-handedly was able
to prevent David and his army from an avenging slaughter of
Nabal and everybody else connected to him.5 But that couldn’t
undo Nabal’s personhood. Even Abigail said he was worthless.6
Tragically, Nabal never got it together, relationally or otherwise,
before his life was abruptly ended by a heart attack.7

Abigail was relationally strong and healthy. Nabal epito-
mized a lack of health, which inflicted damage on all of his
relationships. I’d like to think that each one of us can steer clear of that kind of relational damage if we are willing to pay attention to the personal issues that are keeping us from living in health.


Neil Clark Warren and Les Parrott have said in their excellent
book, Love the Life You Live, that personal health and wholeness
have three hallmarks:8

  1. A right relationship with God—your purpose for living
    and the power to change is grounded in God’s
    unconditional love.

  2. A right relationship with others—you sacrificially love
    others by willingly meeting their needs.

  3. A right relationship with yourself—you know who you
    are and live in congruence with your personality and
    God-given talents.

Warren and Parrott, along with others who have studied
human behavior, weren’t the first to suggest that these three
relationships are essential signs of health. Years ago, Jesus him-
self boiled the essence of personal and relational health down
to these same three relationships when he summarized God’s
relational design this way: “Love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and
with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor
as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”9
Personal and relational health is vitally connected to the health
of our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.

I like to think of my life as having gauges. My first car, which
I purchased when I was sixteen years old, lacked intelligent gauges. Instead my dashboard had what has been fondly, or not
so fondly, called idiot lights. Evidently car makers had decided
that most drivers were too stupid to be able to read oil and
coolant gauges, so they installed a light to come on after a prob-
lem had already occurred. From my perspective, that’s idiocy,
because it keeps you from monitoring the gauges and doing
something about a possible problem before it becomes critical.10
For three years I put up with idiot lights in my first car, but when
I purchased my second car, I made sure it had at least three crit-
ical dashboard gauges—an oil pressure gauge, an engine coolant
gauge, and a charging system gauge. After I learned how to read
those gauges, I was able to steer clear of what could have been
big car problems in the five years I owned that car.


When Socrates said, “Know thyself,” he was not only quoting
one of the “seven sages” of ancient Greece, he was declaring
that an unexamined life is not worth living.11 Several years later,
the apostle Paul wrote, “Pay close attention to yourself.”12 One
of the ways you can do that is by paying close attention to the
three most important gauges in your life. Are they indicating an
empty or full tank? Are they pushing toward high or low? Do
you need to do something about any or all of these areas of
your life? Here are a few things to look for as you consider how
full these gauges are in your life.

The Spiritual Gauge

When I meet someone new to me, besides asking them the usual
questions like, where do you work? are you in school? where do
you live? do you have a family? I like to ask people, do you have
any spiritual beliefs? That simple question has opened the door

Would You Marry You?

to many significant spiritual conversations on airplanes, while
playing golf, or while exercising at the gym. You know what I’ve
found? Most people’s spiritual tanks aren’t even close to being
full. Their spiritual gauges would register just above empty.

I agree with St. Augustine who prayed, “Everlasting God, in
whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us
for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”13 I
believe this life is ultimately not going to make sense until we get
connected to God in a personal way. I like the image Paul uses
when he prays that his readers would be filled up with “the full-
ness of God.”14 Jesus had the same thing in mind when he said, “I
have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”15

If your spiritual gauge is registering anything less than full
in your relationship with God, I’d strongly suggest you talk to
a pastor, friend, or someone who can help you get this part of
your life sorted out. It’s way too important to ignore. Personally
I believe anyone who makes a God connection through Jesus
Christ will never be the same. And that’s good. God’s power
released in you will begin to produce qualities like love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control.16 Those are the qualities of which a great per-
sonal life and strong relationships are made.


In the last six months, two of my guy friends have gotten divorced. They are in their early to mid-twenties. Already my
friends are getting divorced? I couldn’t believe it when I first
heard. How could this happen?

When I found out about their divorces, fear quickly crept into
my mind. I worried, “If they got divorced, does that mean I
could? ’Cause they both thought their marriages would last.”

But then I started finding out more details, and it became apparent why the divorce happened in both cases. At least, it was apparent to me. I’m not talking about why they ultimately said they were getting divorced, but what I think was at the core of both situations: they were trying to find fulfillment in their relationships. In both cases—whether they were unhappy or a spouse left for someone else—the problem started when someone was looking for fulfillment apart from God.

When a relationship is great and you’re in love, of course you
find happiness in being with the other person. I’ve found that
with Danielle, and it’s wonderful. The problem, though, is when
this happiness becomes the driving force of our relationship.

So I ask myself, “Am I with Danielle because I want her to
fulfill me?” No. Danielle and I have actually talked about this and
we both acknowledge that we can’t ultimately fulfill the other,
even though we do want to make each other happy. But we
know if we’re not happy or fulfilled apart, on our own, we won’t
ultimately be happy together. Maybe for a time, but not a long
time (i.e. the rest of our lives). The pursuit of happiness can’t
drive the relationship. Even if that’s not my intention, I have to
acknowledge that it’s human nature to slip into looking for fulfill-
ment in someone else.

I think the pursuit of God, individually first and then together
as a couple, is the healthy way. So now I have to figure out how
to do that.


The relational gauge, maybe more than any other gauge, will
reveal how healthy you are. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to
say, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love
your neighbor as yourself.’”17 Everything boils down to the love
you have for others. The love referred to here, which is agape love in Greek, goes way beyond sexual love or the love of
friendship. This is the love of sacrifice. It shows up in relation-
ships when people don’t deserve it.

Once again the goal is to be full of love, but this time
toward others. Paul realized how important this love is when
he said to his friends at Thessalonica: “May the Lord make your
love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else,
just as ours does for you.”18 When this love is full in a person’s
life, patience and kindness will prevail. Feelings of jealously
will be done away with. Arrogance and rudeness will be absent.
Unselfishness will be prominent. Unrighteous anger won’t rear
its ugly head. Unmerited forgiveness will be extended. This
kind of love won’t give in, or give up, or quit giving out.19

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Actually, if this love
was dependent on you or me, its fullness would never be real-
ized in our lives. But as Paul said, you can increase in the full-
ness of love through God’s work in you.

Here’s what you want to look for on your relational gauge:

  1. Are you a person who loves others more than, or at least
    as much as, yourself? If not, you’ve got some growing to
    do before you’re ready to be in a serious relationship.

  2. Is the direction of your life moving toward the qualities of
    love described above? Don’t get hung up on perfection,
    but do look for direction. Are you becoming a more
    loving person?

3. Have you forgiven those who’ve hurt you in the past? If
you haven’t, they are continuing to hurt you even now
and will affect your present relationships.

Look at your spiritual gauge again. It’s been said, “We can-
not love until we first experience love.”20 The relational gauge with God and the relational love gauge with others are vitally
connected. You can’t have one without the other. But when
both are increasing, you are going to be well on your way to
being a healthy person.


There’s a big difference between “being full of yourself” and
“realizing your full potential.” The first comes out of an un-
healthy heart that’s full of pride and arrogance. The second rises
out of a grateful and accepting heart. You need to be full of the
latter or you will fall into a “compulsion for completion” trap.21

Authors Les and Leslie Parrott are right on track when they
say, “If we have not achieved a solid sense of who we are . . . we
are destined to believe one of two subtle lies guaranteed to sab-
otage our relationships: (1) I need this person to be complete,
and (2) if this person needs me, I’ll be complete.22 These feelings
in turn can compel a woman to ask, “Am I desirable?” and a man
to ask “Am I capable?”23 This unhealthy focus will eventually
hurt you, because your identity is grounded in others’ approval,
acceptance, and recognition. But you won’t consistently receive
that approval, especially when you blow it and let others down.

Your identity, instead, needs to be solely attached to your
identity in Christ, which is not based on what you do, but on
who you are. It’s not based on others’ acceptance of you; it’s
based on God’s acceptance of you. If you have a personal rela-
tionship with God through Christ, you are, and always will be,
accepted. You have potential and purpose. You begin to see
yourself as God sees you: a person with intrinsic value, placed
on planet earth at this time in history to make a significant dif-
ference. To bring honor to God through your life and lips. Do
you believe that?

The fullness of your identity tank is not found in thinking
“of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think[ing]
of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the meas-
ure of faith God has given you.”24 Chances are, if you are look-
ing to your accomplishments or others for approval, your
identity gauge is constantly bouncing all over the place. You
may be an emotional basket case. You’ll be better off when you
calm your identity gauge by stabilizing yourself in who God
has made you to be. He alone, as the God of hope, can “fill you
with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may over-
flow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”25 Simply
stated, the fullness of hope, joy, peace, and power in this life are
not found in playing to the crowd, but in accepting who God
made you to be and living to please Him.


A few months ago, after reading dad’s first draft of this chapter,
I went on a quest to find an answer to the big question, “Would
I marry myself?” I started processing this through intangible
things like prayer and just thinking about it. From that experience,
here’s what I recommend:

Pursue God. I started out by making sure I was pursuing
God. This you can’t measure though. I just had to pursue Him
and ask if I was finding my pleasure and fulfillment in Him. I’ve
realized it doesn’t end when I ask the question, because it’s a
continual process. I have to be daily asking this and daily seeking
to follow God.

But that’s not new. Those of us who grew up in the church
know this; we just don’t necessarily take it to heart. So I will
also recommend a few other things I did that helped me figure
stuff out:

Get a mentor. This is a big deal for me. I didn’t have one before and always knew I probably should have someone older and
wiser speaking into my life. I used to pray for this. I would ask
God for a mentor and then sit and wait and wonder why He
never provided one. Then one day I realized maybe God wanted
me to do something about it. I asked an older and wiser man I
respected if he’d be interested in mentoring me—and he said
yes. It was that easy. All I had to do was be proactive, and now
I have someone who prods me in the areas I need to improve. I
tell him about my goals and the issues in my life, and he asks the
hard questions to guide me along the way.

Go to counseling. I don’t particularly like to divulge my bag-
gage to the world, but I’ll admit it: I went to counseling. There
were a few things in my life I wanted to make sure weren’t
issues and, if they were, that I wasn’t going to bring them into a
marriage. I kind of just wanted a shrink to tell me I was OK and
good to get engaged. It was a very revealing process, where I
talked through fears and struggles, hopes and dreams, with a
professional. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true. I went
to counseling and I would recommend it to everyone before mak-
ing this kind of decision.

Spend time apart. A significant amount of time. Danielle went
to Ethiopia for a month and I went to Rwanda. Both of us were
taking trips for work reasons (missions related) and, incredibly, it
worked out so we were gone at exactly the same time. I know
the Lord worked this timing out, because it was too perfect.
Being apart from each other allowed us to think through things: I
could ask questions like, Am I happy apart from Danielle? and, Am
I looking for my fulfillment in her? and even, Do I really miss her
and really love her? It was an unbelievable month for both of us.
We grew a ton while apart, and learned so much about our rela-
tionship. And yes, we figured out we were happy when apart, and
the joy from our relationship together was a gift.

Plus, our time apart really told me something when I picked
her up at the airport. I had knots in my stomach and sweaty
palms from being so nervous. Then when she walked around the
corner at customs, my smile was as big as the day I first fell in
love with her. I learned I wasn’t looking for my fulfillment in her,
but I realized how much I cared and that I was committed to her.
It was all incredibly revealing.

I realize that just because that’s how I did it doesn’t mean
that’s how everyone should. Not everyone can go off to a foreign
country. But however you figure it out, it has to start with the pur-
suit of God. Pray lots. Then be proactive and do something. Don’t
just wait around. Do whatever you need to do to answer the
question, Am I ready to get married?

And by the way, if you’re scared to ask that question or afraid
of what the answer might be, then you definitely need to ask the


“ . . . the cheerful sound of birds singing and wedding bells ring-
ing could be heard throughout the land as Prince Charming took
the beautiful princess into his arms and kissed her. As the sun
set over their happy kingdom, their hearts were filled with joy.
And they lived happily ever after.” The End

Over the time I’ve been with Brent, I’ve gotten to know and
love him deeply. It’s exciting going through a time when we’re
considering becoming engaged. And going through the process
of writing this book has been very timely and given us a lot to
think about. At this point, from a girl’s perspective, there is one
other topic I would like to bring up: Prince Charming. You know
the guy I’m talking about. He’s in all our favorite Disney movies.
Every princess in distress had her Prince Charming who would
come along just in the nick of time and rescue her from the wicked witch or evil ogre. And they would live happily ever

As I’m processing whether or not I’m personally ready for
marriage and if “I would marry me,” I must admit that most of
my reservations are due to good ol’. Prince Charming. All the
Disney princesses were my dear friends growing up. They
remain more nostalgically close to me than many other childhood
memories, because they always had the ability to whisk me
away into “happy land,” where everything was ideal and nothing
was boring.

Snow White was my favorite princess. She taught me many
life lessons, like 1) It’s good to have seven little men helping you
out, and 2) The only way to have true happiness is through a

I never thought that in a real relationship the expectations I
borrowed from Snow White and all my beloved princesses
would cause me to feel that something was missing. During the
time we were first considering engagement, I often had a feeling
of nervousness that seemed the opposite of how good we fit
together. I’d think, What’s wrong with me!? Just relax, Danielle.
Things will work out. But why do I get this strange feeling about
being with Brent? What is it? Maybe it’s this . . . or maybe it’s
that. Hmm, could it possibly be this? I racked my brain trying to
figure it out.

I dug up debris from past relationships and hurts, and found
it personally helpful, but still not the ultimate answer to why I
was afraid to move forward with Brent. I hated that things
weren’t going the way I wanted them to. Here was this guy I
wanted to marry and felt like I should marry, but there was this
little thing underneath that I couldn’t figure out.

Now I realize it was because of this: “ . . . the cheerful sound
of birds singing and wedding bells ringing could be heard throughout the land as Prince Charming took the beautiful
princess into his arms and kissed her.” I wanted Brent to be my
prince. I wanted him to make all my dreams come true. I wanted
him to be perfect, my wedding to be perfect, and to live happily
ever after. Notice the pattern? “I wanted.” I had a selfish dream
for a husband who would fulfill me.

This was quite a troubling realization. That feeling of nervous-
ness was the fear that if Brent and I get married, he wouldn’t be
my prince. He wouldn’t be perfect. All my dreams wouldn’t
come true. In fact, life may be a lot more the same than it will be
different. I’ll still be in the same boat—being a human in need of
God. Brent will not complete a puzzle in me, nor will he be excit-
ing and perfect every day as a prince supposedly is.

I realize now that before I’m ready to get married, I need to
come to the point where I don’t expect Brent (or any guy) to com-
plete a puzzle in me or to be exciting and perfect every day as a
fairy-tale prince supposedly is. I need to be complete in myself
and God before I’m ready to share my life with someone else.


Would you marry you? If you need to get your act together, do
it before you get engaged. You will be better off, and one day, if
you end up getting married, your marriage will reap the bene-
fit of the relational health you bring into it.


Before You Get Engaged

By David Gudgel, Brent Gudgel