The state requires a license to wed, but unlike a driver's license there's no test of competence (nor, as with professional licenses, an expectation of prior training). You can stumble into the potential hazards of marriage with as little "hassle" as renting a car -- with results that can damage not just a couple, but the society that must pick up after them.
With churches, the bar should be higher. I try, with a six-week premarital class whose manual states that if a couple decides not to marry afterward, such outcome is still a success.
And the men of my parish have set out to raise that bar by instituting a tradition called a timios. From the Greek for "honored" -- as in "marriage must be honored" (Hebrews 13:4) -- a timios is an opportunity for the older, wiser, married men of the community to collectively impart accumulated wisdom and straight talk to a would-be groom.
Picture 20 bearded men sitting around a fire, eating grilled meat and drinking cold beer -- and most importantly, taking turns offering sage advice to a wide-eyed novice. That's what I was in on last night, as we did our best to instill sobriety (mixed with scotch) to a young brother planning to wed next month. Beginning with the longest married, and continuing to recent timios grads, wisdom flowed like wine.
At 46 years, our senior veteran shared that the work never stops. Every day is a struggle to overcome things about yourself that continue to be revealed to you in the intimacy of union with another. From our 39-year vet, widowed last December, an admonition to take no day, no hour, no moment for granted -- but treasure your life together as a gift that can disappear in a moment.
A brother with 36 years shared that he and his wife embarked on their journey with an explicit policy they'd always be willing to talk about anything, anytime. No matter how painful the subject, or inopportune the moment, the question, "Can we talk?" is a call to attention.
Coming with 30 years' experience, the next offering was a call to one idea: validation. Don't fall into the man-trap of ignoring (or merely grunting) when your wife's trying to tell you something. Give her your attention (and respect), even if inside you could care less what she's talking about. Fake it 'til you make it.
The pearls kept dropping, as the sky grew darker and the cooler empty. I don't know that I've ever had more fun, talking about anything more serious. I hope I was listening as keenly as our new inductee, and got as much from the night as him.
Timios: if your community doesn't have one, ask your pastor's blessing to start. It's the least we can do for brothers entering into marriage (and their wives) -- and the least we can do for society.