During my first semester out of high school, the college ministry at my local church went through a series on marriage. In one session, the speaker told us that his wife had been married to five different people.
He let us sit in uncomfortable surprise before explaining that all of them had been him in different phases. He had gone through so many seasons, each so drastically different from the last, that it was as if his wife had been married to five different people.
From the perspective of a single considering marriage, that notion can seem daunting. How can you discern a good spouse when it is nearly promised that they won’t be the same person in years to come? How do you make a long-term investment with short-term knowledge?
Of course, how someone turns out will only be good by the grace of God—and God can turn any life around, no matter how low it gets—but there are a few things you can consider when discerning where someone will go.
#1 — Look at their past
It’s all about patterns, track records, and bigger trends. Over the last three years, what have their habits been like? What mistakes have they made? What successes have they seen? What character have they developed?
We are habitual beings. By God’s grace, we do grow and change, but each of us has a sin pattern or two we will spend our lives combatting. How is this person trending with theirs? Are they getting better at fighting or repeatedly falling in the same type of pot-hole?
Also look at their wholistic past. Again, God can flip any narrative, but we will never be entirely unattached from our shaping influences. Even if we lead an entirely different life, the little tiny ways we do things will carry echoes of what has shaped us.
Keep this in mind and be honest with yourself as you learn about where someone comes from. True love will believe the best, but don’t let budding sentiments blind you to the battles you will have to face as a couple.
#2 — The company they keep
If you want to know where someone’s life is headed, look at their friends. What company do they keep? By nature, we surround ourselves with those who have something or do something in a way we want to mimic. And it works.
“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”-1 Corinthians 15:33
People rub off on people. Whether your intention or not, you pick up the habits and mannerisms of those around you. This is why the culture we live in is such a huge shaping influence. Look at this person’s culture, on a national level but also in their local community.
Someone caught up in the drug culture will constantly have that on their radar and—without accountability and a strong mission of their own—could very well become like it. Another who pursues the company of godly individuals will grow in their faith.
#3 — Look at what they consume
What a person reads, watches, and listens to reveals the kind of person they are. What books are they pursuing? What podcasts are in their weekly rotation? What is their music like? What videos do they submit themselves to on social media or TV?
The inner turmoil of one’s soul ripples out in what we search through for answers or let influence our thinking…which either cultivates or agitates the deeper struggle. What consumes our minds controls our lives. We become what we give our attention to.
“Because human conflict is the result of the spiritual battles in our hearts, wise relationships always seek to be aware of that deeper struggle.”-Unknown
Of course, don’t just analyze one’s life from afar. Talk to them. A self-aware person will make your job of discerning deeper currents easier, but always take anything anyone says with a grain of salt. We tend to cast ourselves in a better light than is true.
#4 — Consider how they spend
In the same effect of giving attention, look at how they use their resources: time, energy, money, etc. Do they kill an afternoon with a meaningless pastime or work voluntarily for the betterment of another? Where do they devote their financial income?
“Show me where you spend your time, money and energy and I’ll tell you what you worship.”-John Wimber
Also consider how they use their words. “Bad people don’t say good things about others,” my dad once said. “What we are on the inside comes out of our mouths.” Strong people are strong because they lift others up, not put them down.
So how one spends their resources can reveal a heart set on individual gain or one living for the sake of another. Are they buying unnecessary accessories to go with their outfits or something they know another would enjoy? One’s actions shed light on all you need to know.
All of these points—woven together and salted with human complexity—will paint a clear picture of how one’s life is likely to turn out. You merely need the wisdom, maturity, and clarity to see it. …And the understanding that God can rewrite any story.
No one on this side of heaven is beyond His grace, so consider how they are handling that free gift (if they accept it at all). The one who is forever acting on each new day’s opportunity to be better than the last is likely on an upward trend toward a life well lived.