September 7, 2017

For Worse

Gary Thomas — 

A woman from a war-torn country told an American, “The difference between Americans and the rest of the world is that you expect everything to go fine and are surprised when something bad happens. The rest of the world expects life to be dreary and is surprised when something good happens.”

I don’t know about “the rest of the world,” but when you come from a country where the government has always been corrupt, most people regularly face destitution, and food supply has never been certain, I’m sure many Americans must seem rather spoiled. In this woman’s view many of the people rioting about “injustice” here in this country, so filled with outrage, wouldn’t last a week where she comes from. That’s not to say there aren’t any reasons here for outrage—it’s just to challenge our expectations that we could live in a country where everything is expected to always go right and to assume that we will always agree with the people who are in elected office.

Writing from Houston in the aftermath of Harvey, with some dear friends displaced from toxic water, perhaps makes me especially sensitive to this insight. When you see the pictures in Houston with homes flooded, just know that’s not “nice” river water flowing through homes. It’s worse than sewage—a toxic stew requiring houses to be stripped and bleached before they can be rebuilt. Second Baptist, leading the way with recovery efforts, has a nurse on staff giving tetanus boosters and antibiotics to volunteers. This is nasty stuff.

“Good” people don’t get to avoid bad things. We know a married couple who have heroically served many pastors and our church and still, their office was flooded. You might hope “special” servants could get a miraculous pass from the Hurricane, but that’s not how it works.

On one of my first longer runs following Harvey, I slipped on some mud, fell against a buckled sidewalk, and tore some cartilage in my chest. It only hurts when I move, take a deep breath, or, God forbid, sneeze. Lisa immediately got me on turmeric, arnica and some lotion with mustard in the name, but she also began recounting the litany of running injuries I’ve faced through the years, with the implication, “Are you sure you should keep doing this?”

Next year will mark some forty years of running for me, and that must mean at least 50,000 miles on roads and trails. I can’t deny several medical issues (or the funny look in the doctor’s eyes this time when he asked me what I was taking for the pain and I replied “arnica and turmeric”), but my reply to Lisa was, “Given that I’ve run 50,000 miles, I think I’ve come through surprisingly well. Running in the dark, in storms, in bad weather conditions, with dogs and careless drivers, I’m surprised it hasn’t been worse. Yes, I think I should keep doing this!”

When we look at any marriage with occasional bad episodes, no matter how many miles we’ve travelled together, we might also ask, “Should we keep doing this?” We pledge to stay married “for better or for worse” but most of us never really expect the “for worse.” So when something bad happens, if our expectations are that only good things should happen, we can question our commitment.

Let me ask: do we truly think we can be married for a long time and never have bad things happen? Do you think a couple can be married for twenty years with no medical emergencies, no financial hardship, no major weather events, no employer or investor issues where you’re treated unfairly, no relational frustrations?

If we get married only expecting the “for better” and are surprised and resentful of the “for worse,” we’re going to be like the masked rioters who live in outrage because everything isn’t going exactly as we think it should.

Do you expect to raise several children without one of them having medical issues, developmental challenges, or any spiritual rebellion at all? Do you think you can be a member of a church and never be disappointed by a pastor or fellow church member? Do you expect to agree with all parts and every one of a pastor’s sermons and every decision made by the church leadership? Or do you get outraged at one disagreement and loudly storm out the door, telling everyone on Facebook why?

Do you think one disagreement with a spouse, one behavioral issue, one lethargic season is one too many?

Just what does it mean, really, when we pledge to be together, “for better and for worse?” Is there a place in our lives for the “worse” or are we going to make the “for worse” even more miserable because we’re outraged that life isn’t always perfect and then storm out the door?

When I see in a documentary a husband and wife leading their kids out of a bombed-out city, carrying everything they own on their backs, walking through the rain, and then I talk to a couple who leave their million dollar mansion to tell me why they can’t be happy together anymore, you’ll have to forgive me, but sometimes I think that woman from the war-torn country was on to something. As long as we expect every day to  be perfect and every season to be “happy,” every storm to be minor, and every marriage to be always connected and euphoric, I don’t know why we ever pledge to be there for the “for worse.”

I don’t think it’s possible to run 50,000 miles without an occasional injury. And I’m not sure it’s realistic to be married for 50,000 hours without some major disappointments.  But that, alone, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep doing it. Let’s thank God for the “for better,” but let’s not curse him (or each other) for the “for worse.”

Every marriage, every life, will have plenty of both.

[Note: with the other blog posts I’ve written, I trust readers will understand I’m not considering abuse as a part of the “for worse” that needs to be accepted rather than fled.]

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23 responses to For Worse

  1. Gary,

    I recently came across your site from a link in To Love Honor and Vacuum (Sheila Gregoire). In the past I have read some of your books and recently read Every Good Marriage begins with a funeral. I really enjoyed it and I am aware that I am responsible for my part in my marriage. My question is… can/does all you say still hold true if I am married to a narcissist? We are married 35 years and it took me a long time to realize the truth of the situation. Some days are good (when I manage to look at/lean on Christ) and some days not so good (when I focus more on me and what I am missing out on). If he is not willing/unable to do his part how do I stay in the relationship? Is there someone/a book/a verse you can point me to? I’m in need of a biblical perspective.

    Thanks

    Liz

  2. I admit I have fallen into the ideology that life ought to be hunky dorry, and pull a “why me” attitude when things go awry. This is an excellent post to put things in perspective.

  3. Thank you, thank you — I always make time to read your articles. Truth spoken, honest and encouraging. Blessings to you and Lisa – thanks for standing, turning and strengthening your brothers/sisters after you both have been sifted!! Praise to God

  4. So true! I’m blessed every time I read your blogs , the truth shines through so clear and strong . I never get tired of rereading some your books… I receive so much encouragement, you truly have a great gift in being able to share in this way. Always looking forward to the next read ! Thank you , JG

  5. Praying for your speedy recovery and for your body to be restored so that you can continue to be able to do something you love!!

  6. Thinking Biblically (Realistically) About Marriage September 7, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Gary, thank you so much for your website in general. I am currently experiencing the gift of singleness, I come from a divorced home, and I never experienced my parents’ marriage. Because of this, I think I had an unrealistic view of marriage. Each time I read your blogs, you expound on what Scripture already says and you give examples in your life and others’ lives that cause me to think biblically, which is realistically, about a marital relationship and what I should expect. I’ve read Sacred Search many times and I have given away many copies of Sacred Marriage in book and audio format (I own the DVD as well for both Sacred Search and Sacred Marriage) and I always find something that clarifies my thinking about a biblical marriage. Words can’t express my gratitude! Your books and blog posts have explained my past relationships and I know will assist in renewing my mind for, if the Lord wills, a marital relationship with my husband. Even if the Lord does not will for me to marry, I will continue to share what you’ve shared with me, via your books and blog posts, so that others will have a biblical (realistic) view of God’s intention for marriage and how we are to view and respond to this gift. You have undoubtedly helped others like me who have never directly seen marriage modeled before them and also those who’ve seen it modeled unbiblically. Thank you and please continue your work of helping us to think biblically (realistically) about marriage. May God continue to richly bless you and your family!

  7. Another great read Gary! I trust you and the family are safe in Houston! Concerning hurricane Irma i’m thanking God for his grace and mercy for sparing my island Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis), hurricane Jose is now on its way, but i’m praying that he also doesn’t cause any damage!

    On a happier note. I got engaged last week Friday :). I’m looking forward to a healthy marriage for better or for worse!

    • Gary should have qualified this article by saying from the very beginning that his “for worse” comments refer only to disappointments and discouragements in marriage and not to when there is destructive abuse (emotional, verbal, financial, spiritual or physical).

    • Congratulations Z! Our house came out of Harvey unscathed. So glad to hear your island escaped Irma!

  8. Yes. Great post. Not always easy, but true and right. It’s also the depth of worse that also makes us appreciate the heights of better.

  9. This is SO true! I also am a runner and have been for about 35 years. Running teaches us to persevere in all conditions. It teaches us that if we train and run the race that is set before us with endurance the rewards are worth it. The same goes for marriage, when you get through the “worse” times it makes you stronger, closer to God and ever so much more thankful for all that God has done!

  10. Thank you for writing this powerful message during such a difficult time. Our prayers continue for those affected by Harvey – as well as for those in the path of Irma.

  11. Wow! Totally forgot that you live in Texas. Have been praying for all of you!

    Thank you for being able to take the time to write this blog! You are amazing and these blogs mean a lot!

  12. What if you have endured the worse? What do you do when worse KEEPS happening and there’s no evidence of change or even a desire to? Do you continue being a fool to think things will ever change?

    • GA: I recommend marriage intensives when your relationship feels stuck. At a certain point, one hour a week of counseling stops helping. Intensives often run Friday and Saturday and help redirect the relationship. Win Shape has these, as does The Smalley Institute

  13. Very well said. It is so sad how many people give up when things get “tough” and then think the grass will be greener on the other side with no hardships. I have never personally thought about divorce but this was still a good reminder not to get overly frustrated at the hardships that are inevitable. It’s easy to just be upset instead of giving it to God and asking for his guidance through the trial.

  14. Very true in our day and age. Thank you for the perspective.