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May 17, 2018

The God Who Sees

Gary Thomas — 

After having escaped cruel and harsh punishment, pregnant without any support from the father of her child, Hagar felt helpless and alone. She didn’t have a single earthly friend. Grown up enslaved, she had been owned, ordered about, abused and forced to have sex with a man she didn’t love in order to bear a child for a woman who had contempt for her.

This is about as low as life gets. It might seem a bit strong to call what happened to Hagar “rape,” except for the fact that she had no possibility of refusing her master’s and mistress’s orders.

If you’ve been owned, raped, beaten and abandoned, it’s not surprising that you would come out of that experience not just thinking that the world isn’t fair, but that God isn’t fair. At the very least, you might think he is blind or unfeeling.

So it’s touching and moving and profound when God visits Hagar, assures her of His own protection and blessing, and this simple woman responds by naming God “El-Roi,” the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

Just knowing that God saw her gave Hagar the strength to return to her abusive mistress. “God sees me,” she surely said to herself, “So even when I am not treated fairly, I’m not alone.” God essentially told Hagar that while people plotted to make her miserable, He had plans to bless her beyond all belief. She felt powerless and forgotten, but God promised her she would be remembered and the powerful ancestor of a people so numerous “they cannot be counted” (Gen. 16:10).

In the same way, God may not remove all our difficulties. He may ask us to persevere in a deplorable situation or marriage without promising that the evil people in our lives will suddenly change (I’m not suggesting physically or sexually abused women are called by God to stay in their homes—Hagar’s was a different time and a particular situation. When women can get away from evil and toxic treatment, they should get away). His only promise may be, “I see what’s going on and I have chosen to bless you in the midst of their cursing.”

Will we accept God’s promise of blessing even when it must come wrapped with the hatred and mistreatment of others?

William Gurnall, the seventeenth century Anglican clergyman who wrote the classic, The Christian in Complete Armor, helps bearing the cross sound a little more realistic when he urges believers not to look at the cross but to look at Jesus who bids us to bear the cross. The beauty of Jesus overwhelms the ugliness of the cross.

In fact, Gurnall surprisingly gets a little earthier than that. When God bids us to pick up the cross, we should have the same attitude as a lover taking us by the hand saying, “Come with me.” Our love for God should be so strong that we would rather follow Him into a painful situation than live in comfort without Him.

If it is necessary for us to persevere in a situation in which others disrespect us, take us for granted or just plain ignore us, looking on Jesus is our best form of self-defense. If I think, “How can they treat me that way?” I’ll start to hate them. If I think, “Why am I putting up with this?” I may start to hate myself. If I look to El-Roi, the God who sees, I’m able to either endure the mistreatment with a holy spirit or grow the courage to confront and leave it. Either way, it’ll be because I’m responding to the God who sees instead of reacting to the person who hates.

Perhaps more than in any age in history, today’s church is plagued with “fair weather followers,” utterly devoid of any notion of even looking at, much less carrying the cross. Yet Jesus made it as clear as possible when he said there is no Christianity without the cross: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

In spite of this clear instruction, modern believers frequently assume that they have a “special contract” with God obligating him to remove all opposition and hurt, based in part on the verse I hear misquoted and misapplied more than perhaps any other verse except for “Judge not lest you be not judged”: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

Is the removal of all opposition and hurt a realistic request this side of eternity?

I said in a sermon once, “I wish I could stop everyone from being mean to you, but I can’t. But I can point you to the God who chooses you when others reject you, who loves you dearly when others mistreat you (c.f. Col. 3:12), and the God who sees you when others ignore you.”

God’s blessings are so rich, personal obedience is so powerful a force in the Christian’s life, the joy of fellowship with God is so real and animating, that just knowing God chooses us, sees us and loves us dearly is all we need to keep moving forward.

Can you survive in a lonely marriage? Can you keep parenting a rebellious child? Can you find joy with an apathetic spouse? Is there freedom when your vocational situation feels oppressive? The answer is “yes” if you know God chose you, sees you and rewards those who remain faithful, and if you draw your worth and fulfillment from the fact that God has called you to do this rather than someone else is forcing you to do this.

Keep looking at Jesus, not at the cross.

The key to living in a world with toxic people is relating to worshipping, and spending time throughout the day finding your refuge in El-Roi, the God who sees.

When we forget that evil exists within our own hearts; indeed, when we stop ordering our thinking and feeling around God and begin to live to please ourselves, we open the door to all kinds of evil in our marriage, especially the evil we are most likely to be unaware of or excuse: the evil of self-obsession.

We don’t like to talk about this evil as it pertains to us (though we’ll talk plenty about our spouse’s failures in this regard), but silence and ignorance is where evil grows. If we don’t recognize the existence of evil and guard against it we’ll never find a cure for it.

Instead, we’ll just explain it away or blame others for it.

Dallas Willard talks about how “We are like farmers who diligently plant crops but cannot admit the existence of weeds and insects and can only think to pour on more fertilizer. Similarly, the only solution we know to human problems today is ‘education.’”

Educating an evil person without regard to evil doesn’t remove the evil; it simply makes him or her cleverer in spreading their evil.

If I get all kinds of marital education and knowledge but never confront the evil self-obsession that lies within my heart, I’ll use that knowledge (my spouse’s love language, for instance) as a weapon rather than a blessing. I’ll employ her love language to get my way rather than to bless her.

Denial

The most popular path among Christians to deal with our evil self-obsession is to deny that it exists, or at least that it is motivating us. In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard warns that “denial—usually in some form of rationalization—is the primary device that humans use to deal with their own wrongness.”

This is universal. Every married person reading this is in some way a bit in denial about the evil lingering in their heart that is negatively affecting their marriage.

Personal evil is so painful and difficult to admit that we are tempted to transfer the evil to others. We don’t think of ourselves as angry spouses; we think our spouse is wrong in lighting the spark that makes us angry.

A man doesn’t think of himself as lustful and unfaithful. He thinks of his wife as cold or preoccupied or neglectful.

A woman doesn’t think of herself as critical. She just thinks of her husband as a doofus.

The Cure

Evil is best confronted by ordering our minds and hearts around the presence and will of God. Evil is coddled when we forget God is God and try to set ourselves up as God.

This is where self-obsession assumes its throne. It is nothing less than evil for me to try to turn my wife into a “love Gary as he likes to be loved” machine. That’s narcissism. God calls her to seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). Here’s the question to ask if you want to know how much you are directed by God and how much you are motivated by hidden selfish evil in your marriage: do you spend more time praying for your spouse’s relationship and service to God or more time praying about how they need to become a better spouse to you?

Edith Schaeffer wrote, “The philosophy of living with an underlying motive of doing everything for one’s own personal peace and comfort rapidly colors everything that might formerly have come under the heads of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’… If one’s peace, comfort, way of life, convenience, reputation, opportunities, job, happiness, or even ease is threatened, ‘just abort it.’”

When my life isn’t ordered around God, I fiercely resent being inconvenienced. I’m driven to do what I want to do, what I think is best for me, and my wife will pay the heaviest price for my evil self-obsession.

According to Dallas Willard, “Self-idolatry rearranges the entire spiritual and moral landscape. It sees the whole universe with different eyes…The fundamental pride of putting oneself at the center of the universe is the hinge upon which the entire world of the ruined self turns.” He quotes John Calvin, who said that “the surest source of destruction in men is to obey themselves.”

Husband and wife: will you realize that self-obsession may be the biggest threat to you and your marriage’s happiness? If we do not admit that this is evil, if we are not aware of and do not actively confront the evil of self-obsession, that evil will make us and our marriages miserable. It is so much easier and feels so much safer to talk about the evils of others rather than our own. Dallas Willard again: “It is common today to hear Christians talk of their ‘brokenness.’ But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them.”

When I understand how evil I am and how evil I can yet be, and that evil begins with self-obsession, I am more determined to order my life around God’s word and will and, just as importantly, release my wife to do the same. I will seek out the Scriptures to understand his heart. I will submit my thinking and actions in a way that proclaims in fact, not just in word, “You are my Lord and my God” and “You are my wife’s Lord and God.”

One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is to be ruthless about admitting and discarding the evil in your own heart, beginning with the evil of self-obsession.

 

[Note: this post could be harmful to men and women married to abusive spouses who have given themselves over to evil. While all of us need to explore and discharge the evil in our hearts, some spouses need to be saved from an evil, oppressive situation. If you suspect that may be the case with you, please seek other counsel. This teaching is for those who want to save their marriage, not for those who need to be saved from their marriage.]

March 23, 2018

Taking Action

Gary Thomas — 

When Your Marriage is Going in the Wrong Direction, Doing Nothing is Usually Your Worst Choice

[Note: this week’s blog post is an adaptation from my newly released book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Influencing Your Husband, which is a rewritten version of Sacred Influence. For this reason, it primarily addresses women and wives, but men and husbands should feel free to change the genders and apply it accordingly. Nothing stated here isn’t also true for men. In fact, I’d love to hear in the comments how men reacted to this.]

When a marriage is going “south,” one of the worst things you can do is…nothing. People in panic often fear making the wrong move but sometimes “no move” is the worst move. Not doing anything will get you just what you’ve got.

The first thing so many women (and men, for that matter) in the Bible had to be told was to stop being afraid and become bold. When Hagar was abandoned by her husband and exiled to what looked like her and her son’s slow starvation and death, God’s angel encouraged her: “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 21:17). When the women who had been faithful to Jesus were beside themselves with grief, wondering what had happened to the body of their precious Jesus, an angel admonished them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5).

Because of God’s Spirit within us, we are sometimes called to bold action. The “safe” path is sometimes a slow drift toward destruction. One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Elton Trueblood, put it so well:

“The person who never goes out on a limb will never, it is true, have the limb cut off while he is on it, but neither will he reach the best fruit. The best fruit which human life offers seems to come only within the reach of those who face life boldly . . . with no excessive concern over possible failure and personal danger. The good life is always the gambler’s choice, and comes to those who take sides. Neutrality is seldom a virtue.”

Fear gives birth to paralysis—and sometimes inaction is our greatest enemy. Marriages can slowly die from years of apathy. I’ve seen many relationships wilt from unhealthy patterns that one or both partners refused to address until they became “calcified” and thus were ten times more difficult to break. This is true of addictions, unhealthy communication, and disrespect. The longer a bad situation goes on, the more ingrained it becomes and the more difficult it is to fix.

If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is understanding who you already are in Christ.

The Spiritual Platform to Influence Your Spouse

Let’s apply some simple theology here. Who does the Bible say is your refuge — God or your husband? Deuteronomy 33:27 provides the answer: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

In whom does your hope lie? Your husband’s continuing affection? First Peter 1:21 says, “Your faith and hope are in God.”

Where will you find your security? You and your husband’s ability to earn a living and your husband’s commitment to stay married to you? Philippians 4:19 answers, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Where will you find supreme acceptance that will never fade or falter for all the days of your life? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,” replies Isaiah 62:5, “so will your God rejoice over you.”

If you’re trying to find your primary refuge in your husband, if you’ve centered your hope on him, if your security depends on his approval, and if you will do almost anything to gain his acceptance, then you’ve just given to a man what rightfully belongs to God alone.

And that means you’ve turned marriage into idol worship.

When you do that, both you and your husband lose. How will you ever find the courage to confront someone whose acceptance so determines your sense of well-being that you believe you can’t exist without him? How will you ever take the risk to say what needs to be said if you think your future depends on your husband’s favor toward you?

Your future depends on God, not on a fallen man. Your security rests with your caring Creator’s providence, not with your husband’s paycheck. Your acceptance as a person became secure when God adopted you, not when your husband proposed to you. If you truly want to love, motivate, and influence your husband, your first step must be to stay connected with God. Find your refuge, security, comfort, strength, and hope in him.

Armed with this acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness? When you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them.

An Active God

The first thing God wants us to know in Genesis chapter 1 is that he is an extraordinarily active God. In Genesis chapter one, thirty-eight active verbs describe what God does: he creates, he speaks, he separates, he calls, he blesses, he gives, and much more—all in just one chapter. Then—and this is key—he tells the woman and the man to do the same: “God blessed them [male and female] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

God made you, as a woman, to rule in this world, to subdue it, to act according to his image. Sin often drags us back toward sluggishness, despair, and despondency—giving in to life as it is rather than remaking life as it could be with God’s redeeming power unleashed. People give up on their marriages, give up on prayer, give up on their churches, give up on their kids, and eventually even give up on themselves. They say, “It’s no use,” and start to sulk instead of painstakingly remaking their marriage—simply because their first (or even tenth) attempt failed.

Initial romantic intensity is unearned; it seems to fall on us out of nowhere. But a solid, lasting marriage has to be built (and sometimes rebuilt) stone by stone. You married a fallen man and that means the time will come when you need to become an active woman to confront the weaknesses you see in yourself and your husband.

As daunting as this might seem, here’s the hope behind it: the current challenges in your marriage may well be God’s vehicle for you to become the strong woman he created you to be. Maybe you grew up with an overly passive view of being a woman. Maybe you’ve always let people run over you and allowed things to happen rather than to rise up and unleash the power that is yours as a woman not only created in the image of God, but filled with His Holy Spirit.

This challenge, as scary and painful as it might be, could be the doorway to new growth, new maturity and a new woman who more closely resembles the character of Jesus Christ.

For more teaching on this topic, check out Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband: http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

Many marital problems arise not because of an issue between a specific couple— say, Jack and Jill or Larry and Sherry— but because of a breakdown in understanding between a male and a female. In the next three posts, I hope to offer wives some insight into the intricacies of the male mind so you’ll learn how to better communicate and live with your husband. But there will be plenty of helpful information for husbands to understand themselves, so men, please stick around!

The last several decades of neuroscience have demonstrated that well before a baby comes into this world, while it remains safely tucked inside the mother’s womb, the brain of a male baby gets bombarded with testosterone, while a female baby receives greater quantities of female hormones. Between the third and sixth month of that unborn baby’s life, hormones begin to shape the tiny brain, influencing how that individual will interact with the world. Yes, males receive some female hormones, and females receive some testosterone, but the quantities of these hormones (males have up to twenty times more testosterone than females; females tend to have much more oxytocin than males) will stamp that child’s brain by the sixth month of pregnancy—three months before any mother or father has a chance to “socialize” it.

Admittedly, there exist what neuroscientists call “bridge brain” males and “bridge brain” females. Our tendency toward masculine or feminine brains occurs on a continuum, resulting in various degrees of stamping. But even here, a “bridge brain” male will have more testosterone than a “bridge brain” female.

The male brain therefore functions much differently than the female brain. Dr. Louann Brizendine, who studied at Yale and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center, states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”

While our brains are more “plastic” (that is, moldable) than we used to think and therefore susceptible to socialization, according to Dr. Brizendine, “male and female brains are different from the moment of conception.” Since brains develop by degrees, stereotyping can lead us astray, but certain things tend to be true. For example, male brains usually have less serotonin than female brains. Since serotonin calms people down, men are more likely to act explosively and compulsively. Surprised? Probably not.  (Of course, as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, this doesn’t excuse or diminish abusive behavior by a husband. I’ve addressed this here: “Taking Non-Physical Marital Abuse More Seriously http://www.garythomas.com/marital-abuse/, here: “God Hates Domestic Violence” http://www.garythomas.com/god-hates-domestic-violence/ and here: “Enough is Enough” http://www.garythomas.com/enough-enough/, among other places.)

Here’s another example. Men also have less oxytocin in their brains. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle chemical” as well as the primary generator of the “tend- and- befriend” instinct. In general, the more oxytocin someone has, the less aggressive he or she is likely to be. On the positive side, more oxytocin usually means more empathy, making the person more likely to notice how you’re feeling and more likely to inquire about it.

Why is your husband less likely to tune in to your emotional pain and verbalize his concern than, say, your sister or your best friend? His brain doesn’t work the same way a female brain does; it just doesn’t occur to him to connect his affection with verbal inquiry. The “mirror- neuron system” of your husband’s brain, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “ ‘I feel what you feel’ emotional empathy system”— the system that helps a person get “in sync with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions and interpreting tone of voice and other emotional cues”— “is larger and more active in the female brain.”

Remember, this is true not only of your husband in particular; it’s true of men in general. Be careful that you don’t fault or resent your husband for being a man!

If you want to motivate your husband and communicate with him, as well as enjoy a fulfilling marriage with him and raise healthy kids with him, stop expecting him to act or think like a woman. He can’t do that. Nor should he.  I’m not saying empathy doesn’t matter. As I write in Cherish, “Emotional abuse is also the withholding of love, encouragement, and support. It can be a sin of deprivation every bit as much as a sin of commission.” But as you’ll see in the next post, the way a man expresses empathy can be different than the way a woman often expresses it.

Rid yourself of every tactic and skill you use in talking to your sisters, best friends, and mother, and realize that a man’s mind functions very differently. Some similarities exist, of course, so a few things will interrelate. But if you expect him to talk to you like your lifelong best friend does or your sister does or your mother does, and evaluate him on that basis, you’re being unfair. And you’re going to be disappointed.

This post is all about understanding that your husband is biologically wired to relate to you differently than you relate to him or your female friends. Influence begins with understanding, and in the next two posts, we’ll seek to delve into how you can make this work in your marriage’s favor.

If you want that information sooner, this post is adapted from my most recent book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Loving Him Well is a substantial rewrite of Sacred Influence, with about fifty percent of it being completely new. I’ve worked with many more couples over the last decade-plus that Sacred Influence has been out. For instance, there’s an entire chapter helping the church deal more appropriately with abusive marriages (though the book isn’t written for women in abusive marriages). Due to my own ignorance and lack of experience, I wasn’t sensitive enough to that issue when Sacred Influence first came out. And whereas Sacred Influence had a few paragraphs about wives dealing with porn-watching husbands, there’s now an entire chapter (in fact, now the longest chapter in the book) devoted to that subject. High speed Internet access has changed everything in this regard over the past decade and a couple paragraphs will no longer suffice.

I didn’t recommend any one buy revised editions of Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting or Sacred Pathways if they already had the originals, as these were rather light glosses, mostly tightening things up, clarifying a bit, and updating cultural references. But Loving Him Well is more than a rewrite—it’s a substantially different book (with about half the content being the same as its predecessor, however).

You can check it out here:

 http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis shows how wide-ranging the word “love” is. It is used to define many different notions and mind-sets.

What if you can take your marriage up a level this year?

The first form of love (according to Lewis) is Need-Love, which is today what we call infatuation. “I need you, therefore I love you. I want you to meet my needs. I crave you. I can’t make it without you.” It looks so romantic in the movies, but when you look at the base psychology behind it, it’s actually a bit unnerving. Need-Love creates a high level of desperation and resentment. You can’t build a marriage on it.

The second form of love could be called “Sacred Marriage” love; Lewis uses the phrase “Gift-Love,” but it basically means wanting to serve, even to the point of suffering or sacrifice. It’s a noble love, always putting the other’s best (as God defines “best”) first. It remains, I believe, the foundation of a God-honoring marriage.

The third love, “Appreciative-Love,” is the same concept I write about in Cherish. It’s about celebrating, appreciating, and adoring.

Here’s how Lewis ties all of them together: “Need-Love says of a woman, ‘I cannot live without her’; Gift-Love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection—if possible, wealth; Appreciative Love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist…”

We can’t choose “Need-Love”—and looking at what it actually is, who would want to? Infatuation just seems to happen. It’s something we should probably want to get out of sooner rather than later so that we can move on to choose Gift-Love. Gift-Love is easier to attain than cherishing love in that it’s all based on actions. We can choose to serve. We can choose to sacrifice. We can choose to put someone else’s welfare above our own. We just have to act.

The third kind of love, what Lewis calls “Appreciative Love” and what we will call “cherishing love” isn’t as easy to apply as Gift-Love because rejoicing and adoring isn’t solely an act of the will. You have to develop a heart and mind that fosters it, which then gives birth to it. It goes beyond action to the heart.

What I discovered in Cherish is that such a love is attainable, if you’re willing to adopt a long-term program. It begins with following through on a commitment (made in my marriage vows to love and to cherish until death do us part, covered in chapter 1), adopting a cherishing mindset (the “only man or woman in the world” analogy, chapter 2), and then learning to showcase my spouse (chapters 3-4), changing the way I speak to and about her (chapter 8), reveling in her uniqueness (chapter 9), fighting off contempt (chapter 5) and applying grace to go the distance (chapter 10), applying some tried and true practices (chapter 11), and then going back to the truth of the Gospel so that I could keep doing all the above (chapter 13). The entire program can eventually create that once illusive but oh so rewarding “third love.”

If you feel your marriage is mired in a stand-still, where selfishness reigns and you don’t even know if you want to go on, you need to lay the foundation for your marriage with the message of Sacred Marriage. If you feel committed to the marriage but it’s a struggle to stay connected, then you’re looking at the area covered in A Lifelong Love. But if you’re eager to experience marriage at its best, to taste a Song of Songs kind of relationship to reach that “third love” stage, Cherish is the book for you.

Lisa gave me a tremendous gift this past year. She made artwork out of one of the main Bible verses behind Cherish: “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (Song of Songs 6:9). But I asked her to make it smaller, and to put it beside or above one of my favorite photos of her. I can already tell that it will become one of my most prized possessions because it celebrates “my only one.” Under my fascination with God, nothing quite moves my heart like thinking about Lisa.

Here’s another secret I’m learning: cherishing grows. When you enter it, you eventually discover it’s not a park, it’s a large country with many meadows and streams and forests and caves and rivers to explore. Infatuation collapses in on itself; cherishing expands. There is more to explore in cherishing love, in fact, than this life gives us opportunity to, which has led me to believe that cherishing love provides us with one of the earliest glimpses of heaven we can ever experience this side of eternity.

Note: Focus on the Family is re-airing my two-day interview on Cherish Thursday and Friday, December 28-29, as part of their “Best of 2017 re-broadcasts.”

On December 28 and 29 you can listen to the interviews here:

www.focusonthefamily.com/radio

After the airdate, you can listen to them here:

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/cherish-your-spouse-change-your-marriage-pt1

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/cherish-your-spouse-change-your-marriage-pt2

 

I thought I was one of the world’s biggest fans of marriage, until I asked a question on Facebook (“What do you love most about marriage?”) and found out there are legions of marriage fans out there!

In the revised and updated edition of Sacred Marriage (published in 2015) I wrote,

“I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”

Sacred Marriage admits that parts of marriage can be very difficult, but when it’s good, it can be very good. That’s a view shared by Jillian on Facebook who wrote, “Marriage is hard…especially when you’re acting selfish….but it’s also a freaking blast!!!”

In our two previous posts we celebrated good husbands and awesome wives. The final post in this series celebrates the joys of marriage. So many singles who have witnessed some truly awful marriages ask me, “Is marriage worth the risk?” Accordingly, I asked married couples on my Facebook pages to brag about the benefits of marriage and here’s some of what they shared:

The most common answer to what people love about marriage was “friendship, companionship and sharing life together.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 captures this aspect of marriage so well:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”

Second, couples pointed out the spiritual benefit of pursuing God together.  You don’t just gain a husband or wife when you get married; you live with a brother or sister in Christ. You will never experience such a level of accountability and the possibility of encouragement and inspiration with anyone else quite like you can with your spouse. This reminds me of Hebrews 3:13-14a:

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ…”

Shelly wrote this about the spiritual benefits of her marriage: “It has caused me to grow closer to God than I ever imagined possible and strengthened that relationship first, so that I can see my husband, my best friend with more of His eyes and consequently love my husband in a deeper, more meaningful way that is connected to Christ. Without my marriage, my relationship with God and others would be just less, less complete.”

Third, we can’t leave out the benefit of…being naked together. The wonder of sexual intimacy, when there is an amazing spiritual bond, relational bond, and incredible physical sensations, not to mention the wonderful feelings of closeness afterwards—few highs in life will ever come close to sexual intimacy in marriage. Song of Songs 5:1 exalts,

I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,

I gathered my myrrh with my spice,

I ate my honeycomb with my honey,

I drank my wine with my milk.

Eat, friends, drink,

and be drunk with love!

There were times when our kids were young and Lisa and I would do “date evenings” at a hotel. There’s just something different about hotel sex. I don’t know why, but there is. Not having to be quiet, having a door that is locked and barred and clean sheets that you can leave dirty… Driving to the hotel was half the fun. Knowing what would soon happen, that I was with the woman I cherish above all others, and what we were about to do wasn’t just acceptable to God but blessed by God and celebrated by God!

I should probably do more in this blog to celebrate this aspect of marriage, as does Chris, who writes that he loves “Having a best friend that is also smokin’ hot.” And Jen, who says of her husband, “He’s just so stinking sexy I can’t hardly believe he’s mine!”

Having each other’s back was another common response to the benefits of marriage. I love the way Lindsey captures her marriage with Steve: “Knowing that no matter what the world, the family, friends, or even the church tosses at me — my man always has my back and loves me even when I am wrong. It’s the peace of knowing my heart is in his hand.” (But Lindsey I know you, and you’re rarely wrong…)

Reed says something similar to Lindsey, praising “The warm embrace and kindness of my wife when I come home after the world has beat on me all day long and her heart of defense for me and our marriage as a team and unit.”

Other benefits of marriage Facebook people identified:

  • Knowing who your first call will be (for good news or bad)
  • Facing sickness and life disappointments (unemployment, the death of loved ones, etc.) together.
  • Someone to celebrate with
  • A treasure trove of inside jokes
  • Alison mentions, “Being each other’s sounding board! Offering each other an ear when one needs to vent or one wants to share ideas or ask questions! I love it!”
  • Quiet evenings or mornings where you’re doing nothing, but you’re doing nothing together
  • Growing old together
  • Sharing parenting duties together
  • Reno wrote about “The sharing of life experiences…. the look across a crowded room that says “let’s go home.”

I personally love having someone to bless, and several others said the same thing. The Bible calls us to be devoted to good works (Titus 3:8,14), and it’s a great joy to do things for your spouse that makes her or his life easier or more pleasant. If you live a life of worship and walk in grace, you’ll feel compelled to love and serve others. It’s God’s Spirit within you, orienting you toward a life of blessing, and marriage provides the most immediate context in which to live that out.

More good news for wary singles: many couples testify that marriage tends to get sweeter with time. If you’re both growing in the Lord, you haven’t lived your best day of marriage yet! More sweetness is up ahead. Jaime puts it this way: “There is a buried treasure that seems to only be discovered when you’ve stuck it out through the years and the hard stuff.”

Bill adds, “We’re seamless and the longer you are married you begin to realize what true relationships look like. It goes to higher levels unlike anything I could have ever imagined.”

Alison Tidmore’s words capture the wonder of marriage as well as anyone could. In fact, her words are so beautiful and true to life, let’s end the blog with this:

“I realized this summer what I love most.  I have gone on a few trips to visit family with just my kids. Greg has stayed behind to work. After a few days I was ready to go home. I missed being home. This summer our family of 5 took an almost 2 week road trip and there wasn’t one second I wanted to go home. I looked at Greg one evening and told him he was my HOME. Wherever he is, I am home. Thinking about what home represents summarizes marriage to me–so much security, love, family time, rest, quiet times with Jesus, safety in storms of life; that is my husband and my favorite part of marriage.”

Thank you, God, for the many and varied wonders of marriage!

The man who finds a wife finds a treasure,

and he receives favor from the Lord.

Prov. 18:22

What a joy to be married to a godly woman! A godly wife isn’t a possession, but she is a treasure.

On my Facebook personal page and author page, I asked men to brag about their wives, telling me the three things they most appreciate about their spouses. Four qualities clearly rose to the top.

This is in no way scientific. Most men following me on Facebook are Christians. But I love the way some stereotypes were obliterated. For example, not a single man chose as one of his favorite qualities his wife’s physical appearance. Only two out of about a hundred even mentioned “lover.” Guys are often characterized as focused primarily on sex, but the husbands who responded to my request clearly aren’t.

This post has a triple purpose: to thank you wives for being so wonderful; to encourage single men that, when looking for a future wife, you would do well to consider these qualities; and to encourage wives who want to grow in their husband’s affection with the knowledge that these are the things long-term husbands most admire. Your own husband may value different things, of course, but these are what men chose to publicly celebrate. At the very least, this post could spawn some enlightening conversation on a date night.

The four qualities men on Facebook (I’m not saying this is my list or what I think is most important; mine would be somewhat different) most celebrated about their wives, in this order, were:

Number 1: Faithfulness and Loyalty

Wives, your husbands are grateful for your commitment to your marriage. They believe you hold true to your vows, you won’t cheat on them, and that you will stick with the marriage through disappointments.

Many of us are astounded that a woman agreed to marry us. And we are ever more grateful that, even as you get to know our weaknesses, you stay by our side. We’ve been cut from the team by coaches, rejected by university admission committees, fired by or passed over for promotions by employers, sometimes rejected by our own children, but the story of our lives has been a woman who has walked through all of that with an unyielding, iron-willed faithfulness and loyalty.

And for that we are truly grateful.

I celebrated this gift of loyalty in my book Cherish when I imagine a wife saying to her insecure husband, “You’ve made it across the finish line, into my arms. I’m yours and you are mine. We’re one. I’m thrilled with you. I love you. You can rest in my acceptance. I will recharge you with my affection. I won’t pull away when I get to know you; I’ll draw closer. I won’t disrespect you when I find the dark within you; I’ll pray for God to flood you with his light. I won’t compare you to any other man because to me you are the only man of my affections; you are the standard; you are my man of all men. I won’t look at another man, I won’t touch another man, I won’t compare you to any other man. I will feast my eyes and fill my heart with my love for you.”

What this also means, wives, is that unfaithfulness is perhaps the biggest wound a woman can inflict on her husband because loyalty seems to be closest to many men’s hearts. Flirtation outside the marriage can crush a man, particularly if he values faithfulness and loyalty above all else, as a clear plurality of men in this survey seemed to.

Number 2: A Devoted Follower of Christ

Wives, thank you for bringing more of Christ into our homes. Your knowledge of God’s word, your devotion to prayer and worship, your eagerness to be a part of the local church, and your commitment to godliness blesses us in so many ways.

The closer you get to God, the stronger you become for us. The wiser you become, the more we gain from your perspective. The more peaceful you become, the more spiritual rest we have at home. We don’t look at your faith as something you should do for us—it’s about you and God, first and foremost—but we are blessed immeasurably by the practice and fruit of your faith.

Single men, this is why the Bible urges young men to value a woman’s faith over beauty and charm (Prov. 31:30). Beauty as the world defines it fades. Godliness grows, because God by his Holy Spirit makes it grow. If you marry a woman who is surrendered to God you will be even more in love with her on your thirtieth wedding anniversary than you were on your third. That’s certainly been true for me.

Number 3: A Nurturing Spirit: Kindness, Compassion, Graciousness

I had to lump all of these together under “nurturing spirit” because different men use different words, but they all point to one thing: the disposition of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve. This points to wives who love and give with daily kindness; the kind of wife who is a soothing presence in her family rather than one who brings even more drama into her home. Men praise the peacemakers rather than the warriors (A woman in an abusive marriage may need to become a warrior in order to escape and protect her children, but these posts aren’t talking about abusive marriages; we’re talking about marriages worthy of celebration).

Women, husbands don’t want home to be a battleground. They so appreciate gracious, kind, and compassionate wives. There’s so much drama at the office and sometimes with extended family members. People are at odds with each other in the local church, businesses, sporting events, competing with each other and tearing each other down. What a blessing to be married to a woman who brings a nurturing presence into her home.

Number 4: Forgiving and Patient

We know we mess up. We know we keep messing up. So for all those times of forgiveness and patience, thank you. We wish we could be better for you, and we’re trying. But your acceptance means more to us than you could possibly know.

Single men, as mentioned already, I was shocked at one thing that not a single husband mentioned when searching for his “top three” things to celebrate: his wife’s physical appearance. When looking for a bride, attractiveness usually tops the list for single men. I get that. But the absence of its mention on this list tells me that you would do well to put character and faith first when considering who to marry. Sacrificing character for beauty is something you’ll almost certainly regret. There’s nothing wrong with looking for a woman who is beautiful to you inside and out, but I’m just telling you, in a decade or so, you will be most mindful of her inner beauty.

So, godly wives, thank you for being you. Thank you for putting up with us husbands. In this post, we celebrate you in all your excellence. We know you’re more than a wife: you’re God’s daughter with your own dreams and worth and purpose outside of your relationship to us. But what you bring to us can’t be measured.

A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her

and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm,

all the days of her life.

Proverbs 31:10-12

 

Husbands, feel free to add more comments about what you appreciate about your wives in the section below. And in keeping with the previous post, we won’t post comments from disappointed husbands on this particular post. We want the comments for these two posts in particular to be positive and encouraging.

Lisa and I were at a women’s conference when Lisa asked the wife sitting next to her how she had slept the night before. “Terrible,” she replied. “I’m used to my husband’s backrub every night and it’s hard to get to sleep without it.”

“Every night?” Lisa asked.

“Every night.”

Plenty of these blog posts have challenged selfish husbands (and, admittedly less often, wives). But in the next two posts, I want to celebrate some very good husbands and then some very good wives. Instead of always talking about problem spouses, let’s stay in the spirit of Thanksgiving and celebrate the good ones. My hope is that singles will learn what married spouses end up valuing most, and for all of us married people to be inspired to become the kind of spouse that our wife or husband would call “the best of the best.”

I was moved to write this post the weekend that Harvey hit Houston. Lisa and I invited a married couple over to watch the Mayweather/MacGregor fight Saturday night. Technically, Harvey landed on Friday, and then there was a lull Saturday morning and afternoon. We thought maybe we had escaped it and called some friends to come over and watch the fight. The rains hit really hard just before the fight started however, so our neighborhood was transformed into water world between the time they arrived and the time they left.

Actually, one of them left a little earlier to check on their dog. The dog is old, deaf, and almost blind (it probably should have died five years ago but is just too stubborn), but the wife was worried that poor Bella would be scared so she asked her husband to go get her (they live about two miles away). Her husband patiently pointed out that a deaf and blind dog wouldn’t know it if a hurricane blew their house apart, but he loves his wife so he went to their house to get Bella. It took him over 20 minutes to make the drive one way, and just as long to make it back.

His wife knew she was making a bit of an unreasonable request, but he went anyway. And while he was gone, she praised him as “one of the best husbands in the world.”

There are husbands like this out there, and there are plenty of husbands who cherish and spoil their wives.

When wives praise their husbands like this, I often probe to find out what they think makes their husband so special.  I’ve come up with three things in particular that most wives seem to praise. There are others, of course, and I’m asking married women to add to this list in the comments section below.

Single women: this is what you should look for, if you’re like most women. And husbands, these are the kinds of things we should aspire to if we want our wives to be thankful they married us.

Temperament

Without fail, wives that are particularly grateful for their husbands are thankful that he’s not mean, harsh, or prone to temper-laden outbursts. Life’s too short for explosive drama. These wives praise patience and gentleness. They know they can mess up and even occasionally make absurd requests, but even then, they don’t want to have to “pay” for these requests and mistakes with volcanic temper tantrums.

Single women: you will be happiest if you marry a man who is kind, patient, and gentle with you. If he’s harsh, vindictive, if he yells and makes you “pay” for not being perfect, you’ll live with many regrets. Temperament is a huge thing.

I know a woman who has, in her mind, met perhaps the man of all men—he has a high profile law enforcement position where he can act like an alpha male (“Move this car now!”), but then he turns to her and gently says, “So, babe, what can I get you to eat this evening?”

Married men: this is one area where we can grow and mature if we choose to. Think of the kindness with which God has treated you and give that same kindness to your wife. You know you’re not perfect. Give your wife the same grace that you need. The “perfect” Christian husband could be summed up by Colossians 3:12:  “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Faith

Wives generally love to be spiritually challenged by their husbands. The wife who spent part of Harvey with us was raised by an alcoholic father. She decided in college that maybe it would be best if she didn’t drink. Early on in her dating relationship with her now husband, she shared her resolve to abstain from drinking and why. Then, at a party, he caught her holding a mixed drink. “Hey,” he said, “If you and I are going to date, this kind of thing isn’t going to fly.”

He wasn’t controlling; he was just firm, essentially saying, “You can drink or date me, but you can’t do both.” She had never had another guy call her to follow through on a commitment she had made to God before, and from that point on, she was smitten.

So often, I see single women trying to drag their boyfriends to church, but the girlfriend is the one who sets moral boundaries, who makes sure they stay active in church, who brings up God and prayer and Scripture. Women, if you have to drag him to faith, don’t ever expect him to challenge your faith. Find a guy who already challenges you just where you are.

Guys, it’s hard to hold our wives accountable when they see us making compromise after compromise. One of the best gifts we can give our wives is consecration to God—reading his word, yielding to his will, surrendering to his moral call.

Security

I’ve never met a wife who calls her husband the best of the best if she feels the least bit threatened by him physically. Every husband will get angry from time to time, but the best husbands know how to deal with their anger without letting their wives feel threatened.

Single women, don’t even think about marrying a man if it’s even remotely possible in your mind that he could possibly hit you. Marriage is too intense, and living together makes you too vulnerable, to put yourself in a place in which you could be in danger of bodily harm.

When a man is stronger than his wife and his wife knows his strength goes only one way—protection, not harm—she feels doubly blessed. If he’s stronger than her and she’s not certain which direction his strength will be used, what could be a blessing becomes a potential threat.

Husbands, Colossians 3:19 tells us to never be harsh with our wives. That not only precludes physical violence, it also rules out abusive language.

The other aspect of “security” is a willingness to pull our own financial weight. If we are lazy and refuse to use our strength to help provide for the family’s financial needs, she’ll never respect us. I’ve never met a wife who respects her husband when he refuses to work or accepts long-term un-employment or under-employment without working hard to change it. I’ve seen wives praise husbands beating the pavement to find work and being understanding about a difficult economy. But when a guy doesn’t care about his unemployment as much as his wife does? That kills her respect for him.

So if you’re a single woman and you want to be happy in your marriage, choose a man with the right temperament, a maturing, strong faith, and one who brings security to your life.

If you’re a single man and you want to make yourself a wise catch, work on growing in patience as much as you maintain your abs. Become the kind of contagious Christian that makes others want to grow closer to God. Learn to deal with frustration without becoming violent, and develop a nurturing, protective posture toward others—physically and financially.

If you’re a married man you can build your wife’s affection by growing in all of these areas. And if you’re a married woman, just know that what gets praised often gets reinforced. When I hear my wife brag on me that makes me want to become more of what she’s bragging about. If your husband hears more of your disappointments than your praises, he may even begin to shut down.

Married women, what would you add to this list? And disappointed wives, please know we want this to be a positive post, so we won’t be posting comments that berate husbands or state how much you wish your husband was more like this. I hope you understand.

 

September 14, 2017

The Whole Story

Guest Author — 

 

We all know that marriage begins long before a woman walks down the aisle. The way she views the intimate aspects of marriage are influenced years and sometimes even decades before any man places a ring on her finger. Therefore, one of the best ways to help our daughters grow into vibrant women who have vibrant marriages is to help them grow into a healthy and biblical understanding of sex. May our parenting be a stepping stone to their sexual fulfillment within marriage rather than a roadblock. I’m thrilled that my friend Sheila Gregoire has worked with both of her adult daughters to provide a wonderful resource for moms to talk with their young daughters about sex. I’m a fan of all three of these women! I’ve loved Sheila’s blog, I’ve already read (and greatly enjoyed) Rebecca’s book, and have laughed with and forwarded Katie’s You Tube videos many times. They are joining forces to provide a wonderful resource for moms and their daughters.

****************************************************************************************************************

I’ve been called “the Christian sex lady.” I speak every year to thousands of women about sex. I blog about it almost daily.

But even I was absolutely terrified when it came to teaching my own daughters about sex and puberty. In fact, my husband had to sit me down and tell me when it was time to get our youngest daughter a bra.

It’s not that I didn’t notice. It’s just that I was very good at avoiding what was ever-so-obvious right in front of me. Katie was only ten, and she was still a little girl with Barbies. I wasn’t ready for this!

Looking back, there isn’t a whole lot that I did right when it came to talking to them about growing up.

When Rebecca, my oldest, was ten, I took her away for a weekend to explain the facts of life. We used a program to help talk about sex, and the main aim was to teach her that she wasn’t supposed to have sex until she was married, and then encourage her to pledge to wait.

Honestly, she was so grossed out by the whole thing she would have pledged never to talk to a boy again! Reflecting on it now, Rebecca says that the hard-hitting “you must wait” message gave her the impression that Jesus loved her mostly because of her virginity.

Whoops.

I receive emails everyday from young wives struggling in their marriages because they grew up with shameful messages about sex–or else they were never told much of anything at all. One woman told me she learned about sex because her mom put a bookmark in the encyclopedia under “sex”. Another woman told me that as soon as she started to develop breasts her mom gave her such a long talk about modesty that it made her paranoid that older men at church were staring at her. She took refuge serving in the nursery. These women desperately want great marriages now, but these messages are hard to eradicate.

One of the most important parenting missions is to raise our daughters with a healthy view of sexuality, pointing them to their worth in Jesus and to the beauty that God made us for. It sets them up for a far healthier future marriage, and a far healthier self-image. God made sexuality to be beautiful; it’s the world that has corrupted it and added shame to it. We must reclaim it, and point our kids on the right road. We simply must get this right.

Yes, it starts with giving them the right information about puberty and the facts of life. But it doesn’t end there.

It also needs to involve keeping the lines of communication open, even, or especially, in the teen years. I did manage to muddle through the facts of life–barely. But we never talked about porn (even though teenage girls are the fastest growing group of porn users). We didn’t talk about masturbation (my girls were good girls, after all!). And I certainly never told them about male anatomy or what their guy friends were going through! It’s in the teen years when kids need us to continue those conversations by making them more personal. Our job isn’t done when they know about the mechanics of sex; they need our help navigating how to handle relationships, peer pressure, and body image issues.

Sound intimidating yet? Well, here’s some good news.

It’s okay if you’re scared.

Really! Kids don’t need perfect parents. They need authentic parents who aren’t afraid to be real with them.

It doesn’t matter if you’re scared. It only matters if you let being scared stop you.

I let being scared stop me from having some important conversations with my kids. And I was scared of a lot of things. I was scared that they may have sexual feelings that I didn’t know how to deal with. I was scared that they may realize that I had sexual feelings! (what would happen if they realized what my husband and I were actually doing?!?) I was so scared of the subject in general that it just seemed easier not to say much of anything at all.

I’m sorry that I missed the chance to guide my girls better when they were younger. But as they grew older, and I got more comfortable, God’s grace covered a lot of my mistakes.

My daughters are 20 and 22 now, and they have ministries of their own. Rebecca has a big book coming out in October called Why I Didn’t Rebel: A 22-Year-Old Explains How She Stayed on the Straight And Narrow–and How Your Kids Can Too. Katie has a large YouTube channel hoping to introduce millennials to Jesus in an unintimidating way.

Recently we were laughing about the mistakes I made talking to them about puberty (Rebecca remembers learning that the penis was like a finger. That really confused her. If guys have a finger there, then why do they need to scratch so much?).

After the hilarity died down, and we started thinking about how moms can do it better, we decided to try to help. We created what we wish we had had: an online, video-based course for moms and daughters called The Whole Story: Not-So-Scary Talks on Sex, Puberty and Growing Up. My girls star in the videos teaching about body changes, sex, peer pressure, boys, and self-care, while I provide coaching for moms. The videos start the conversations, but then discussion questions, checklists, and mother-daughter activity ideas help moms continue them.

Check out The Whole Story!

Your girls are going to get messages about sexuality, body image, and relationships from school, from friends, and from the media. But what they really need is to hear from you. And you can do it! God appointed you, as a mom, to do this. Even if you’re scared.

Sheila Gregoire’s course The Whole Story is available for moms with daughters aged 10-12 or 13-15. It’s not a replacement for moms; it’s a resource to start those important conversations, and make it much easier to continue them.

Sheila Wray Gregoire
Inspirational Speaker, Marriage Author and Blogger
Website: http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com

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.]

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.