Have you ever known someone who cares about their physical health so much they forget to enjoy life?
Everything they eat, everything they put on their bodies (soap, toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen) have to be approved by the right magazines and “authoritative” organic websites. More than they fear sin, they fear parabens and sodium laurel sulfate in their cosmetics, and trans fats and high fructose corn syrup in their foods.
But you wonder, does their soul suffer from all the stress and worry over their physical health? I heard a guy determined to push back from the weekly advice about what new food was taking years off our lives tell me, “If eating tortilla chips takes a year off my life, I’m good with that. I’d rather live 80 years with tortilla chips than 81 years without them.”
Admittedly, most of us fall way too far in the other camp—not giving enough thought about what we eat or put on our bodies. Physical health is of some value, which is why I am grateful for a wife who challenges me in this area—but godliness has value for all things (c.f. 1 Timothy 4:8).
In the same way that some people obsess over physical health almost to the detriment of their enjoyment of life, it’s possible to care about our marriages too much to the detriment of our spiritual enjoyment. It may seem bizarre that someone like me would write that last sentence, but it’s true. The healthiest marriages aren’t lived by those who obsess over their marriages. Marriages need space to breathe, and even more importantly, spiritual light to flourish.
The Worries of Life
Jesus says in Luke 21:34: ““Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life.” The first key word here is “dulled.” Other translations use “weighted down.” What Jesus is saying here is that a certain mindset, an over concern or participation in the wrong things, leads us to a drugged state, spiritual speaking.
These wrong things are the “worries of life” which Jesus elsewhere (explicitly and implicitly) describes as what we’ll eat, wear, the size and condition of our house, how others view us, our financial status, an insatiable search for the next pleasure or power elevation, and the state of human relationships. When the “worries of life” become our focus, we become spiritually inebriated.
“Carousing” is used in other Greek literature as a hangover headache or drunken nausea. It’s probably a metaphor for living in a spiritual fog. You know what “drunkenness” is. The startling part of this passage for most Christians may be that Jesus compares being too concerned with the things of this world to being drunk. The spiritual damage they do is equal because both dull us to the spiritual realities of life in Christ and his certain return.
To understand what Jesus is saying, think of the condition more than the cause: when “worries of life take over,” you can’t think clearly, you can’t act decisively, and you can’t focus on what you want to focus on because you’re like someone who is intoxicated or who is suffering from a huge hangover headache. Your next drink, your next sexual fix, or the current status of a human relationship so consume you that you can’t think about the things of God.
Luke’s warnings about the “worries of life” is a favored passage in the Christian classics which they usually apply to human affection more than substance abuse. The classical writers warn that too much earthly affection (even for family) undercuts divine affection. It’s possible to focus so much on our earthly relationships that we lose sight of the life-giving, soul-clarifying, love affirming relationship with God.
William Gurnall, author of the Puritan classic The Christian in Complete Armor, writes, “The heart of man hath not room enough for God and the world too. Worldly affections do not befriend spiritual. The heart which spends itself in mourning for worldly crosses, will find the stream runs low when he should weep for his sins.”
I can’t think about my sins before God when I’m consumed with my spouse’s sins against me. I can’t delight in all that God makes available to me when I’m obsessed with all that my spouse isn’t providing. Another way to put this is, do I focus more on what my spouse isn’t and doesn’t do than on who God is and the many kindnesses He dispenses? Far from excusing a spouse, this spiritual exercise helps you to tolerate a spouse! When you know you are supremely and divinely loved, it’s easier to face earthly turmoil, neglect and disappointment in any other human relationship (friends, parents, children, spouses).
I have said and earnestly believe that every married couple should read at least one marriage book a year and go to a marriage conference of some sort every year because marriage is such a foundational relationship that we need regular tune-ups. Because of my work, I read about five to ten marriage books a year (which is too many), but I read even more spiritual growth books. I don’t want to focus on marriage too much because the worries of life—even marital worries—can turn me into a spiritual drunk.
The apostle Paul specifically categorizes marital issues as part of the “worries of life.” That’s why he urges believers to consider singleness: “But those who get married will have many troubles in this life. I want to save you from that” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
As much as I love marriage, Paul warns me that along with its many benefits marriage brings a huge potential temptation: I can get so weighted down with marital issues that I forget about Christ’s work on this earth and His coming return.
A New Mindset
What kind of mindset does this call us to?
We must care more about what God thinks about us than what our spouse or children think about us. We must care more about hearing, “Well done my good and faithful servant” from our Heavenly Father than “You’re the best father/mother/husband/wife” from a family member.
I don’t like pitting these against each other, because I think part of the “well done” from God will be loving our spouse and children sacrificially and even extravagantly, but our motivation to love must come from above, not from any relationship on earth. And only God gets to determine how well and obediently we have loved. A gaslighting spouse or parent may try to shame you for the very thing that makes Heaven give you a standing ovation.
As much as we love marriage and family, we can’t forget that Jesus absolutely refuses any believer the option of making an idol out of family life: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). The word “hate” here is a comparison word—there must not be any competition at all when it comes to focus, motivation, and allegiance being set on Heaven rather than on earth.
The failure to grasp this point, by the way, is what made When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People so necessary for me to write. In some sectors, human relationships, especially marriage, are put above a person’s service and allegiance to God in such a way that a spouse virtually replaces God in importance and focus. That is directly contrary to Scripture.
We can embrace this warning about the worries of life with boldness because putting God first will make us better spouses, not neglectful spouses. The difference is that our motivation for being a better spouse will flow from being loved, affirmed, and empowered by a perfect God who has great compassion for us. You’ll particularly find this helpful if you are married to a selfish spouse, a neglectful spouse, a distant spouse, or a lazy spouse.
So what do we do in response? Instead of thinking life will only get better when our spouse gets in line (a form of codependency or even co-addiction), we double down on the divine relationship. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:14: “Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.” Give the first thoughts and first efforts every morning and every night to your relationship with God. Pray something like this, “Shine on me, God, so I am not dead to your presence. I don’t want to live my days like a spiritually intoxicated person who doesn’t even realize what’s going on.”
Christian obedience means we continually struggle against letting the worries of life drown out the purpose of life. If your life is right with God in worship, service and prayer, you can sustain a less desirable marriage while laying the groundwork for a better marriage. Friends, this brings tremendous joy! God’s Kingdom is moving forward gloriously. When I read and hear of lives being changed as people encounter Christ, I can’t stop worshipping. Marriage becomes an additional delight, not the substance of my hope and joy.
If you don’t win this battle against the worries of life and you find yourself in a less than pleasing marriage, you are setting yourself up for a life of negativity or a life of addiction as you seek to escape the pain. A good and healthy marriage can help you fight both negativity and addiction, but a good and healthy marriage requires two individuals willing and able to pursue the same thing. A spiritually prosperous life, on the other hand, requires one willing human and an already eager, overwhelmingly generous, capable, and powerful God. Your odds are pretty favorable in that regard. You can have a spiritually prosperous life if you want it, regardless of the state of your marriage.
Here’s the surprising takeaway of Christ’s contrary words: some of you might actually improve your marriage by thinking less about your relationship with your spouse and more about your relationship with God.