Marriage Advice from My Kids

Yesterday we were sitting down for lunch and my wife and I asked our boys what kind of advice they would give to a couple going through premarriage instruction. First, P. said, “Stay married, and never get divorced!” Then A. chimed in, “You need to hug and kiss lots. Like, smother the other person’s mouth with yours!” He went on to say, “You should go on lots of dates too.” When we asked what kinds of dates, P. suggested going to church. 

That’s about all the meaningful advice we got out of them before it devolved into strange noises and increasingly goofy suggestions, which is pretty typical with two little boys. But we were still having fun with their initial ideas.

As I walked up to church a little while later to sit down with a couple I’m taking through premarriage, I realized how perceptive their answers were. I mean, they’re really on to something! Robert Sternberg said a lasting marriage needs consummate love, which consists of strong long in three dimensions – passion, intimacy, and commitment.

Think about this: My boys advised that couples should “stay married and never get divorced” (commitment); that they should “hug and kiss lots” (passion); and that they should “go on lots of dates” (intimacy). They even got the importance of spiritual connection by throwing in that a good place to go on a date is church! Though I’m not sure what they imagine a date at church looks like – and I’m having trouble envisioning it myself! Not a bad thought, though.

Is this a glimmer of some kind of intuitive sense inside children about how real love works, like something God has wired into us to understand instinctively? Are my wife and I actually giving them a pretty good example (even though doesn’t always feel like it…)? Or did they just accidentally stumble on something elegantly true?

I guess I don’t really know. But for what it’s worth, I think they have some pretty cool advice, and if I had to give someone some really quick advice about marriage, I think I couldn’t do much better than they did:

1. Stick together for life.

2. Hug and kiss lots.

3. Prioritize dates and spiritual connection.

Amen, boys.

(Note: Lest you get the false impression that I’m raising the two most awesome human beings, as soon as I finish posting this I have to go discipline P. for “accidentally” spitting in his brother’s face. Simul justus et peccator.)

The Redemption

The Hero sits on the hilltop and stares into the distance. There he spies the end of his journey… and the place of his enemy’s power. He knows what success in his quest will cost him. But he will not stop. There is no argument that can dissuade him, no appeal that can turn him aside, and now power of man or beast that can stand in his way.

Because, you see, what he stands to gain – who he stands to gain – is worth everything to him. She literally means more than life itself to him. And he will stop at nothing to win her back.

* * * * *

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” – Luke 9:51 (ESV)

* * * * *

Ever since the day our first father, Adam, abandoned his bride to temptation, sin, and death, his sons have repeated his cowardice and failure. The record of humanity attests to the weakness of men, more likely to fall prey to lust, to laziness, to drunkenness, to greed and warmongering and powermongering, than to rise up in strength to fight for the girl and lay everything on the line to be her lover and defender.

Yet, within us is the sense that we were made for something more. We love the stories of the hero who gets the girl because we all want to be that guy. We want to rise up, strong and passionate, and claim what is ours. We want to save the day and get the pats on the back and hear the girl say, “My hero!”

But most of the time we don’t. We get disappointment. Heartbreak. Dishonor. Shame. We are not the heroes. And all our longing to be the hero really just serves to remind us that we, too, need to be saved.

But there is a Hero, a truer and greater man than any of us. Knowing full well that it would cost him his life, Jesus went boldly to the cross to offer himself as a sacrifice that paid for sin, defeated his Enemy, the Devil, and shattered the power of death. He did all this to win back the girl – his Bride, the Church. “It is his finished!” was his triumphant cry and he struck the final blow that ended the conflict once and for all.

* * * * *

“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:6-7, NIV)

* * * * *

Like every good epic story, as the fog of battle cleared he strode victorious back out of the fight, alive and well. This is our Redeemer, our Hero.

And here’s the twist: He doesn’t bask in the glow of victory alone, but raises us up to victory with him. He makes us heroic. He equips us to rise up with him and set our own faces for the battles we have to fight, not because we must earn our own glory but because we share in his glory.

* * * * *

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22, NIV).

* * * * *

This is redemption.

Longing for Redemption

Out to the well again. Out in the heat of the day again. Alone. Again.

I know I don’t have anyone to blame by myself, but it still hurts. When your choices are the critical glares and sarcastic comments or the lonely march out to the well at midday, I guess it’s better to be alone than abused.

Funny. I get that with my social life. Why don’t I get it with my love life?

What happened to the little girl who dreamed of a nice marriage with a nice man, a home with some kids running around and the neighbors over for dinner once a week? What happened to the young woman who was ready to give herself in love to just one man?

Silly questions. I know what happened. Everyone knows what happened. Man number six knows what happened, and that’s probably why he’s afraid to make an honest woman out of me. 

Lord, how did I ever stray so far off the path? I’m so tired of being ashamed. 

Oh, Lord, there’s a man at the well…

* * * * *

It doesn’t usually happen that a wedding story leaves you heartbroken, but this one will. A young couple, with family and friends surrounding them, spoke their vows and celebrated their union. A little too much celebration, perhaps, as the groom was extremely inebriated when he and his new wife went to their room for the night. He ended up beating her up.

What is going on here? Well, after the police were called and she was interviewed, she admitted that she knew he had problems. This wasn’t the first time he had struck her. They’d been living together for some time, and while she’d been concerned about his anger, she thought that maybe getting married would change something.

Her longing for redemption was met with tragedy, like so many others in this fallen world. How many people have gone into a marriage in the hopes that it will finally bring them fulfillment, only to find themselves just as frustrated and lonely as they were before? How many have skipped marriage altogether and pursued fulfillment through sex, only to feel empty? And what about the many people who have never experienced romance and affection, who have long since resigned themselves to the notion that for them marriage is a fantasy?

* * * * *

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

My husband? Hah! What a joke. Which one? Of course, this guy doesn’t know about all that, and he doesn’t have to. It’s not of his business. “I have no husband.” It’s technically true. 

“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Whoah! How did he…? I mean… “Sir,”  *gulp*  “I can see that you are a prophet.”

* * * * *

There is this longing inside us all. It expresses itself through tales of romance and devotion, and epic stories of heroes who beat all odds and get the girl. But we all know those are just stories. They aren’t the way life really works. It doesn’t stop us from dreaming.

Back in the real world, we try to build the dream by researching what kinds of relationships are strongest and what skills and techniques will make for perfect unions. Nothing wrong with that, but it still comes up short, because what if we don’t do it right? What if the next idea sounds better? What if some psychologist tells me I’ll be happier alone? What if… what if… what if?

What if all of this is meant to tell me that something is fundamentally broken in the system and in all of us? What if this longing for redemption is to point me to a greater and more lasting source of fulfillment than the things of this life? What if the solution to all this world’s problems when it comes to marriage and relationships and sex and all of it can only be found my looking to something beyond these things?

* * * * *

Lord, I’m off my guard here. This conversation has gone in the strangest direction. Who ever thought would be standing at the well talking to a Jewish prophet about religion. 

But there’s something about the way he speaks. He gets it. And there’s no judgment. It’s like… he just wants me to know something. “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

“I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Breaking of Marriage and the Promise of Redemption

You had one job, Adam.

What’s that? Well, yes, I suppose you had more than one job all taken with all, but when it came to leading your family spiritually, you had just one job. One rule to follow, and to communicate to your family and your descendants for generations to come. Don’t eat the fruit.

Was it overly complex? Difficult to communicate? Hard to get the point across? When you and Eve were running through the garden, full of the joy and thrill of life and all its perfect pleasures, was there just no time to make it clear what was expected of the two of you?

No, that’s not right, is it? Because at that point you had no faults or failings, and there was nothing to hide. So what was it about that moment, Adam? What happened when it all came crashing down?

There you stood, right next to her, the most beautiful of all creation, a precious jewel wrought from your own body, hand crafted for you and given to you by the maker of the universe. Yours to care for. Yours to love. Yours to protect and defend.

There she stood, listening as a serpent lied to her about God, lied to her about God’s desires for you, lied to her about his dire warnings. Adam, your bride was being deceived and drawn into death right in front of your face. What were you doing?

Were you distracted? Watching the birds while your wife’s wings were being clipped? Or were you absorbed in the lies too, more interested in what you thought you would gain than in how it would harm her?

And what about when she actually reached out to take the fruit? Did you even think to intervene, to speak up? Or did your curiosity just get the better of you?

You had one job, Adam.

Don’t even try to make excuses like, “Her spiritual life is between her and God.” The next detail puts that argument to rest, doesn’t it? What did you do once she fell? Did you call her back? Did you stand up for her, try to plead for her somehow?

No, we both know what happened next. What excuses did you tell yourself?

“Well, everyone else in the world has already done it.”

“It’s a personal choice; it isn’t hurting anyone.”

“Just this once, just to find out. If I know, then I’ll know why it’s not good to do in the future.”

“It must not be that bad; there haven’t been any consequences yet.”

You had one job, Adam. And you failed. Miserably.

Worse, when you were called to account, what did you do? Did you man up and own up? No, you blamed her for your failure, as though it was her fault that you chose to sin. Unbelievable. So, what? Her choices are her own, but you aren’t responsible for yours? Are you really going to hold that line?

So now what, Adam?

I’ll tell you what…

I will put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the serpent’s offspring and hers; he will crush the serpent’s head, and the serpent will strike his heel.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you.

With great compassion I will take you back.

As far as the east is from the west, so far will I separate your sins from you.

You had one job, Adam. You failed. So now I have a job to do.

And I will not fail.

For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.” – Isaiah 54:7

Does Marriage Need Redemption?

Supreme Court decisions regarding the state of marriage in our country are starting to become passe, which might explain why there isn’t nearly the amount of upset about the recent one as there has been with previous cases. Depending on where you fall on this issue, though, you may feel either that the institution of marriage is bleeding out, or you may feel that the state of marriage in our society has never been more hopeful. Or maybe you’re among the growing group of people that has completely given up on caring what the government and the courts say about marriage, and you’re interested solely in making of it what you believe is right.

Whatever your stance on the issues of politics and marriage, there are a few things we can’t ignore:

  • For every two couples that get married today, there is a couple somewhere getting a divorce. While this doesn’t quite imply the often quoted 50% divorce rate, it does amount to the expectation that about 41% of all first marriages will fail. That is a tragedy.
  • The number of couples living together outside of marriage has steadily increased for 20+ years. Virtually every graph you look at will tell the same story – more and more people are giving up on the idea of committing to one another before moving in together, and the number keeps going up.
  • The definition of the word “marriage” is changing. A word we used to think applied to a unique relationship, and required certain specific elements (like one male and one female and all that) now is much less specific, and we are seeing a constant stream of people eager to claim it to describe whatever relationship they feel strongest about. But when you force a word to mean anything you want it to mean, you drain it of meaning entirely.

For those of us who cherish traditional marriage and what it means, these facts alone can be a little disturbing, not to mention what we feel when we pile on things like pornography and erotica, overloaded schedules, and apathy.

I do believe marriage needs redemption.

But I don’t believe that all this is actually a new problem. I think it all goes back to the very first marriage, a marriage that was broken when two people believed a lie and turned away from truth. When a man who was supposed to defend his wife stood back and watched as she came under attack, and then let himself get dragged down as well. When they immediately began to blame each other for their own faults.

That’s when marriage really began to fall apart, when a system designed for perfect people was filled with only broken people.

And yet, I believe marriage can be redeemed. In fact, I believe it has been redeemed. And I believe that we can find that redemption for our own marriages, for marriage in our society, and I believe we can even find redemption through marriage.

How? Well, there’s a lot of ground to cover there. But as this week is leading up to Valentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better time to start the conversation. So during this week – and hopefully several weeks to follow – I want to talk about marriage and redemption, and I hope you’ll join the conversation.

An Uncommon Blessing

Today I spent a couple hours making some major revisions to my family budget. Not because of any major life changes, nor because of some upset or problem. It’s just something I’ve been putting off for a while; we’ve been coasting on a good track that hasn’t accounted for the little adjustments in our fortunes. But I’ve been leading a group through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and it wouldn’t be right for me to urge them to name every dollar while I myself am not.

So today’s effort was all about making a plan to use well the financial gifts God has given me, to honor him for that blessing. Having done so, I took what I had written up and showed it to my wife. We talked for a few minutes about specific items, discussed a few changes she felt would be appropriate, talked the particulars of enacting the new plan, and then we hugged, kissed, and I left to get some things done at church.

That’s it. No arguing. No yelling. No stress and struggles and tears. And I left thanking God for this uncommon blessing.

Why do I say it’s uncommon? Well, I know that even if the divorce rate isn’t really 50%, divorce is still a thing, an unfortunately common thing, and also a horrible thing. And God help us, finances almost always show up in the top five or top ten reasons for divorce when it’s studied. Sometimes number one. And even when couples don’t divorce, they still report that money is one of the top things they fight about.

Money matters more than marriage?

Well, not really. But our use of money represents our values, and our ability to communicate, and our ability to make a plan and a commitment and stick to it. Incidentally, some of the other common reasons given for divorce are “Lack of commitment,” “Lack of communication,” and “Differences in values.” Money may not be the problem, but it reveals an awful lot about what our problems are.

So I consider it a tremendous blessing that my wife and I have managed to build a marriage where money is not a point of contention for us.

I could end this here, kinda tooting my own horn and letting everyone know how awesome my marriage is. But for anyone who’s fought in the last month over money, I venture this would be a little disheartening. That’s not my goal.

My goal is to give you hope. I want you to know that money fights don’t have to be a reality. They aren’t for my wife and I because we work hard to plan well and use our money wisely, and we communicate about it. If you’re going to take hold of that hope, it might involve a change of behavior and attitude. Here are some practical steps you can take to accomplish that change:

1. Agree that you are on the same side. I suspect that in most money fights, there is the underlying assumption on the part of both people that it’s a contest to be won. But when you’re married, there is only one team – your team. In the words of Zig Ziglar, “Many marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they’re on the same side.” Take the practical step of sitting down together and agreeing out loud, verbally, that you are on the same side. Then, you know, hug and stuff.

2. Make a budget. If  you’ve never done one before, I’m sure it sounds scary and you’re probably about to close this article because you don’t like me any more. But hang on! Look, a budget is nothing to be scared of. A budget is a planning and communication tool. It may seem complicated and overwhelming, but the reality is that 85% of your budget is just writing down the things you have to pay for, like your mortgage and your car payment. The rest is what you get to do with the money you have left. So don’t sweat it. Just work it out. If you need a place to get started, here are some great tools.

3. Talk about your budget together. The coolest thing about talking about a budget is that once it’s on paper, there’s really nothing to fight about. You can’t argue more money into the income, and you can’t argue less money into the expenses. The numbers are what they are. All you can do is discuss the best way to use the money that doesn’t have to go to someone else right away. But by that point, all the stress is gone because the tough stuff is already on the page.

4. Prioritize the things that matter. Where I live, a cable and internet package can easily run you $99 a month or more, to say nothing of movies, gadgets, etc. What about putting food on the table? It doesn’t matter how entertained I am, I need to take care of my home. When figuring out your spending, your priorities should be giving to God, saving for the future, housing, food, clothing, and utilities. After that, stuff like transportation, insurance, and debt retirement are critical. You cover all that, then figure out how to entertain yourself. The thing is, once you learn to live responsibly and let your money reflect godly values, you will find both less draw to spend on entertainment and more enjoyment in what you do spend on.

This is just the beginning, but if you put this to work, you will have the uncommon blessing of not fighting about money. Hey, maybe if more people made this effort, it wouldn’t be so uncommon.

Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

There are few pastors I’ve found working online as hard to strengthen marriages as Dave Willis. I applaud his consistent efforts, and appreciate his constant encouragement. Today he posted on his Facebook page this helpful list, which as he points out will only take you a few minutes to read, but can have long lasting impact if you just let it affect your actions. Here’s the list for you, but please, check out the rest of his site, and follow him on Facebook!

There are millions of way to strengthen your marriage. In no particular order, here are twenty-one…

1. Have more SEX, but make sure you’re ONLY having it with each other!

2. Don’t keep secrets from each other. COMMUNICATE about everything.

3. Argue less. Cuddle more.

4. Don’t get deep in debt and if you’re already there, work together to get out of it!

5. Pray together, find a healthy church and make FAITH a foundation for your life together.

6. Turn off your phones. Talking with each other is better than texting with someone else!

7. Pull the car over and make out more often.

8. Leave LOVE NOTES for each other.

9. Send flowers on unexpected days, not just holidays.

10. Don’t ignore problems in your relationship. Deal with them quickly and aggressively.

11. Be quick to remember each other’s positive traits and quick to forget each other’s flaws.

12. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive and seek FORGIVENESS when you’ve wronged each other.

13. Don’t waste time or energy comparing your lives to anyone else’s. God’s plan for you is masterfully unique.

14. Go on long walks and HOLD HANDS.

15. Make “DATE NIGHT” a priority! Time alone together is vital for your continued growth and health.

16. Give COMPLIMENTS constantly, and never give insults.

17. When you’re happy, laugh together. When you’re sad, cry together. Whatever you do, do it together!

18. Show LOVE and RESPECT to each other even in those moments when you don’t feel like it.

19. Keep dreaming new dreams and making big plans together. Don’t get stuck in a predictable rut.

20. ENCOURAGE each other. Build each other up so much that nothing in the world can tear you down.

21. NEVER give up on each other!