Divorce, Inevitability, and Grace

Divorce. Sometimes it just seems inevitable. By the time they get there, most couples feel like it is the only option. But the reality is that somewhere along the way, the divorce could have been prevented. Strong coulpes don’t wake up one morning and decide to end it. Usually it is simply a series of poor choices and misplaced priorities, and not enough effort to repair what is damaged.

That divorce is so prevalent is a symptom “what matters most is getting what I want when I want it” mentality that pervades our society. We don’t give a though to the consequences, we just make choices in the moment, believing those choices to be right because we feel like it.

Now, before you say, “Well, you just don’t get it. You don’t know my situation,” let me just say that you’re right, I don’t know what you’ve gone through. I can’t say if you were at fault or the other person was, what choices you could have made and didn’t. But here’s what I can say – somewhere along the way someone had a choice to either do what was best for the marriage or not, and they chose not. It could have been prevented.

Of course, by the same logic, sin could have been prevented. And it really could have. Adam and Eve could have made different choices. Adam could have been more proactive. Eve could have stopped listening to the serpent. Sin didn’t have to happen. But it did.

God uses the picture of marriage throughout Scripture to help us understand how he relates to us, and I think it’s an apt picture. He had a perfect relationship with his creation. One sinful choice broke the relationship, but God, in his infinite love, was not willing to leave the relationship broken. With firm commitment to doing whatever it takes, God stepped in and reconciled himself to us, restoring the relationship and covering over our sin. Like a husband who wants to be reunited with his estranged wife, God comes to us and says, “I forgive you. Be mine.” Through constant, consistent grace he does everything needed to repair the damage our sin caused.

I think it is for this reason that marriage is the biggest issue our society – or any society – faces. There is no area of our lives where we more clearly see a picture of how God relates to us. There is no human relationship more intimate than that of a husband and wife; there is no spiritual relationship more intimate than that of God to his beloved people. There is no human hurt greater than when one spouse betrays another; there is no spiritual hurt greater than to turn away from the one true God. There is no human love a beautiful as a spouse who forgives the unforgiveable; there is no spiritual love as beautiful as the God of free and faithful grace saying, “I will remember your sins no more.”

When we make a priority of doing all that we can to prevent divorce from ever becoming an option, we both reflect the gracious love of our God, and demonstrate it in micro for all those around us. In light of that, how could we not make every effort? How could we not set aside the “what I want when I want it attitude” and instead adopt the “What does God want” attitude?

It’s February, and if you’re in a relationship you probably don’t need to be reminded that you have about two weeks to come up with something romantic. Maybe you like to make the excuse that Valentine’s Day is just a contrived holiday made up by greeting card companies to sell more product. But let’s be honest – is there a wife out there who legitimately doesn’t like to be given some little gift of love on Valentine’s Day? I’ve never met one.

Make the most of every opportunity. Let the grace of God flow through your marriage. Show the love you’ve been shown.

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.

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!