Ten Commandments of Marriage, part 2

Last week, I gave the first part of what I called “Ten Commandments of Marriage.” If you missed them, find them here. Now that you have those first five down pat (piece ‘o cake, right?), here are the next five:

6. Laugh together. Life is funny. Sometimes it’s ha-ha funny, sometimes it’s LOL funny, and sometimes it’s are-you-kidding-me-right-now funny. A healthy couple learns to laugh at the funny stuff, as well as the stuff that’s often only funny after the fact. Laughter is a true bonding and uniting experience for two people who are facing all of life together. One marriage and family therapist has observed this truth: Unhappy people reserve laughter for everyone but their mate. Don’t let that be you. Don’t laugh apart; laugh together.

7. Pray together. Even when you don’t feel close to each other, praying together brings you together before the One who holds you together. Praying together is an act of faith, a commitment to unity, regardless of how you feel that particular day. Praying together says: We need God smack dab in the center of our relationship. Without God, we don’t have a prayer. Literally.

8. Never stop doing life together. To me, this is the reminder that we can’t let our marriages slide into a rut, where, for example, every Saturday is the same, or every evening is spent in front of the TV. Instead, marriage should be about going on the adventure of life together. As often happens, though, the adventure morphs into just going through the motions. Psychologist Arthur Aron tells us that doing adventurous things together draws couples closer. So, take the challenge. Don’t let the TV or the internet be the extent of your time together; when you go out together, don’t fall back on the predictable dinner-and-a-movie. Try something new, together. You’ll probably find that it helps you do #6 above. And, if it’s crazy enough, you might find it helps you do #7, too.

9. Learn to listen well. Even though this is #9 on my list of commandments, that’s not an indication of its importance. Listening well is vital. I remember reading someone say that half of ministry is listening. As a minister, that’s a helpful reminder for me. But I also need that prompt for my marriage, too. True listening (the put-down-the-phone-kind-of-listening) is what we need from each other, and what we need to offer to each other. And it needs to be non-judgmental, too. There are plenty of people at our jobs, or in our extended families, who are happy to listen in order to assess our weaknesses and mistakes. That’s not the kind of listening we need from our spouses. Healthy listening is the kind that helps your spouse give voice to her deepest feelings and needs. Often, I think you’ll find that when you truly listen, your spouse will find she is able to give voice to the challenge she faces, and to the way forward. Which means – you’ll look awfully smart, without hardly saying anything at all.

10. Guard your marriage by guarding your heart. I don’t believe any marriage makes it very long without the pull of other attractions. The couple that doesn’t think it can happen to them is the one that … invites it to happen to them. This means that healthy boundaries must be established. Unfettered internet access can be deadly; work relationships without proper boundaries can be devastating; an unguarded heart can lead to broken hearts. The wise couple recognizes: Yes, it CAN happen to us. And they act accordingly. John Leax writes: “As part of the marriage ceremony, a couple promises, before God and gathered witnesses, to be faithful to each other until separated by death. This promise is not demanded by sentiment; it is demanded because everyone present at the marriage knows the truth of human nature. Both bride and groom will change. Ambitions, new dreams, other bodies will attract them. Their only hope for success will be the reach of their vow.”

Their vow: the promise to live and love together til death “do us part.”

As Ephesians 5 points out, this amazing thing called marriage is actually a reflection of Christ & the Church. A picture of love and redemption. Of sacrifice and unity; and sacrifice for the sake of unity.

Easy? No way. Will it take a lot of effort? Absolutely. But in a world where faithfulness and commitment are in short supply, marriages that last are a glimpse of grace and growth. And also a place where Jesus is reflected.

Ten Commandments of Marriage, part 1

What is the most popular month to get married? April? May? June?

How about … October? It’s true. Couples are increasingly migrating away from spring and summer (and, apparently, the challenges of rain and heat) – and moving toward the fall. And we’re now told that the single most popular month to tie the knot is October.

We have 2 weddings in our church sanctuary next month – in a room where even one a month is a lot for us. So, if 2 is a trend, then the stats are right. Brides are increasingly telling their husbands to show up at the altar in October.

As I finished up premarital counseling with one of those 2 couples, I shared with them my “Ten Commandments of Marriage.” These ‘commandments’ aren’t written in stone, at least not in mosaic form. But they are a summary of what I have come to believe is vital for couples to pursue as they pursue life together. So, whether you are getting married in October, or you might someday get married, or you are currently navigating life with a spouse, here are my thoughts on what you need to know:

  1. Commit to a life time of growing together. Marriage is a decision to journey together no matter where the journey takes you. In a world that is increasingly hedging its bets when it comes to marriage, many believe that saying “I do” is similar to saying “Maybe.” But you can’t build a life on maybe. Marriage is not for the timid; it is for those ready to commit to facing life united with another person. Which leads to #2…
  1. Be ready for it to be hard. Is anything in life easy? I mean, anything that matters? Whether it’s Calculus or calculating how much you’ll need for retirement, whether it’s building a house or building a life, if you are going to accomplish something meaningful, it’s going to take some meaningful commitment. You simply will not get by in marriage on your feelings. You will not last in marriage if you expect the honeymoon to last. This isn’t to say that marriage is tedious or tiring – though it will be sometimes. It’s simply the recognition that the look of love in your eyes on your October wedding day will one day fade; and some days that look might be one of anger, or frustration, or “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” If you know that going in, you won’t be surprised when it happens. And your first thought won’t be: Well, this is hard, so maybe it’s not going to work out…. Instead, you can think: Wow, this is hard. Guess it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I mean, short of winning the lottery, no one expects something as meaningless as money to come easily; so why would we expect something as meaningful as marriage to be easy?
  1. Love like Jesus, trust in Jesus, depend on him to guide you. You don’t have to be married to learn this, but marriage is certainly a great teacher: You can’t do life on your own. Each of us (married or single) was made by our Creator to be in relationship with Him. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we can choose to submit to His leadership – and the sooner we can become what He has made us to be. I mean, really – what better way to learn you are flawed then to get married? Nothing cures idolatry better than marriage, for we all live life, at some point, as our own little god. Sooner or later, you find out you’re not. Sooner is preferable. Marriage helps that sooner happen. And when it does, you can then come to realize that the way forward in life is to receive the love of Jesus, and let it teach you and flow through you. If you’re married, to your spouse. If you’re a parent, to your kids. Or if you just simply happen to be human, then Jesus’ love changes how you live and love among other humans. The way to be the husband/wife/parent/human you are called to be? Begin with the love of Jesus, and let it be your guide.
  1. Work for unity. I guess this flows naturally out of #2 & #3. If marriage is hard, then a married couple needs to realize that they will have to work for unity. And if they trust in Jesus, then they have what they need for that unity to happen. Their unity is not based on what they have in common, but on Who they have in common. A couple can be very different, even as they change over time, but if Jesus is the center of their life, He is then the author of their unity. And He doesn’t change. Again, it’ll take work. But it will not be because a husband and wife agree on a thousand different points, but that they agree on this one truth: Jesus brings us together, and teaches us how to live together.
  1. Find an older, mentor couple. Find a couple who has traveled the path of marriage longer than you have. Invite them to dinner. Watch how they do life. Learn from them. As the divorce rate increases, it’s going to be increasingly important for younger couples to find older examples. And, it’s going to be especially important that couples who have shared decades together take on the responsibility of encouraging and supporting younger couples. Whatever your age or the length of your marriage, don’t simply make friends with couples in the same situation as you are. Reach across generations to learn from, and share with, those who need to learn from, and teach, you.

Ok, that’s my first five. If God needed 2 tablets, surely I can take 2 blog posts for my Ten Commandments. So, come back next week for my second five.

My M&M Message, part 1

This past Sunday, I did something I’ve never done before – and may never do again. I gave my church an opportunity to choose the sermon. The text for the day was the book of Malachi, and two key themes jumped out at me: Money & Marriage. And since I like to focus my message on one key, over-arching idea, I pondered how to tackle both.

And then I decided I would give people the choice. So, I prepared for both messages, and at the appropriate time, I asked them to vote by raising their hands. At first service, the consensus was money. So we tackled that. At second service, the vote was closer. In fact, we did a “re-canvass” – having folks raise their hands a second time. There seemed to be a few more votes for marriage, so that’s what we went with. (I must also admit that I wanted to do marriage, since I hadn’t covered it yet – and so, in a close vote, I was inclined to lean in the marriage direction.)

So, I guess you could say Sunday was my first – and probably only – M&M Message. Money first, then Marriage. At each service, I promised the folks that I would post the message they didn’t get to hear, in case they didn’t get the message they chose. So, this week I am blogging twice – a reworked version of my messages on marriage and money.

We see this addressed in Malachi 2.10-12, where Malachi addresses men who have chosen to marry women who worship other gods. Malachi, and God, call attention to the casual nature in which some of the Israelite men are marrying; partnering with those who don’t know and worship the One True God.

It was a big deal in Malachi’s day; it’s still important, today.

So, the first challenge here is for young people, or any who might be thinking of marriage, to remember: the most important trait isn’t: a guy with a good job, or nice hair; a girl with a great body, or who laughs at all your jokes. What you need for the journey is a person of faith, who will walk with you, not against you.

The New Testament picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 6.14. Marriage is designed by God as journey of two people, seeking to follow Jesus, together. And so, if you are single & hoping to get married, what kind of marriage you will have is already beginning to be determined by the standards you set before you say yes to that first date

But what if you are married to someone who doesn’t share your faith, or at least your level of commitment? 1 Corinthians 7.12-15 gives us some insight here.

If you are married to someone who doesn’t share your faith, or trust in God – don’t run, don’t shun, and certainly don’t nag, but nurture. Don’t annoy, encourage. Love, serve … and let your faith in Jesus, be a light to your spouse and your family.

Malachi then turns to address another issue, Divorce. But before he brings up the D word, he brings up the P word: Prayer. Take a look at Malachi 2.13-16.

Malachi asks: Do you wonder why your prayers feel like they’re bouncing off the ceiling? It starts at home, he says – it’s because you are not being faithful in your marriage.

In the OT, only the man could get a divorce; the wife had no say in the matter. And Divorce came pretty easily. Deuteronomy 24.1-4 says the husband basically has to give his wife a letter of divorce. But Malachi says: this is not God’s ultimate will for you, or for marriage. Marriage is a partnership, a covenant before God, to walk together through life.

And so, if you are married and you are seeking to honor God in that marriage, the first thing you need to remember is that you have made a commitment to Jesus, and to your spouse, to be partners in life. And it grieves God when we GIVE UP on our marriages, when, instead, we should be GIVING THEM UP to God.

Men: if you are married, your first responsibility to Jesus is to love your wife; to care for her and give your life for her as Christ gave his life for the church.

Women: if you are married, your first responsibility to Jesus is to love your husband; to partner with him in a way that allows your home to be a light to others.

And I wonder: how many of us are striving so hard to be successful at work or in the community, while at the same time settling for mediocrity at home? How many of us know more about our favorite sports team or what’s happening on facebook, than we know about our spouse’s heart?

Let’s go a little further. In a culture where marriage and sex and relationships are rapidly being redefined, how are we as Christians living differently?

  • Well, when feelings determine how long our marriages last, not our faith; we’re not.
  • When we live together, disregarding God’s plan for faithfulness & sexual union; we do look just like the world.
  • And when we let porn, or emotions, or flings come between us and our spouse; then we’re agreeing with the world: That’s just the way things are today.

Now, some of you are saying “Amen.” And some of you might be saying “Ouch.” And maybe some of you even want to ask me: Who are you to judge?

But the prophets, of which Malachi is one, specialize in Truth. And often, Truth is hard, and hard to hear. But remember: it’s truth given because God loves them, loves YOU. And the reason the prophets point to truth is because truth is the only thing that sets us free.

And so, the big picture we see here in Malachi is that God is grieved at the way we, His people, sometimes treat sex and marriage – not because he is a fussy or prudish God, but because he loves us, and calls us to honor him, and follow him, and Trust him, in the most important areas of our lives.

So, let me offer this humble suggestion: if you’re married, don’t expect marriage to be your savior, or your spouse to meet all your needs. Your spouse is, instead, an imperfect partner on a long journey. There will be bumps on the way, wrong turns, and maybe even long periods of boredom and monotony. But, as the writer Maggie Gallagher notes, there are two ways to approach a marriage:

  • One says: ‘you’re mine because I love you’
  • The other says: ‘I love you because you’re mine’

Do you see the difference? The first says: “You’re mine if I feel like I love you.” Any one want to guess how long those relationships/marriages last?

But the other says: “I choose to love you because you are mine.” I am committed to making a life with you because of the covenant we both have made before God, to each other.

What symbolizes 50 years of marriage? It’s gold, of course. And it’s appropriate that fifty years is symbolized by something solid, precious, beyond value.

William Bennett describes going to a wedding where the couple changed the vow from ‘As long as we both shall LIVE’ to ‘As long as we both shall LOVE’. Bennett said he gave them paper plates as a wedding gift. He was kidding … I think.

But that leads to a great question: If you are married, or will be: Do you want a paper marriage, or a golden one?

A paper one? It folds, it crumbles, it gets discarded when the first sign of stress comes along.

But a golden one; it builds on the foundation of God’s love, where two people do the hard work, daily, of building their lives together on that love. A golden one is where a man and a woman choose, not always what they feel to be true, but what they KNOW to be true – that God is faithful to those who walk faithfully with him. And so, as a couple, they do the hard work of building a life together. They learn to say things like: “I’m sorry” and “I’m ready to listen” and “We need to pray” and “I love you” and, if necessary: “We need to get some help.”

That’s what a golden relationship looks like; it’s not perfect. Instead, it’s 2 people walking together, through the rough and tumble of life, one day at a time.

So, what kind of relationship are YOU working on? Paper, or gold?

The last thing I want to say: is a word of grace. When it comes to relationships, we’ve all stumbled. Every one of us have messed up at love. And some of us, have not simply messed up – we’ve done a face plant, leaving pain and agony in our wake. Others of us, meanwhile, have been messed over by someone we loved, and we’ve been left to deal with the broken pieces.

And so, the last word on marriage and relationships is one of grace. ALL of us need the word, whether we’ve merely stumbled, or we’ve fallen off the cliff. But no matter what you have been through, there’s grace. With Jesus. And with His church.

You can’t change the past, but you CAN let grace change the future. For Jesus offers grace, right where you need it most, when you turn and trust him – in marriage, in relationships, in life.