What life events will transpire from the time of the first twist of the toothpaste cap to the last squeeze? The mundane, often monotonous, the surprising, spontaneous, joyful, sad, and sometimes hurtful things of life. Our stories are diverse but similar because of our common thread, the thread of human emotions. My story is your story. We’re in this together. Whether spoken or written, our stories are meant to be shared. It takes courage and vulnerability to do so. Like love, sharing involves risk. But also, like love, the risk is always worth it. I share my stories with you in mind.
Let No Man Put Asunder
(and that includes me!)
Marriages are one of a number of things suffering as a result of COVID-19. Increased stress in the home due to the loss of a job, a reduction of income, changes in the normal routine and the like test and strain relationships, and, sadly, many are failing in ever-increasing numbers.
There’s a song with the same title as this article. Here are the first few lyrics:
“I’m surprised to see your suitcase at the door
Remember the good times
Don’t you want some more
It’s not a perfect love but I’ll defend it
‘Cause I believe that’s what God intended”
I am not an expert on marriage, nor do I have experience in marriage counseling. So why would you listen to anything I have to say or write about a subject on which I am unqualified as an authority?
Assuming you’re still reading, allow me to answer that question. I believe on-the-job training is some of the most practical and best training around. We can all learn from each other’s experiences. Assuming I’ve learned from, let’s say, 50% of my mistakes during the course of my marriage (my wife may dispute that number), I’ve accumulated more than a sufficient number of credits to qualify for a doctorate on the subject from SHK (School of Hard Knocks).
I was married at age 25. I had not been involved in a serious relationship prior to that time. We all come to marriage with issues that need to be worked out. I certainly brought some baggage with me…..problem was, I thought I only had a few ‘carry-ons’. I heard it said recently that often before a great awakening there needs to be a rude awakening, and brother was I in for one! Back up the U-Haul for my baggage!
Five months from the time of this writing my wife Sharron and I will celebrate our 45th anniversary. A real miracle considering we separated three times prior to our second anniversary.
I’d like to share just a few things that really helped me along the way. My hope is by doing so that your relationship will be improved or that it will be strengthened beyond what it already is.
I could not change what I refused to acknowledge.
I needed to ‘claim’ my baggage in order to make any kind of change possible. I lacked the ability to express emotions. I also had anger and control issues. I would mess up, try to do better, would do better for varying periods of time only to blow it again. The only thing I accomplished during that period of time was to become well-versed at apologizing. That was not the goal. As the apologies increased my credibility decreased. Once I finally admitted what was painfully obvious to Sharron, change became possible.
I needed to rely on a power greater than myself.
Admitting my need was a crucial first step but that’s all it was….a first step. It was going to take more than will power to effect lasting change. It was not about trying harder. I’d done that long enough.
Five years into my marriage Sharron and I became a Christian. I brought much of the same baggage into my Christian life that I had brought into my marriage. Still needed my U-Haul. But there was a huge difference now, I had a power much greater than my own.
The thing is, along with the Spirit of God, we believers still have our natural tendencies, weaknesses, and desires; our flesh. There would now be an ongoing tug of war between God’s Spirit within me and my flesh and I had a free will to decide which would prevail.
There is a maturing process that occurs in the life of a Christian, but growth can be stunted. It’s possible to be a Christian for a lot of years and still remain in a spiritual playpen. As is true with any person, chronological age has nothing to do with maturity. No doubt you’ve met your share of older babies!
Stop trying to change Sharron.
I don’t know how many times I prayed that God would change Sharron. He made it clear to me in a number of ways that I needed to stop trying to change her and instead open the door for Him to change me. Psalm 139:23, 24 became a constant prayer of mine. It says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”
God always answers prayers that align with His will with a ‘yes’! In fact, He goes beyond what we need or ask. He not only showed me my hurtful ways but, much more than that, He gave me the power to replace them with loving, caring, compassionate ways.
I needed to shut up long enough to become a good listener.
Listening is an art. I mean really listening to someone rather than being more concerned with formulating your response before they’ve even stopped talking. For me, that someone was Sharron, and who more important to listen to than our spouse!
I had been more concerned with winning arguments than building our relationship. I was proud of my verbal gymnastics and ignored feelings of guilt that would come later.
I needed to drop the satire and express emotions maturely.
I needed to learn that humor in the form of satire had no place in my marriage. I needed to grow up; to be transparent with my emotions and express them in a way that showed Sharron I respected and valued her. This was a big one for me. I had learned to hide behind a wall of satire rather than express my true feelings. Maturity is a process, not an event. I began to see progress here also; small victories along that way. Things began to get better at home.
Let God do what only He can do!
God brought people into my life who were much further down the spiritual path than I was. They became my mentors. He led Sharron and I to a good Bible-preaching church and to a small home group that walked with us as God layed a spiritual foundation in our lives and our marriage.
God showed me the reality of Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
To put it simply, God continues to show me what love is. If I cannot be a servant to my wife and love her in a God-honoring way, how can He use me elsewhere?
As Sharron and I grew closer to God individually, He brought us closer together as a couple. What better way to express our hearts to God and at the same time to our spouse than praying out loud together on a regular basis.
Mature in your spiritual walk together.
It has been shown that couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes – attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples – enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public and unbelievers.
When you feel like quitting, don’t.
I was at a conference on spiritual leadership when I heard that the first time. It applies to marriage too. Feelings rise and fall like the tide. The foundation of our relationships, with God, with our spouse, must be permanent, set in stone. It’s not a 50/50 proposition, but 100% commitment. Storms will come; they’ll make us stronger.
God saved me, He save my life and He saved my marriage. If you have not already done so, invite Him into your life and your marriage. If you have, put Him at the center of both, where He belongs. It’s a daily challenge in a world in which we must swim against the current of society. I pray that God will bless you and your marriage as you walk with Him.