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Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?

The bells toll cheerily. The doors fling open and confetti swirls in the air as bride and groom emerge, all smiles and laughter. Waving goodbye, Cinderella and Prince Charming kiss as their carriage rides away into the sun.

The scene is one I can recall too easily. I’m one of those girls who grew up on Disney princess movies, rom-coms, and Jane Austen. Add to that my parents’ stable marriage, and it’s hardly surprising that as I matured, a good part of life’s focus was to find my happily ever after.

It took my first spectacular romance fizzling as quickly as it started for that dream to be turned upside down.

Although I had prayed and thought I was seeking God’s guidance, the breakdown of that relationship revealed how I had been too wrapped up in a superficial idea of love. All I saw was the allure of romance.

God had to reshape any thoughts I had about relationships, and the eventual marriage I longed for—helping me see what it looks like to glorify God in all I do, including relationships and marriage.

Since that first fizzled romance, I’ve learned a bit more about love, and these are some things I would tell my younger self:

 

1. It’s not about you—or what you want

When I was in my teens, I had a list describing my ideal man. It looked pretty reasonable: Christian, diligent, tall, etc.

What I didn’t have was a list for myself—the kind of spouse I aspired to be. Instead, I was focused on who would fit my list. . . “The One” who would make me happy, who would complete me. My first boyfriend seemed to fit it, but because we both entered with self-seeking hearts, the relationship was bound to fail.

I still believe it’s good to have basic and sound standards, so that you won’t just fall for the next guy who comes with sweet words and gifts. But it shouldn’t stop there. The obvious fact I somehow missed, is that marriage is made up of two persons. It is as much about the other person as it is about me.

So, I began to look beyond personal wants and considered how I could honor God in the way I related to my potential future spouse. How could I give and not just receive?

 

2. It’s about loving without conditions

I learned what we can give is love. I don’t mean the eros, romance kind of love, although that is important. But the love that sustains the day-to-day of living with someone else is the God kind of love that is unconditional and enduring. This agape love will help build the relationship on eternal values and root it firmly in God.

When God rebuilt my view on marriage, He taught me how to love others with no condition. I’ll be honest—for a long time, all I saw in guys was “potentials” and whether any of them would “suit” me.

But when I joined my university’s Christian Fellowship, God opened my eyes to see that they are first and foremost my brothers. That’s when I learned to be a true friend. To listen, to support and encourage, to forgive and give grace—to seek the interests of another with no selfish intent (Philippians 2:1-4).

Of course, I applied this to my fellow sisters, too. It’s just that loving my guy friends the right way helped deconstruct my self-absorbed perceptions, and prepared me with the right mindset when I did marry.

By the time I graduated, my view on marriage was improved, and I was also blessed with sincere and strong friendships that have lasted until today.

 

3. It’s about displaying God’s love

Marriage reflects God’s relationship with His people—it’s about learning to live with one another in love. Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom, and the church as the bride. Ephesians 5:25-27 clearly points out that we are to love as Christ loves the church. And since we know that Christ laid down His life for the church, that’s the same kind of love we should be practicing (John 15:13).

God then designed marriage to be the field where unconditional love is played out in a very real way. My husband and I learn this whenever one of us makes any kind of mistake. Once, we came home after a two-week break to a fridge full of molded and stinky produce. No prizes for guessing who accidentally turned the fridge off. My husband could have yelled the place down at my incompetency, and I would have deserved it. But he didn’t. He heaved a few big sighs, and then got down to cleaning the fridge.

This reflects our relationship with God. We constantly blunder, but God is slow to anger, quick to forgive, and gracious to help us get through the mess we deserved to be stuck in. If done right, marriage is one of the greatest testimonies of God’s love. If we love selflessly in a marriage, John 13:35 comes into fruition: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

A Better Purpose

Had God not reformed my thinking, I would have been unprepared for daily married life. There would have been more conflicts, and ironically, much less happiness if my husband and I were seeking only our personal interests.

Yes, there is happiness in marriage, which we celebrate. But there is so much more than the Cinderella kind of happiness. Francis and Lisa Chan had this to say in their book, You and Me Forever:

This is the mistake a lot of couples make. They spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other but very little time staring at God. When this is the focus, they naturally begin to structure every aspect of their lives around the few years they have with each other on earth, rather than the millions they will spend in His presence. Or away from His presence. These people live as though they are not dying. They live as though the King is not returning.

This is how I now view marriage: It’s a call to live with another person in love, built on a goal to glorify God in every single thing we do, and firmly rooted in God so that our joy comes from things that are eternal.

That’s the true happily ever after.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the last in a 3-part series on relationships. Check out the first two articles, “What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?”  and “Should I Stay Single?” for more perspectives.

Should I Stay Single?

It was my first real relationship. After it became clear that we weren’t compatible, I decided to end it. The only problem was I had never been in a serious relationship before, and the thought of breaking up with someone terrified me. So I did what any immature and scared guy would do—I broke up with her on the phone. I know; not cool. But don’t worry, it gets worse.

With the guilt of hurting her weighing on my heart like a ton of bricks, I felt as though I had to do something to show her how much it was tearing me up inside. So about halfway through the conversation I did something I am still ashamed to admit . . . I fake cried. Yes, I was an adult (supposedly), and I fake cried while breaking up with someone. At that moment, I realized I was pretty much the picture of pathetic. I also realized relationships aren’t easy. (Note: we’ve long since made amends and I have never again fake cried).

The anguish of hurting someone I cared about and the shame of my own actions in dealing with it, made me swear off any semblance of a potentially romantic relationship for a number of years after that. I decided I would much rather not deal with the potential risks than have to go through something like a breakup again. I realized relationships take work—a lot of work. And there is always risk involved; risk of hurting someone and risk of being hurt. Sometimes it’s not even about the risk or the work, it’s simply about lifestyle. Simply put, being single is often much less complicated.

But even if we decide that relationships are worth the work and sacrifice . . . for Christians, there’s another important consideration. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul said concerning his singleness, “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that”. In the same chapter, Paul talks about how singleness frees people to only be concerned with the Lord’s affairs (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). That can leave Christian singles wondering, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” After all, wouldn’t that mean we’d have more time for Kingdom work?

Our answer to the question of whether or not we should stay single depends on us, and more importantly, on our relationship with the One who created us. One of the greatest aspects of the gospel we often forget is its personal nature. God has an original and unique purpose for each of us. This truth has transformed my way of looking at marriage and relationships.

I know of a single, accomplished, young woman who left a well-paying nursing position in a beach-side community to move to Uganda in order to adopt an orphaned boy. She had visited him on previous short-term mission teams, but over the course of time, felt the Lord burden her to return in order to adopt him. Her relationship status didn’t affect her obedience to the Lord. In this instance, being single made her decision much less complicated—she just obeyed the Lord’s direction.

In looking at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:7, it is important to note that he references his own singleness as a gift that was given to him, and concludes that we have all been given gifts individually. His specific gift of singleness isn’t given to everyone.

So the question we, as Christian singles, need to answer isn’t, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” But rather, “What is God’s purpose for my life?” I can assure you that staying single won’t make you more useful to God if that is not His purpose for your life. In fact, I would argue that you would be hindering Him.

Growing up, our home was often visited by a missionary couple my parents knew. They were photojournalists who traveled extensively to tell the stories of other missionaries and the work their organization was doing abroad. The husband was a photographer and the wife was a writer. They have crafted beautiful stories in words and photos of the gospel at work around the world. Separately, they only formed half the puzzle, but together, their skills complemented each other perfectly. It was obvious the Lord had brought them together.

The personal nature of the gospel and God’s unique plans for each individual life make it impossible to have a universal answer to the question of whether or not it is better to marry or stay single. The only way to answer this question is the same way Peter figured out that catching fish was not his life’s purpose—by getting closer to Jesus.

For me, it is no longer about whether one option is better than the other, but rather, whether I am where God wants me. I no longer fear relationships, or the inherent risk of them. And I’m not sure if I will get married or not. Regardless, I’ll do my best to be faithful in whatever season I’m in.

Right now, that means taking advantage of the opportunity to serve God as a single, to invest more time into friendships, and to seek His guidance in the purpose He has for my life. I’ve been able to volunteer more at church and also serve with a group that outreaches to my local surfing community. But more than anything, I want to spend the time singleness affords me, with Jesus—just the two of us.

And just to be clear, I have learned that His purpose for my life in this season or the next . . . certainly does not involve any more fake crying.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a 3-part series on relationships. Read the first, “What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?” here, and the next article in the series, “Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?” here.

What I Wish I Knew About Loving My Wife

Written by Tim Gustafson, USA

Tim Gustafson is a writer and editor at Our Daily Bread Ministries. As the adopted son of missionaries to Ghana, Tim has an unusual perspective on life in the West. He and his wife, Leisa, are the parents of one daughter and seven sons. Perhaps not surprisingly, his life verses say: “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” (Psalm 68:5-6 NLT).

Hey, younger Tim!

Nice hair, dude! You’re going to miss that. Take those monstrous headphones off for a minute. I’ve got something to say.

Let me talk to you about this love and marriage thing. It’s great that you want a life with this gorgeous, passionate woman. That’s a beautiful thing. But marriage . . . well, how should I say this? Your life isn’t going to be your own any more. Marriage is a lot of fun, but it’s also labor-intensive, time-consuming, and demands real sacrifice.

So why get married?

Well, although marriage isn’t for everybody, we’re all made for community and family. Even the most introverted loners among us need that. And marriage is a major way God will pull you into His community and family.

So, I want to start by telling you the second-best thing you can do for this wonderful, complicated creature who will become your wife:

Learn what really loving her looks like!

It will do wonders for your marriage relationship if you can relate to her on her terms, and in her “language.” That isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to listen to her. See her. Study her. Understand her. Yes, I ask the impossible. But try. When you’re doing it (mostly) right, the effort is fun and fulfilling.

Always keep the lines of communication open! She’s pretty passionate, which is one of the things you love about her, remember? That comes with an ever so slight downside. She can be really passionate! (Yeah, I know, I already said that.) So let her vent. Don’t give those answers you’re always so quick with. That’s not what she’s looking for. Hear her out.

Much of what she will want to talk about won’t have answers anyway. The world is broken, and she doesn’t like that. She needs to vent about it. When Saint Paul told us, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), he let us know that submission is a two-way street. This is a lifelong, God-honoring partnership. Be Jesus to her, not Wikipedia.

Tend the important garden.

You are driven, and you are passionate about music, so pay attention here. Another pretty driven guy has a quietly successful roots-music band called Over the Rhine. This guy’s name is Linford Detweiler, and he’s been married to his band’s cofounder, Karin Bergquist, for over 20 years. When an interviewer asked him about balancing career and marriage, Detweiler said, “It’s kinda like tending two gardens. You can’t really neglect one garden in favor of your career.” That, younger Tim, is great advice!

Never neglect the garden that is your marriage. For too much of your life, you’re going to be favoring your career over everything else. And it’s going to be worse with you, because you, my mulleted ego, are going to have two careers at the same time. This military thing you think is part-time is going to consume a lot of your life. World events will turn your job as a reservist into a full-time gig—and you’re going to love it. You’re going to love it a little too much because you thrive on adventure. But you’ve got to find ways to include your family in the adventure.

Build a place for her.

You grew up quite transient. She did not. She won’t want to live on the road; she’ll always want a garden—a literal one. That’s what makes her happy. So you’ll need a place where you can plant that garden, and you need to take time in that garden with her. It’s part of her DNA.

Every time you get the chance, do things she likes to do. Coincidentally, that will include actual gardening! Just pull weeds or something. She’ll tell you what needs to be done. Leave the green-thumb stuff to her.

But the best thing you can do for your marriage is . . .

Love God!

That sounds platitudinous, but it’s the way of life we are called to. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He didn’t give a pontifical answer; He gave a practical one. It’s so practical that it demands our complete reliance on the Holy Spirit. Which, of course, is the point.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–39).

If you’re loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, you will not have as much trouble loving your “neighbor,” i.e., your wife, as yourself.

You’re a goal-oriented guy. In the future a counselor is going to refer to you as “a thoroughbred.” It’s only going to be half a compliment. He means that you run hard, which is good.

But you don’t stop and smell the roses, which is bad. Stop and smell the roses! That will take work of a different kind. You’ve got to learn to embrace the quiet. Suppress the urge to charge forward every waking moment.

Go for quiet walks. And while you’re on those walks, listen for God. If you can keep that in mind, my younger self, you will be on your way to the kind of success others are going to want to emulate. Because it will be the success that can only come from God. And that, my younger me, is what your heart truly desires.

 

Regards,

Old-guy Tim, some time in the next millennium

 

The Day I Broke A Promise to My Husband

Written By Dawn Ong, Singapore

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26b).

This verse was close to our hearts as my husband and I went through pre-marital counseling. We promised each other that we would not allow anger to fester overnight, that we would make up and forgive each other before the day was over.

I broke that promise not too long ago.

 

The Disagreement

It was a lazy weekend. My husband and I wanted to run some errands without the children. We started to squabble due to a minor dispute—whether or not we should let the kids watch TV while we were out.

I did not want the children glued to the screen. My husband insisted that we needed something to entertain the kids so we could leave in peace, and the helper could have an easier time. I said no. He said yes.

Our voices grew louder and louder, in front of the kids. They were either glued to their program, oblivious to the heated atmosphere, or they did not know who to side with, and kept silent.

I grabbed the remote control and turned the TV off in a huff, with major protest from the kids. My husband and I were still disagreeing as we stepped out of the house together. I was fuming, and wanted to speak up for my cause. He cut me off mid-sentence, not wanting to listen to my rationale. Of course, that left me seething.

I remained indignant throughout the evening and allowed animosity to permeate the air. I made sure he knew I was mad at him—ignoring him when he asked for my opinion, walking far in front of him with a stomp in my steps, making no eye contact, giving one-word answers, and other childish manners imaginable.

I nursed the thought that he should apologize, since he was the one who shut me off in the first place. I continued to sin in anger, with an unforgiving heart.

As we lay in bed that night, I told him I was still annoyed with him, and left it at that, rolling away from him. I did not hear an ounce of apology. I went to bed mad and disappointed. I couldn’t sleep that night and was still grumpy the next morning.

 

The Next Day

Still upset, I raised the issue the next day. My frustration surprised my husband, as he thought we had reached an understanding. Before I had turned away the night before, he had gently told me, “Sleep on it. We will talk about this when you are less angry.”

I fumed over the fact that he did not care to make up—except I learned that he did. In my frustration, I hadn’t heard him, and allowed anger to linger through the night. I had given the devil a foothold.

We had made a promise during marriage counseling, and I broke it.

In the case of what we had argued about, there was no right and wrong. It was simply a matter of different perspectives. But I had allowed harsh words to strain the relationship, and in my anger, I had sinned.

My husband said he was trying to reach out to me the entire evening. He thought he was being extra nice to me, and was gentle with his words. But I was blinded by resentment, and insisted on an apology. When I did not receive one, that’s all I could focus on.

On my part, I assumed my unhappiness was obvious through my actions. But my husband was unaware of my infuriation, and I didn’t voice my concerns to him until the end of the day. It was a matter of communication. We had not let each other in on our respective thoughts and feelings.

 

Moving Forward

When we finally talked things through openly, we realized that we were both wrong. He was annoyed that I had shut off the TV in anger. I was upset that he did not hear me out. But instead of taking necessary steps towards reconciliation, we had allowed our evening to be taken captive by anger.

If I could do this over, I would have taken time to calm down before anger took over. I could have allowed the kids to watch TV, while explaining my rationale calmly to my husband. He, on the other hand, could have listened to my justifications patiently.

I apologized for switching off the TV in a frustrated fit—both to my husband, and my children. My husband shared his regret for not being proactive in listening to me. We made up, in front of the children, as we shared our marriage counselor’s words, and the promise we made to each other.

I am reminded once again, exactly why anger can be so dangerous. If we ignore it, anger can become like a knife—plunging deep into our relationships, cutting the ties that bond us. When unresolved, it consumes us, blinding us to reason and logic. Anger leaves us prone to let hurtful words spew from our lips, and for our hearts to be filled with soreness.

Paul was wise when he gave the Ephesians these words. They have been proven true time and time again.

“’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).