Friday, October 23, 2015

3 Christian Marriage Essentials

Though neglected in this season of life, I do notice something about this blog: roughly 40 to 80 people a month land on this post: An Open Letter to Unhappy Christian Wives.

For the Church that's reason to grieve. Often when I pray about the anonymous readers, wondering what brought them to that post, I wonder: What can the Church do to save Christian marriages?

Here are some compelling marriage stats from a Christianity Today article:
In her newest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shanti compiles some stats and conducts some research of her own on marriage, and specifically, what makes for a happy marriage.
53% of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage" (compared to 7% of Struggling Couples).
30% of Struggling Couples disagree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage."

She writes, "Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness" (pg. 178, Highly Happy Marriages). (See her book for the methodology.) Dr. Wilcox finds that "active conservative protestants" who attend church regularly are actually 35% less likely to divorce than those who have no religious preferences. In all cases, notice the active element of the faith commitment. "Nominal" Christians, however, those who simply call themselves Christians but do not actively engage with the faith, are actually 20% more likely than the general population to get divorced—perhaps there is a link between putting on a show in the religious and relational context.

With this data in mind, here are three considerations for those desiring an enduring marriage:

1. Focus on God, and on the marriage the Holy Spirit is working out.

Trust God implicitly to mold yours into a godly marriage, regardless of how it looks today.

If God is at the center of a marriage, than it stands to reason he's at the center of both the husband's and wife's individual lives. However, if not, you can't force your husband to read the Bible. Focus on what you can do spiritually, and pray for your husband. Don't nag or be antagonistic. Your faithfulness and patience will be rewarded. The Holy Spirit will change hearts--any open heart, that is. Keep your own heart open using prayer and the Word as cleansing agents. A closed, bitter heart is the beginning of the end.

Your marriage is only as good as your reliance on Him.

2. Don't be a Christian in name only.

A nominal Christian has one to two feet in the world at all times, and the world destroys the sanctity and beauty of Christian marriage. If you're a nominal Christian, good luck with that 50th anniversary thing. It probably ain't happening.

Keep your feet and heart and head out of the world. Forsake the world's ways and save yourself and probably your marriage and kids, too. Ask God if you're a nominal Christian. His answer is all that matters, and it will be clear enough. Just ask. The Holy Spirit will then step in and clean house.

3. Remember what you deserve, and what you were given instead.

End entitlement in your heart and practice gratitude. God has given you exactly what He thinks is good for you. You don't agree with him? Be obedient anyway, just like you would expect from your children, who don't always know what's best.

Here's my story: My marriage is hard, but there are no on-going resentments. We aren't fighters. Moments of tired irritation occur for both of us, but that comes with having special-needs children. Special needs press in on a marriage. Date nights and all the other tricks to keep the home fires burning? They're a dream to couples dealing with children's problems. Such marriages thrive by the grace of God, not because of date nights or anything planned.

A godly marriage doesn't have to look romantic or ideal. It has to have a rock-solid foundation--which is Christ--and two flawed people extending grace toward one another, continually. When you look at your partner, look with Jesus glasses. Jesus sees a sinner in need of grace. Can't we do the same?

The Holy Spirit continually reminds me that I am receiving in Jesus Christ's far more than I could ever hope or imagine. Aren't the vast majority doomed to hell, sadly? The Bible overflows with love toward me and my husband, and because of that we want to honor God with our marriage. It's as simple as that. Gratitude. Our marriage is a gift to God, not to ourselves. Though with this perspective, the marriage is mutually satisfying. It does turn out as a gift, but not from each other. A gift from God, rather.

When you look at marriage-success advice, you'll see date nights and enough sex and other things the couple is supposed to do. But every family has a different situation. Some are caring for aging parents; some are caring for other special needs; some couples have disorders or diseases themselves. Many are exhausted and nothing about their lives looks ideal--for years on end, not just for a season. Are these couples doomed, without the date nights and all the sex and the candle-lit anniversaries?

What about, say...the Pilgrims from 1620? They came here and endured years of hardship, often with no privacy or security of food or life. Fifty percent perished the first year. Survival was the only thing on their minds, and yes, sometimes God has this kind of existence for us. All through history life has been very hard and from that perspective, our modern-day "date nights" are comical. 

Commitment, and faith in something greater than themselves, held the marriages of old together, not date nights. You either live for yourself, or you live for Someone greater. Nothing legacy-worthy comes from living for ourselves. The me-centered leave nothing behind, except the echo of their selfishness.

It's not about whether we remember anniversaries (July 3rd and we usually remember too late), or whether we buy gifts for one another (we don't), or whether we go to marriage retreats (we never have), or whether we spend time alone (maybe 20 - 30  minutes before sleep, a few nights a week). My husband's got an aging father to attend to, first of all.

It's about finishing the race we started on July 3, 1999, for His glory. There's no stopping, turning back, or wishing we chose differently. God is writing the story and we already know how it ends.

For his glory and our good.

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