Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayIt’s short and to the point tonight.

There are about 500 people who read my blog pretty regularly, either on Facebook or Twitter or an email subscription or by going directly to my blog site.

Out of that group, I personally know of a small handful that are experiencing significant problems in their marriages…and a few others that have recurring problems that constantly cause stress and distance in their relationship.

But I’m afraid that may be just the tip of the iceberg.  I think my world is full of marriages that need help.  I think your world may look the same.  And the sad part is the marriages that need the most help are not admitting it.  At least not to anyone who is willing to help them.

Soooo….

If your marriage is less than what it could/should be, what are you going to about it today?

If your marriage is in trouble (and you know it), are you going to continue to act like everything is fine in public, but live a secret life at home?  Or are you going to finally ask for help?

And most importantly, if you know of friends or family whose marriages are obviously struggling, are you going to sit idly by and watch their marriage slowly disintegrate (because it’s really none of your business)?  Or are you going to wade into the deep end of friendship and risk speaking the truth to these people…and offering to walk through the mess of their lives with them?

You know who they are.  You know what you need to do.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2I read a report a couple of days ago that confirmed something I’ve been wondering about for a while.  Years ago, studies  verified that couples who claimed to be christian had the same kind of divorce rates as everybody else.  I never really wanted to believe itbut I knew it was true.  This new report has taken those findings to another level.

According to the Council on Contemporary Families, couples who claim to be evangelical (that means Bible-believing, church-going folks) actually divorce at higher rates than the national average and even higher rates than those who claim to have no faith or church affiliation at all.

Amazing.

The study offers a number of possible explanations for this growing trend.  They are interesting.  You can read them for yourself, if you are interested.  I have some of my own opinions, though.   Here are a few:

In spite of the Apostle Paul’s command not to take advantage of God’s grace (“shall we go on sinning so that God’s grace may increase?”), Christians are deeply aware that no matter how much they may miss the mark when it comes to the standards laid out in scripture, God will continue to forgive.  This awareness provides an enormous safety net for those who knowingly come up short.

“God doesn’t want me to be miserable.”   The negative effect of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel message that has dominated religious television programming (not to mention all the books, conferences, and big pastors that propagate that theology) over the past 25-30 years,  has wormed it’s way deep into mainstream church thought and practice.  The pursuit of happiness has become virtually synonymous with the pursuit of holiness in the modern church.

Hearing the “voice” of God  is no longer “heard” through the community of faith.  It’s totally individual.  “God told me”… “God is leading me”… “God is speaking to my heart”… “God’s Spirit is guiding me”and the like, is the new mantra of today’s christian.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say something like, “I just feel like God is making it clear that I am supposed to ___________.” 

Really?  God is telling you that?  How about if you run that idea by, uhmaybe ten or twelve older and wiser followers of Christ and see what they say?  Ask them to search the scriptures and see if you are making a wise decision or if you are violating any of God’s life principles.  Ask them to pray and see if they “hear” the same message from God you are hearing.  Ask them if they think the message you are “hearing” from God will damage the reputation of the church or be harmful to you or others in the long run.

Maybe the most heartbreaking explanation of all is somewhere, somehow, we have created a church culture that has learned to hide marriage problems.  We love to keep our secrets.  We love for other people to keep their secrets.  It is entirely acceptable for hurting couples (and hurting people) to paint on smiles, shake hands, sing a verse, eat a communion pellet, and get out the door without anyone ever knowing the struggle they are living through.

And I worry that all of this is not just acceptable, but it is now expected.

God help us.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2in spite of all the turmoil and debate and political chaos out there, men and women are still getting married.  and since that’s the only kind of marriage i know anything about, i think i’ll keep writing about it.

most of us are raised to be goal oriented.  get “A’s” in school.  lose twenty pounds.  go on a vacation.  get a new job.  win the super bowl.  goals are what fuel our ambitions and give purpose to our behavior.

nobody gets up in the morning and says, “i want to be a loser today.  i want to make dumb decisions and shipwreck my life.”  no.  we make goals so we can excel or improve or make a difference or achieve some level of expertise or satisfaction.  we make goals so we can be the best we can be and reach our potential and make our mark.

at least some people are that way.

but, you know, when it comes to marriage, i think it’s a whole different ball game.

i wish i were wrong, but it seems to me the goal of most marriages i see is not to get divorced.  no plans.  not working on anything.  not building for something.  not focusing on improvement.  just going through the motions with no bigger purpose in mind.

it’s ironic and incredibly sad that the goal to simply “stay married”, turns into such a horribly disastrous goal.

hear this:  if you are doing nothing to intentionally strengthen your marriage…if you are doing nothing to intentionally deepen the quality of your relationship with your spouse…if you are doing nothing on purpose to develop or improve the character and maturity of your heart and spiritual life…the goal of your marriage is nothing more than survival.

and it’s a crap shoot if you’ll reach that goal.

i know that’s not particularly cheery, but it’s the truth.

so get busy and start setting some goals worthy of the high calling of marriage.  stop making a mockery of this wonderful gift god gave to us when he created adam and eve in the garden…these two who represented the ultimate expression of god’s creative genius in their differences and similarities…and start protecting it and growing it and taking delight in it.

really.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2this is not pretty.

i know of a handful of marriages that are really struggling right now.  a couple of them could make it through the battle.  a couple of them probably won’t.  it’s just the way it is.

the fact that i’m sad about those marriages…or that i seem to have more hope than they do…doesn’t matter at all.  it’s their deal.  it’s their lives.  i wish i could lay in front of the bus, but i can’t.

as i think about marriage tonight, the issues become pretty black and white to me.  i hope this doesn’t come across too calloused.

marriages don’t fail because people are ignorant.  marriages don’t fail overnight.  marriages fail because bad decisions begin to outnumber good decisions.

it starts slowly.  most of the time, it goes unnoticed.  thoughtless responses.  careless acts of self-centeredness.  inconsiderate scheduling.  insensitive reactions.  a lack of sympathy here.  a rash word there.  alone, they mean nothing, really.  but when they start to add up, they begin to chip away.

trust erodes.  kindness is forgotten.  thoughtlessness becomes the norm.

for a time, both are equally to blame.  after a while, one wants the marriage more than the other…and the other has stopped caring.

the damage is done.  the relationship has been redefined by months and years of bad decisions that seemed so innocent and harmless at the time.  and once the foundation has been eroded,  simple thoughtlessness is replaced a hardening of the heart… and barring a transplant, death is imminent.

i’ve seen it many times before.  sadly, i will see it again.

so here’s my advice to you who are young and married:  make right decisions.  you’re not stupid.  you know when you are doing things that hurt or frustrate your partner.  so stop it.  if you’ve already made a bad decision, talk about it and apologize.

rinse and repeat.  everyday.

if you are deep into years of bad decisions and calloused behavior, there’s still hope.   as long as you’re still together, change in your marriage can happen.  if you have already developed a pattern of “going through the motions”, it won’t be easy.  it definitely won’t be pretty.  but there is help around the corner.

you just need to throw up the white flag.

somebody will see it.

i promise.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2here’s a shocker:  i’ve got lots of people these days that want to know what i think about same-sex marriage.

because it’s such a volatile and polarizing hot button, i’m not feeling particularly inclined to make my little corner of the blogosphere a public forum for people to roll up their sleeves and drop their opinions in opposition (or support) of mine.  sorry.  you’ll need to go find another audience.

but i do have a related issue that’s bugging me today.

look, it’s not much of a secret that many, if not most, conservative evangelical types stand in opposition to any legitimizing of same-sex marriage.  although that group is not particularly united on all of the points of opposition, there’s one consistent fear i’ve heard expressed for the past 15 years…

same-sex marriage is a threat to the traditional, biblical view of marriage.

without disrespecting the depth of debate and disagreement that good-hearted and passionate people can have over the theology or sociology of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality, in general), i want to make an observation to all the husbands and wives i know:

…the biggest threat to your marriage will never be the existence or legalization of same-sex marriage.

so let me list a few real threats.

  • flirting at the office
  • facebook
  • your job
  • bitterness
  • unwillingness to talk
  • careless criticism
  • uncontrolled spending
  • lack of forgiveness
  • high school reunions
  • sexual dissatisfaction
  • power struggles
  • hard hearts
  • dishonesty
  • letting divorce be an option

wake up!  be alert.  pay attention to the real enemies of your marriage.  don’t get side-tracked with perceived threats.

Marriage Tuesday

i got to spend the last week with a bunch of men out in the colorado wilderness.  it’s a good deal.

i love the wilderness.  i dig hanging out with other men.  and i’m all over talking with guys about the really important things in life.

i’ve done this thing for the past ten years and every year, some of my favorite conversations are about their marriages.  some of the conversations are difficult.  some are encouraging.  some are full of brutal honesty.  some are expressions of denial.

some are seeking help and willing to listen to advice and others have absolutely no clue their marriages are about to be shipwrecked.  either way, talking with these guys about their marriages is a challenge.  and an honor.

this week, we had a guy stand up in front of the whole group and air his dirty laundry.  he told of his twenty-year struggle of sabotaging his marriage.  he didn’t try to do it on purpose.  he was simply unaware of the damage he was inflicting on his wife, by his unwillingness to listen to her…the absence of compassion…and the inability to put his wife’s needs above his interest in the lives of others.

he’s a pastor.  his calling is to preach the word and shepherd those who needed his attention and care.  somewhere along the line, he got duped into believing that being attentive to his wife was not as important as being attentive to others.

and he lost her.  to another man.

but the story didn’t end there.

both of them decided that honoring their marriage was the equivalent of honoring god.  so they didn’t quit.  on each other.  on marriage.  on god.

they each repented of their sins.  they each assumed responsibility for where they failed.  they forgave each other for the mistakes that were made and they determined to make changes.   she broke off the adulterous relationship.  he started owning up to the kind of man he had become.

and even bigger, they stopped trying to hide their marriage failures.   they stopped turning against each other.   they started turning to their friends for help.  they drafted others into their pain and submitted themselves to the wisdom of god, revealed in the word.  they started living by faith again…and began believing that even though they were each unfaithful,  god would always be faithful.

they hit the bottom in 2006.   they have been on the journey back since then.  they have taken six years of baby steps…both individually and as a couple.  its far from perfect.  he admitted that some days, he’s the same old insensitive,  self-centered slug he was throughout their marriage.   but he’s making progress.

not because he’s such a great guy,  but because he finally decided to personally trust in god to change his heart…instead of just telling others that god would do it for them.

his story inspired me.   how about you?

Less than ideal…

i said yesterday there were some ideals that didn’t need improving.

i still believe that.

i always will.  there are some truths that i hold on to…that i stake my life on…that i am unashamed to proclaim…and that i believe everyone,  and i mean everyone,  should submit to.

but we don’t live in a perfect world.   and some people…maybe even most people…live with less than the ideal.

for years,  i have seen innocent kids be abused, neglected or even blamed in the bitterness of their parent’s divorce…only to rise above it all and become healthy,  loving,  forgiving servant-leaders.   amazing.

i have a friend who grew up in a family with two lesbian parents…and in spite of all the fears and predictions,  he grew up to be a loving husband and father,  with a passionate heart for god and others.

i have performed the wedding ceremonies of many couples who have lived together…and who’s understanding of the joy and genius of a marriage covenant came along well after they had consummated the act.   and they’re okay.

i have walked through the painful divorces and remarriages of friends who, despite deep feelings of failure and even deeper convictions of falling short of god’s ideal,  are currently experiencing the reality of god’s grace and forgiveness as they move forward with their new lives.   go figure.

i have witnessed the marriages of people whom i believed had no business getting married…who were unequally yoked  in varieties of ways…who had little support of friends or family…who were too young…who had no money…who were already pregnant…who had little,  or even no faith in god…whose motives were questionable…who knew nothing of sacrificial love…who got married under far less than ideal circumstances…yet they remain lovingly and faithfully married to each other.

i guess i’m just saying that before you climb up on your moral and theological high horse,  don’t forget that all of us are reclamation projects… doing the best we can with what we know…in an imperfect and fallen world.

i will hold to the ideal…

…while i hold the hands of those who fall short.

and i hope others would do the same for me.