I have friends getting married this weekend. Two young couples are making a covenant to love each other for better or worse. They have both dated for several years, and are marrying for all the right reasons. I think it is safe to say they have no idea what they are getting in to… I’m writing this post for them. I have several couples in my life who have been married for less than 5 years, this post is for them.
Today is an important date in my family. December 16th is my grandparents’ anniversary. Today marks 68 years of wedded bliss. I’m sure it wasn’t all bliss, however, I can say they are people who delight in each other. I have spent 40 years (almost) watching them fulfill God’s idea of marriage. God uses good marriage as a template for our relationship to him. I suppose watching these two love each other is part of what allows me to believe a God is crazy about me. His plan is written across scripture, but I’ll use Ephesians 5:28-33 for today’s example.
Ephesians 5:28-33New International Version (NIV) 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[a] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
I have this memory. I don’t know how old I was, a teenager I’m sure, full of ideas of how things should be, and perfectly convinced that men and women were equal. (In all reality, I was a feminist.). My grandfather had prostate cancer, and we were at the hospital getting ready for his surgery. My grandmother sent him and me to the car to get their bags. I thought she should get her own bags because he was sick, and she was certainly able bodied. I expressed this thought to him on our way down in the elevator. He quickly but kindly reprimanded me, “That’s not the way it works. I let Franny do what she feels is best, and then I do what she needs.” His words were proud, that he loved her in such a way as to display her strengths. The days following, she took great care of him, following every order from the doctor & nursed him back to health. There’s a big lesson in this that I didn’t understand at the time. Marriage isn’t about being equal, it’s about being complementary.
Herk and Fran have always been full of life. A couple of years ago we finally talked them in to moving to Greenville, which greatly increased the quality of all of our lives. Having crossed over into his 91st year, Herk isn’t able to do all that he used to do. A cholesterol medication weakened his legs and limited his mobility. His mind and sense of humor are as sharp as ever, and he and Grandma keep Deacon after school most days. Their rolls have changed. Grandma does more of the physical work around their apartment, and Grandpa does more of the cooking. What has not changed is their respect for one another. They are a great team.
On Halloween Grandma butt dialed me. I didn’t hear the phone because I was trick-or-treating with my son. I’m so thankful I missed that call, because my voicemail contains the worst fight I have ever hears these two have. It’s hilarious! There are lots of “good griefs” and “I’m sorry” and it ends with “I will never ride with you, evermore!” But you know what is missing? Name calling, cursing, things you can’t take back, and disrespect. As much as I have laughed about that fight, I have also seen how to love in conflict.
I married a great blend of my grandfather and my father. On the 20th we will celebrate 19 years. One would think cancer might be our greatest trial, but it’s not, at least not for me. My greatest trial has been selfishness. The last few weeks, as I have been loved so graciously and selflessly by my husband, a memory of a prayer has continually popped into my mind. We hadn’t been married very many years when I became disillusioned with marriage. I was unhappy. I wanted a husband who would talk to me, who would be a spiritual leader in our family, who would clean! I prayed and prayed that God would change him. I don’t remember why (I probably listened to Focus on the Family), but it was impressed upon my heart to change my prayer. I quit praying for him to change and started praying that God would help me be the wife he needed. My depression let up pretty quickly, but it took years of refinement to become the Cary Mathis love expert that I am today. My idea of the perfect wife, and the wife that Cary needed were two very different things. My ideal wife cooks big meals, and keeps a clean house, and meets his needs before he asks. The wife he needed is a friend, she sits with him in the evening and leaves the fast food sacks on a the table for later. She laughs at his clever whit and replaces his negative thoughts about himself with the truth of his character and calling. (I like this woman SO much better than the wife I dreamed up.)
So now, 19 years in, I have a husband who listens more than he talks. The result of that is that he knows me better than I know myself. He knows when I’m about to break and pulls me into his arms. He knows how to make me laugh and how to calm me down. He is so careful to say difficult things with gentleness & he gives mercy. I have a husband who balances my tendency toward miserliness with a heart of great generosity. I have a husband who covers me in ministry. He is my head, he is my greatest defender and encourager. It is the most beautiful thing to me that it is out of a place of submission to him, that he has lifted me up to be a pastor at the right time. He isn’t threatened because I am a strong woman, but he is proud of my strengths and complements them. And, he cleans and does laundry (he had to change a little bit, right? It’s only fair).
My advice to my young friends: Learn to love your spouse well. Allow God to make you the person they need. Do not try to do this on your own; you are not that smart. This work requires the Holy Spirit. You have made a covenant before God. This isn’t a contract that can be broken when you are unhappy. It’s a covenant. God hates divorce. (See Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9) I don’t care what society says, what your momma says, or what your pastor says, research it in the Bible. Marriage is a great mystery. You are one. Something happens in your spirit when you are sexually intimate with someone else. You share a part of your soul with them. You cease bing separate and become one. It may not feel like it yet, but keep loving, keep lifting your spouse to the higher place, and the day will come when you won’t know for sure where they end and you begin.
Let’s talk about sex. Here’s the deal, my whole family is going to read this blog, so this is a little awkward for me, however I’ve had three kids, so they have probably figured out I have had sex, and to write about marriage and leave that out would be a big mistake.
Here’s what I see with couples whose marriages are fraying… they quit having sex. This is a terrible idea. God created sex to increase physical and spiritual intimacy in marriage. I believe praying together produces a similar intimacy. Our media, the cheesy movies we watch as kids, romance novels, pornography, Hallmark all pervert sex. They feeds us lies about what sex should look like, there has to be romance, you have to ‘feel’ right. Many churches unintentionally teach that sex is dirty or wrong for all of childhood and teen years. The result is church people who have shame related to a beautiful gift for intimacy. That’s a bunch of crap.
Sex is important, have a lot of it. Part of the mystery of marriage is that women need to feel intimately connected to desire sex. Men need to have sex to feel intimately connected. (I realize I am generalizing, please take these last two statements in moderation.). I suppose the beauty of this is you have to meet the other person’s needs to have your own needs met, that sounds like God. In reality, sometimes you have sex because you are over come by attraction, sometimes you have sex because your partner needs to, sometimes you have sex be you are angry, sometimes you have sex because you are sad, sometimes you have sex just because you are going to kill each other if you don’t. Sex, in marriage is a tool for healing hurts, for releasing pent up emotions, and for restoring intimacy. It isn’t magical (except in my marriage because my husband is such a stud 😉😉), but it is a gift to be shared. (See 1Cor 7:1-7)
In our current time, the idea of having sex is with only one person is a foreign idea. Premarital sexual relationships (real or cyber) keep souls from being completely available for intimacy and vulnerability. I am attaching a link to information about soul ties that you may want to read if you feel this is an issue in your marriage. This is the reason God tells us to save sex for marriage. It isn’t about rules, it’s about having the best relationship possible for a life time.