I’m having one of those mornings where my heart is full and I’m having a hard time putting into words the things that God is showing me. I’m going to do my darndest, though! I’m learning a ton as I read through Love and War by John and Stasi Eldredge. Dennis and I have what I have always thought of as an “easy” marriage. This is because of him, not me! He’s very laid-back and there aren’t too many things that shake his confidence or rile him up. We have our moments, but mostly things run pretty smoothly, even after 14 years of marriage. I am constantly thankful for this and rarely take it for granted.
As awesome as I feel our marriage is, I’ve been challenged by several things in this book. The first is about transformation.
Learning to live with our opposite and all their little quirkinesses is part of learning to love. “Love it is a rock,” Shawn Mullins sings, “smoothed over by a stream.” We want love to be stable and immovable, like a rock… but that stream part is another matter. Some force constantly washing over us, smoothing our rough edges. We don’t much go in for that. But let’s face it– we’ve all got some roughness to our personalities, don’t we? For this wonderful process, God gives us… each other. Marriage is the rushing stream God uses to shape us into more loving people.
I’ve never thought of marriage in terms of a transformative process, but it truly can be. God throws us into close proximity with someone who is different from us and asks us to do life together. Surely that’s going to change us! We get to choose whether we change for the better or not!
The second thing I’ve been challenged by is the reminder that my husband cannot make me happy. When I expect him to, I place a pressure on him to be something that only God can be for me. We all are leaky cups! He could do the most amazing job of loving me, filling my cup, making me feel special and cherished– but it doesn’t last. I need it again and again. Dennis is not a well. Only God is. I can count on Jesus to constantly be able to fill my leaky cup, but not my husband. I am not a well and I cannot adequately fill his every need either. Part of the disappointment in marriage comes from that unmet expectation or the pressure to live up to that expectation. Think about this: how your spouse is doing is not the report card on you. The authors say, “your spouse’s unhappiness doesn’t mean you’re an ‘F’ as a person. Your spouse’s unhappiness– and yours– means you both have a famished craving within you that only God can meet.”
It’s the subtle lies that get us. Blatant deception doesn’t usually trip us up because it’s so obvious. It’s the things that sound good, that are mostly or partly true with just a grain of falsehood that can really mess us up. The enemy is a master of just-close-enough-to-the-truth-to-be-dangerous. This is one of the biggest reasons we need each other! In isolation, the half truths sound much more believable and take root more deeply, our personal blind spots become much broader.
There is one half truth that I’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s a much more subtle variation on “you’ve got to look out for #1”. That sounds too selfish for our cultured selves to handle anymore, so instead it’s shifted to “love yourself and take care of yourself first”.
First, the truth part. Jesus himself says, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Clearly, you will have a harder time truly loving others if you haven’t learned to love yourself. In addition, I see “take care of yourself first” as a bit of a pendulum swing from the child-centric philosophy that many moms (and dads) have been exposed to. When you put your children first, when your world revolves around them, you get marriages falling apart due to neglect. The world was never meant to revolve around your children– the sooner they learn this, the better! When you’re constantly pouring out without filling your own cup, you are running on empty all the time and that is never an effective strategy. Also, in marriage itself there is a difference between putting your spouse’s needs above your own and looking out for their best interests (true love is self-sacrificing– just look at the Cross), and allowing yourself to become unimportant.
Next, the off-base part. The companion belief to “love yourself first” is that life’s ultimate goal is our individual happiness. This is where the downward slide begins. Can you imagine if that had been Jesus’ primary goal? In a classic understatement, we’d be up the creek without a paddle! The perceptive among you will chide me at this point– after all, this very blog is called Today I’m Happy! Personal happiness, choosing things that contribute to our well-being, is not unimportant! Where it goes wrong is when we place it in first priority.
Back to truth. It’s all about Jesus. Period. Anything that comes before or between us and him will lead to disappointment and shallow living. It’s part of the crazy economy of God– put Jesus as the center (he doesn’t want to be the first among your priorities, he wants to be in everything you do) and you get all the rest. Put yourself or anyone else in the center and you have a void. You want to live with purpose and intention? Love your family from a place of abundance? Serve others? Find happiness? Then love Jesus (more on this another time), do whatever it takes to press in close to him, surrender absolutely everything to him constantly and completely. He’ll give you everything else, I promise!
We just started a series at church called I Still Do. I’m also reading Love and War by John Eldredge (when I find an author I like, I tend to devour everything they’ve written), subtitled “finding the marriage you’ve dreamed of”. Dennis and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage this summer and we’ve got it pretty good! We’re mostly on the same page with parenting, our spiritual journey, life in general. For us, marriage doesn’t take a lot of work in this phase of our life together. Or does it? Maybe it doesn’t take much work to have a good marriage, one in which we are content and happy. But what about a great marriage? An amazing one…one that impacts the world around us.
The big idea from yesterday’s sermon is that in order to find true fulfillment in life, you need to find “the one”. But “the one” is not your spouse! We made a commitment to live our lives and marriages with God as our number one and our spouse as our number two. Pastor Steve gave an illustration about how he would often come home from work and be on the phone as he walked in. Erin asked him to finish his phone calls before he walked in the house, so that when he came home, he was home. This is something I’m completely guilty of as well. I try to make the best use of my time and I almost always am on the phone when I get home. It’s challenging for all of us when I arrive trying to finish up a call. My kids and husband deserve my attention when I walk in the door and I can’t give it to them if I’m talking to someone else. I’m definitely going to work on this.
The statistics aren’t pretty, as we all know. Steve cited a study that found that 70% of married men and 60% of married women will have an affair. Half of marriages don’t last 15 years. Those that do often fall into what Eldredge calls a “cordial detente”. We sacrifice the passion for an amazing relationship, in exchange for “smoother daily operations”. That hits home! Steve gave the hyperbolic example of going to the beach with your family and seeing a sign with the warning: your odds of a shark attack today are 50%. None of us would casually dismiss that, allowing our kids to play in the water with a nonchalant “swim fast! Be safe! Keep your eyes open!”. So why do we go into marriage, or stay in our marriages, with a similarly casual attitude– just hoping for the best?
I want to serve my husband, giving him my best, not my leftovers. Not servitude, but true love showing itself through giving. Dennis comes second, right after Jesus, and wouldn’t it be great if I actually lived as though that were true? I do most of the time, but I need reality checks often. Even the best marriages take intention and effort and I don’t want to settle for less.