Monday, August 27, 2012

Timing is Everything

           Good communication is essential to a healthy marriage.  In good, positive communication, timing can be everything.  When your husband comes in angry at the world and particularly at his boss, it’s probably not the best time to point out his boss’ positive qualities or how the boss is just making the decisions that are best for the company.  When your wife just had a fight with her mother, it might not be the best time to remind her how much she and her mother are alike.
The exact same message can be received positively in certain circumstances and negatively in others.  Before you speak, weigh the effect your words will have given the situation.  Often you can say the same thing at another time and receive a totally different reaction.  Timing is everything.
Now, please understand that saying “timing is everything” is not carte blanche permission for one spouse to say anything he or she wants to say, and the other spouse to just have to sit quietly and take it.  We all have times of stress, and we all have times when we need to blow off some steam.  It is important to know that our mate is a safe place for us to do that.  But good timing is NEVER an excuse for dishing out abusive speech at your spouse or tolerating abusive speech from your spouse.  We must do all we can to maintain the mind of Christ and the honoring of our spouses, regardless of the circumstances.  Yes, hurtful remarks can (and should) be forgiven, but they make an impact.  Words spoken in anger cannot be unspoken.
Also, good timing in communication is NOT an excuse to not talk about things that need to be discussed.  Perpetually burying something that needs to be addressed because “the time just isn’t right” is not healthy communication and does not lead to a healthy relationship. Eventually, things might have to be said that are not pleasant or easy to hear.  Good timing certainly is not an excuse to gloss over those things.  But when you do proceed, carefully consider a few things.  What is your emotional state when you are speaking?  What is your spouse’s emotional state?  Are you seeking a holiness that advances the good of the relationship, or a self-centered personal happiness that doesn’t move you and your mate closer to God?
Even at its best, communication is a difficult process.  But if you consider the timing of your conversations, you can often avoid saying things that will negatively affect your spouse.  In good communication, so very often, timing is everything.  Remember the words of the proverbist, Saying the right thing at the right time is like a golden apple in a silver setting. (Proverbs 25:11 ERV)

On a side note, please pause for a moment now and say a prayer for our marriage retreat coming up this weekend.  We believe God will do powerful things for his Kingdom and for the good of the couples going.  We continually solicit your prayers as we move toward and through this event.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who is More Spiritually Invested?

Why is it that in most couples it seems like one spouse is more spiritually invested than the other?  As I look at couples—and some I know really well—it seems that one always seems to be pulling the other one along to various degrees. Rare is the couple who will both pray, and will both volunteer, and both have a growing, real faith.
Correct or off base?

A friend of mine sent me an email earlier this week asking me this question, and (with his permission) I’m posting my reply because I think this is a dilemma that many couples struggle to navigate. 

My reply:
     The short answer to your question is, there is no short answer.  I understand what you're saying because I observe the same thing, but we are faulty observers (as I’ll explain below).  I think there are several reasons that it is an unfair, over-generalization to say that “one spouse is more spiritually invested than the other.”
     First, we are all spiritually gifted in different ways and we all are fueled by different spiritual passions.  Because I can only know my own experiences and feelings, the easiest thing for me to do is to believe my way of experiencing God—whether it be through worship, service, meditation, study and prayer habits, etc. —is the norm.  And if anyone does it different from the way I do it (especially my spouse, I mean after all, he/she lives with me and ought to know better after seeing me do it right all these years), then they must be wrong.  Paul was quick to remind us that we all serve a different function in the body, and it is wrong for one part to devalue another part because we are not all the same (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
     Second, we are all gifted to different degrees.  Jesus said that a tree might produce a hundred-fold, but it might also produce sixty or thirty-fold (Mark 4:1-20).  Jesus didn't label the tree that produced less as unfruitful or unworthy.  If a "hundred-fold spouse" is married to a "thirty-fold spouse," it can seem like one is pulling the other along, but the reality is that both might be doing all they can for the Kingdom of God.  Again, our own experiences becomes the bar for establishing a norm, but we do well to remember that God is equally pleased with every tree that is producing all the fruit it can, no matter how much that is.  And don't forget, while you might be strong in one area you are weak in other areas where your spouse has to help you.
     Along these same lines, it is also important to realize that we don't always recognize or acknowledge what true fruit is.  The stay-at-home mom who's dedicated herself to raising faithful children might be producing more fruit than the wife who answers every call from the church pulpit for a ministry volunteer.  A man quietly exemplifying Christ for his co-workers can be as spiritually pleasing to God as the husband who invites his friends to every activity on the church calendar.  Too often, we are faulty observers of what fruit really is.
     Third, we are all at different places on our spiritual journeys.  Just as people physically, emotionally, and socially mature at different rates, we also mature spiritually at different rates.  Whether we want to admit it or not, most of our theology is driven by our past and present life circumstances.  So, regardless of how long a husband and wife have known each other or been together, regardless of how many shared experiences they have, they will always process those life circumstances at different rates and in different ways.  Thus, they will be at different places spiritually.
     Now all that having been said, I am also smart enough to know that sometimes one spouse or the other truly is spiritually lazy or unmotivated.  But is it just easier for one spouse to write-off the other as "less spiritual" than it is to invest the time and energy, to communicate clearly and lovingly, and to be a spiritual helpmate in order to find out what is really going on?
     I would suggest three things to address this question, regardless of whether it is a spouse truly being spiritually lazy and unmotivated or a spouse just not giving his/her mate room to be what God created them to be.  First, set realistic spiritual expectations.  This should be done jointly, not the supposedly “spiritually-superior” partner setting expectations for the other, but both spouses communicating freely and honestly about what they BOTH can do to enhance their spiritual relationship, and what they can do to better understand each other’s spiritual disposition and giftedness.
     Second, do the things that foster authentic spiritual intimacy.  To try and force someone to conform to your expectations of “what it is to be spiritual,” either through coercion, demeaning comments, or other manipulative means, is being a spiritual bully!  And nobody likes a bully! (See The Marriage Blog posts from June 22 and June 27, 2012 for more on fostering and destroying spiritual intimacy in marriage.)
     Third, find a joint service of ministry that you and your spouse can do together.  We often don’t understand our spouse’s spiritual disposition because we are too busy trying to pursue service to God apart from the one we are called to serve with.  This can be a challenge for a couple of reasons.  If you and your spouse’s giftedness and passions lie in different areas, finding a joint ministry might be tough.  Also, our contemporary culture’s obsession with individual rights and personal accolades has bled into our churches.  So, many times a spouse will pursue an isolated path to ministry that destroys rather than enhances the “one flesh” concept of marriage.  It is amazing how many people can neglect their spouses “in the name of God” and think that what they are doing is pleasing to God.  Finding a shared service of ministry can be a tough balancing act, but it is a key in enhancing spiritual growth and spiritual intimacy in both marriage partners.

Father, lead us each to be a blessing and help to our spouses as each couple seeks to grow together spiritually and serve your Kingdom.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Marriage That Means More Than A Chicken Sandwich

     So, did you eat a Chic-Fil-A yesterday?  I didn’t.  It’s not because I don’t support marriage.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who is more of an advocate of Christian marriage than me.  It’s certainly not because I have some beef with Chic-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, or the company or its executives.  The truth of the matter is, I don’t like waiting in line at a crowded restaurant.
     My gut (and a whole lot of chatter on Facebook) tells me that the majority of the people were there to make a general political statement--free speech or a show of support for a particular political party.  Far less were there to make a moral statement about marriage.  And a very, very small number were there to make any kind of significant theological statement about marriage.  (It's interesting that those who both rallied for and against Chic-Fil-A yesterday used Jesus as the model for their position.)
     For those of you who went, my primary question is this; how has your chicken sandwich translated into a better, more godly, more Kingdom-focused marriage?  Please understand, I’m not coming down on you if you went to Chic-Fil-A yesterday.  They have great food and even better customer service.  If you feel strongly that you made a stand for Christian marriage by going, then I don’t want to undermine that.  But what happens now?  What about your marriage?  Did you go home from Chic-Fil-A with a renewed drive to better love your spouse in action as well as word?  Did being there help you and your spouse to find a joint purpose in the Kingdom of God?  Once you dumped your tray after dinner, was anything significantly different in the way you and your spouse handle conflict, practice forgiveness, respect each other, or serve each other?
    We don’t make Christian marriage mean something by waiting in line 2 hours to eat at a fast food restaurant, or by trying to use political machinations to legislate our views, or by endlessly arguing and debating with those who have differing positions.  We make Christian marriage mean something by embodying Christ in our marriages.  We make Christian marriage mean something by living in love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, and gentleness.  We make Christian marriage mean something by having a theology of marriage that is born of scripture and calls us to a holistic, covenant relationship of man, woman, and God.
     When the world sees husbands and wives in Christ-centered marriages working to bring redemption and reconciliation to a broken world—well, then we’re making a much more eternal impact than we’ll ever make eating a chicken sandwich.

What is God calling you to in your marriage?

Marriage Enrichment Weekend
August 31-September 2
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
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