Friday, November 30, 2012


     We all have some basic idea of how we think life should be; what we expect out of ourselves and others, what our marriages and family lives should be like, how our jobs will go, what we’ll do for rest and relaxation, maybe even what retirement will be like.  The problem is, life just doesn’t go according to plan.  Sometimes it happens in little ways that disrupt an hour or two of your daily schedule.  And sometimes it happens in big ways that mess up days, weeks, months, or maybe even years of your life.
     As you move through scripture, you routinely see lives interrupted.  Joseph didn’t want to be hated by his brothers.  Moses was content being a shepherd.  He didn’t want to go back to Egypt.  David didn’t want to be the target of King Saul’s jealousy.  Jairus knew his daughter was sick, but a 12 year old isn’t supposed to die.  Bartimaeus didn’t want to be blind.  Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross; “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
     Interruptions in our lives, in the way things are supposed to be, are a part of living in a fallen world.  Our lives are broken because our world is broken.  In marriage, interruptions can range from mildly irritating, to frustrating, to painfully devastating.  While every interruption is framed by a unique set of circumstances specific to the couple involved, here are seven reminders that might help you navigate the minefield created by interruptions.

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Honestly share with your spouse how the interrupting situation is affecting you; how is it affecting you physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and most of all spiritually.  Listen attentively as your spouse speaks.  And above all else, whether you are just blowing off steam or baring your soul, keep your communication healthy and above reproach.
  2. Lovingly give perspective.  As you communicate, lovingly guide your mate into understanding a realistic perspective of the interruption.  Sadly, we can often either minimize real problems to justify our own harmful behaviors, or we can blow up little inconvenience and stresses into monstrous proportions.  Remember, if the interruption involves both spouses, fears can run high and emotions can be raw, so be careful to check your own perspective as well. 
  3. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  Without forgiveness, a relationship cannot survive.  We all fall short and we all hurt our spouses with our words and our actions.  While we don’t want to flippantly excuse harmful behaviors, we must live in forgiveness, grace, and mercy with each other.  When interruptions occur on a couple level, don’t argue and seek to justify your perspective, and don’t delay until you “feel like it”—just humble yourself before God and your spouse, apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  4. Give extra attention to your spouse.  Sometimes, when our spouse’s lives are interrupted, the interruption doesn’t affect us in nearly the same way it does them.  Because I am not affected the same, there may be a temptation to minimize the significance of the interruption.  Be cognitive enough with what is going on in your spouse’s life, particularly when he/she is away from you, to recognize when he/she is hurting.  During those times, give extra hugs.  Listen more attentively.  Be more willing to help him/her with chores or other household responsibilities.
  5. Don’t take out your stress on your spouse.  Typically, the higher stress levels go, the lower communication, conflict management, intimacy, and other key areas of healthy relationships falls.  Stress will come out one way or another, and if it is not properly managed it will build up until we explode at those we love.  When your life is interrupted let your spouse help you deal with the stress of the situation, not become your target.
  6. Remember, your spouse is hurting too.  It is easy to lapse into anger, frustration, and depression when our lives are interrupted.  But when bad things happen to us as couples, we can become so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget our mates are hurting too.  Your mate may not process pain the same way you do, but that doesn’t mean he/she isn’t equally wounded.
  7. Reaffirm your commitment to your marriage covenant.  In the middle of the chaos that is often caused by life’s interruptions, help your mate to recognize that your marriage relationship is solid ground.  Don’t just assume he/she knows how you feel.  Verbalize your love and commitment to your spouse often. 

     Interruptions are a reality that we all have to deal with.  As we look at God’s Word, it becomes clear over and over again that even in the middle of all of our problems and pains, God is still in control.  God is still at work.  God is still loving, gracious, and kind to us.  Couples who remember that are often the ones most open to God working through their lives, bringing reconciliation, showing love, grace, mercy, and compassion, and being salt and light—to each other and also to others around them.
     When life is interrupted, it can be painful.  But remember the words of the Psalmist, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…You are with me.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Living love through gratitude...

     The primary calling of all Christians is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. (Matthew 22:37-38)  Part of loving someone is showing gratitude.  Undoubtedly, we owe thanks to God.  But there is a reason that when Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, he also gave the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:39)  Our love for God is fully lived out and manifested in how we love our fellow humans who are the image bearers of God, and you won’t find a closer, more intimate neighbor than your spouse.  So, just as part of loving God is giving him the gratitude that is due to him, part of loving your spouse is giving your mate the gratitude that is due to her/him.
     Sometimes it is harder to show gratitude to your mate than it is to show gratitude to God.  Why?  Well, at least in a physical sense, God doesn’t get in your face, offend you, or otherwise give you grief.  God hasn’t hurt you in the past.  God doesn’t have human flaws that you are so keenly aware of each and every day.  Your mate does.
     Yet, when you show gratitude to your spouse (who is just as broken and imperfect as you are) you demonstrate God’s love, grace, mercy, and goodness at work in immeasurably powerful ways.
     So, with that in mind, how attentive are you to showing your love for your mate through gratitude?  When was the last time you spoke words of appreciation to your wife or husband?  Do you remember to say thank you for the simple daily things that your mate does for you to make life better—things like preparing meals, laundry, filling the car up with gas, being a great mom or dad for the kids.  While those things might be your spouse’s “job,” remember how much he/she blesses your life by doing them.  Do you thank your spouse for special things he/she does for you, or when he/she gives you that extra attention or goes the extra mile?
     As we move though this season of giving and thanksgiving, keep a journal of things you spouse does for which you are thankful; everything from regular tasks to special efforts he/she makes for your sake.  If you pay attention, it shouldn’t take too long to fill up page after page of things you mate does for you.  After you fill it up, take the journal and give it to your mate as a gift; a visible reminder to both of you of your gratitude for the many things he/she does for you.  Let your gratitude be a manifestation of your love.  If you start your journal now, you should have a really nice surprise for your wife or husband by Christmas.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Play time rules...

     When was the last time you and your spouse played together?  It doesn’t matter if it was a leisurely bike ride, a card game, an intense one-on-one basketball game, a head-to-head video game competition, a dinner-and-movie date night, or dancing together in the living room to your favorite songs.  Whether it was just a time of silliness and cutting loose or play that eventually led to something more amorous, play time is important to a healthy marriage!  The physical and medical benefits of play are well documented, but play time also helps build up all the different facets of a couple’s intimacy—social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical.
     Typically, when a couple is dating and first married, there is a lot of shared play time, as a couple laughs together and enjoys being with each other.  However, our society treats recreation time as something that you work into an otherwise busy schedule when you can, but it should never be allowed to become the priority.  So, over time a couple can drastically minimize the “power of play” in creating a healthy, vibrant marriage.  When life happens and things get busy for spouses, the first place that is normally sacrificed is play time.  When play time is minimized or eliminated altogether, a couple will eventually find themselves growing apart, thinking they have nothing in common with each other and seeing their spouse as someone they no longer believe they can have fun with.
       It’s time for husbands and wives to reclaim their play time!  We are often masters at making excuses for why we can’t have decent rest and relaxation time with our spouses, but play is such a powerful component of a strong relationship that we’ve got to get proactive on making play a priority again.

     Here are a few guidelines that may help you as you get ready to play together:
     Plan your play time.  Spontaneity is great, but as I mentioned above, play time is typically the first thing sacrificed in our overly busy lives.  Please understand that play is too important to overlook.  Schedule play time with your spouse and make it non-compromisable.
     Play frequently.  Play time needs to show up as a non-compromisable on your calendar, but it also needs to show up at frequent, regular intervals.  Play time doesn’t have to be an expensive week-long vacation (although extended times of rest are important for couples too!).  Sometimes, we’re much more willing to overlook short, regular times of playful reconnection with our spouse to hold out for an extended time of play that may never come.  Even if it’s just thirty minutes each week, husbands and wives need that regular interval to look forward to on a regular basis.
     Keep your play private (at least part of the time).  Family time and time with friends is important, but so is recreation time for you and your spouse alone.  Eventually, children will leave.  Life happens and friends come and go.  Make sure you are connecting playfully one-on-one with your spouse so that the two of you will always see each other as someone you enjoy being around.
     Be realistic.  I'd love for my wife and I to jet down to Hawaii every few weeks, but that’s just not going to happen.  Be realistic about what you can and cannot do based on time and money.  Consider possible obstacles which might interfere with your recreation time together, and how you can overcome them.  Be realistic, but don’t become pessimistic and constantly use time and money as an excuse for not finding some form of mutual play time together.
     Help other couples and let them help you.  Take turns watching the kids with another family, loan movies, share fun ideas, or whatever you can think to do to help others and let others help you and your spouse enjoy time together.  (This is where being a part of a good church family can really be a blessing.)
     Share.  Don’t forget to do what the other person wants to do too.  A husband's and a wife’s idea of fun may not always be the same thing.  Try to find mutually enjoyable ways to connect playfully, but if you can’t find common interests, make sure you are not always insisting on what you want and you’re also making the effort to do what the other person wants to do .  Shared time together can be great for a marriage, even if the activity isn’t always exactly equally enjoyable.

     And just like any good playground, there are also some rules you need to observe to make sure your play time is safe and fun for both of you:
     First, recreation time with friends is usually great, but it is foolish to engage in ongoing, one-on-one recreational activity with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.  Even though it may not lead to anything physically, you are setting yourself up for emotional infidelity. Never forget, most affairs start with flirty playfulness!
     Second, If you constantly tell your spouse to grow up, behave, and stop acting foolish, and don't allow any spontaneous fun in the marriage, you will create a wall between the two of you.  Yes, there absolutely has to be boundaries in how we act publically, but make sure you don’t kill your spouse’s playful spirit.

     A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22).  Tap into "the power of play" that God blesses you and your mate with, and let your play time with your spouse be good medicine and a joyful spirit for your marriage.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reclaiming time together

     When couples first marry, it is sometimes hard for them to imagine life without ample time for each other; sharing together, playing together, eating meals together, and enjoying a general oneness in life.  In the dating phase, we often make sure the other person knows how significant they are to us.  We do whatever we can to make sure they are our first priority.  We go out of our way to plan special dates, participate in activities with each other, and invest ourselves in a shared life.
     But life happens.  Jobs change, schedules rearrange, children come along, obligations grow, personal or family health issues arise, and eventually if a couple is not careful, a husband and wife can become two ships passing in the night, hard-pressed to have the presence of mind to even pass a note between them.
     The two biggest indicators of a person’s priorities are where he/she spends his/her time and money.  We can almost always make time for the things that we consider to be important.  Regrettably, our culture typically values busyness and a sense of individualized self-worth more than it does relationships.  Our society also treats recreation time as something that you work into an otherwise busy schedule when you can, but it should never be allowed to become the priority.  So, we drastically minimize the “power of play” in creating a healthy, vibrant marriage.  Think about it.  Virtually everyone enjoys being with someone they can smile and laugh with, be relaxed around, and have fun with.  When a couple begins to lose their time together, the first place that is normally sacrificed is play time.  So, if a couple is not careful, they will find themselves growing apart, thinking they have nothing in common with each other, and seeing their spouse as someone they no longer believe they can have fun with.
     What does the way you prioritize your time say about your marriage?  For the next month, take this challenge.  Make a committed, purposeful effort to reclaim at least thirty minutes per week of time with your spouse.  While that might not seem like much, it is a great beginning point for affirming (or reaffirming) where your mate falls on your list of priorities.  Just remember though, reclaiming and repurposing that time will likely mean making some choices.  It might mean giving up some TV or computer time.  It might mean skipping a guys’ night out for a husband’s night in.  It might mean putting the kids to bed a little earlier, or getting up to take a walk together before everyone else rises.  It might mean a little less hobby time here or there.  It might mean making the effort to find more shared activities you and your spouse can do together.
     Whatever it looks like in your context, your spouse will appreciate the attention and focus.  And don’t wait for the elusive “later” to begin.  (“We’ll have more time together after I get a new job/ we make this move/ the baby is born/ the baby is more self-sufficient/ the kids get in middle school/ the kids get out of high school/ we’re not paying for college/ your parents’ health improves/ I retire…”  take your pick.  There are always reasons to delay prioritizing more time together with your spouse.)  Just thirty minutes a week.  Your marriage is worth far, far more than whatever inconveniences you might have to endure to make it happen.