Today we find ourselves at the end of another August. I’m excited for next month, because in September my wife and I will celebrate twenty-eight years of marriage and since our anniversary falls on a Saturday this year, we decided to renew our vows. This is particularly significant for us due to the fact that when we were first married nearly three decades ago, neither of us knew the Lord (although He knew us and His plans for us). So, this time, we will be granted the opportunity to renew our covenant afresh with a conscience acknowledgement of God.
The other day, my wife and I had a question posed to us that took us a bit by surprise. We were asked, “How have you two stayed in love?” That was the first time we have been asked such a pointed question about our relationship. We have received comments on many occasions about our mutual and genuine affection for one another, but have never really been asked how and why it works. In fact, a few years ago we took a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Philly and as we were enjoying the evening together on a couch on the deck, a woman asked us if we were on a date. We chuckled and said, “Well, yes.” She replied, “Oh I could tell! How long have you been together? Six months?” She was shocked to discover that we had been married for over twenty years, figuring that we looked far too in love to be together that long.
Yet, this question of how we have stayed in love stymied us for a moment. We don’t really think about it because we genuinely enjoy being around each other. Of course, we are quite aware of the main strength of our marriage being that Jesus Christ is the center, but what has God taught us about love and marriage? We had to contemplate that for a moment to properly articulate it. So, the following are some things that have helped us stay in love. It is not a comprehensive list, because this post would be immense. As is, this particular post promises to be a little longer, but I will attempt to keep it concise. So, brew yourself a large cup of coffee and contemplate the following points.
It takes two. One bit of counsel I give to couples preparing for marriage is that it is the two of them against the world, never should it be them against each other. Struggles and tough times come in and if a couple allows those struggles to drive a wedge between them, they will both lose. Instead, the struggle should be seen as an adversary for both of them to conquer together. It takes two. In fact, any further points made in this post will not yield much fruit if both husband and wife are not employing them.
It takes work. I recently officiated a vow renewal for a great couple in our church and in part of that ceremony I mentioned, “Relationships are something that must be worked on all the time, not only when they are broken and need to be fixed. Never stop doing the things that brought you together in the first place.” Love comes easy during the dating process typically because the demands of life have not crowded their way in yet. Marriage, however, is a life shared together. It’s bills and sickness and struggles and triumphs and celebrations and new seasons. Therefore, love needs to be purposefully nurtured. All too often people quit at the realization that love now demands effort on their part and then they begin to look for easy love elsewhere.
Dispose of your sense of entitlement. Remove the idea that you are owed certain things from your spouse. This is a self-centered attitude that always has one keeping score and tracking losses. It may be true that there are things your spouse “owes” to you, but such expectations are counter-productive. Instead, concern yourself with what you owe to your spouse and purpose to do those things without the expectation of return. If both husband and wife are putting this into practice, there will be little sense of loss for either one.
Learn to be satisfied with less. Proverbs 15:17 tells us, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” In other words, it’s better to have less with love than more with strife. My wife and I have lived without the biggest and best and newest, most of our lives. Budgets were tight and we couldn’t do everything we wanted to or have all the creature comforts we desired. The pursuit of material treasures can often take one’s eyes off of the real treasure of a loving relationship. When we started out, we didn’t even own a bed. We slept on a pile of clothes we laid out on the floor. As our beginning years progressed we accumulated a mismatched furniture set of hand-me-downs and donations. We didn’t care though because we had each other. While I would love to eat steak at a fine restaurant with my wife every night, I will be just as content with a meal at home consisting of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.
Don’t hold grudges. Conflicts and disagreements will inevitably arise in any relationship. However, it is important to learn to get over yourself. A conflict may get one’s blood boiling at the onset, but one must learn to burn through that anger and/or pain so that a resolution can be reached and understanding can be achieved. (Now, of course, I am referring to normal and typical marital situations and not something like infidelity which would take a far longer process of healing.) To be clear, “burning through your anger” does not mean unleashing a barrage of bitter and hateful words at your spouse. It means, step back for an hour or so and get over yourself so you can have a civil conversation. If you are still as infuriated as you were at the onset after the time it takes to watch a movie, then chances are you are fueling that fire.
Admit when you are wrong. When my wife and I were in youth ministry we used to tell teenagers all the time, “People will hurt you… and you will hurt people.” None of us are immune to having a bad day or a bad attitude and having that spill onto the ones closest to us. Therefore, learn to resist the urge to justify your bad behavior when it happens, swallow your pride, and admit you were wrong.
Be generous with your forgiveness. One thing we need to understand about forgiveness is that it is not saying that the wrong committed was not a wrong. Forgiveness is acknowledging that a wrong was committed and people were hurt, but the debt created by that wrong has been cancelled. That’s why I believe we need to stop saying, “It’s ok,” or “It was no big deal,” in response to someone expressing sorrow for their actions. Instead, we should say, “I forgive you.” Jesus doesn’t look at our sin and say, “No biggie.” It is “a biggie”! He acknowledges our sin as sin, but says, “I forgive you,” because He paid the cost of our debt at the cross. There have been occasions over our twenty-eight years of marriage where my wife and I have hurt one another with brash actions or words. I can honestly say that on those rare occasions, I feel like a total heel when I realize my bad attitude has hurt my wife. The only tears I should be responsible for creating in my wife’s eyes are tears of joy. However, we are both imperfect, so we both have learned to ask for forgiveness and to generously give it when it is needed.
There is so much more that could be said, but this particular post may already be an information overload. There’s plenty to contemplate here and it may require you to refresh your cup of coffee. I would suggest you share that cup of coffee with your spouse, if you are married, and contemplate together.
I would like to add one final thought as I conclude. I must emphasize that the strength of our marriage and love is through Jesus Christ. Now, if you are not a Christ-follower, you may be saying, “Ok, this is where I get off.” Please, stay with me one more moment. Consider this; if you want the results that God brings, you cannot achieve them by excluding God. All the points I have mentioned will only get human results under human power. God results come through Holy Spirit power. The Lord has taught and empowered my wife and I to love deeper, truer, and more purposefully than we ever could have without Him. And when I speak of Christ being the center, I don’t mean Christ mixed with other “spiritual” philosophies, nor do I mean a little bit of Jesus and a lot of our own ideas. Maximum results come through an undiluted faith in the Lord.
Oh look. My coffee cup is empty. Time to wrap it up.
Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations (and your marriage or future marriage) be rich and fulfilling!