A mental shift

There is a mental shift associated with marriage that I think Lindsey and I are just now starting to understand. From the traditional viewpoint, marriage is a union, in the proper, definitional sense of the word. It is, as the Bible puts it, the joining of a man and a wife into “one flesh”.

Our culture today does not recognize this widely. Marriage is variously viewed as simply a relationship, or a contract, or even simply the next step when things are going well. That is not the way we see it. Marriage is meant to be lifelong, yes, but it is more than just a commitment. It is a union.

One of the best descriptions of what this really means is found in 1 Corinthians 7:4:

For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

This is a powerful truth. Even if one do not believe the Bible is everything we believe it is, I think that anyone who is married feels this truth deeply. When vows are taken, and a community blesses a marriage there is a very real exchange that takes place, an exchange of rights. What Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians was bold. In a patriarchal society where women were second class citizens, this Christian view of marriage went against that culture’s beliefs as much as it does our own.

When I married Lindsey, I laid down my rights to be an island unto myself. I chose, instead, to love and serve her. No longer do my decisions only affect me. No longer do the consequences of my failures only affect me. Everything I do deeply, deeply affects my wife. I now have the responsibility to treat my body, my life and my mind as if they were hers. And she has those same responsibilities back to me. That is a true union.

I think I heard this put best by one of my favorites theologians, but what this really means is that we belong to each other. I don’t mean ‘belong’ in the cheesy, romantic sense like, “they belong together”, I mean it in the sense of ownership. Lindsey belongs to me, and I belong to her. This is still a radical notion, just as it was in Paul’s time.

As the last six months have gone by, we have learned the truth in verse. Each day the roots of this idea grow deeper and deeper, and I think it is building a strong marriage. We’re not there yet, but we will be.

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Getting married doesn’t fix your problems

Time for some tough talk folks. If you are engaged, thinking about marriage, or just dreaming of it listen up. Getting married doesn’t solve your problems. It just doesn’t. I know you think it will, I know it makes sense to you, but trust me your junk just doesn’t go away when you say those vows.

Here is the math: 1 imperfect person + 1 imperfect person = 2 x the junk. Complex right? I know, this is really simple. You’re probably getting a little frustrated with me, talking down to you like this. But seriously, how many times have you thought to yourself, “this would all be better if I was married”? I know you have had this thought, I had it plenty of times in the past.

But it’s just not true. There is no way that two people who make mistakes, have bad habits, and tend to be really selfish (we all are, just admit it) can combine their lives and magically erase all of those faults.

Seeing as this blog is very personal, I’ll share an example that is very, well, personal. It’s a churchy example, but it is honestly the one that matters the most to me and is also the direct impetus for this post. If your not a church person, hang with me, it’s just an illustration, there is a point at the end.

One of Lindsey and I’s foundational beliefs, not just that of our church but one we really believe, is that we need to spend time every day in intentional prayer and reading the Bible. We believe that this is the best way to grow our faith, grow closer together, and build a marriage that will last. Before I was married I had the same belief, and I struggled. It was hard to set aside time everyday for both. I preferred to read the Bible over pray, so I’d leave the prayer out often. Sometimes, I just did not want to do it, so I didn’t.

But the more Lindsey and I prepared for the wedding and started thinking about what married life would be, the more confident I became that marriage was just the slump buster I needed. I was prepared for it, I wanted to do well in this, and I now had a reason to be better. I would do it for her, for us! What better reason could I have?

Well, after about two and a half weeks, I was right back where I was. I had the exact same issues, temptations and failures. What we found out was that we were both motivated, but still failing to fix the problem. Just getting married didn’t do a thing.

That’s the bad news. But here is the point, which is good news. When you are married you have a partner in addressing it. The problem is not solved, but you become better equipped to deal with it. You still have to deal with your junk, but there is someone there to help carry the load.

For our issues, we’re learning to trust God and pray for a stronger desire to do these things, and it works. It’s not solved, but we’re making progress. But whether that is how you go about it or not, the fact remains that you have a partner, a wingman (or wingwoman). And that in itself is a whole lot better than tackling it alone.

A little bit of a surprise

This is the third part of our series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means. 

Series: Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2

Lindsey and I sat down on the Saturday before our first pre-marital counseling session and got ready for the Bible study that we were supposed to do. We were happy and a little carefree. We were excited to get started and wanted to learn how to be happy, and keep each other happy. So we settled in and looked up the first verses that was assigned.

The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

2 Samuel 21:8-9

Um, what now? Did they really just start off our pre-marital counseling with a story of a mass hanging? Lindsey asked me if we had the right verse. I checked it. Yep, they did.

So we read on and it started to make more sense. In fact it made so much sense it was one of the most valuable things we studied in all of our pre-martial counseling.

Before I share the lesson, let me catch you up. Let’s cover 400 years of Israelite history in one paragraph.

When Joshua was leading the conquest of Canaan, they were wrecking shop, literally. All the locals were scared and with good reason, God had declared the Holy Land would be the Israelites and they were taking care of business. So, one tribe, the Gibeonites, got tricksy. They dressed up like a poor and weak migrant tribe and tricked Joshua into agreeing to a peace, therefore ignoring God’s instruction. Joshua did not consult the Lord as he was instructed (that’s bad), and made the covenant under false pretenses (also bad), and with God as the witness to it.

[Ok, I can’t do it– two paragraphs.]

Some 400 years later, Saul (king before David, the one in this passage) broke the covenant that had been made. He killed most of the Gibeonite men. Of course this made their women mad. When David had been told by the Lord that Israel was guilty of a crime against them, he asked the remaining Gibeonites how to settle it. They demanded blood. David agreed, and handed over Saul’s sons to be hanged, except for one that he had sworn to protect. After this, God lifted the famine in Israel that David had been praying about in the first place (2 Sam. 21:14).

Ok, now that we are on the same page, what does this have to do with marriage? Well, it really is a great cautionary tale.

Joshua made a big mistake when he made the covenant with the Gibeonites. He did not go before the Lord and ask Him what to do. Keep in mind, this is the guy who God is literally speaking to, a guy who was leading one little nation through some crazy battles and winning. You’d think he’d have learned the lesson, always check what God wants. But (very much like me… and you) he didn’t.  So he foolishly makes this covenant, and asks God to bless and witness it. Even though it was made in bad faith, the parties agreed and asked Him to oversee. And God, unlike us, never goes back on His word.

So, when the Israelites broke the pact 400 years later, God upheld his part. He brought a famine to the land and did not relent until David served up justice for the aggrieved party. They asked Him to oversee it, and he did. Like everything else in life, the tragedy in this story is rooted in the human mistakes, not from God’s will.

Well, if you have not made the connection yet, here is what this study was supposed to show us: Lindsey and I were about to stand up in front of our family and friends to make a solemn vow, a covenant, and ask God to bless and uphold it. This story is a word of warning. It is a serious thing to ask of God, and we had better approach it as such.

We were to look ahead and make sure we consulted with God, that we read His word and prayed over the decision with earnestness– thus avoiding Joshua’s mistake. It showed us the pain that can come from entering into a covenant like this under false pretenses– the Gibeonites mistake. It was also a warning to abide by the covenant we made– thus avoiding Saul’s mistake.

So, as bleak as this may have been for the start of the counseling process, it sure put us in the right frame of mind. It set our hearts and minds on what was important. It’s not about the wedding, or the caterer, or the music, or the weather. It’s about the decision to make this covenant in front of God and our church and families.

Ultimately, it’s about the gravity of marriage, and the seriousness with which it is to be entered into and lived in.