Marriage is a War

Yesterday Lindsey posted about the marriage conference we attended last weekend. The idea I walked away with, and have been thinking about all week is this: Marriage is a war.

No really it is.

Paul Tripp stated this truth and I have not stopped thinking about it since. He said, “Marriage is always a war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self.” Now, I know I may have lost some of you with that kingdom of God bit, but hang with me and I think you will see the value in it.

What he means is that everyday, in the small normal moments of life, there is a constant struggle within us between our selfishness and living our marriage as God intends. We are called to serve one another in love. Each. Both of us. This means that for Lindsey and I our primary calling is to serve the other and put them first.1

So, the skirmishes that Lindsey and I, or any married couple, have on a daily basis are simply a part of this war. When each of us choose ourselves over the other person, there will be conflict. But as Lindsey said yesterday, if she chooses to be selfish this does not give me an excuse to just be selfish back. In fact, if I have the proper view of things, it gives me even more reason to put her needs ahead of mine.

But this is not easy, in fact it is impossible to do on a daily basis. If you look at my daily choices anyone will see that I choose myself and my desires more than I choose Lindsey’s good. If I am honest I would admit that most of the time I pursue what is good for her the same thing happens to be good for me too. But I’d only admit that if I were honest.

If you are married, my guess is that you know what I am talking about. I bet you have seen this play out in your marriage whether you are a Christian or not. This is the inescapable fact of the human condition, we are selfish. Plain and simple.

So, where does this leave us? Well, if we do not have a marriage that is full of grace towards each other we are left in a very bad spot. If you live for yourself enough there will soon be no living for the other person, and eventually you will erect walls to protect yourself from one another. A very bad spot indeed.

This is why we need Jesus. Only through the grace that he provides can we possibly hope to love our spouse more than ourselves. Only through the overflow of His grace in light of my failures can I be equipped to then show someone else that same grace. That is the the kingdom of God in my marriage, and I desperately want it to defeat the kingdom of myself.

  1. I know that some of my friends and readers may not believe this given current conceptions regarding what the Bible says about marriage. Trust me, this is what the Bible says: that we are to love and serve each other ahead of ourselves.  If this is shocking or unbelievable to you, leave a comment. I’d love to share our perspective. 

That’s the goal

Last weekend, we went to a marriage conference at church. The speaker, Paul Tripp, a very engaging and intelligent man, said so much of value that I have pages and pages of notes from the two sessions with him. MUCH of what he said has been flashing through my mind this week, but today there was one thing in particular.

Tripp started out by telling us that the “little” moments are important. Those mundane, day to day moments are important because that is what our lives are made up of, “that is the address where you live.” And in those little moments, we cannot allow the actions of our spouses to dictate our own actions, because our words and behavior are more formed by what is inside of us than what is outside of us.

We looked at Luke 6:43-45— about how your words and actions are a result of what is in your heart. All marriage problems have roots in the heart. I have a million great quotes and more Scripture on this, but the gist of it is that I cannot use anything Brian does or says to justify not loving him. No matter what, I have to show him love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control– but ultimately, that is the purpose that God has for me.

I have to put Brian before myself, even though it goes against everything in my selfish, sinful nature. I have to put Brian first, even when I don’t feel good, I’m hungry, and I just want to go home. I have to put Brian first when he snaps at me or upsets me. This is SO contrary to our natures, but that’s because we’re corrupted by sin. But I have to look at Brian through God’s eyes and value the creation, even when that creation is annoying or doesn’t pay attention to me or doesn’t treat me the way I think I deserve to be treated.

So, this is what I’ve been struggling with today. When I perceive Brian to be choosing his iPhone over me, I can’t decide to ignore him. That’s the patience. When he says something about my driving, I can’t start screaming. That’s the peace.

I’m not trying to pick on my husband here, I’m just being honest. I assure you that he has to display MUCH more of these characteristics on a regular basis in this marriage than I. I just happen to be the one writing this post.

If they aren’t familiar to you, those characteristics in paragraph three are called the fruits of the Spirit. They’re the characteristics that grow in you when you’re really focused on God– they’re what He wants for our lives. I need to repeat them to myself ALL the time these days– like a mantra. They’re the goal.

A huge shift

This is the fourth 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 | Part 3 | Part 4

One of the greatest “take-aways” from pre-marital counseling was the day we talked about our parents. We talked about the types of conversations we currently have with them and how much of our lives we share. Then, we discussed what may change in those relationships when we are married.

I am freakishly close to my mother. I share a lot with her and I always have. In recent years, she went from being my mother to one of my closest friends.

I love to call my mom in the mornings, on my way to work. She’s on her way, too. We’ll chat as we sit in traffic. I love to “treasure hunt” with my mother at garage sales and thrift stores. I love to stand around the kitchen island when I’m home and tell stories. My mom is an amazing woman. She is always there for me, and I am who I am today because of her love.

Prior to marriage, I would also run to my mother. I would run to her when someone hurt me, when something bad happened, or when I was ill. She has always taken great care of me and would be the first person who popped into my head in times of strife.

But I was getting married.

Brian and I had to commit to solving problems ourselves. I couldn’t run to my mother because he hurt my feelings or when I was mad at him. And when things were tough, I had to commit to go to Brian with my fears, troubles, and struggles.

Now, don’t get me wrong– I still talk to my mom all the time and probably still tell her way too much. I will always seek her advice in certain things and will always want to share what is going on in my life. But, when Brian and I fight, as much as I want to call my mom and tell her all about it and ask her to fix it, I can’t. I made a commitment to Brian and to God, and I have to go to them. When Brian and I need to make a big decision for our life together– I need to go to Brian and not to my mother. When I am sick and need someone to go to the hospital with me, I need to ask Brian first. This was a HUGE shift for me, in thought and in action.

There are two important aspects I have to keep in mind when deciding what to tell and what to keep to myself (probably to be told after the issues are resolved):

  1. No one knows the truth of what is happening in a relationship other than the two people in it. As much as you want to explain it to a friend or loved one, they will never have the full picture. So, even if I tried to tell my mom what Brian and I were dealing with, she still wouldn’t have a complete picture.
  2. My mother will always take my side. She should. I’m hers and she’s hard-wired to protect and love me. This is not fair to my husband, who will undoubtedly assure you that though I would like to think so, I am not always right about everything. If I talk to my mom about something, chances are, she’s going to side with me and because of both of these reasons (the incomplete picture and the loyal hard-wiring), I may not be right.

Brian and I are a team now. I need to work things out with my husband. I need to turn to my husband. I need to trust my husband.

My relationship with my mother has not suffered at all because of this lesson. We may talk a little less, but I get to understand her on a new level now– the married one. I will still seek her wisdom and I still need her love. And when the balance is in place– my relationship with my husband and my relationship with my mother– then both are strengthened and both can flourish.

The educator wife

A message left by an adorable student, before the name change 🙂

I am an educator. I specialize in the 6th grade variety of adolescent. Every day, I walk into this building where no one calls me by my first name. I talk to 11 and 12 year olds all day long. I attempt to teach them the skills they need to read and think critically, to write grammatically and fluidly, and to be decent human beings with manners. I hardly speak to any other adults. I am highly criticized by parents who have never met me and take the word of their self preservationist children rather than asking a grown adult what actually happened. I respond to every need, every whine, every complaint, every bully, and hold every hand. I stand before a captive audience every day and pray that I have some sort of impact, that they learn something that day. I dance and sing and joke and yell. To the untrained eye, I am a bipolar, somewhat unstable, one-woman show. I am an educator.

Then I go home.

I drive 1-2 hours, depending on traffic, and walk into my house. My husband usually stands at the stove cooking away. He knows how hungry and exhausted I am when I walk in the door. And he’s had a full day of his own.

I’ve been thinking lately about how my career affects my marriage. It even came up this weekend in conversation.

Brian will tell you that when I come home, I am so eager to speak to an adult that it’s not even funny. I’m also eager to vent frustrations and to share how I didn’t smack a kid upside the head, even though I considered it a time or two. They frown on beating the children these days 😉

I’m also physically beaten when I come home. I’ve been standing up all day walking around my room. Some days it’s up and down the stairs all day taking classes back and forth to the library or computer lab. And I’m drained. I often don’t have the requisite emotions to accurately respond to Brian’s own work stories. And then I have to to grade and plan. This takes up evenings, weekends, and even holidays. It must be done– it’s part of the job.

But then there’s the good stuff. Sometimes my kids excite me and a day of teaching (though still draining) is so fulfilling and the knowledge that I made a difference changes my entire mindset. I come home ready to throw my arms around my husband and be an amazing wife to him, the way I was an amazing teacher to my kiddos.

I’ve also learned a lot about parenting from my job. I’ve seen great parenting, average parenting, poor parenting, and terrible, heart-wrenching parenting. Brian and I talk about this a lot. I now know the difference between an involved parent and a helicopter parent (think hovering over your head at all times). I see what happens when a parent does a child’s work for them and then they have to take a test on their own. I see the difference in a student that reads with their parents from one that says there are no books in their home. And I tell Brian about some of the most incredible students who love to learn, who are their own people, and who I’m pretty sure will impact this world in their lifetimes. I want to raise those kids 😉

And then there is summer break. We do not know yet how this aspect of being an educator affect our marriage. But we will in 13 days…

I love my job and I love my husband. The way he loves be and builds me up makes me a better teacher. When I feel that I’ve impacted the life of a child, I am a better wife. Some days I’m good at one or the other, and some days bad at both. Some days either or both roles will drive me crazy. And there are some days when I’m tired of being a teacher… but I’ve never had a day when I’ve been tired of being Brian’s wife.

A wonderful picture of marriage

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 | Part 3

During our pre-martial counseling Lindsey and I were assigned to read portions of John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage. This was an unbelievably helpful assignment that helped prepare us for marriage and its true purpose. As we read through those chapters we had an ongoing conversation about the truth of his observations and writing. It impacted us deeply and still does.

Every married or engaged person needs to read this book. It explores the depth and meaning of marriage, the purpose God set forth for marriage, and an approach to a gospel-centered marriage. I can honestly say that we cannot possibly recommend it enough.

The video below was released today by Piper’s ministry, and it is a great encapsulation of what we saw in that book. It’s only a few minutes, but it is challenging and full of truth. It shows a sweet couple in a tough position who draw their strength from the purpose of marriage and the Creator of it. I encourage you to take the time to watch it, and to buy and read the book.

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.

The problem solver

Brian is a problem solver in the truest sense of the term. He delights in the critical thinking and deep thought. He revels in the research. And you should see his face when the solution is discovered and the problem has been fully conquered– it’s this exaggerated mix of pride and happiness. He’s not simply a problem solver, but rather, a problem vanquisher.

It’s pretty fun to watch when the problem is of the hands-on variety. Sometimes the solution is MacGyver-esque, and other times he rivals Superman (not the flying part as much as the super-strong part). He’s handy with tools and has mastered the watching of YouTube how-to videos. With determination and a dash of stubbornness, he is going to get the job done.

Issues arise when the problems are interpersonal. There’s no how-to video to fix a conflict we’re having, no hand-tool to make me agree with him. I can see it in his face– he wants to fix it so badly. But, there’s no way to get through it other than talking it out, praying through it, compromising, or concession.

It is even more frustrating for this problem solving man when the interpersonal problems are between me and someone else. He even posted about it. I’ll come home and want to tell Brian all about my day. But he doesn’t want to just sit and listen, he wants to SOLVE. He has ideas and questions and advice and solutions– but in that moment, I don’t want to hear it. I want him to listen and comfort and be on my side. Sometimes I am later amenable to the solving, but sometimes I’m not. This frustrates my dear, sweet husband who wants to fight my fights and protect me from all harm.

I admire this quality in Brian, even as I pick on him for it. His brain and his heart want to fix, solve, settle, and resolve. There was a Henry Ford quote in a reading selection I was teaching last week. Ford said, “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” That’s me. I dwell on a problem. I obsess about a problem. I talk endlessly about a problem. I think all the way around a problem. Brian thinks through them.

As we live this life together, I hope and pray that this trait of his will rub off on me. While I don’t feel the need to tackle a clogged drain on my own, I would like act less like a doormat in conflict. I want to change my thinking so that I don’t dwell on the problem and move towards the seeking of a solution much sooner than later.

He’s got a lot to teach me, and I’ve spent 28 years this way, so Brian’s got his work cut out for him. But I’m sure he’ll find a solution 😉

Brian and Jill– MacGyver-ing the wine last night when the cork popped INTO the bottle… problem SOLVED!!!

Confession and Grace

This is the second 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

In software and computer engineering there is an important concept called resiliency. This means that a system has the ability to tolerate faults, or errors, and continue running successfully.  I think this is also a great goal for our marriages. We should plan, design, and build marriages to be able to withstand our faults and errors. Because those faults and errors will certainly come, our imperfect nature ensures it.

One of the biggest, but simplest, lessons we learned in the course of our counseling is that sin is at the heart of all conflicts we will have as a couple. We must adjust our thinking and relationship to accommodate this fact, or our marriage will be quite brittle. There are two things which directly lead to this kind of fault tolerance… confession and grace.

Confession is the start of building this sort of relationship. It is vital that we are open and honest with our spouses about everything, not only the everyday stuff but also about our shortcomings and failures. It won’t surprise them, I promise you. They already know you aren’t perfect.

This has played out for Lindsey and me in two keys ways. First, we both maintain a healthy prayer life in which we confess our sins to God. We pray both alone and together daily, and confession is a key part of that for both of us. Second, when there is conflict between us or one of us has sinned in a significant way, we confess it to each other and ask for forgiveness. While this was hard at first and will continue to be in many situations, we have also seen a lot of growth in our trust of each other as a result.

It is that growth that brings me to the next point. In this context, grace is the necessary response to confession. We are to show grace to others just as God has shown grace to us. When the response of the aggrieved spouse is rooted in grace we are truly ministering to each other in a way that points to the grace that Christ provides for those very same sins. For couples who take Ephesians 5 seriously, this is important stuff.

As you can see confession and grace in a marriage cooperate together to provide a firm and flexible foundation. It’s like the earthquake-proof buildings that have springs built into their foundations, when the earth beneath starts moving those springs provide critical flexibility to keep the building from collapsing. A marriage full of confession and grace has that same flexibility, and is more equipped to handle shocks and struggles.


I don’t have to love my husband?

This post is the first of a 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. You can read the introduction here.

The Bible never tells me to love my husband.

This was shocking the first time I discovered it in my counseling homework. I’m not commanded to LOVE him– how does that make sense? He’s commanded to love me.

Well, what am I commanded to do? Respect him. Respect him? That’s dumb. I do that all the time… Wait. Don’t I?

The Bible doesn’t command me to love my husband, because I already do that naturally. In the same way, Brian is never commanded to respect me, as he already does that naturally. These are the languages through which we instinctively speak to one another. We’re made that way. Thus, we are commanded to do that thing that isn’t the most natural for us, but speaks more effectively to the other.

Turns out, I didn’t respect Brian all the time. I thought respect and love went hand-in-hand and that I must already be doing that. I was wrong.

I read several chapters about how men speak a language of respect to each other. It begins when they’re very young. And there are ways that women speak to men that men would NEVER try with each other– it would break that respect. I also learned that women who work with children all the time are a tad more prone to this disrespect.

For example, I tell children what to do all day long. It’s my job. Raise your hand. Stop running. Turn in your homework. Do this. Don’t do that. I would hang out with Brian and keep spouting orders. I didn’t think anything of it and I definitely didn’t mean to be ordering my fiance (at the time) around.

During the counseling, Brian and I were able to talk about this and he brought it to light for me. I am not the boss of him– if I want him to do something, I need to ask him, respecting that he has a life and a job and things to do as well. When I leave a TO DO post-it note, I’m ordering. When I take the time to say, “Hey babe. If you have a chance today, could you please take care of this for me? I’d really appreciate it…” I’m asking. And as you’ve read, my man loves to take care of me– so, of course he’ll respond to the latter.

There are lots of ways to demonstrate respect to my husband: supporting him as the leader in our marriage, submitting when needed, treating him as my partner and not as a child, encouraging him in his ventures (like the boat trip), taking an active interest in his activities, understanding the importance of our sexual relationship. But simply asking for assistance when needed as opposed to ordering it has made the biggest impact so far. Stuff gets done. And it gets done without nagging, strife, or conflict (for the most part).

I’m still struggling with it and I’ve messed up a bunch. Saturday’s post was all about my struggles with communication with Brian. I thought I was respecting, but in reality, I was just not communicating effectively at all. It’s a work in progress. I am still learning. But God was the one that told me to respect Brian, and He knows what that truly means. If I seek His meaning, and receive wise counsel from women that do it well– I’m pretty sure I’ll be headed in the right direction.

A learning day

We’re learning how to communicate. Today was a learning day. I hesitate to post right now because it is still all so fresh, but it’s almost midnight, there’s no post for today, and Brian has posted the last few days. So, here I am.

I’m really frustrating my husband. (Don’t worry– he’s really frustrating me, too, but we’ll get to that later.) Brian can speak loudly at times– he’s passionate and his volume fluctuates as he speaks. We discussed today that sometimes I take this personally and go silent because I don’t want a fight and that’s what raised voices mean to me. I also back down on decisions and continually utter the phrase “I don’t care” which is incomprehensible to my husband who literally has an opinion on everything. I need to take his yes as yes and his no and no. I also need to not back down when he doesn’t immediately get on board with my desired weekend activities. I have a lot of work to do. For the sake of getting this posted by midnight, let’s only address some of that tonight.

I don’t want to tell my husband what to do. I learned in our pre-marital counseling that I am commanded to respect my husband. This actually means something different to him than I had imagined it meant. I plan to post on it further in the pre-marital counseling series because it was so shocking to me, and now it turns out to be a huge struggle for me.

I thought I was trying to respect my husband. I was trying not to tell him what to do, be his boss, or yell at him. But apparently what I thought of as “respecting him” is frustrating the daylights out of him. Great. I guess I just don’t understand what the Bible means by “respect.” Did I take it too far? Am I trying in the wrong areas? Couldn’t Scripture be more explicit– like maybe a follow up “how to show him that respect” section”?

I can step up and share more of my opinions, but I still don’t see a point in making up an opinion in a case where I have none at all. And I’m not going to tell my husband what to do on a Saturday– it’s his Saturday, too. He cringed when I said “city-wide garage sale” and I don’t want to be responsible for anyone having a bad day (except my students– I’ll take FULL responsibility for that!).

I know the answer tonight is to pray, commit these things to God, and then continue to work hard to communicate well with Brian. I get that and I will do those things. But after talking these things to death, I still can’t see the solution through my drooping eyelids. I know God does. This is one of those times I wish He used more direct forms of communication… like a text message.