Marriage Under Fire

marriage under fire

It feels like everywhere I look recently, another marriage is struggling to survive. The issues are varied and far reaching. Spouses that once felt so much in love are now questioning whether or not it’s worth the fight. Others have given up completely.

What in the world is going on? Lately, seeing a healthy and growing marriage has been extremely rare. What are the core issues that are causing this complete breakdown? Why are so many couples struggling? I don’t consider myself to be some marriage guru, but here are some of the reflections that come to mind….

1. Couples are not taking the time to invest spiritually.

The core of marriage is found within the realm of spirituality. This goes even deeper than emotions. If both spouses do not have a growing relationship with God, they won’t make it for long. If they do stay together, there will be an extreme lack of intimacy.

The husband and wife need to be growing together and as individuals. This means they should read and pray together. They should see a counselor together, even if they’re not struggling at the time. Any investment they can make in their spiritual vitality will not be wasted.

Both spouses also need to invest in themselves as individuals. This is not selfish. On an airplane that is in trouble, oxygen masks deploy so that the passengers can continue to breathe. You’re not supposed to administer the mask to others until you first take care of yourself. The same principle applies here. God is the source of oxygen for a marriage and each spouse needs to  be growing in their walk with Him if the marriage is going to thrive.

2. Couples aren’t allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

I see a lot of couples that spend countless hours trying to fix peripheral issues. I’m not saying that finances, kids, jobs and everything else are unimportant issues, but they’re not the main thing. What ultimately leads to dysfunction in a marriage is two messed up people trying to make life work together.

The couples that experience synergy and growth are the ones that allow themselves to be messed up and love each other through the mess. These couples are able to see through the pretenses of their spouse and they operate without a mask on. They know each other and love each other exactly as they are. They want to help each other grow, but their love and affection for one another is not contingent upon that growth.

They operate under the idea of a Covenant and not the idea of a Contract. A contract says that I will do my part just as long as you do yours. A covenant says that as God loves me in my sin and brokenness, so my commitment to you is to give the same unconditional love that I’m receiving from my Heavenly Father.

3. Couples don’t know who or what they’re supposed to be fighting.

I see plenty of fight in the couples that I’m with, but many of them don’t know who or what to fight. They fight each other….they fight their kids….they fight God….they fight everything except what they’re supposed to be fighting.

This world is a constant war zone. We would all love to embrace the notion that the world is a big cruise boat and everything is just fine…but this is a delusion. A pleasant delusion…but nonetheless a delusion. We are at war. I don’t have time to expound on this, but it’s real. The nature and intensity of this war would put history’s most famous battles to shame.

The fight is against our own sinful nature and spiritual entities that the most frightening horror movies don’t do justice to. I realize that this may be something you disagree with or it may make you feel comfortable, but it’s true. For further study on this, check out Ephesians 6:10-23.

Couples need to gradually become aware of the real battle that is going on or they will be consumed by friendly fire. We’re fighting each other and the real enemy is resting quite undisturbed.

Marriage is under fire and the normal methods of operation are not working. Normal is broken. If the tide is going to change, we need to be praying for couples who will begin fighting the battle the way that it needs to be fought. This is not for the faint at heart….but if we link arms and do it together, we can win this war.

The Artist and his work

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I don’t know about you guys, but I have had to struggle through a very anemic view of God. Seeing Jesus constantly depicted in stained glass windows and cheesy looking pictures can have some negative effects. One thing that has helped me over the years is learning about God through his creation. Now, his creation is not him in the same way that a painting is not the artist. That being said, you can learn something about the artist through his painting.

Psalm 19:1-2 says, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” This psalmist is saying the same thing here. God’s creation is constantly proclaiming messages to us regarding the different attributes of God.

For example, you can learn a lot about God through the ocean. The ocean is vast and powerful. It can be enjoyed by a child playing at the beach, but it can drown the bravest of sailors in it’s unfathomable depths. The wind is another great teacher if we allow it to be. It can be enjoyed as a gentle breeze, but it can also be a hurricane or a tornado that brings about unthinkable destruction.

The moon has some things to teach us as well. By itself, it may not seem like that much to look at. It has all kinds of craters and may not be considered that lovely in form or feature. But when you add the sun’s light to it, it becomes a beautiful orb that adorns the night sky. Isn’t this a perfect picture of what it means to be a Christian? In our own lives we have cracks and craters because of the wrongs that we have done and those that have been done to us. We may not be much to look at in and of ourselves, but when God’s light shines on us, we suddenly become beacons of light that can lead many back to Him.

Animals have a lot to say as well regarding their Creator and our journey as Christians. A rhino can run 30 mph, but can only see 30 feet in front of itself. In the same way,  we may only be able to see a little bit into the future, but when we follow God we can charge forward in boldness and victory. There are animals as gentle as a household cat and as fierce as a bear robbed of it’s cubs. Trees have a ton of things they can teach us as well. In our culture we love the idea of instant growth, but check out Psalm 1 when you get a chance. The author uses a tree to give us a metaphor for spiritual growth. Trees don’t grow overnight. They grow as a myriad of factors combine in just the right way. They grow through seasons and elements and different natural processes. This teaching flies in the face of all the 3 step self-help books that fill the shelves of countless bookstores. It takes time to grow and different seasons. It takes different elements and lots of patience. You should not expect overnight success. What a great lesson for our fast-paced and consumer-driven culture?!

The list could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point. The painting can tell us a lot about the artist. The artist is not the painting and the painting is not the artist, but the painting is a great teacher in the hands of a careful interpreter. What lessons have you learned about God through his creation? I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Dip

dip

So I recently went through a book by Seth Godin called, The Dip. I loved it! The basic concept is that there is a dip that all of us have to go through when we pursue goals that are worth pursuing. The greater the objective that we have, the greater and harder the dip. There is a dip when it comes to marriage, parenting, our vocation and basically any endeavor we engage in.

The dip is characterized by discouragement. It’s when we realize that there is a mountain of information that we need to acquire. In the dip we realize that it’s going to take a long time to learn how to do our job. In the dip we realize that marriage isn’t as easy as we though it would be. We begin to understand that parenting doesn’t come naturally to us. The dip is real and it can be brutal. This is where vision comes into play.

The people that survive the dip have a strong vision as to what life will look like on the other side. They see the strong marriage on the other side of the struggle. They see a vision of a strong family on the other side of the parenting challenges they are going through. They see themselves shooting a 72 on the golf course on the other side of the painful and expensive golf lessons. They see the sweetness of life on the other side of the dip and that picture compels them to press onward.

The dip is not a passive entity. It responds to our hard work and perseverance. If we will engage the dip with tenacity and focus, we can press through more quickly and efficiently. I want to give you a few tips that I have picked up over the years in persevering through my own dips.

1. Get ready for a fight.

Sometimes you catch all the breaks and the process is painless and fun, but don’t expect it. If you encounter a dip that you need to go through, get your war face on and prepare for the fight of your life. You don’t want to be the guy that storms the beach of Normandy with a towel and beach chair….you’ll get annihilated.

2. Find your vision.

The dip is much easier when you can envision life on the other side. I love this quote…”If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) What is your vast and endless sea? Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you taste it? Having this picture in your mind and heart will put wind in your sails as you navigate through the dip.

3. Gather the right people around you. 

You need people around you, but not just anyone. You need soldiers who are ready to go to war with you. They need to understand the battle that you’re facing and how to help you win that battle. Our Senior Pastor at Seacoast, Greg Surratt, says that “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and is able to sing it back to you when you forget the words.” Who knows the song in your heart? Having this community around you is vital if you are going to survive the dip.

4. Accept the possibility that you may not survive the dip.

You know, success isn’t guaranteed. In some cases, you can’t control whether or not you get out of the dip. You can put in all the practice and all the time, but things still may not work out. In the dip you have to doggedly focus on what you can control and leave the results up to God.

5. Take one step at a time.

Every step that you take in the dip is to be celebrated. The dip is hard and you will get discouraged if you try to bite off more than you can chew. Keep your eyes focused and take one deliberate step at a time. This is the way that mountains are climbed.

We’ve probably all been in the dip before. The trick is making sure we know which dips are worth persevering through. You can’t make it through a million dips at a time. You need to identify the battles that are worth engaging in and then fight with all your might to make it to the other side. Our culture loves the idea of success that comes quickly and easily. It’s a lie. Anything worth having has a cost associated with it. Take the time in the beginning to count the cost and then make sure you engage the battle wisely….with the right resources.

Think less and pray more. Conclusion.

prayer7

Today, I’m finishing up my series on Philippians 4:6-7. In the end, it’s really not about thinking less and praying more. God has called his children to live in peace and we can choose to reject or accept his offer. In no way do I want to minimize the anxiety that anyone experiences, but we are not called to live as victims.

Most people choose to let their thoughts and emotions happen to them. I realize that there are psychological and physiological forces at work, but I don’t believe we have to live as victims. I believe that we must become far more intentional about what we’re thinking about. We need to think about what we’re thinking about. As we deepen our relationship with God, we will progressively surrender our cares and concerns to him. His promise to us as we do this is to graciously bestow his peace on our hearts and minds so that we can live in freedom.

In our fast-paced and busy world, peace is becoming a very rare commodity. Most people medicate their stress and anxiety in a variety of different ways…..alcohol, drugs, work, video games, television….and the list just keeps on going. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have a life that I need to escape from. I believe that true peace has been offered to us and I want to grab a hold of it.

I certainly haven’t arrived on this journey, but I have resolved to never quit. While God gave us our minds for a reason and thinking can be very productive, some of us probably do need to think less and pray more. Our natural tendency is to put way too much stock in our own perspective as opposed to realizing that we don’t see clearly most of the time (1 Corinthians 13:12).  The call in Philippians 4:6-7 is to not settle for what is considered “normal” in our culture. “Normal” is to live under the tyranny of constant stress, worry and anxiety. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that “normal” is broken. I think I’d much rather be a weirdo and take my cues from another source. The same invitation is extended to all of us. Are you in?

Think less and pray more. Pt. 5

prayer7

In case you haven’t been following for the last few weeks, Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We’ve been looking at how to actually apply this passage. So far, we have looked at our part in the equation. Now I would like to talk briefly about God’s part.

What is peace that “transcends all understanding?”  The Greek word for understanding here is nous. It means, “the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining.” The Greek word here for peace is eirene and it means, “A state of national tranquillity.”  (https://www.blueletterbible.org/)

So, we are talking about a tranquility that isn’t conditioned on our perception of the situation around us. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? No matter how crazy the situation is. No matter how turbulent your week has been or how psychotic your kids may be acting, God is able to give you a sense of tranquility in the midst of that. There is no magic formula to receive this peace from God.

The only thing I can recommend for all of us is that we take him at his word. This passage tells us to take him all our requests and petitions. It recommends that we knock on the gates of heaven repeatedly throughout the course of everyday life. That’s our part, and God’s grace will support us as we do that. We then must patiently wait on God to do in our hearts what only he can do.

Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” So this means that God wants us to find him. Our role is to seek him with every fiber of our being. The question isn’t whether or not it’s possible to find God. The real question is…how bad do we want to find him?

Think less and pray more. Pt. 4

prayer7

I’ve been working through a series based on Philippians 4:6-7 and I want to keep it going. The passage says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t know about you guys, but when I feel anxious, I don’t feel very thankful. In those situations, I am completely absorbed with whatever the anxiety is focused on. The problem seems huge and I feel anxious because I have no idea how it’s ever going to work out.

Maybe this is part of the reason that Paul tells us to present our requests with thankfulness. When we express our gratitude to God, we are acknowledging times in the past that he has come through for us. We are remembering that there were other situations that we were anxious about and somehow, God delivered us. Anxiety has a way of narrowing our view to where we only see the problem that is right in front of our nose.

The truth is however, that God has been faithful to each one of us. When we come to understand the reality that God doesn’t owe us anything, we begin to see his faithfulness around us all the time. The mountain you’re facing right now may seem like the biggest mountain ever. Mine does. It may seem like there is no conceivable way you will ever get to the top. I feel like that right now.

We would all do well to recognize that we serve a very great and incredible God that specializes in mountain climbing. In fact, he may not even make you climb it. He may take the whole thing out of your path in one miraculous move just so you know it doesn’t depend on you. But in the meantime, I encourage each of us to take some time to thank God for the mountains we have already climbed through his grace. You will get passed this mountain. God didn’t lead you this far to leave you. But until he delivers you, take time to thank him for what he has already done.

Think less and pray more. Pt. 3

prayer7

The last two posts I’ve been processing this passage out of Philippians 4. It is a command from scripture that I’m really trying to apply in my life. I genuinely believe that it is the key to us living in peace.

One of the challenges that I have in seeking to obey God in this way is not knowing what to ask him. Do you ever feel like that? To be honest, a lot of times I don’t feel like my requests are very spiritual. They don’t really seem to be all that worthy of prayer. I know that God cares about how we feel and what we think, but it’s hard for me to pray sometimes for the silly stuff that I’m thinking about.

Another challenge I have in applying this passage is feeling like some things are worth being anxious about. I know this is stupid, but sometimes I feel like I should be anxious. I find myself trying to rationalize anxiety in certain situations. As miserable of a feeling as it is, I find myself strangely addicted to it. There is a feeling of control that goes along with it and sometimes I like that feeling. It feels safe and manageable.

I read a book a while back where the author describes a certain practice of Eskimos when it comes to killing wolves. An Eskimo will kill an animal and then dip a knife in the animal’s blood. He will then freeze the knife, creating a blood popsicle. He’ll then put the blood popsicle outside and wait for the wolf. The wolf will start licking this thing because of the irresistible taste and smell. The wolf will gradually start to cut his tongue on the knife, but he’ll just keep licking away because of the taste. Eventually, the wolf’s tongue is shredded and he will bleed to death because of this.

This is how it works when it comes to anxiety. We choose to worry and fret because of the feelings of safety and control. Our physical and emotional well-being suffers more and more, but we just keep licking away. We must learn how to live in peace and this passage gives us that open door.

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