Actually, a note first: A good number of you who read this blog downloaded and read the devotional book I put together for Advent. Some of you even bought the Kindle version from Amazon.com, putting your hard-earned dollar out there for my work. To all of you I want to say a big "thank-you!" It's a far cry from being a featured, contracted writer, but it is a good feeling to have my own Author Page on Amazon.com. So, thank you again.
Now, on to the post!
I follow somewhere above 500 accounts on Twitter. Now, for what it's worth, I don't know most of those people and they don't read mine much more than I read theirs: it's a speed-scroll to see what links and headlines are there. Sometimes there is a relationship-building exercise involved, but Twitter, as a whole, is like a big class reunion in a gymnasium: lots of people talking and random people listening.
One headline caught my attention, but I didn't click through. It was a link to an article of "60 steps to a better marriage." Well, it was an article of 60 different things to do for the sake of strengthening your marriage and avoid divorce.
Couple that with a resurgence of marriage books, especially among the Christian publishing world, and I am wondering:
Are we making marriage harder than it has to be?
Don't get me wrong. Learning to live with another person is difficult. How Ann Hibbard puts up with me through Wal-mart, much less through life, is still a mystery to me. Yet within the bounds of Christian marriage (the intended audience of the web articles and books that started this thought) is it really a 60-steps, 12 chapters to perfection journey?
Marriage is both simpler and more complex than that, all at the same time. Here's the simple aspect of Christian marriage:
You did not make a promise to another person. You made a vow to God about how you would treat that other person. That vow was to echo God's treatment of you: self-sacrificial love in the face of self-centered ego.
Start there and think about that. That is the picture of marriage in the Bible when directions are given. (There's a lot of examples of marriage, most of them are not so good and are not given as positive examples.) Marriage is pictured as reflecting Christ's love for the church. What did Jesus do? Died for sinners (Romans 5:8 ).
Guess what? You're a sinner. You might be a redeemed sinner who is judged righteous by God, but you still have sinner in your body. So does your spouse. Look at them through the Cross of Christ.
That's the simplicity of marriage. I'm convinced that if it was just about she and I, my wife would have hit the road a long, long time ago. Except it's not about us. It's about God and us. She puts up with me because she knows Christ died for me and she can love me because He did. I think she's so lovable that the reverse isn't necessary, but it is: we both have our moments.
Now, from this simple start comes the rest of marriage: how it fleshes out in serving each other, caring for each other, learning to listen, learning to find our own personalities in who God made us and how to work those together, that's the stuff of 365 days a year. (Well, 366 every now and again.)
But I'm afraid we've tried to turn the glorious mess of life, love, and togetherness into either a formula to be cracked or such a complexity that it looks hopeless. I've seen some of my fellow pastors that construct pre-marital counseling documents that run to dozens of pages. You need some warning about marriage, but you don't need a dissertation. There's not a formula to crack.
And the complexity gets overwhelming: if it takes doing 60 things to make marriage work, then who can handle it? I can't make an omelet without referring to Alton Brown's video, and that's only like 10 steps. How do I remember all 60 every day? We can't.
That lends to people giving up because they're overwhelmed. In turn, this is not a good thing. There are very few reasons to leave a marriage (another day I'll elaborate on the two/three I see biblically approved) and being overwhelmed because you couldn't make it through chapter 9 of the marriage book isn't one of them. We make it hard. Sometimes too hard.
So, to those of you struggling in your marriage, I want to say this: it does take work. Don't let anyone kid you about that. You have to try, and you have to want it to work. Checklists, though, may help with some things, but they aren't the panacea for your marriage. Stopping, spending time together to reflect on God's grace is a good start. Find some people that can encourage you and strengthen you.
For those of you who are not Christians or who are in a marriage to someone outside of the Faith (or you're not a Christian and you're married to someone inside the Faith), a lot of this won't quite click with you. There are people you can talk to and who will help you—don't give up without a fight.
It's hard work some days, but it's not nearly as complicated as some people make it out.
As always, a quick note on marriage: no one should feel their life threatened in their own home. Under no circumstances should someone stay in the house with an abuser and should take whatever responsible steps they can to ensure their own safety and the safety of their kids (if any). I would urge that you continue to pray for the redemption of the abuser, but you can pray from a place of safety and you should.