Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.
“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 MSG
“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:29-33 MSG
As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.
In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.
Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.
“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
Genesis 16:9-12 MSG
How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.
“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:16-20 MSG
I serve a jealous God.
“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
Exodus 34:14 NLT
If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.
. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth 1:16-17 NIV
We search for love. We yearn for love. Sometimes, we fear love. In Greek, there are four types of love:
- Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
- Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well
- Phileo: Love between friends
- Eros: The sense of being in love; romantic love
For me, love is everything. I believe that the God I serve is Love. I love my children and my family. I have several wonderful friends for whom I care deeply. I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful men. So, when someone asks how I knew that I loved my husband, why is it so difficult to describe?
There are lots of sayings about love:
- Love is a many splendor thing
- Love means never having to say you’re sorry
- Love is something you do
- Love is natures way of tricking people to reproduce
- Love means to give everything you have…and not expect anything in return
- Immature Love is: I love you because I need you.
Mature Love is: I need you because I love you.
- Love is making yourself vulnerable to someone, while fully knowing that they may betray you.
- Love is blind
- Love is never-ending
There is truth is all of the above statements. But still, what do we want from love? Safety, security, companionship? What?
These are the things about deep and abiding love that I think you just don’t want to miss!
- Love is a choice. We don’t “fall in love”, rather we it’s probably more accurate to say we “fall in like” or even “in lust”. We’ve all experienced crushes. Those moments of elation when you just get to be near the object of your desire. Your heart beats a little faster. You just can’t imagine anything better. Sometimes, crushes lead to relationships. But, crushes fade away. As the vision clears, you begin to see the real person. You can choose to really love them or you move on to the next phase. Choosing to love someone completely is wonderful.
- Love is hard work. Anything that involves more than one person requires work. A commitment to love and honor another person is a daily thing. It means you don’t always get want you want, so you both sacrifice. When you truly love someone, you look for ways to make their life more complete.
- Love doesn’t make you happy. You may be married to most wonderful person in the world and still be unhappy. If you are depending on someone else to fulfill you and make you happy, you will NEVER find happiness. While many of us find happiness in relationships, we have to choose to be happy. Many solid marriages end in divorce because one or both of the people involved were no longer happy. Love is working through the unhappiness while still honoring the other person.
- Love doesn’t “complete” you. You are the person God made you to be. You are not 1/2 a person. You are full and complete. You may find someone and become half of a couple, but that person will never complete you.
- Love is never-ending, and it is also ever-changing. The love I have for my husband has deepened since we married two years ago. My heart still races when I think about him. But, our relationship is evolving as we have learned to live together. We learn things about each other every day. There are new insights, new irritants, new joys and new challenges with every day.
I guess if I had to tell another woman what to look for in love I would say:
- Look for the man who will take care of you. I am pretty self-sufficient. But, I really like it when my husband opens doors and pulls out my chair for me. (Admittedly, I’ve had to learn to wait and allow him to do so!) I enjoy the flowers that he buys at the grocery store for me. It’s comforting when he intervenes to protect me from activities that will cause me pain (both emotionally and physically.) He has shown me how very much he cherishes me. I do not have to “make” him do things.
- Find the man who is interested in a partnership. I can be very bossy. So can my husband. But, in our marriage, neither of us is “the boss”. To do lists are general things that need to be done by either of us, they are not specific to either. There are things that I do well and there are things that are his strong suit. We try to bring out the best in each other.
- Focus on the man who you cannot live without, not just someone you can live with (tolerate). Deep and passionate love with get you through many intolerable situations. There have been many people I could “live with” that have come and gone in my life. But, the ones that I could not imagine doing life without have been very few.
- Consider the man who will honor you and wait for you until after the wedding vows. In today’s world, we’ve come to accept sex as a part of dating. Very few people get married without having already taken a “test drive” of sorts. There is something extremely special about being worth the wait and sealing your wedding commitment on your wedding night.
- Pay attention to the man who helps you feel secure and safe. Being able to speak your mind and hear his opinions without fear is important. Knowing that you are loved unconditionally is priceless.
I cannot imagine life without my husband, Tim. I have experienced the death of a spouse and the pain of that loss was excruciating. I promised myself that I would never allow anyone close enough to cause that much pain ever again. But, God had a different plan and I am so very thankful for that!
November 2005 was an awful time for my family. In an instant I lost my husband. My children lost their dad. I had no idea what it would be like to grow up without a dad there to give advice and encouragement. I had my dad well into my fifties. As I took on the unwanted role of single mom, I wondered how life without Terry would effect Zac and Gracie.
There were lots of offers in the beginning, “If Zac needs a male figure just call me” or “We are here to fill the void”. But, when those times arose, no one seemed to be available. It was “too awkward” or “there’s just not enough time.” But, God provides. The coaches and staff at Mayde Creek High really stepped up to the plate. I saw men just care about my kids. In time, Zac married a wonderful young woman and has a great father-in-law. He’s become a great dad himself. We’ve shed tears on all of his big days as we’ve missed his dad.
Two years ago, I remarried. It was a hard adjustment for Gracie. She had been her daddy’s little princess and had worked with him on lots of sets for children’s church and VBS. Then, it had been just “the two of us” for so long. Chris Dittert was always there to give my daughter a “daddy” hug on Fathers Day or any day she just needed it. And there were others that tried to be there, but we had developed our own rhythm. Tim was not a welcome change in her view.
As time has passed, the two of them have developed an interesting relationship. Gracie has learned to lay floors, build cabinets, run electrical wire and install windows. Although she is quick to say “we were just fine before you came along”, she has accepted and (I believe) loves her step figure in her own way. It does my mom’s heart good to see her talking and working with Tim. They share common memories of Terry as well as looking toward the future.
Both of my kids miss Terry. He was and will always be a big part of their lives. God has provided wonderful memories of the past. And he continues to provide for our family today and for the future.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . .”
Joel 2:25a NIV
I recently posed this question on Facebook:
How do you define marriage? Would you say marriage is:
A Democracy where everyone gets a vote
A Dictatorship where one person is responsible for decisions and directions of the relationship.
An Equal Partnership where EVERYTHING is shared equally
For this discussion, marriage is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own. But for purposes of this writing, marriage refers to the general definition of marriage in the western world; specifically the U.S.
Most that commented defined marriage as all of the above. Other common thoughts were we should marry our best friend and that marriages should emulate Jesus and the Bride of Christ. And, I would agree with “all of the above”.
In the New Testament, the image of Christ coming for his bride is presented. It is through these scriptures that we see the devotion of the bridegroom and the readiness of the bride. The ideals of commitment, love and servant-hood are woven throughout the picture we are given. It’s the perfect blending.
Unfortunately, today’s marriages are not that perfect. I would venture that most of the couples that get married or are planning to marry in this day and age envision a 50-50 partnership. Everything is shared: money, household chores, care of the children, etc. This is an almost impossible ideal to meet. One or both of the people involved will feel that they are giving more than their 50%, whether it’s through money earned and contributed or time spent around the home.
When the Equal Partnership doesn’t seem to providing on the equality front, democracy may come to the forefront. Both sides begin to “campaign” for their own interests. Both sides are able to lay all their cards on the table and come to an agreement on how responsibilities, money, time, etc. should be divided. During rational times, this is a good method. The flaw comes to play when there in no “majority”, no winner or agreement. And that’s when, the marriage often moves into the Dictatorship phase.
In a dictatorship, one person is responsible for decisions that are made. There are circumstances where a decision has to be made whether it is popular or not. The “dictator” makes that decision and proceeds for better or worse.
In a healthy marriage, all of the things occur. We both work. My job keeps me away from home a majority of the day and as a result, most of the cooking and household decisions fall on my husband. We don’t split them equally at all. I try to do my part on the weekends. And, he does ask for my help, too. There is no “honey-do” list that must be completed for either of us. When decisions arise that are not of the day-to-day variety, we do discuss them and try to come to an agreement. There here have been times when my husband has had to make decisions that I could not or would not make. I didn’t necessarily like it, but I knew that it was for the best and I would acquiesce to his authority at that time. And, I’ll be honest, there are times that I have done the same thing. So, you can say that my marriage is all of the above.
Many relationships fail because the “mix” isn’t palatable. One person may feel they do “everything around the house”. Or, they don’t feel they have a say in any of the decisions made. Maybe one person is a perfectionist and likes things done a particular way and just can’t accept any variations. The key to getting through all of this is communication. You have to be able to talk. What you may perceive as laziness on your partner’s part, may actually be hopelessness because nothing will please you. Or, it may be defensiveness: no adult wants to be treated like a child in their own home.
Customs and traditions concerning marriage in this country have morphed over the years. Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900% over the last 50 years. The focus often becomes “THE WEDDING” instead of the marriage. The average cost of a wedding is at an all time high of $31,213. On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married. Part of the problem was that cohabitors, studies suggested, “slid into” marriage without much consideration. Instead of making a conscious decision to share an entire life together, couples who shared a dog, a dresser, a blender, were picking marriage over the inconvenience of a break up. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, outlined the “cohabitation effect” in a widely circulated New York Times op-ed in 2012.
When we look at marriage as a life-long commitment to serve our partner not just as an escape from life alone, the decisions we make and the actions we take may be different. We may have to leave behind the baggage of past family relationships. Just because our parents did it this way, doesn’t mean that it’s the best decision for our family. If my goal as a wife is to serve my husband to be best of my ability, to provide for his comfort, to encourage and support him, to love and treat him as my best friend, then our marriage will survive and maybe even prosper. But, it takes a conscious decision to be that servant. It means that I don’t always get what I want. It means that I may have to accomplish everything on the honey-do list instead of demanding my husband does so. Someone else will have to take priority over me.
That’s the example that Christ gave for his bride, the Church.
“Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:22-33 MSG
My daughter looks forward to the pancakes at Cracker Barrel. Really, she just looks forward to the edges of the pancakes; the crispy browned edges are her favorite. But, when it comes to orange rolls or brownies, it’s the soft inner pieces that are the best.
Grief gives life crispy edges. Edges that are delicate and break easily. Edges that call to you at times. I prefer to live in the warm, protected center of life. That’s where my family is the safest and the happiest. That is where I search for my value and my worth. But, there are times, that I must venture out to the edges and taste the bittersweetness that comes with memories. Fragile memories that still have the power to break my heart. Precious memories that fade a little with time, but still stir up so many emotions when unwrapped.
Today is a day for the edges. Thirty years ago on this day, I became Mrs. Terry Benson. We set out on the adventure of life together. I see people talk about marrying their best friend and can’t help but wonder how they define friendship. Terry was indeed my best friend. We did everything together. We had one car for most of our marriage, so he drove me to work each morning and picked me up each afternoon. He packed my lunch for me. When the time came, he was a stay at home dad for our kids. He never complained about me to my family. He was only complimentary. He didn’t call me rude names behind my back. He was always uplifting and protective of me. He loved my family and never criticized my relationship with them. Even when things were rough with his own family, he never said unkind or mean things about them. There were many times that we disagreed and fought. And we always came to an agreement and forgave. Our marriage was more important that either of us as individuals.
So for today, I venture out to the edges that are crisp and full of memories. Today, I will savor the memories of the love of my early life, the father of my children. I know that these memories don’t diminish the love I have now for Tim. My past has prepared me to love him even more deeply. The edges remind me how fragile life and love can be. I know that I want to protect the soft center where my life and love currently exist.
Sometimes crispy edges are what we need. And, sometimes its the soft center that we desire. Life is made up of both.
When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas. The reason was simple: they portrayed lives that were not realistic. The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed. The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING. Life was not that exciting or interesting. This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978. When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard. They watched “Dallas” on television and believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.
Fast forward to today. We still have the fantasies created by television shows. And, we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life. All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living. As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives. They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.
Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently? Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family. But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together. The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment. But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”. I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something. The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?” My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?” I was also raised to value myself and to know that marriage is more that sex. It’s commitment and building a life & family together. I’m not saying that waiting is easy. It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop. What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait. You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.
Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment. Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”. Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see. Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.
Reality can be hard. Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person. Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure. Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to follow their own path. Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or tattling about the person you “love” so much.
When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy. His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy. I choose to be happy or not. You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.” Not very romantic, but entirely true. If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there. I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time. Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness. But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous. Because, I can know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them. I can choose to be happy. I can choose JOY! Counterfeit living will never provide that. Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise: “Is this real? Will this last?”
And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.
“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.” Proverbs 16:20
There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships. And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions. They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited? Was I worth it?”
I challenge you to look at your own life. Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys? Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see? Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair? Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness? When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality. I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best. I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment. I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.
Today is our wedding anniversary.
I am so blessed to be married to this man who just wants to take care of me.
I will always be grateful for this man who opens doors for me, pulls out my chair and prepares my first cup of coffee every morning.
I am so happy that this mans works so hard, but still finds ways to make me laugh.
I will never underestimate the value of the man who loves and serves all of our adult children.
I will never take for granted this man who is so passionate about our life together.
He is my friend, my confidante, my joy, my lover, my husband. I love him more that I did two years ago, more than I thought possible.
Here’s to the rest of our lives together. Whether it’s for 1 second or 1 Billion seconds, I am so glad we get to spend it together!
“24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:24-33 MSG