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’ve all heard that phrase: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other. But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.
My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad. I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past. Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons. I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.” That’s not at all true. I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings. If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.
This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad. This has been a hard lesson for me. When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it. Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought? However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say. They expect agreement and support from me. I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion. I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.) I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree. So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions. It’s better to be stoic than honest.
My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me. My answer was a possum. A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her. But, a possum is ugly. It slinks around in the dark. When confronted, it plays dead. But, I want to be a flamingo. A flamingo is beautiful. It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together. Everyone loves the flamingo.
I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said: “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”
I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages. I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others. Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided. I do, however, need to be honest. And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others. I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do. I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations. And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life. I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.
“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG
I have begun and stopped at least a dozen posts. There’s so much I want to say, but the thoughts seem incomplete and unimportant. I struggle with what to say, what to share. I see so much around me, both good and not so good. But, putting the words around those moments has proven difficult.
I watch friendships that come and go for so many reasons. I don’t think all relationships are meant to last forever. There are some people that come into our lives for a season and then we move on in different directions. What I’m seeing, though, are relationships that are coming apart because there are so many conditions that are set forth. The most common condition: “I can’t spend time with you if he/she will be there” or the more definitive “You have to choose, it’s me or him/her.” But the most interesting spin on these conditional friendships is that the conditions are usually not reciprocal. The same person that forces the choice also requires unconditional acceptance of all of his/her own relationships.
I see snap judgments made with very little knowledge of the circumstances. It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions. It’s much harder to look through the details and find out the circumstances that surrounded the event or person. Not all information that is provided through the news or social media is complete or even correct. I remind myself that a cup of salt and a cup of sugar look a lot alike, but they impart very different results. It’s time to stop assuming everything is at face value and look deeper.
I realize how easy it is to forgive and forget a “pet” sin. Adultery, promiscuity, little white lies, petty theft are easily excused and often expected by the majority of the population. But, make a mistake or forget something that is involved with one the “causes of the day” and expect be hung out to dry. Political correctness, bullying, gun control are all examples of causes that get a lot of attention very quickly. One misstep and you are toast.
I mourn the loss of discipline in the home and schools. Where are the strong parents that created strong homes to provide the framework for successful children? Instead, we have given rise to the “helicopter” parent that is just trying to force the schools and society to adapt to “MY CHILD”. Where is the discipline in schools that commanded respect? It has been eroded away, bit by bit, by the parents who see no wrong in their own special and perfect hell raiser and the leadership that is afraid of repercussions.
I’m exhausted by the total obsession with “me, myself and I” that surrounds us. All of the above would be remedied by taking time to look around and try to understand. But, I can’t see others if I’m focused on me. Am I a cup of sugar or a cup of salt? How will I affect the recipe of life around me?
When I was in a high school Home Economics class, I was frustrated by my inability to sew a perfectly straight hem on a summer top. I had ripped out sections and resewn it over and over. I remember Mrs. Brown telling me that it was “straight enough for an active teenager.” So, I finally stopped trying. Whenever I wore that top, I would look at the bright green stitching and see the stops and starts of that hem. It was an example of my struggles to be perfect. As an adult, I worked in a building that had mirrored elevators. I never enjoyed those elevators. The light was harsh and the reflection never looked as good in those mirrors as in my home mirror. As a result, I tried not to look at the elevator reflection. I didn’t like it, so I ignored it and looked the other way.
We all have ideals in mind. Perfect hair, a perfect body, the perfect relationship. We strive to be the perfect parents and rear the perfect family. I tried to be the best at everything. If I wasn’t sure I would be the best at something, I just didn’t try. Failure was not acceptable in my world. It’s easy to pretend life is perfect. Social media is quite handy when creating the “perfect” picture. If we could only ignore the mirror of truth!
Too often, when the realization dawns that this perfect world doesn’t really exist, the goal mutates. It becomes extremely important to maintain the illusion of perfection. We’ve all known the woman who posts about her perfect family with perfectly posed pictures amid the chaos of teen drug use and spousal abuse. You’ve probably had a conversation with someone about how much they dislike spending time with a dysfunctional parent only to see the “best parent in the world” posted on social media. Or maybe, you’ve been with that couple that profess to love each other and to be excited about their life together. But, they only complain about their partner in private. Truth is lost in the illusion.
I know how easy it is to fall under the spell of “the need for approval”. It is so very hard to keep the facade in place. I have worked to make sure those around me are content and happy. I have been known to jump through hoops to take care of things for my children. I have worked long hours and take criticism very personally even when it’s not meant to be. My desires often take 2nd (or 3rd) place behind those of my family members. All of this in an effort to be “good enough”. And more often than not, I fail.
With help, I’m learning that I am already “good enough.” I can only do my best. If others are not happy with my choices in life, I cannot change that. I can choose not to spend time with those that continue to manipulate with disapproval. I’ve learned so much about grace and forgiveness over the past two years. I’m learning to accept and even embrace what I see in my mirror.
Is your mirror cracked? Will you break free in 2018 and be the true and honest version of yourself?
“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” Ephesians 4″:25 MSG
I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister. As we were growing up, there were many times that I was irritated by one of them. I would complain about my brother being the favorite or about my sister wearing her knees socks OVER her knees. It was perfectly acceptable for me to pick on either of them. But, it was NOT okay for anyone else to do the same. We were family and I would protect them both. As adults, it angered me when an in-law would criticize a sibling. We were Browns by birth. Anyone else was an outsider, even if they just happened to be married to a Brown.
Through the years, I’ve watched newly formed family relationships damaged by inappropriate conversations that are critical of another family member. It’s easy to get on the band wagon and bash whoever is under fire. But be warned: anything you say, can and will be repeated and YOU will be the bad guy in the situation. You may think you are safe talking about sister-in-law A to sister-in-law B. You are wrong. Whatever you say about A will be repeated by B at some point in the future. When I was a newly wed 20-something, it was common to hear criticism of the other daughter-in-laws at family gatherings. As a result, I was very aware of every word I said. I was never completely at ease. I always wondered what was being said about me when I wasn’t around. On a few occasions, I did know what was said because it was repeated to me by an in-law.
I am constantly amazed to meet people who appear to thrive on conflict. I’m never sure if that’s the only attention they feel they deserve or if it’s the only way they know to control a situation. I was taught that being truthful made life easier. It eliminated the need to keep up with multiple story lines. I guess we all say what we believe the listener wants to hear to some degree. But, I don’t understand people that tear down a person in one discussion and then get on social media and sing their praises as soon as they leave the room. It’s not a way to build trust. It’s not a way to build good family relationships.
A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone, don’t say it about them to someone else. I’m aware there are times that we have to discuss intervention in situations, I get that. But, the daily conversations that tend to move to gossip can be stopped. It’s not easy. I find it extremely difficult when I’m irritated or feeling used. But, I know that I should at least attempt to control my conversations.
“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.” Romans 14:13-14 The Message
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.
I have been challenged to define love several times over the past few weeks. There’s lots of information about love out there:
- “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”
- “Love is a many splendored thing!”
- “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”
- “Love will find a way.”
- “You can’t buy love.”
- “Love is friendship caught fire.”
- “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.”
- “Love makes the world go round.”
- “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it. “
- “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.
and my personal favorite. . .
- “Your love completes me!”
The question that comes to my mind over and over is this: Is love an emotion or is love an action? When we are discussing love, we are usually talking about the “feelings” that are described as love. You know those tingly feelings. It’s all bubbly and exciting. The world is beautiful as long as you can be around the one that is the object of your love. We LOVE being IN-LOVE! Many relationships are based on the feelings of love. So, what happens when the feelings calm down and reality takes a toll on all the bubbly excitement? There appear to be 2 choices:
- Decide to move on since you have ‘fallen out of love’ and you are no longer happy.
- Recognize that love is an action and made the decision to show love to your partner is every way, regardless of how I feel in the moment.
How many couples have moved-in together because they were just so “in-love” only to see things fall apart since there was no real commitment to stay together? The fun ends and the exit sign lights up when it becomes too difficult to stick around.
How many marriages fail because at least one of the people involved is “not happy” and decides to look for happiness elsewhere? We hear “You deserve to be happy” or “You only live once, so be happy!”
Love is not an easy choice. I love my children. I love my husband even when he drives me nuts with some of his preferences. I love my siblings and my parents. I would give my life for any of them. That doesn’t mean that I always like them or their decisions.(And just for the record, I can say anything I want about my husband, children, siblings or other family members. But, you better not criticize or demean any of them or I WILL come after you!) I choose to love through the hard spots, through the disappointments, through the struggles. My heart breaks when I see any of the people that I love in pain. I’m concerned when the choices being made aren’t the best and I offer advise even when it’s not wanted. I stick it out because I have chosen to make love a verb.
I have friends that get really turned off and even a little offended when I use the Bible to support my points. However, there are several verses about love that anyone can put into practice, Christian or not.
‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’
‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’
‘Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.’
One of the best known and most quoted scriptures on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve taken verses 4-7 from the Message and made them very personal by inserting my own name in place of love:
Melissa never gives up.
Melissa cares more for others than for herself.
Melissa doesn’t want what she doesn’t have.
Melissa doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always “me first,”
Melissa doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Melissa puts up with anything, trusts God always,
always looks for the best,
Melissa never looks back, but keeps going to the end.
Are these truth’s about my life? Not always. But, these are the ideals I want in my life. In relationships, we need to make this list personal and to work toward loving others unconditionally. And that may mean, not complaining about the person that I say I love to someone else. It means that I forgive and FORGET offenses. It means that I stop manipulating the people I love and let them grow and love in their own way. It means I have to be patient and content with my life and stop working to “keep up with the Jones”. It means that keeping the spotlight on myself isn’t really success.
What’s your definition of love? Go ahead, define it for yourself.