Marriage is Not a Fairytale Ending

I can honestly say that I have never watched a single episode of Married at First Sight or The Farmer Wants a Wife and I do not intend to – the advertisements are enough!

What strikes me is that the people appearing on these shows are not so much looking for someone to love as they are for the feeling of being in love.

The comments often focus on “the wonderful feeling of being in love” or “being that special someone”.

At least, that is what I see on the ads!

It seems to me that our obsession with these programs stems from a profound unhappiness with our own life – that somehow it is boring and mundane; that it needs a little “spicing up!”

Perhaps we even feel a bit like that in our marriage.

But life consists of many things, including the exciting and the mundane. Listen to the words of King Solomon:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven…”

In other words, there is a set time for everything that happens to us during our lives as well as there being a specific period of time for each of them.

Solomon describes many of these events in the words that follow: times for birth and death, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, loving and hating, war and peace.

None of these events, or others, always occur all the time – they each are given a set time.

And none of them lasts forever – they have a period of duration that can sometimes be long or short, depending on the circumstances.

Sometimes life is vibrant and exciting but sometimes it can be plain boring!

Can you relate to that? I most certainly can! This is the ebb and flow of life and it is grounded in reality.

I am writing this way because so many people manage their relationships as if they were living in a TV program or soap opera.

We all love the romantic movie where the knight rides off into the sunset with his princess and they live happily ever after. We conclude that this is how marriage is…but is it?

In our own marriages we discover that there are times of happiness but also conflict and in extreme cases, it seems to be only conflict.

What happened to the romantic ending?

For one thing, we don’t have the privilege of seeing how things worked out for the knight and the princess, but I’m certain they will have had their tense moments as well.

We have been duped into thinking that happiness in marriage is merely about finding this wonderful person or having “the feeling of being in love” and then everything will automatically flow from there – we have been “Hollywood-ised” about love and marriage!

Every marriage, even the best ones, have their times and seasons: times of laughter and passion and yes, times of conflict and boredom.

The solution is to try and make sense of these times.

This is why Solomon also said, “God has made everything beautiful in its time…” It is God who brings meaning to every moment of our lives. We can only ultimately be completely fulfilled in Him, not through some soap opera or unrealistic view about love and relationships.

And He is also able to bring meaning and fulfillment to our marriages.

A growing marriage begins its life when two people say “I do” to each other and to God. Then they are truly free to grow into unselfish people who find meaning in the times and seasons of their relationship with each other and with God.

Don’t Fake It this February

It’s February and this is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Sadly, what was once a time for lovers to declare and affirm their love for each other has simply become another exercise for retailers to encourage people to spend, spend, spend!

How easily our society is hoodwinked into thinking that spending money on exorbitant and highly priced gifts is the way in which you show the depth of your love for another!

Too often, when the gifts have lost their lustre and the initial *flush of romance has cooled, couples find themselves in the following situation described poetically by Adrian Plass:

Sunday is a funny day,
It starts with lots of noise.
Mummy rushes round with socks,
And Daddy shouts, ‘You boys!’

Then Mummy says, ‘Now don’t blame them,
You know you’re just as bad,
You’ve only just got out of bed,
It really makes me mad!’

My mummy is a Christian,
My daddy is as well,
My mummy says ‘Oh, heavens!’
My daddy says ‘Oh, hell!’

And when we get to church at last,
It’s really very strange,
Cos Mum and Dad stop arguing,
And suddenly they change.

At church my mum and dad are friends,
They get on very well,
But no one knows they’ve had a row,
And I’m not gonna tell.

People often come to them,
Because they seem so nice,
And Mum and Dad are very pleased
To give them some advice.

They tell them Christian freedom
Is worth an awful lot,
But I don’t know what freedom means,
If freedom’s what they’ve got.

Daddy loves the meetings,
He’s always at them all,
He’s learning how to understand
The letters of St Paul.

But Mummy says, ‘I’m stuck at home
To lead my Christian life,
It’s just as well for blinkin’ Paul
He didn’t have a wife.’

I once heard my mummy say
She’d walk out of his life,
I once heard Daddy say to her
He’d picked a rotten wife.

They really love each other,
I really think they do.
I think the people in the church
Would help them – if they knew.

Growing a love that lasts a lifetime is not the result of expensive gifts or grand declarations of extravagance.

Love that lasts a lifetime is forged in the fires of adversity.

It is the fruit of a couple who honestly face the truth about themselves as individuals and are prepared to work for positive change and growth.

Love that lasts a lifetime grows in the seedbed of honest communication.

It is born out by travelling the hard road of dealing with one’s junk.

It is recognising that the person you are married to or in love with is not perfect…and neither are you.

It is learning to accept those imperfections in each other and realising that they can actually work in your favour.

There is enough fakery and pretend love in the world already, so why continue to go along with it.

We have become so enamoured with the version of “love” portrayed on our TV and computer screens that we have forgotten what the real thing looks like!

So do something radical this Valentines’ Day.

Instead of an expensive gift why not invest yourself into your relationship?

Ask yourself what it is that you truly love about your partner.

Write them down. (In a card or a letter – not an email – remember what writing is?!)

And then give it to your loved one.

Spend time together talking about the things that you love about each other.

And then plan and dream about how you can build on that in the coming year.

Don’t settle for what our culture says is true love – discover it’s wonder and beauty for yourselves!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Tortoise and the Hare

Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Aesop’s fable concerns a tortoise who was fed up with being ridiculed for his slowness by a hare and challenged him to a race!

Convinced he would win easily, the hare took time out for a nap halfway through but awoke with a start to discover the tortoise had both passed him and crossed the finish line first.

At first glance, before the race is run, it is obvious that the hare has a distinct advantage over the tortoise – it would be a brave person to bet against the hare!

As the hare’s coach what advice would you give him pre-race?

“It’s in the bag!” or “Win, but don’t overdo it. Save your energy for the bigger race.”

Perhaps you might be more circumspect and advise him, “Don’t underestimate this guy, this a long race!”

What advice would you give the tortoise?

“I admire your courage, but you have way too much baggage holding you down, hindering you from winning this race.”

But who really had the most baggage?

The hare!

He was lazy and arrogant. He had poor follow through and lacked stickability.

The tortoise’s baggage was obvious but it also brought out his best. It produced endurance, tenacity, perseverance and courage.

And I don’t think losing would have bothered him. His goal was to finish the race!

The tortoise recognized and dealt with his baggage and he kept moving forward.

The same principle operates in marriage as a couple grows in this oneness.

If a couple is to grow closer over the years then it means that they both will have developed ways of identifying their personal baggage and dealing with it.

Every one of us comes to marriage with “baggage”, but so many are unaware of it.

And we quickly discover that living under the same roof with another person creates all sorts of issues and conflicts!

However, rather than deal with our baggage we often retreat into blaming the other person and demanding that they “sort themselves out!”

Of course, there is truth to that. We all carry personal baggage and need to work it through in order to become whole people.

But unawareness of or refusal to acknowledge our own baggage, makes us extremely unsafe and heading for personal and relational disaster.

I can remember when recognizing and dealing with some of my own baggage became deeply personal for me.

I had a bad habit of reading too much into comments made by others to me, perceiving them as personal criticisms of me or my performance.

This was particularly pronounced in my relationship with Karen. She might make an observation about something I had done or said and if it did not agree completely with how I saw it then I would take it personally and feel quite wounded.

But when I began to recognize and own my behavior, I also began to identify the faulty thinking process that was at the root of it all.

I would hear the comment, interpret it incorrectly (instead of clarifying what was said), which then led to a whole range of negative thoughts and responses.

Things began to change when I deliberately grabbed the negative thought early in this negative cycle and replaced it with positive and truthful statements.

As I went through this process of dealing with some of my baggage, we grew closer as a couple; we grew in our oneness.

I wish I could say that I have perfected this but I can’t. But I can say that my marriage is richer because I am married to a woman who is committed to journeying with me because she knows that I want to be a better man.

And I am just as committed to her as she deals with her own baggage.

So what are you? A tortoise or hare?

The meaning of marriage

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll describes a conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty on the topic of words and their meaning. It goes like this:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master—that’s all.”

One of the points being made by Humpty Dumpty is that the person who controls what words mean is also the person who controls the conversation.

I have been thinking a lot about “marriage” lately and what the word means.

Marriage has been defined as, “The social institution under which a man and woman live as husband and wife by legal or religious commitments.”

Dig a little deeper and you discover that our English word comes down to us via Latin and French and it has given rise to a number of humorous quotes on marriage such as marry in haste and repent at leisure and never marry for money, but marry where money is!

Based on the above, it would be easy to conclude that marriage is simply a contract, with possibly a few religious rites thrown in and depending on the person you marry, it could be a glad or sad experience!

God describes marriage as something far grander!

First, He paints us a picture of marriage being grounded in friendship and companionship.

“It is not good for man to be alone!” He declares, and so He creates Eve as the perfect counterpart for man in their journey through life together.

What is clear here is that it is God Who brings men and women together – It is He Who provides Eve for Adam.

I am deeply thankful for the hand of God in my life as He led me to my wife Karen. As a young man I remember well a church leader praying for God’s provision for me of the woman He had prepared to be my wife. Less than two months later Karen walked into my life, a brand new Christian and I have never doubted that she was God’s answer to my prayer.

Marriage has a different meaning altogether when God is in it!

God also gives us an inspiring portrait of marriage as the foundational pillar of any successful society.

Through Moses, God speaks of the importance of Dad and Mum raising their children in His ways and the direct flow on this has for society – the community that is built around God’s principles “will live long and be successful.”

It is a portrait that specifically highlights the crucial role that fathers play in raising their children.

I read recently of a study that has found that there is a direct connection between a child’s physiological development and the absence of a father.

In other words, remove Dad from the scene and a child’s physical development is negatively affected.

So when I reflect on God’s vision for marriage I discover that the word means so much more than a mere “social institution” between “a man and a woman”, consisting of legal and religious requirements.

God’s vision for marriage is that it both undergirds and transforms our society and it is a vision that I think we need to re-capture.

It is a divinely inspired vision that lifts marriage out of the mire of what we think it is and instead, is grounded in a conversation which God began in the first place.

Bringing the best you to your relationships

Becky Turney will never forget the day she married Kelly, the man of her dreams.

The two were married recently in Alaska but the day would contain some sadness for Becky because in October 2015 her 19 year old son, Triston was killed in an accidental shooting.

On her wedding day, in honour of Triston, a chair was set aside for him where the family sat with a piece of prose indicating that he would be “watching from heaven”. It was a touching tribute but it paled into insignificance as a result of what happened next!

At the time of Triston’s death, Becky shared on Facebook that her son’s passing “was a tragedy and senseless (but) Triston was an organ donor and will be able to help someone else’s life…”

Becky had no inkling of what was to come on her wedding day.

Kelly (the groom) flew a young man named Jacob to Alaska to be one of his groomsmen and then stopped the ceremony to introduce him to Becky for the first time.

Why? Jacob had been born with a rare heart condition, had undergone a number of open heart surgeries and by age 19 was in desperate need of a donor so that he could undergo heart transplant surgery.

Becky’s son, Triston, was the donor of Jacob’s life saving heart!

Becky was overcome with emotion, hugged Jacob and was also able to listen to her dead son’s heart, courtesy of a stethoscope and now beating strongly inside Jacob’s chest. One of the photographers for the day later wrote, “…nothing prepares you for the beauty of this moment. Everyone was so moved by this and I had to share this amazing story.”

And this moment happened because a man named Kelly simply loved and cared enough for the woman he was about to marry.

“This is a man at his best!” I thought to myself as I read this story. He showed his bride that he truly cared for her and was prepared to go to great lengths so she would know he was truly concerned for her deepest needs.

We men are capable of truly great moments that demonstrate our courage, passion and love.

And we are equally capable of the worst of moments when we reveal only selfishness, pride and ambition.

King David was just such a man!

As a mere teenager he takes on Goliath when the rest of the Israeli army stands paralysed by fear and intimidation.

“God will give me the victory!” he declares and in a single moment his faith in God inspires a nation to glory as Goliath crashes to the ground.

When he ascends the throne he heals the divisions that exist and makes Israel the most powerful nation in the region.

When he learns of the death of his enemy Saul he is struck with grief and leads the mourners.

This is David at his best – gracious, filled with faith and generous.

But there are low moments – adultery, murder, a divided family and revenge.

This is David at his worst.

But in spite of his weaknesses, his love for God ultimately triumphs and he is remembered as “the man after God’s heart.”

God knows my weaknesses and He knows yours.

He sees our great moments and our not so great moments.

And he also sees our hearts.

What, then, are you bringing to your relationships – to your wife, your children, your colleagues and your friends?

Are they getting the best of you or the worst of you?

Don’t be discouraged by this – God does forgive our failures but He also wants us to step up and to bring our best. And the best we can bring Him is “a heart after His heart”. Everything else will flow out of that.

So come on men – we need a few more Davids and Kelly Turneys!

Finding the path to ‘oneness’

There is something very special about seeing an elderly couple who have been married for many years still walking hand in hand with each other.

For me, it is a beautiful and symbolic way of declaring that they have taken the journey of life together and they still choose to do so.

At some point in a marriage ceremony words along the lines of these will be made: “and they shall become one flesh.” It is an ancient way of describing the marriage relationship and it is filled with promise, potential and possibility.

Promise because when two people marry they begin a lifetime journey together toward “oneness”.

Potential because two people come together with different gifts, personalities, ideas, abilities and backgrounds that can be fused together to achieve what they could not do alone.

And possibility because of all the good that they may achieve together!

It is important to understand then, that oneness is not something that is immediately achieved once a couple has said “I do”.

Oneness is a lifelong journey, taken together and toward which couples progressively move.

I have been thinking about this for some time and recently I came across this description by Chuck Swindoll concerning the topic of oneness. (It’s always nice to find an author who agrees with you!):

Becoming one flesh suggests a process, not an instant fact. Two people with different backgrounds, temperaments, habits, scars, feelings, parents, educational pursuits, gifts, and interests don’t immediately leave a wedding ceremony in perfect unity. It is a lifelong project requiring wisdom, understanding, and knowledge … The whole idea of mutual acceptance, giving, listening, forgiving, belonging, and direction was implied. It is two individuals willingly blending into each other’s lives, desiring to share with and thereby complete the other.

‘One Flesh’ also has to do with the physical aspect of marriage. The sexual aspect of marriage is essential to the marriage as much as the leaving and cleaving. The success of the sexual relationship between husband and wife is directly proportionate to the success of the other areas of intimacy in marriage — emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social.

What I am aware of though, is that many marriages do not experience this idea of oneness at all, even less are they moving towards it.

The question arises, in spite of the definition just given, what exactly is oneness in marriage?

It is certainly not some “mystical” experience that a couple has and which lifts you to a higher plane in your marriage!

Oneness is essentially a strong bond of unity that is built between a man and a woman as they grow in their love, experience and support of each other through the many changing facets of life.

Interestingly, when Jesus said that He and His Father were “one” it was the same word used to describe a couple when they become one.

In other words, oneness flows directly out of a deep relationship of truly knowing one another.

If this is the ideal for marriage that is held up for us, then how do we get there?

It is tempting to think of oneness as the goal of marriage, but to me that reduces it to one more thing to do in life. Authentic and fulfilling marriage is not about ticking off a list of KPIs to ensure a successful relationship any more than it is about following the “10 Steps to a Successful Marriage” kind of approach.

Oneness in marriage is best seen as a journey or trip that a couple makes together over a lifetime toward a destination of security, wholeness and freedom and it will be a journey that is never quite fully reached because the couple will always be discovering something new along the way!

I describe this journey as the pathways to oneness and I will share some of these with you over the next few months!

Putting each other first in every stage of life

By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!

When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…

It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.

And there have been many stages!

There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.

Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.

Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)

Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!

Our nest is rarely empty these days!

Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.

I do not say this to boast or to gloat.

Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.

The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.

So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?

The following thoughts come to mind.

From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.

We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).

Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.

We have made time for each other.

Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.

We have also prayed together.

This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.

Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.

Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.

It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!

Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!