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!

God can make a difference in your marriage

God can make a difference in your marriage.

I know this from firsthand experience.

Karen and I both come from dysfunctional family backgrounds, so even before we were married we made a commitment to God and each other that we would work hard to not repeat the mistakes of previous generations of our families of origin.

What difference has God made for me personally in my marriage?

I have discovered the joy of loving my wife sacrificially.

Husbands are instructed to “love their wives” and it is the kind of love that is willing to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own, to be willing to serve that person and to consider their interests before your own.

This kind of love does not come easily, especially when you are in the heat of an argument and your wife (you believe) is being unreasonable!

So, the only way I can possibly love like this is to ask God to help me. The perfect example of sacrificial love is seen in His Son Jesus who gave up His own life for us when we did not deserve it.

My default button drifts toward selfishness when I am under pressure so I need the occasional reminder that I also, am not perfect but God still loves me anyway!

I have learned that honesty is liberating in marriage.

I am talking here about honesty with your wife about where you are “at.” There have been times in my marriage where I have thought it best to not share with Karen what I might be struggling with at any given moment. It’s not that I have sought to be deceptive or tried to hide things from her – I just did not want to cause her unnecessary worry or concern.

This is not a good policy!

Firstly, if I do not share with her then I miss out on one of the greatest privileges of marriage. That of being supported, cared and prayed for by my best friend. As Solomon wisely said, “two are better than one” because they can lean on each other in the storms of life.

Secondly, Karen can read me like a book, so there is no point in me trying to simply soldier on!

I have found that good communication develops greater intimacy between us.

One of the great descriptions of marriage is the Biblical statement that a husband “knew” his wife. When we read this, we immediately think of the sexual relationship yet there is so much more to this word than simply sex.

To “know” carries with it the ideas of knowing the other person emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

The word underlines the very essence of what a relationship is all about – to my wife for the person she truly is, to see her more deeply than others see her and to see what no one else sees: the beautiful person God created her to be.

Which is the way God sees me; the person I really am. So, what I learn through my relationship with God changes, for the good, the way I relate to my wife.

And the only way that I can truly know Karen well is to talk with her, listen to her, share with her, dream with her, cry with her and laugh with her.

I experience what God described as “oneness” in marriage.

This oneness does not happen overnight. When a couple is married they begin a lifelong journey toward oneness and there will be the inevitable ups and downs along that journey.

But they do not travel that road alone. If they are both committed to God, He goes before them, encouraging, nurturing and shaping them into the people He wants them to be.

And the result is oneness – a true unity of body, mind, heart and soul.

God can make a difference in your marriage – why not let Him start today?

Reconciliation starts with you

IN NOVEMBER, 1990 I was standing in Pearl Harbour listening to an elderly, retired United States navy man tell his story about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.

I had joined a free, guided tour around the harbour and the scene of the United States’ entry into World War Two.

Our guide was around 19 years of age at the time of the attack and as he retold his story the day I was there, he also spoke of the anger and rage he felt as he fired round after round into the sky at enemy planes.

Then he said something that caught my attention.

“Folks”, he asked kindly, “Have you ever felt like you are out of the will of God?”

Given the silence of the rest of the group around me, he obviously had their attention as well!

He went on to explain that in that very moment of anger, death and destruction, he knew he was out of the will of God!

Quite a statement from an elderly man to a group of tourists.

He then told us how he had signed up to the navy despite the fact he knew God had called him to be a preacher.

So, upon the conclusion of the War, having been discharged from the Navy, he obeyed God and became a Presbyterian minister for the rest of his life.

Then came the punchline to his story.

He went on to tell how one of the Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbour also became a committed Christian and minister after the war.

Decades later, the two former enemies met with the Japanese pastor preaching in the old navy man’s church in Hawaii!

As he brought his story to its conclusion, he held up a photograph of the two men, once alienated by culture, hatred and ideology, now embracing each other and reconciled before the Cross that stood in the church.

Every one of us is living in a world divided bitterly along racial, political and ideological lines.

News services bring us reports every day of nations at war with each other or the latest violent protest over an unpopular decision.

And we read of relational breakdowns in marriages and families that all too often end with murder or suicide as the only “solution”.

Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once commented:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

When a marriage breaks down, it is all too easy to blame the other person, thinking he or she needs to change.

But as Solzhenitsyn points out, “good and evil” courses through the heart of every human being.

Blaming the other person will not reconcile us.

Ignoring or trying to change the past will not reconcile us.

Mere words will not reconcile us.

But Jesus will.

That is the point of the Cross. There a dying thief finds reconciliation and peace with God.

There a man, Peter, who denies his Lord, finds reconciliation.

And there I have found peace and reconciliation – with my sin, my past, with people and with God. I still struggle a lot and I don’t always love people as well as I should.

But I know this: reconciliation begins with me, reaching out to people who at times both annoy and drive me crazy but with the sincere hope that perhaps they will see Jesus in me and be reconciled to Him.

Is your marriage in trouble?

My prayer for you is that you will ask Jesus to bring His peace to your hungry and wounded soul.

Then take the first step yourself to reconcile with your husband or wife.

Conversation begins with you

self

If you wanted to develop and deepen your communication with your spouse, where would you begin?

The answer may surprise you!

In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle says that it begins with a conversation with yourself.

Since the 1970s, Turkle has been studying the impact of technology upon our ability to engage in conversation with one another and, while she is writing about relationships in general, her observations also apply to married couples.

With the advent of the “smart phone” and other electronic devices, we are constantly connected and yet, we have grown more distant in our desire to relate to others at a meaningful level.

Turkle notes that there has been an increasing loss of empathy between people and the reason behind this is because a phone or computer makes no emotional demands upon you, there is no need for you to enter into what the computer might be feeling and there are no requirements for intimacy at any level.

So when it comes to real relationships with real people we are unable to empathise with them and we have no desire to enter into their world in any meaningful way.

And this is disastrous in friendships, especially marriages.

So if you want to change this, you may like to begin a conversation with yourself!

“Because it is in solitude,” Turkle says, “Where we learn to concentrate and imagine and to listen to ourselves.”

Just think about that for a moment.

Time alone with ourselves means that we need to give it our full attention and put away our electronic devices. You cannot pay attention to what is going on in your inner life if you are constantly distracted by who is saying what on Facebook or engaging in a text conversation.

And it holds true for our conversations with one another. The human brain is only able to give its attention to one thing at a time so if you are reading a Facebook status while you are talking with your spouse, then you are not giving the conversation (or the person) your full concentration.

Think also about the importance of being able to listen to yourself.

In times of solitude we are able to make space in order to process our internal world. It is here where we take time out to reflect on how we have responded in certain situations and to what feelings, good or bad, we might be experiencing at the moment.

“Why was I so angry when…?”

“What is it that I am grieving at this time?”

These are just a couple of the questions that it is important to ask of ourselves.

I have found that by making regular time for solitude in my life, I engage at a much deeper level of conversation with Karen.

It is a discipline that we have practiced for many years but which has grown significantly over this past year of our life together.

We have found that when we take the time to understand ourselves then we are in a much better place to also understand each other.

Turkle describes it like this: In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.

So let me finish by asking you some questions:

What is making you happy or sad right now?

What is your biggest dream or hope?

Where are you grieving loss right now?

If you cannot answer those questions with any clarity then it is time you had a conversation with yourself?