A Christ-Centered Marriage

Before I was married I I wanted to be the best husband and father that I could be.   So I read lots of books on marriage and parenting.   I learned a lot and gleaned truths that have anchored our home to this day.

One of the those foundations is that a healthy marriage is to be Christ-centered.   But understanding that and making it happen can be challenging.    It’s possible to know and practice biblical principles and not be Christ-centered.

On our way to having a Christ-centered relationship we tend to make the means the end.  At some point the marriage becomes principle-centered rather than Christ-centered.   While being principle-centered has advantages, it is not the same as having a marriage built around a personal relationship with God.

Being principle-centered focuses on learning and applying specific content relative to a subject; being Christ-centered focuses on the dynamic of a personal relationship with God.

God gave us principles to guide us, but they are not to substitute for our personal walk with Him.    They protect and enhance our relationship with God; following them proves our love, but it is possible to follow them and not love Christ.

Most Christians begin their life as believers totally Christ-centered, but over time, if not guarded, the relationship becomes subservient to a lifestyle.   Being a Christian is then defined by following a prescribed lifestyle absent a dynamic personal communication with the Lord.   This is a dangerous place to be in our personal lives and in our marriage. 

Having a principle-centered marriage, even if they’re Bible principles, is not enough.  We are to love Christ and out of the overflow of that relationship comes motivation to follow the principles.   It is our love for Christ that is the fire in our heart to obey Him and follow His Word.

At the hub of every marriage should be the Lord Jesus Christ.   Some believers make Christ a part of their marriage, but He is not at the core.    It is Christ, through His Spirit, Who gives us the power to consistently and joyfully follow God’s commands and principles in our relationships.

Depending on which type of marriage you have, principle-centered or Christ-centered, will determine the quality of your marriage and environment of your home.

In my own life this is a struggle – drifting toward following principles without investing in my walk with Christ.   It’s easy to coast on a learned lifestyle.   I have to consciously surrender my heart to the Lord each day and rest in Him.  My natural tendency is to go back to auto pilot, living by principle and a memorized lifestyle.

One of the first evidences of drifting from God is when one becomes principle-centered and neglects a walk with Christ.   Living a moral lifestyle while not having Christ as the center is not what God intended.

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God spoke to a church that had drifted away from Him with their heart and He uses a marriage metaphor to confront them.    The church at Ephesus was one of the greatest churches in the world.  Yet, they had sound doctrine, knew the truth and practiced it, but something was missing.  If it can happen to them, it can happen to us. 

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4)

Though they were busy, committed and orthodox in their beliefs, they had left their heart out of it all.  They had “left (their) first love”. 

First love refers to that which is fresh, dynamic, and enthusiastic.  The relationship is given priority over all other things.  When actions take the place of heartfelt affection we lose the joy of living and serving.

The same thing happens to a family.   A husband or father can be faithful, committed and have integrity, but be absent love.   A wife can know her role and be consistent in fulfilling it, but if Christ is not at the center of her life she is empty, joyless – just going through the motions.

When we live this way over time we lose our sense of gratitude and wonder.    A relationship that used to be fresh and meaningful is now stale and indifferent.

Our love for each other is to be growing, not stagnant.   Principles alone don’t cause our love to develop and mature.   Only Christ can do that.

God never intended for a Christian’s life to be oriented around principles.   It won’t bring satisfaction to your heart.   It won’t work in your marriage either.   Here are some reasons why:

  • The purpose of our creation isn’t to live a life of dry obedience to God.   We were designed to know God and to walk with Him personally.   Until we discover that purpose and live that way daily we will live a restless life.    When a marriage is composed of a couple that is restless there is no joy or fulfillment.   No matter how “right” or principle-centered it is.
  • Principles don’t motivate over the long haul, only Christ can do that.   It’s easy to substitute knowing about God with knowing God.   God gave us truths in the Bible that show how the marriage relationship works, but alone they won’t provide the fuel to practice them.
  • Applying principles (and commandments) is not the ultimate pathway to express our love for the Lord.    We honor the Lord by obeying Him and walking in His ways, but knowing and implementing principles is not the objective, loving Christ is.   The Bible says of itself, “…the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart…”   (II Tim. 1:5)
  • Following principles can be a substitute for loving Christ.   Christ is truth incarnate (John 14:6; John 1:14); so to know the truth will help us to know Him better.  This doesn’t deny His personality, though, and reduce Him to an impersonal force.   God has mind (He knows), emotion (He feels), and will (He chooses) and is to be loved for His Person, Who He is.   Principles can be static.
  • We must learn God’s Word to discover Who He is.   My point is not that we are to abandon or minimize Bible reading or study.   Not at all.   We learn about God’s character and His actions from the book He has given to us, the Word of God.   I’m cautioning against the tendency to use it as a means to merely govern and direct behavior while neglecting a relationship with God.   The Pharisees did this and lacked love for God and people.   It’s easy to do.
  • Learning principles is attractive to those that enjoy learning.   People that are attracted to study and seek a deeper knowledge of God sometimes equate knowing about God with knowing God.   They aren’t the same.  Knowledge without application leads to pride (I Corinthians 8:1) which destroys relationships.   The application of truth is to prove our love for the Lord and help us to know Him better.

A strong marriage doesn’t confuse the difference in being principle-centered and Christ-centered.   It’s a subtle difference, but one that will keep you from enjoying the relationship with each other God intended.

Many years ago Paula and I were attending a pastor’s conference and were listening to Adrian Rogers speak.   At the close of his message he gave a short story that I have never forgotten.    Here’s what he shared.

A boy prince from India was visiting the Queen of England and at the conclusion of his visit he presented her with a beautiful and expensive diamond as a gift from his country.

Decades passed and he returned to visit the Queen again.  Before he left he asked her if she remembered the diamond he had given to her.   She replied that she had and he asked if he might see it.

She thought, He’s going to ask for it to be returned because he was so young when he presented it to me.   

Her assistants went and procured the diamond.   He looked at it carefully and slowly turned it, examining it’s incredible beauty.

When he finished he looked at the Queen, still holding the diamond, and said, “I gave this stone to you when I was but a boy.   Today I realize it’s value and I want to give it to you again as a man”.    And he returned it to her. 

Adrian Rogers concluded his message, “Many of you have given your life to the Lord when you were young, but you ought to give it to Him again as an adult, as you understand how precious it is, to honor the Lord even more”.

My heart was deeply touched.   I had been saved as a boy when I was nine years old and surrendered my life to do whatever He wanted me to do when I was seventeen.   Now, I was forty-two and with tears streaming down my face, Paula and I knelt in the altar that night and surrendered our lives fresh to Him again.    I was mindful of His faithfulness and how good He had been to my family and me.

I have remembered that story through the years and bowed my head again and yielded my heart afresh to the Lord.   I love the Lord more than anything in the world.

That’s what it means to be Christ-centered.   It isn’t about living a formulaic life solely based on obeying principles and commands.

Certainly we are to obey God and to practice the principles He has given in His Word – many of which apply to marriage and the home.  However, one can do those things and still not be Christ-centered.

The most simple meaning of having a marriage with Christ at the hub is loving Him with all of our hearts.

 

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Making Your Husband Feel Loved

There are differences in the way that men and women perceive and express love.   Understanding them will strengthen your marriage as you communicate love to your spouse in a way they best understand.

One of the key ways a man shows his wife he loves her is by his attention.   (The post on “Making Your Wife Feel Loved” deals with that in detail.   You can read it here).   God has put it in the heart of a woman to enjoy meaningful conversation.    When a man does this his wife feels he loves her. 

A man is different.   God has created a man to enjoy, even crave, respect.    When a wife voices her admiration for her husband he feels that she cares for him.

Perhaps a lady might think this is vain.   But it isn’t.   This is one of the primary ways a man interprets love.   This isn’t a principle borrowed from psychology.   It is given clearly in the Bible.

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”   (Ephesians 5:33)

God succinctly summarizes the basic needs of men and women in marriage in the above text.  A man is to love his wife; a wife is to reverence her husband.   The word “reverence” means “to have respect for”. 

This doesn’t mean that a wife doesn’t want or not need to be respected.  Those we love we are respectful toward.   But it is a greater need for a man to feel respect from his wife.

I told Paula one day, “I don’t just want you to love me, I want you to like me”.

A lady knows someone is her friend when they are able to have small talk, sharing details, listening without a bias to action.   A man knows someone is his friend when there is a mutual respect and appreciation for each other.

Paula and I at Robert E. Lee's home in Arlington, Virginia overlooking D.C.

Paula and I at Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, Virginia overlooking D.C.

I’ve had men say to me, “I know my wife cares about me, but I don’t think she likes me”.   Perhaps they mean there is no question that love is there, but the friendship component is missing.   In a man’s language that is admiration.

This is where it gets sticky.   What if a man has glaring flaws in his life?   What is a wife to do when her husband has some work to do in his character?   What if it’s difficult to respect him?

No wife would think her husband truly loved her if he loved her conditionally.   We even use the phrase “unconditional love” to describe genuine love.   True love pursues a person in spite of flaws.

Is it right for a wife to put qualifications on admiring her husband before she will do so?   Is is possible to have “unconditional respect”?    Will true love seek areas to respect in spite of flaws?

I don’t have time in a blog post to cover this idea thoroughly, but here’s my thesis: you can give unconditional respect toward someone, even when there are inconsistencies in their life. 

We are commanded from the Bible to do this with governmental authorities, even when we disagree with them (I Peter 2:18).  The same is true of a wife’s attitude toward her husband.

When a wife shows sincere admiration and respect for her husband it resonates deeply within his heart, especially when he knows he could be and do better.

Don’t brush this off by saying, “Well, that’s just vanity.   I’m not going to feed his ego.  It’s already too much now.   If anything, he needs to be taken down a notch or two.   He has a lot of issues he needs to be working on and when he makes some progress, then I’ll show some verbal appreciation”.

A wife has to learn to do so even when there is imperfection – and there always will be.

What are some practical ways you can do this?

  • Look for areas where he does some things well.   It may be that he is diligent in his work.   Tell him so – and give concrete examples.    He may be a good friend, a good father, or honest.   What does he do in your marriage that is positive?  Focus on that area and share it with him.

I’m a pastor and speak twice to our church each Sunday.   It’s nice to hear people acknowledge my work in the pulpit, but the most important person to hear it from is my wife.   When she tells me I did a good job it means something extra special.    If she doesn’t say anything, sometimes I wonder if I hit the ball or not.

I’m aware that some ladies have husbands that contribute very little to the spiritual or emotional health of your home.   It’s so important that you not become cynical, but ask God to give you something for which you can be grateful.

The Bible teaches that an unbelieving husband will be influenced by the godly example and lifestyle of his wife.   One of the chief attitudes that draws his heart to yours is your respect for him.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”   (I Peter 3:1-2)

  • Praise him more than you correct him.   The Bible talks about receiving constructive criticism and growing from it.   However, it also talks about affirmation and encouragement.    Both are important, but when criticism outweighs praise the relationship begins to wither.

One of the most common expressions I say or write to my children is, “I’m proud of you”.    I do so because I know how important it is that they know I believe in them.   I like to hear my wife say it to me, also.     Call it ego, if you will, but God put it in the heart of a man to want to be admired.

Years ago I was speaking at a men’s conference in another state.   After one of the sessions one of the men came to me and shared with me that he hadn’t planned on attending the conference.

He said, “I really didn’t want to come to the conference.   I know I’m a lousy husband and a bad father and I didn’t want to come to hear someone tell me what I already knew about myself.   But you encouraged me and told me how I could do better and I’m glad I was here tonight”. 

Most men are aware of their shortcomings and already feel guilty.   Don’t be his Holy Spirit.  Pray for God to change him in the areas where he is weak.    Sure, there’s a time to talk to him about it, but above all, be his cheerleader and primary encourager.

  • Express sincere appreciation to him.    All of us like to know we have made a contribution; a man hungers to hear words of gratitude from his wife.

If a man senses that people have lost respect for him in an area he will not want to return to that area.   That’s why he doesn’t respond well to nagging.   It reminds him of his failure.

When respect is absent so is gratitude.   That is a dangerous place to be.   When gratefulness is gone, contempt will fill the vacuum.   When contempt is one’s attitude, nothing a person can do will please them.

I have known men that were married to an attractive lady and left her for another woman.   Later people saw the woman he ran off with and noted that she wasn’t as beautiful as his wife, even very ordinary in appearance.   Why would he do that?

Here’s my thought – it wasn’t because of the way the new woman looked that won his heart, but her attitude toward him and the way she talked to him.   She praised him and was grateful for little things.   (Please know I am not justifying this behavior, only making a general observation). 

Respect is a powerful issue to a man.    Gratitude is, too.     Where one is present you will find the other.

Here is what typically happens in a marriage over time: the things that initially attracted us to each other now get on our nerves.   What was once a strength has become a weakness.   (A strength to an extreme becomes a weakness).

The longer we are married we drift toward this type of thinking.

He was funny then, but now he doesn’t know when to stop.

She was serious then, but now she is a stick in the mud.

He was a strong leader then, but now he makes decisions too quickly.

She was spontaneous then, but now she doesn’t clean up after herself.

He was careful and thoughtful then, but now he takes too long to make a decision.

She was quiet and a good listener then, but now she hardly talks to me.

He was fun and the life of the party then, but now he talks too much.

When we lose appreciation for the very quality that was responsible for drawing us to that person it will be replaced by aggravation and then contempt.

On most week nights Paula and I watch reruns of the Andy Griffith show at 10 p.m. before we go to sleep.   Recently she went on a trip out of town with her childhood friend to spend some time together.

When I came home that afternoon there was a post it note on the night stand by the bed.   It read: “I will miss you tonight when Andy Griffith comes on.   I love you, Paula”.  

That little post it note hasn’t moved from that spot since she put it there.   It’s a reminder every time I see it that my wife enjoys my company and that she not only loves me, but she likes me.    I like her, too.

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Making Your Wife Feel Loved

I was sincere when I got married, but made a lot of mistakes.  One of those areas was in communicating to Paula that I cared for her….in a way that meant something to her.

As I write this we’ve been married over 37 years, but I feel like I’m just now learning what genuine love is.   The most basic responsibility of a husband is to love his wife.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.  (Ephesians 5:25)

The sad thing is that love is what a woman wants most from her husband, but what he struggles with the most.   It isn’t in a lack of his trying to show love, but in knowing how to express it in practical ways.

Love at it’s most basic level is expressed by giving.   Christ, our standard, modeled this for us when He died for us; sacrificial giving that was costly.

This post will focus on one way to show your wife that you care about her.  It’s one I still battle with, not because I don’t care for Paula, but it is not as intuitive to a man as it is a woman.

Paula and I in Washington D.C. (You can see the top of the Jefferson Memorial over our heads). What a great lady. I am so privileged to call her my wife.

Paula and I in Washington D.C. (You can see the top of the Jefferson Memorial over our heads). What a great lady. I am so privileged to call her my wife.

A woman interprets love through the lens of attention.    She wants to feel that she is heard and that her husband is genuinely interested in the details of her life.  There’s the rub for a man.   Most men aren’t interested in minutia, but the big picture, the bottom line.

Giving time and careful attention is a more precious gift than money to a woman.     When a husband listens and focuses on his wife’s words she knows he genuinely cares for her.

Here are two ways I violated this God-given need with Paula.    Perhaps you can identify.

  • I would become impatient with her when she was giving me the details of a situation.  I wanted the bottom line.   Rather than hearing the whole story I wanted a summary; even better was when she just got right to the core issue.   It saved me time, but it cost me respect and closeness with my wife.   Every time I did this I rushed through a conversation I was communicating that I didn’t value her.

Dave Simmons taught me the different ways men and women communicate by using the metaphor of a spider web and a rope.

A spider web has many connection points, but is anchored by a central core.   Everything can ultimately be related to that beginning place.  A rope is linear and not as complex.

Women typically think like a spider web; men process information like a rope.

Sometimes I’ll ask Paula if we are having chili for dinner.   To me, that’s a yes or no question.   She might say, “Well, when I went to the store today it was raining and I forgot the umbrella.  So I had to run and left the list in the car.  I had to start a new list and then Beth walked up and we started talking.   By then I had forgotten everything I needed to buy and…..”

Eventually she will tell me, though there are times when I’m still left wondering about the menu.

When men gather they tend to communicate like a rope.   One story will begin and when it is completed a “knot” is tied.  Then a new line of thought starts and when it is over another “knot” is tied.   You get the picture.

My problem was I was selfish (and ignorant).   I wanted Paula to share information with me that required the least effort for me to follow.   Even after I learned the spider web/rope analogy and knew better I would get impatient and ask her to get to the bottom line.

I noticed that over time she began to change the way she communicated to accommodate me.   Her responses weren’t rude, but they were short and she didn’t expand as much as she had before.  Rather than loving my wife and sacrificing for her I had made my life more comfortable.

God convicted me about my lack of love and I began to change, rather than requiring her to change.   I’m better at accepting her now, but still need grace to be the man she deserves and that I want to be.   I want to keep changing and getting better at being patient and just listening.

(Paula understands the spider web and rope analogy when I speak on communicating in marriage.   Sometimes when I need some information quick I’ll say, “Paula, you’re spider webbing on me and I need a fast answer”.   I’ve grown and don’t use this often!)

  • Another way I violated this need in her life is advising her when she just needed a listening ear.   To her, this must have felt like a lecture.   Nobody likes being lectured to.   Paula wanted to know I was paying attention to her heart, not so much that I had answers.

I learned this in a comical way.   One evening Paula was in the kitchen and I noticed that she was troubled.   I asked what was wrong and she began to pour her heart out to me.   As she talked I was looking for related themes so that I could come up with some practical ideas on how to help her solve her problem.

When I saw an opening in the conversation I began to share my pearls of wisdom that would help alleviate this burden in her life.    I was barely into my second point of logic when I noticed that she had an incredulous look on her face.

She said, “Rick, I just want you to hug me”.   And so I did.

We stood embracing and I was thinking, “Well, I like hugging, but we aren’t making any progress in solving the problem”.

I had enough sense just to be quiet and let her know she was loved.   That was a turning point for me in how I communicated with Paula.   I began to listen more and say less.

At that moment she didn’t want me to solve her problem; she wanted to be assured that I had compassion for her.  She needed my attention and awareness that I understood her stress and cared enough to just listen.

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”    (Alfred Brendel)

(Ladies reading this, please be patient with us.   We mean well, but it is intuitively alien to a man to listen without trying to find a solution.  We are wired to fix a problem as quickly as possible – and that means as little conversation as possible).

Steven Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”     I suppose when we are preparing a response we really aren’t listening at all. 

Today, if I’m confused as to whether or not I ought to give input or just listen I will kindly ask, “Do you just want me to listen or do you want advice?”   And she will tell me.   Sometimes she does want direction and I provide that. 

George Eliot wrote, “Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away”.

I want to be like this.   Most of all, with my family.   I want them to feel safe with me, able to pour out their heart without fear of being misunderstood.

To a woman a listening ear is romantic.   She responds to her husband, emotionally and physically, when he does this.  Wicked men use this as a tactic to gain the affections of a woman – paying attention to the details in her life, listening without interrupting.   And later, he follows up on what he heard to let her know he “cares”, only to get what he wants.

Remember, sir, if you aren’t winning the heart of your wife, someone else is trying to do so.  And they will do it by being quiet and paying careful attention, however bad their motives.

Both of my problems above were rooted in selfishness and failing to listen with a heart to simply understand and empathize.   I was a poor husband in our early years.  I hope you can gain wisdom from my mistakes and do better.

General George C. Marshall had wise words for dealing successfully with people.   Here is a powerful statement that can apply to your marriage and improve it.   Both men and women need to do this consistently.

Substitute the words “my spouse” for the phrase “the other person’s”.   Write it down and put it in a well-traveled place to remind you of it’s importance.

Marshall said concerning successful relationships one has to, “1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Listen to the other person’s full story. 3. Listen to the other person’s full story first.”

 

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The Priority of Your Marriage

One of the non-negotiables to a strong marriage is to make that relationship the highest of all human relationships.   God designed marriage and part of that design is that it be the priority of earthly relationships.

A priority is known by what is given precedence.   Priorities are easy to write down, but sometimes difficult to implement.    One way to practice what is essential is to be aware of what competes with it.

There are four common themes that sometimes supplant one’s mate.  None of them are wrong and each have an important place in our lives, but they are not to be given priority above the marriage.

  • Parents. Of course, we are to honor our parents even after we are married, but our commitment is to be to our spouse when making decisions of how we use our time and money.

The record of the first marriage is given to us in the first book of the Bible and there we’re given a clue as to the importance of the marriage relationship.

“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:21-24)

The Bible says to “leave” our parents and “cleave” unto our spouse after marriage.   This is crucial to having a strong marriage.

Four of my children are married.   I had a private conversation with my sons and my sons-in-law before the wedding and shared that I wouldn’t interfere with their marriage, but would respect their spiritual leadership.   If they wanted counsel I would gladly offer it, but they are responsible for their family.

That’s not easy to do, but it is essential if they are to have a healthy relationship.    I must do my part to help them “cleave” to their spouse.

This is one reason it’s not good to live with your parents after you’re married.   There may be times when this is necessary because of a move or other challenges, but it ought to be the exception and not the rule.

(There are seasons in life when our aged parents need us and it’s right to care for them.   I’m speaking of making sure your spouse knows they are first).

  • Children.    We mistakenly think that a couple is not a family until they have a child, but that isn’t true. You are a family when you are married.   Children extend your family, but they don’t create it; marriage does.

Early on our children need us more, especially Mom.    In these days a husband and wife must make special efforts to be alone to share, rest and enjoy life.

Your marriage is more important than your being parents.   If you know me you know that I believe in intentional parenting, loving and training your children.    However, my beloved children must not take the place of my wife.   The best thing a parent can do for their child is to have a good marriage.

This is our legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have another son and daughter through marriage into our family and two grandchildren. The window of opportunity is small to make a difference. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

This is our legacy. Paula and I have laid our lives down for our children to know and serve the Lord. Now, we have grandchildren. God has been good to us in spite of our mistakes.

Perhaps you might push back on this idea, not because it isn’t true, but because you think it’s not possible.   You have several children and it’s difficult to find time (or money) to spend with each other.   I understand.  

We had seven children (I’m 58 at this writing and have a 16 year old) and though we never neglected them, Paula and I didn’t put them before us.    When you have nine people in a family it stretches both your time budget and your financial budget.   Yet, we still found some ways to invest in each other.

Sometimes we would go away for a couple of days in Gatlinburg to be refreshed – without the children.    My parents and some trusted friends would help care for them while we were gone.   It was a value to us and I hope that same value transmitted to our children that they would do the same when they are married.

My kids are the greatest joys of my life, but my wife comes before them.

  • Job. Your marriage is more important than your job.    Men tend to struggle with this more than women.   Men have a desire to conquer and achieve.

After he “catches” his wife the thrill of the game is gone so he transfers his interest in his work.   This is a grave mistake.   If you aren’t constantly working to win the heart of your wife by your words and affection, someone else will.   And this happens where she works more than any other place.

At work people see you at your best – creative, dressed nicely, guarded in your reactions., kind.   At home our family gets the leftovers of our time, energy, and thoughtfulness if we aren’t careful.

If the lady that is flirting with you saw the same person you are at home she might not be as interested in you.   Likewise, for a woman that is being pursued by another man at her job.

I made a commitment after I was married to practice three principles that would help me not get entangled in a wrong relationship at work.

(1) I wouldn’t go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex.   (2) I purposed not to talk about any personal problems or stresses in my marriage with someone of the opposite sex.   (3) I have been careful not to become too familiar or overly friendly with someone of the opposite sex.

By the grace of God I have been able to keep those promises.   I don’t want my job to compete with my wife in the way I behave there or in my time relative to what I give to Paula.

Friend, live for the people that will come to your funeral.   They will miss you most.    I’m married to my wife, not my job.

I give my job my best and I hope those that I serve would agree with that.   But I can always get another church; I can’t get another wife.

  • Hobbies. Hobbies are good servants, but poor masters.  It is good to have some type of diversion in your life, but sometimes our hobbies become priorities in our time and finances.

I’ve known men that spent more time and money on golf and accessories than their wife.   It could be fishing, hunting, camping, attending sporting events.

Your hobby should be something that enables you to be a better husband (or wife) and not to cause her (or him) to be jealous or insecure.

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About ten years ago I was working at home on some things for church and was distracted while Paula was talking to me.    She called me on it and said sadly, “Rick, you’re always working”.

She left the room, but her words didn’t leave my mind.   She was right.

All occupations have their hazards, but the ministry is one that is especially challenging with this issue of bringing work home.    Sermons and lessons always need attention.    Problems of people for whom you pastor and love are constantly on your heart.   Emergencies in the congregation come and you’re pulled away from a night at home.

I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact of life for me.   My work life still bleeds over in my home life sometimes, but I’m better about it.   I don’t want Paula (or my kids) to feel like I have given them my second-best.

One day, if the norm of life is true, I will die first.    My wife and children will walk into a room in a funeral home, stand by an open casket and look at my body.   What will they say?

“Dad sure did love his job”.

“He really excelled in his hobbies”.

“Dad spent a lot of time with other people helping them”.

They will say something.   I want my children to be able to say with integrity that I loved their mother (and them) with all I had.    I want Paula to be able to say that there was no other human relationship or activity that competed with her.

If this happens, it won’t be an accident.   May God help us to keep priorities that would please the Lord and bless our family.

Posted in close family, familiy issues, family, Husband, Love, Marriage, quality time, Time alone, Wife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Secret of a Strong Marriage

The strength of a structure is determined by it’s foundation.   The higher the structure, the deeper the foundation.    The foundation is hidden and unseen, but it is crucial to the strength and longevity of whatever is built on top of it.

A strong marriage must have a strong foundation if it is to be strong and last.

Most of the time a broken marriage is related to a faulty foundation.   When the inevitable stresses come, the quality of the foundation is tested.     A weak and insufficient foundation will be exposed for all to see.

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What is the foundation of your marriage?    Every marriage has a foundation.   Jesus gives a story that speaks to the importance of the foundation.   It speaks to the value and importance of the footing of our lives and our marriages.

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him       unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the        floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was         founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the        rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”   (Matt. 7:24-27)

Three observations from this passage:

  • Knowing the truth will not help your marriage.   Of course, it is necessary to know what we must do, but information alone will not change your life.    Both men heard the same message, but each had a different result.   One was successful and the other failed.
  • The difference is what you do with the truth.    The successful builder not only heard the truth, but did something about it.
  • The result is worth paying the price.   One experienced a great loss and was embarrassed by his neglecting the foundation.   Everyone knew he had taken shortcuts by neglecting the foundation.

Both men worked to build a house.    The distinction between the two was the quality of the foundation.    Whatever is built on a weak foundation will not survive when tough times come.  And they will come.

What determines a strong foundation?   According to the passage above it is in being obedient to God’s teaching.    

The secret of a strong marriage is obeying God’s instruction manual, the Bible, about what it says about marriage.  

Success is related to design and purpose.   God designed marriage; it was His idea.  If we reject God’s design we will not enjoy the success He intended.   If we find and follow God’s design it will bring God’s favor and blessing. 

A common thread in all marriages that fail is that the majority of  them spend more time, money and energy planning their wedding than they do their marriage.  They never read a book on how to have a strong relationship.  They never talk about their expectations with each other and assume things will just work out for good.   They never seek premarital counsel.   They never seek God’s plan in the Bible for marriage.

The secret to success in any institution (the home, the  government, and the church) is obedience to God according to His design.  Having a strong marriage is not complicated; it is rather simple – obeying God’s Word where He speaks about marriage.

Jesus said, “…blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”  (Luke 11:28)

I believe what I have written above from the core of my being.   Paula and I have striven to build our marriage on the foundation of obedience to God’s Word.   We certainly haven’t been perfect, but we have been sincere in trying to do so.

For over 37 years  our marriage has survived misunderstanding, conflict, health challenges, miscarriages, financial need, self-centeredness, hurt feelings, and many other things that could have derailed us.

God has been faithful to His Word as we have followed Him.   When we mess up and get it wrong, we go to Him and repent and He gives us a fresh start.    We’ve made a lot of mistake, but we did one thing right.   We got the foundation right.

There are four core areas that will determine success or failure in marriage.   In upcoming posts I’ll share them.  When you obey them you are sowing for future blessing into your family.

 

 

 

Posted in adversity, attitude, Bible, Change, character growth, church, close family, closeness, conflict, familiy issues, family, Hope, Husband, Legacy, Marriage, Obedience, Perseverance, Personal Growth, problems, Strategy, Success, Truth, Wife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things That Strengthened our Marriage – An Open Heart

Today I walked inside a little church in a tiny town in Tennessee.   I served there in the fall of 1977, almost forty years ago.  I reminisced about precious people I met there.

One special place was outdoors where I gathered on a Sunday morning with three teenagers to have a Bible lesson.   In that small group was my future wife, Paula.   She was a senior in high school and I was a sophomore in college.

The church where I first met Paula in Dayton, Tennessee.

The church where I first met Paula in Dayton, Tennessee.

Four months later we went on a date and in less than two years we were married.

For all these years Paula has refreshed my soul and blessed my life.   She truly is my best and dearest friend.   One reason is because of her genuineness and opening her heart to me.   She is the real deal.  I have tried to do the same for her. 

We see an example of how a woman discerns when a man has opened his heart to her in Samson’s encounter with Delilah.    She had been assigned by his enemies to discover the true source of his supernatural strength to her.

He refused to do so, but she knew when he finally opened his heart to her.

“And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.  And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death; That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.  And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand”.  (Judges 16:15-18)

Friendships are born when we discover common values at the deepest part of us in another person.    One of the he best examples of friendship in the Bible is Jonathan and David.   Three times it is said that Jonathan “loved (David) as his own soul”. (I Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17)    There was a high degree of transparency that characterized their relationship.

When someone trusts you with the secrets of their heart it is a sacred trust.   Secrets bind people, for good or bad.    So we should be careful with whom we share our heart.    Sincerity is always appropriate, but to whom we are to be totally open is to be guarded.

 

Here are a few ways and times I opened my heart to my wife.

  • I opened my heart to her in times of joy.   We had two weddings.   Literally two ceremonies on the same day in different states.   The first was in Tennessee in the late morning, the second in Alabama in the evening.   Two different preachers, but the same wedding party and singers.

My grandmother had terminal cancer and asked if we would have a ceremony in Alabama so she could attend.   Paula and I loved her dearly; it was an easy decision.

At our “first” wedding when Paula walked down the aisle and I saw her I was overwhelmed by emotion.  This was one of the highlights of my life and I was fully aware of the moment.  Tears of joy began to spill down my face.

Our wedding on June 2, 1979.

Our wedding on June 2, 1979.

Some people are more sentimental and expressive of their emotions and I fit in that category.   I love deeply and it is often expressed through affectionate words and hugs, but also tears.   My spontaneous expression that morning was a risk.   But it represented my open heart and feelings for the one I loved the most. 

  • I opened my heart to her in times of sorrow.   Less than three months before our wedding my best friend died from a car crash, hit by a drunken driver.  It was one of the most painful days of my life.   He was like a brother to me, one of the best people I’ve ever known.   I still miss him.

On a few occasions the grief washed over me in a fresh way (usually in the wee hours) and I hurt so deeply I would softly weep.   Sometimes Paula would awaken and ask what was wrong.   Again, I took a risk and opened my heart to her.  (You know the old stereotype, men don’t cry).

Though she has never experienced the loss of a close friend she comforted me, holding me without trying to counsel me.    It drew my heart to her.   It still does as I write these words.

  • I opened my heart to her in times of discouragement.   Years ago I went through a season of depression.   One of the major causes was a chronic health struggle, but there were other contributing factors .   Together, gradually and cumulatively, I found myself in a dark valley I had never experienced before.

During those days I was very transparent with Paula and let her into my heart.  She was helpful to me more than any other person besides the Lord.   I don’t know what I would have done without her.

  • I opened my heart to her about my dreams.   No one has encouraged me more than Paula.   She has been my biggest cheerleader and believes in me more than I do.   

Once I confided in Paula that I felt I had some things I wanted to put into print to help people.   I had never told anyone that because.   I was insecure and wondered if I could write anything people would read.   She fully endorsed my dream.

I was full of doubt and questions, but her belief and encouragement were wind in my sails. 

Taken close to Rumney, New Hampshire in the mid-90's. This is nearby the White Mountains and in the fall it is spectacularly beautiful during that season. Of course, Paula is always beautiful I love Paula Mae!

Taken close to Rumney, New Hampshire in the mid-1990’s. This is nearby the White Mountains and in the fall it is spectacularly beautiful during that season. Of course, Paula is always beautiful I love Paula Mae!

While I do unburden and share my heart with Paula I am not indiscriminate about what I say.   Yes, we are “one flesh” (Matthew 19:6), but that also includes a responsibility to care for her spirit and to protect her from unnecessary burdens and stresses.

  • I don’t share counseling details with her.   Obviously there is a confidentiality issue I want to honor with those that speak to me.   (She knows that I don’t counsel ladies alone.   She is with me or either counsels them herself).
  • I don’t share problems at work with her (for me, that means church).    I’m not only my wife’s husband, but I’m her pastor, too.   Occasionally people disagree strongly with me over an issue and react.   I don’t want her to see others in a negative light and to be free in her spirit to fellowship with them.   Sometimes she will hear that someone is upset with me from a friend and tell them she didn’t know anything about it.   That’s because I intentionally didn’t tell her.  I want her to be able to attend church and receive a blessing.
  • I don’t share more negatives than positives with her.   I don’t want her to dread seeing me because I consistently dump problems on her.   I want her to enjoy our time together – conversations, laughing and learning, the simple things in life.

Erma Bombeck wrote, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else”.   

I’m blessed to have a life partner with whom I have been able to share my heart fully.   She has made a difference in my life – and in my heart.

 

 

 

Posted in bearing burdens, communication, Love, Marriage, transparency | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Things that Strengthened Our Marriage – Removing Pressure to Conform to My Schedule

When we had been married just over a year I learned a valuable lesson.   I was working at a church as a Youth Pastor and our home was about fifty yards away from the church.   Both of us were working (we didn’t have any children) and, unless it was raining, I walked to the office each day.

On Sundays, however, we went to church at the same time.   That was when the conflict began.

As a pastor you have to be early to set things up before others arrive.   I would be sitting in our living room waiting for Paula to get ready while I nervously checked my watch every few minutes.    After a couple of requests to leave I would finally give up and tell her I was going to walk to the church.

I was frustrated – torn between wanting to be courteous, but also being aware that as  leader I’m not supposed to be late.   My reputation was on the line.

After several Sundays of the same result, I finally went to see my pastor for advice.  (To be fair to Paula, she was only about ten or fifteen minutes behind me).

I walked in to his office, plopped myself down in his chair and told him about the situation.   When I finished he said, “I know just how you feel.   That happened with me and my wife”.

My heart began to soar!   My pastor was about to give me some advice on how to get this situation reversed!   This was great!

But when he spoke I was momentarily disappointed.   “Rick, I tried to talk to her, dropped hints along the way, and nothing I did worked.   I decided to stop talking to her at all about it.   She began to change and now is always ready to leave on time”.

I sat there and remember thinking, “This makes no sense at all.   It isn’t going to work.   However, I’ve tried everything else and I may as well see what will happen.   I’ll do it”.

And I did.   The next Sunday morning came and I cheerfully volunteered that I was going to walk to the church.   I didn’t complain; I didn’t even casually mention if she could be ready at a certain time; I didn’t put any pressure on her.

After a couple of Sundays she was ready on time and we were able to leave together.   It was unbelievable.   My pastor was right.    It worked.

After being married now for over thirty-seven years it is not uncommon for my wife to be ready to go somewhere before I am.

I realize that the roles may be reversed for some couples and it may not be an issue for others.   However, it may be another issue that causes you to put pressure on your spouse in order to make your life more comfortable.

It was a good day in our marriage when I ceased putting pressure on Paula.   As believers in Christ we both had the Spirit of God indwelling us and He would prompt us to do what was right.   I had to come to the place where I trusted God to speak to my wife about the issue.

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There are areas in my life that I know that I test Paula’s patience.   Most of the time she is quiet about it and God speaks to me even more powerfully than she ever could.

The Bible gives a list of descriptive acts that show what genuine love looks like.    Do you know what the first quality is?

“Charity suffereth long…”  (I Corinthians 13:4)    Authentic love is patient and suffers long.   The opposite of patience is anger.    Anger is destructive to relationships; patience enhances and deepens relationships.

I learned a great lesson that summer day in 1980.    The greatest change was not in how Paula managed her time, it was in my attitude toward my comfort level and showing my love by being patient toward her.    My love made it easier to accommodate my request.

Thanks, pastor, for your wisdom.   It made a difference in our marriage.

“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”   (I Peter 4:8)

 

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