Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Truth(s) About Marriage

From her book, For the Love

In my rant about persevering through the hard of marriage *see post "I'm Not Sure I Want To Be Married Anymore"* I shared that Clay and I have had some sucktastic years. Long story short: all of our marriage problems were Clay's fault. 
(Ha! I couldn't even type that with a straight face.) 
No matter how much I told myself this fallacy, it wasn't true; but I did learn a few truths along the way...

Truth #1: Marriage can be a crutch. 
For the first ten years, Clay and I sailed along smoothly. Our "autopilot" had a lot of Biblically-based tendencies. Our parents had taught us some healthy habits. We were happy. 

Even though our marital harmony managed to hang on many years after the honeymoon, something was missing. I desired a spirit-filled, God-centered life, and I knew that God was second (or maybe even fourth?) on my list of loves. Christianity is a calling to more, so I prayed that God would help me to love HIM even more than I loved my husband.
(Did you just wince when you read that? Did you yell at the screen, "You idiot! WHY would you pray for something like that?!!")
How was I supposed to know that God would ask me to give Him my marriage? I thought he already HAD my marriage. (You know, because of all the happiness.) 
How was I supposed to know that I had SO MUCH in common with the rich young religious man in Matthew 19? He was too tied to his possessions to give them up when Jesus asked; and like him, I thought I was doing everything RIGHT, I had no idea that I would hold on to Clay with a vice grip when God asked me to place our marriage in His hands. 

Marriage can become a crutch for unhappy couples too. They keep leaning on their marriage expecting it to make life better, or they blame their marriage for their emptiness. Scripture is full of verses that say only GOD satisfies. 
(spoiler alert: Your spouse is NOT God.)

Truth #2: Marriages fall apart when we don't trust God.
God heard my prayer, and Clay started a new job which had him traveling A LOT. 
I became ticked A LOT.
GOD GAVE HIM THIS JOB. We sat in our living room with tears in our eyes and goosebumps on our arms because it was so clear that God provided this position. 

It was a perfect situation for spiritual growth. I am confident that Clay and I could have depended on God, prayed diligently for each other, made healthy choices about our time together, created healthy boundaries for his business, edified and built each other up, and remained a strong team. Um, those are not the choices that we made. 
When God allows His children to walk through the fire, they can CHOOSE to trust Him with each moment...or they can leave His protection and get burned. Can I just say, "Ouch."?

Truth #3: We are called to surrender. (That means quit fighting.)
A few years in, I was tired of being gracious. 
I wanted my old marriage back. I was mad at God. 
Clay was no longer funny. (Please acknowledge this as HUGE. Clay being funny and reminding me to breathe has always been a vital part of our marriage.)

Eventually, I couldn't fight (or cry) anymore. I finally decided to accept the life I had rather than keep fighting for the marriage I CRAVED. 
I had a clear vision of holding up the white flag of surrender. 
In war, no side will surrender unless they reach the point where the fight seems more painful than death, or enslavement, or imprisonment. I had reached that point. I was bloodied and battered from the battle, and I would accept this new marriage - as long as I didn't have to fight anymore. I was going to trust God. I was going to depend on Him. 

Soon after my surrender to God, Clay became funny again. 
I honestly wonder if God hardened Clay's heart for a while until I waved my white flag. I had to CHOOSE to love God more. To die to myself. To love Clay because he has innate value. 
In the past, I had loved Clay because he satisfied my needs, but we are called to love our spouses even when they don't. I needed to love Clay out of obedience to God...and not because he made me "happy".

I wish I would have fought the spiritual battle from the start - but I chose to fight Clay instead. God allowed me to make that choice. 
Thank you, Lord, for letting me learn that lesson. It brought me closer to You. You still used my poor decision for good and your glory. I definitely learned to love you more than Clay. 

Life improved for a while. Clay and I both made healthier choices for a couple of years. We got a reprieve from pain, enough to recover for round two. There was so much more to learn.

Truth #4: We twist scripture to support our selfish attitudes. 
Did you know it is possible to become so close to God that you don't even CARE about your spouse? Oh wait, I was sinning when I did that...

A few years ago, Clay once again became cocooned in an isolated work/stress bubble. 
I didn't want to fight this time. I knew I needed to turn to God. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that God was ALL I needed.
Then, I twisted this spiritual decision into a convenient little package of lies.
I came to expect nothing good from Clay. (So he couldn't let me down.)
My running commentary became, "He won't. You are alone in this. You don't need Clay. You have God. God is enough."

I read scripture about marriage and husbands. I decided what our life was SUPPOSED to look like, and judged Clay when our marriage didn't match the picture in my head. 
CLAY was supposed to lead. HE was making unhealthy choices. HE needed to turn to Jesus. (All those sentences were true. There's the rub.)

Depending on God and searching His Word are healthy. 
Using that dependence as an excuse to harden my heart toward my spouse? Twisting scripture to judge him? Neglecting my responsibility to love and edify him?
The work of the enemy. 

All scripture and interaction with God should be applied to OURSELVES first. 
His word is used as a weapon against THE ENEMY. 
(Spoiler alert: Your spouse is NOT the enemy.)
I was making unhealthy choices and needed to turn to Jesus too.

I've seen it with my own eyes.
If both spouses turn to God, victory is guaranteed.
If only one spouse looks to God, it gets harder...but still very possible.

On many occasions I have seen men fall humbly to their knees and beg God to heal their marriages. Even when their wives had cheated on them, or if their wives had hard hearts toward them, I witnessed God prevail. It took repentance. It took obedience. It took leadership. It took consistency.
We woman are made for relationship. It is hard for us to resist a godly man...because he loves unselfishly. He considers us. He provides for our needs. He points us to God. 

Scripture also tells us that a man can be won over by the behavior of his wife (1 Peter 3:1). My own father preaches the validity of this scripture when he speaks of my mother's faith during THEIR harder years. Her life was a testimony showing him that God was worth trusting.

Clay and I have been slowly healing. We have (finally) been laughing again.
Prayer has been the biggest catalyst for this health.

Truth #6 God wants us to pray together (Matthew 18:20)
One morning when the alarm went off, in the dark quiet, I listened to God's leading rather than judging Clay for NOT leading. I held my husband's hand and started praying out loud.
(Let's be honest, I'm the verbal, passionate gusher in the family. If I want more out-loud processing about spiritual things in our marriage, it is probably MY job to initiate it. In our marriage oneness, Clay's half is passionate about music and generosity and side has most of the words.)

I prayed for this man I love. I prayed for his job. I repented. I begged for wisdom and unity.
The next day, I prayed again.
By the third day, Clay joined in the prayer after I finished.
After a week or so, Clay even began initiating some of our prayer sessions.
One day, I watched him pray over our youngest son in a moment of frustration.
We were experiencing God's power. Home was becoming a safe place. Through prayer, we saw that we had common goals. We acknowledged that we were still a team...of THREE.

Truth #7 The Bible has instructions for healing a marriage.
God's word is alive and active. Sharper than a double edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12)
God's word WILL cut down the enemy. God's word will prune away all the ugly in us.
It will also change the way you look at your spouse. God's perspective changes things.

After praying, Clay and I were primed to listen for God (and to God).
I can't really tell you all the lessons Clay started learning. (I'm the gusher, remember?)
But I saw him on his Bible App in the mornings, and I noticed his schedule choices improve, and his BEHAVIOR softened. When we did talk, he would interact more and clam up less...and we would laugh.

As for me, I asked God to put a guard over my mouth. (Psalm 141:3)
I started TRYING not to correct, or rebuke Clay (or our boys). Instead, I put my energy into edification. (1 Thessolonians 5:11, Romans 14)
It's easy for me to trust that God will get me through big, hard situations. He has repeatedly proven himself faithful to solve those problems. Trusting Him to do a mighty work in daily issues while I hold my tongue, however, is not so easy. 
(It feels downright IMPOSSIBLE some days.)
I haven't really given God much opportunity to prove himself faithful in that area.
It's time.

We are climbing out of the hard; but Clay is still stressed at work, and I still like to tell people what is wrong with them. (You read my last post, right?) 
So we cling to the truth: God is faithful. 
(Really. He is.)

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philipians 1:6

Friday, October 23, 2015

I'm Not Sure I Want To Be Married Anymore

Clay and I had a blissful marriage for the first ten or twelve years. BLISS, I tell you.
We used to go on about how lucky we were. We actually had friends and family complain about how "in love" we were. (Eye-rolling was definitely involved.)
Even as late as 2012, I wrote a blog having to clarify to all of you that Clay was not, indeed, Superman. I knew I gushed about him a lot. I was consistently trying to accentuate the positive.

Long story short: things declined.
It took a while to get to the point where grace just quit winning, but we got there.
In the past few years, our home has been full of icy silences and loads of tension. We couldn't talk about anything of substance without arguing. The same stubbornness which kept us fighting, also kept us talking to each other on a surface level and attempting to be "happily married".  We knew God wanted more for us than what we were experiencing, but we lived angry at each other or pretending not to be.
So when our friend uttered, "I'm not even sure I want to be married anymore," he might have expected a sympathetic response. We understood the distance he was experiencing in his marriage. We were a safe place for this kind of confession.
Then my husband of over 17 years, looked our friend in the eyes and replied with love and conviction, "Does it really MATTER what you want?"

Rock on, Clay.

Promises have been made. Children are involved. Adulthood has arrived. Maturity is required. Stomping our feet and wanting our way is not going to improve the situation or benefit the greater good. And yet...that is exactly what our whole culture does.

How has it become acceptable in our world to simply quit being family?
We don't get to say, "I don't want to be a parent anymore. My kids don't make me as happy as I thought they would."
(Well, we may say it...but anyone who actually makes that parenting choice is chalked up as selfish, heartless, scum of the earth - to put it nicely.)

We constantly deal with situations that are not ideal or easy, but we figure out how to maneuver within them because we HAVE NO CHOICE. We can't say, "My car is wrecked, but I still owe money on it. I'm just going to quit paying the loan because I am no longer experiencing the happiness I expected."
Again, we COULD take that path, but we would hide that information from society so they don't easily find out about the resulting debt-collectors and see us for the self-centered, childish sucktons that we are. (I just made that word up. Feel free to use it. Satan wants us all to be sucktons.)

So we won't/can't walk away from some of our responsibilities; but, "I'm not happy. I don't want to be married anymore," has become perfectly acceptable in our culture...and in our churches.
It's like people forget that they made a COVENANT WITH GOD.

Christian brothers and sisters, how did we become spoiled pansies with such hypocritical, empty faith? What happened to good character? How have we made God so small, so theoretical, so NOT REAL? How have we chosen to ignore the benefits that come from perseverance, endurance...and TRUST. COME ON, PEOPLE!
Most of us have learned how to walk, talk, or ride a bike. We have seen the benefits of diligently working to accomplish a hard task. Getting back up after falling down has brought us victory in areas of our lives. Blessings can come!
God promised that He can use all things for the good of those who love him.
He WILL bring glory to himself if we obey, believe, and follow!

We don't expect our kids to fulfill us. We get hurt by them (all.the.time), yet still love them. They say jerky things, and we give them grace. We even take some of the blame for their crappy attitudes or make excuses for them.
"That apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"He probably just needs a nap."
(I bet it would make a HUGE difference if I would just let Clay take a nap.)

We don't expect our friends to fulfill us. They have LIVES OF THEIR OWN. They are messes (just like us) that need our love and support. They can't be dealing with OUR drama all the time. (Or if they do, they may need to grab a quick nap before making the phone call to interact with our baggage.) Friendship provides the luxury of space. We only see them in small spurts, so they don't get as many chances to tick us off.

So, why do we expect our spouse to fulfill us? Why do we expect perfection, right attitudes, and every moment to be like movie highlights? How can our spouse POSSIBLY have the capability to ignore their own perspective and see things from our point of view when they are made so very differently than we were? We can't do that for them, afterall. Where were we supposed to learn this skill in the first place? As children? (I know my children are not learning that skill.)
We are so warped to expect that kind of miraculous "oneness". It takes DIFFERENT pieces of a puzzle to make a beautiful picture. A pile of the same pieces just stays a pile.
The Bible warns us that those who marry will have troubles in this life. (1 Corinthians 7:28)
We need to quit being shocked by the trouble and embrace the value in it.

The Holy Spirit's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are being missed in this world. (Galatians 5:22-23) We don't experience them, because we don't experience HIM.
Instead, we expect all that wonderful fruit to be provided by our spouse.
(Lucky human. Such a huge, IMPOSSIBLE task.)
I am writing this blog to stay, "Stop it already!"

I told you I should not be trusted to write blogs and post them without days of contemplation.
You are getting a whole lot of REAL.
I have spent the last two years yelling at myself every time I consider my own momentary happiness rather than keep my eyes focused on the big picture. Now I have decided to yell at you too. I have learned so much by persevering, and we both know that I don't learn well alone.

Clay and I are on a fabulous (if not a bit rocky) path back to being a team. Back to passion.
Back to the sickly, electric, grace-filled love that we lost. We have been fighting like crazy in efforts to get back to that place. (No, fighting hasn't really helped in the efforts; but perseverance in faith IS.)
We both want to be healthy. We both WANT to be happy again. We finally asked GOD to show us how...and quit trying to fix it on our own.

My next blog will be much more positive. I promise.
I'll let you know about the 5-7 year journey we have been on, how we ended up living in the HARD, the lessons we learned (and are still learning) while walking through it, and the solutions God keeps providing.
Even when life is hard. God is faithful. (And sunglasses are useful.)
*the small print: This post is not saying you must stay in an adulterous marriage. It is not saying that you should stay in an abusive marriage. It is saying that life is bigger than your happiness...and that doing hard things brings great reward. So if you do not have Biblical grounds to leave...suck it up. Make sure that God is the lamp unto your feet in each and every path you choose.

(The next post has been written: The Truth(s) About Marriage)