Monday, August 30, 2010

The Big Problem With Marriage. . . .

A little over three weeks ago I experienced the marriage of one of my children for the very first time. Josh married Sheila. It's a relationship God cultivated through the gift of weak ankles. Sheila was one of the student athletic trainers working with Josh's college lacrosse team. She taped his ankles every day that year. . . and only Josh will ever know if they needed to be taped every day or not! Perhaps it's no coincidence that Josh severely sprained his ankle playing lacrosse a week before his wedding.

Watching them recite their vows not only reminded me of the very same vows Lisa and I had recited to each other 28 years earlier, but it served as a reminder of how many young couples who stand and recite those vows in today's world will never keep them. I trust that the Lord will sustain and build their young marriage. I hope that as their marriage is built, any false hopes, dreams or ideas they have about love and commitment will be quickly shattered and then replaced with a heavy dose of reality.

It's also no coincidence that my kids - including the newlyweds - have had a front row seat from which to see the power of marital love in action over the course of the last four weeks. My varying degrees of physical helplessness and dependency on others has created a situation where the girl who 28 years ago promised to love me "in sickness and in health" has been doing just that with an eagerness and gusto that has brought me to tears on several occasions. Her commitment is not at all surprising to me.

Sadly, I'm not so sure that kind of marital commitment is on the rise in today's youth culture. Many kids are choosing to not get married. Of course, there are a variety of factors contributing to this growing reality. One of those factors is the lack of any compelling and realistic models of marriage to look up to. After all, if marriage didn't work in my family, why should it work for me?

This cultural trend has been one that's been chipping away at me for quite some time. More than alarming, it's something I know we need to more directly address at CPYU. We need to help parents and youth workers not only see the trend for what it is, but address it in ways that will prepare kids for the realities of marriage so that the tide can be turned and the institution realistically understood and thereby strengthened in our culture.

While I've been laying around, one of the books I've been reading that addresses these issues from a very practical, hopeful, and realistic standpoint is Paul Tripp's What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. In his typical fashion, Tripp addresses the culturally-promoted lies we come to believe with the counter of a Biblically-based explanation of the way things really are. Tripp cuts to the chase and warns readers against believing that it's always the other guy who's the issue. Instead, the reality is that the biggest problem in your marriage is well. . . you. He writes, "The big battles you fight in marriage are not the ones you fight with your spouse. No, the big battles are the ones being fought in your heart. All of the horizontal skirmishes between a husband and wife are the result of this deeper battle. Remember, there is still sin remaining in your heart, and the DNA of sin is selfishness." As my pastor once told me, we are deeply depraved people living in a depraved world. Conflict is inevitable. You will live with it until the day that you die. Maybe that's the most important thing a young couple can latch on to before they recite their vows. And maybe if they know that's true, they can take the steps necessary to receive and show God's free gift of grace in ways that make those vows come alive each and every day. . . . as they stay together "until death do us part."

Paul Tripp goes on to challenge readers to make these six mutual commitments in their marriage:

1. We will give ourselves to the regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda.

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.

6. We will work to protect our marriage.

I've been married 28 years and I'm learning much from What Did You Expect? I want my kids to learn the lessons in this book. . . which is why they are each going to be given their own copy. If you're a parent or a youth worker, read it for your own edification, then live it in front of and talk about it with your kids. False expectations and ideas are killing marriage. Let's do all we can to breath some redemptive fresh air into an institution that if our culture stays on its current course, is in great jeopardy.


Tim McLaughlin said...

Yowsa, Walt--Tripp is simplistic to the point of painfulness. How many and what variety of ex-couples does he know, anyway? Selfishness the fundamental reason for why marriages dissolve?! Sure, there's enough self-indulgence to go around--but I know--and I suspect you know--plenty of marriages that went south despite one partner wholeheartedly (and often desperately) following the mantra of dying to self, confessing one's marriage-killing selfishness, submitting to the partner, etc., etc.

Of course, there's always a deeper reason for a divorce--but in my experience it is seldom as simple as one or both partners' selfishness.

I'd like to see a book that evangelicals would read that, just to remind us all of reality, profiled unmarried couples and explored their commitment, their children, their values, their reasons for living as they do, for splitting up or staying together, for eventually marrying or not marrying, etc. Could it be even remotely possible that some couples should NOT get married? That some couples SHOULD leave each other?

Frankly, the cultural lies I tire of are those coming from evangelicals who demonize at least the lifestyles if not the people who live contrary to what the speaker/writer/pastor considers "biblical."

It's a big world out there--as well as a long history of biblical interpretation and of fluctuating cultural approval of different kinds of domestic arrangements. People enter and leave marriages for all sorts of reasons. Maybe, instead of trying (unsuccessfully, apparently) to measure up to the high bar of a marital ideal of permanence, we promote measuring up to the standard of being honest and gracious with ourselves, our partners, with God.

At least these are the virtues I see in unions that are thriving, whether Christian, non-Christian, married, unmarried, hetero, gay, whatever.

Wow, guess I had to say that. Thanks for listening, Walt. Miss talking with you.

Tammy said...

Yowsa Tim - tremendous insight. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Trevor said...

Tim, thanks for the most interesting, well thought-out, and grounded in reality comments I have ever read on this site. Your willingness to question many evangelical's preaching is extraordinarily refreshing. The sheep-like adherence to many of these evangelical teachings is dangerous and quite frankly scares me.

Please continue to share your thoughts with us.

Joe Pluth said...

The sheep-like adherence to evangelical teachings has a basis . . . the unchanging Word of God. In Matt. 19, Jesus teaches clearly that marriage is between one man and one woman (4-5), is permanent (5-6), and that divorces are against God's intentions for the marriage covenant (7-9) and are caused by the hardness of men's hearts (7) - selfishness and sin, in other words. The Bible also clearly honors the institution of marriage (Heb. 13:4; Gen. 2; Prov. 5:15-19) and discourages fornication (sexual activity outside of marriage) and adultery (sexual activity with another's spouse). Mark 10:9-12 puts it in very plain terms as well. I think we need to be very careful to honor the same institution of marriage that Jesus plainly put his stamp of approval upon and not try to redefine marriage in terms of our culture.

Nate said...

You are tired (as am I) of those who "demonize" lifestyles and/or people they judge to be unbiblical. But lets stay thoughtful about what is "baby" and what is "bathwater" Just because many struggle with the high bar of permanence does not mean it's wise to reframe the standard of honesty and grace (as if it's an either/or proposition) I'd suggest that God's ideal for marriage is not permanence, but that our marriages bring Him glory by reflecting who He is. Permanently honoring that covenant may be part of it, but its not the only thing. One thing the Bible seems clear on, is that God has never lowered the bar -- instead He sent Jesus to bring us over the impossibly high bar. I have not read this particular book, but other books by Mr. Tripp don't demonize (in my opinion, of course) He gently reminds us that difficulties in marriage, life, parenting, whatever just point to our need for help - and the good news that help has been sent.

Tammy said...

Joe, your intentions are good I'm sure, but nevertheless disturbing.

First, your definition of adultery is wrong. You state,"...adultery(sexually activity with another's spouse)". Adultery is sexual activity outside of marriage. It does not have to be with "another's spouse".

Second, you strongly cite Matthew 19,7-9,"... and whoso marrieth a divorced woman committeth adultery". And Mark 10, 9-12, "... and if a woman shall divorce her husband and be married to another man she committeth adultery".

My response. I was in an emotionally, physically, and mentally abusive relationship for way too long. He adamantly refused to seek counseling and even stopped me from receiving therapy for myself. Drugs and alcohol were heavily used, but failed to stop the daily pain. Unfortunately endless hours of prayer also failed. It was only during recovery from an attempted suicide that I received help from a domestic abuse counselor right there in the hospital. She steadfastly insisted on my attaining a divorce, which I eventually did. Shortly thereafter I experienced an indescribable cathartic release of pain, agony, and horror, with this man finally out of my life.
Please realize Joe that there is a multitude of wives out there experiencing the same and even worse marriages than mine, and that your writings will only add to the guilt of any Christian woman seeking to free herself from such a hell.

From the verses you quote I must ask. Do you really believe Joe that when and if I'm ever ready to marry another man that Jesus would not approve, because doing so would be committing adultery against my previous husband(Mark 10:12)? And do you really believe that Jesus would never want me to remarry, because doing so would result in my new husband committing adultery against my previous husband (Matthew 19:9) ?

Unfortunately for many of us women, your answer must be "YES", and you would be correct, for those are his exact words in the verses that you quote.