Breaking The Deadlock In Wedlock
February 14, 1993 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Ephesians 5:21-33
Not long ago, a group of Hollywood motion picture sound engineers put together a list of the ten most dramatic sounds in the movies. Operating in David Letterman style, they began with Number Ten and worked up to Number One. In ascending order, these were their choices: A baby’s first cry, the blast of a siren, the thunder of breakers on the rocks, the roar of a forest fire, a foghorn, the slow drip of water, the galloping of horses, the sound of a distant train whistle, the plaintive howl of a dog—and Number One, the wedding march. The experts claim that that one sound evokes more emotional response and dramatic impact than any other. It has the power to draw out almost every human emotion: sadness, envy, regrets, sorrow, tears, as well as supreme joy. Such is the power of the wedding march.
Of course, when two people stand before the altar to “become one” in holy marriage, it comprises one of the most powerful emotional experiences we can ever know. It brings two completely separate individuals together for life. And since about 92% of the adults in this country either are married or have been married or will be married, we need to focus the light of faith upon this time-tested time-honored institution.
A friend gave me a wonderful little book by David Heller entitled Growing Up Isn’t Hard To Do If You Start Out As A Kid. It is a real spirit-lifter. At one point in the book, for example, Heller asked a group of kids, aged 6-9, to define marriage. Their responses ran like this: Eric, age 6, said, “Marriage is when you get to keep your girl and don’t have to give her back to her parents!” Craig, age 9, defined it this way: “Marriage means spending a lot of time together even if you don’t want to!” Gina, age 8, said this about marriage: “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them!” I especially like the word from Anita, age 9: “Kissing was invented as a way to get things going, otherwise the men would never agree to get married!”
Yet for all of the deep emotion and winsome humor with which we surround the institution of marriage, it, like so many other dimensions of our home and family experience, is under fire. Paul Glock is the chief demographer for the U. S. Census Bureau. He notes the following facts: Two-thirds of the couples in new first marriages today are likely to divorce or at least temporarily separate. 79% of those who divorce will remarry and 40% of those second marriages will fail. In 1960, the divorce rate in this country was 25 divorces for every 100 marriages. In 1990, there were 65 divorces for every 100 marriages. That represents an increase of 150% in one generation.
It is against that backdrop that I wish to preach today. The homes of this nation, more often than not, have become not a source of joy and growth and security and love, but a source of hurt and rejection and hostility and depression. All of us have been affected, in one way or another, by the disintegration of home values. But as the church, as the people of God in this world, we are called to set a good example of home life, to strengthen the commitments and understandings of marriage, to care for those hurt by the tensions which sometimes exist in our homes, and to cuddle and caress for Christ’s sake those children who are bruised by the breakdown in family life in our time. Today, then, I would like for us to look at some of the factors creating the problems—then I would like to look at some of the factors leading to solutions.
First, some of the factors creating the problems.
One factor is that too many people regard marriage as a convenience, not a commitment. Many have forgotten that marriage is not some quaint social more—it is nothing less than the creation of God and it is not to be tampered with or taken lightly. A recent story making the rounds makes the point. “My husband is impossible,” said a woman to her friend. “He irritates me so much that I am even losing weight over the whole thing.” The friend asked: “Why don’t you leave him?” “Oh, I am,” the lady replied, “as soon as I lose 14 more pounds!” Marriage is a commitment, not a temporary arrangement. The vows of marriage do not say “as long as we both shall love”—they say “as long as we both shall live.” John and Margie Cooper were married in 1941. In four years they had two children. John was well on his way to becoming a successful farmer in California. Then Margie was stricken with polio. She would spend the rest of her life in an artificial respiration machine. All of John’s hopes, and most of his dreams, were now confined to that “iron lung.” In 1981, John and Margie Cooper celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Someone who did not know John Cooper well asked him to explain his devotion. He answered with a single simple sentence. He said: “I am a Christian and I try to keep my promises.” That’s commitment.
Another factor is that too many people are too quick to burnout and bailout. I am convinced that a major factor in marriage breakup is boredom. I love the story about the older couple who were having breakfast one morning and they were reading the newspaper. Suddenly, the husband looked over at his bride of so many years, and a feeling just washed over him and he said: “Sweetheart, I’m proud of you!” She, being a bit hard of hearing, and never looking up from the papers quickly replied: “I’m tired of you, too!” Some people do get tired of one another. You can burn out a relationship with boredom. But the real problem is that too many people, instead of trying to relieve the boredom, just bailout. They look for a way out rather than a way through. And too many today bail out too quickly. Divorce is a solution for only one problem—a totally unworkable marriage. It is not a remedy for an unhappy job or the restlessness of middle age or a low sense of self-worth. People who divorce because of extraneous problems they have never really faced not only fail to solve those extraneous problems, but they also separate themselves from the one person who could have been of genuine help. I believe that the reason so many second marriages fail is that the first marriage ended for the wrong reasons. Consequently, second marriages take even more work than first ones do. So don’t bail out too quickly. Seek a way through rather than a way out.
A third factor is that too many people regard love as a feeling rather than a principle. More and more in our society, we are being given advice that says “If it feels good, do it!” We have carried self-expression to the point of the absurd. Nothing is to be denied, postponed, or even savored anymore. There was a popular song a few years back called “You Light Up My Life.” Beautiful song. But there was one line in it which was not so beautiful. The words were these: “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” That is just not true. Of course, it takes an uncommon strength to run against the tide of opinion in our time which says that satisfying our feelings and emotions is the thing to do. But you for Christians, love, true love, is not just an emotion, not just a feeling—it is a strong, unwavering principle.
But now let’s turn to some of the factors offering the solutions.
In marriage especially we need to acknowledge our need to be needed. All of us need other people with whom we can build a relationship and share the events of our lives. Once we acknowledge that, the home and family become central to our daily living. Do you remember several years ago when the wife of San Francisco’s Mayor Alioto disappeared when he was in the middle of a campaign for Governor of California? After several days, she finally showed up at a well-publicized press conference, she was asked where she had been and why she had left. She answered: “My daughter found a young man and got married. My husband decided to run for governor without even bothering to confer with me. Obviously, I assumed he didn’t need me. Nobody needs me. So I just ran away.” My, isn’t that sad? There she stood, elegantly dressed with all of the material things life can afford, and yet she was miserable because she did not feel needed. So we need to be needed, and anyone can see that home is where that need is best met. A minister I know tells how one day the phone in his office rang. He picked it up to hear his wife’s voice. She didn’t even say “hello,” she just said: “I called to say that thirteen years ago this minute we met for the first time.” There was a pause and then she added, “I’m so glad!” That was all she said, but he rolled on the strength of that comment for many days.
And in marriage especially, we need to acknowledge our need for affirmation. In the daily dimension of marriage no one can stand a steady barrage of criticism, negative comments, and sarcastic remarks. We all need praise and affirmation, yet I know marriages where there is no affirmation, where the wife is constantly picking away, where the husband never affirms. Catherine II of Russia used to say: “I praise loudly; I blame softly.” Good advice, especially at home. The names of people whose lives have been changed by a word of affirmation are legion. Some years back in Australia, two boys wanted to learn how to play tennis. Harry Hopman, a local coach, watched them struggle and noticed that neither of them had much natural ability. One was a tad slow—the other just had a weak game. So Harry Hopman worked to find ways to affirm them. One of the things he did was to give them nicknames. The slow one he called “Rocket”, and the one with the weak game he called “Muscles.” The rest is history, because in time the world came to know them as Ken “Muscles” Rosewall and Rod “Rocket” Laver—two superstars of tennis. Affirmation has a wonderfully freeing and transforming effect. Master the art of praise in your home. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Then in marriage especially, we need to acknowledge our need for Jesus Christ. You see, in marriage, you not only need to be gazing into each other’s eyes, but you also need to be looking full into the face of Jesus Christ as you journey through life together. Did you notice in Ephesians 5 when Paul talks about the self-giving love which makes a marriage work, in every instance that love is undergirded by Jesus Christ? Make no mistake about it, in marriage these days it takes a strong commitment to each other and an even stronger commitment to Jesus Christ to make it. My mail this past Friday burned that truth into my brain and into my heart. That day I received letters from two people in our church—one a man, the other a woman. Here is what the woman wrote: “Dear Dr. Edington, I wanted to write to you about my marriage of 18 years. Without getting into lots of details, the thing I want to tell you is that as a Christian I am presently experiencing a miracle in my marriage. God revealed to me some most devastating things about myself which I would have preferred not to hear. As a result of immediately turning it over to God a supernatural peace and power came over me. God gave me a ‘game plan’ as I prayed that night. I had an immediate personality change and that has not wavered in the several months since. God is leading me step by step and there are changes beginning to happen in our formerly hurtful marriage. I praise His holy name that He is faithful to His promises. He wants families to mend, heal, and stay together. If God can raise a dead man, surely He can heal a dead or dying marriage.” Then the man: “Dear Dr. Edington, I am writing to you about an issue that almost destroyed something very precious to me—my marriage. My wife and I will approach this Valentine’s Day with a different outlook about ourselves, our marriage, our love for one another, and the important role God plays in each marriage. You see, we were within two weeks of divorce this past year when God’s presence somehow brought us back together. Dr. Cook provided counsel to us during our time of turmoil. Now we have opened our hearts to the Lord. Just last week Dr. Cook led us in the renewal of our vows here at First Presbyterian—vows that now take on a much deeper meaning for us. This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. What a time for us to celebrate. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the most important link in our beautiful relationship. If you feel it is appropriate, please use this in your sermon on Sunday. The “deadlock in our wedlock” is definitely broken. If our experience can help just one other couple it is worth the effort.” The message of both letters is the same: we need to acknowledge our need for Jesus Christ.
I love weddings. One of the joys of my calling is that I get to preside at many wedding ceremonies. In fact I had two yesterday. In one of those weddings, I used a little verse that I keep tucked away securely in my heart. It speaks of the kind of love which can be inspired by Christ alone. It goes like this:
Should you go first and I remain
For battles to be fought,
Each thing you’ve touched along the way
Will be a hallowed spot.
I’ll hear your voice, I’ll see your smile
Though blindly I may grope
And the memory of your helping hand
Will buoy me on with hope.
Should you go first and I remain
One thing I’d have you do
Walk slowing down that path of death
For soon I’ll follow you.
I’ll want to know each step you take
That I may walk the same
For someday down that lonely road
You’ll hear me call your name.
Dear friends, that kind of love will never, never die.