No Place Like Home: How To Beat The Blahs In Marriage
I lay this down as true. A good marriage is as close to heaven as we ever get in this life, and a bad marriage is as close to hell as we ever get in this life. I think here of the words of a young housewife and mother who wrote,
“When we were expecting our first child, my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. On that occasion, he gave me a beautiful bracelet made of thousands of tiny seed pearls. It was elegant and feminine, everything he believed me to be. Now, six years later, I am picking up the pearls with a vacuum cleaner. That torn and twisted bracelet has become a sad symbol of the effect two small children can have on a once beautiful relationship. My young and very beloved son destroyed that token of my husband’s devotion. But more to the point, in a sense, the devotion itself slipped away in the demanding process of caring for small children.”
I think of a couple who sat in my office. They had been married, apparently happily, for 28 years. Yet there, suddenly, the husband said, “It seems to me that the relationship is gone. Our children are grown. They have families of their own. And my wife and I are right back where we started, just the two of us, only now it seems that we have so little in common. Why, it’s almost as if we don’t even know one another anymore.”
Well, those two marriages have got a severe case of what I would choose to call ‘the blahs’. But the fact of the matter is every marriage, sooner or later, has to experience the blahs. Every marriage has to face the possibility of settling down into some kind of routine. M. Scott Peck, in his great book, The Road Less Traveled, reminds us that the romance, the excitement, the adventure, the mystery of falling in love simply evaporates in the stress of day-to-day family living. Once you shake the rice out of your hair, you embark upon what one wife only half-jokingly described as, “A journey of all debts, drudgery, and diapers.” But the fact is all marriages have to face the blahs. The tragedy is that too many marriages today don’t know how to beat them. And as a result of that, the relationships so often disintegrate into a kind of hell on Earth, and the couples go on to become one of that rapidly increasing number of divorces.
Now, before I press this sermon any further, let me make something absolutely clear. I happen to believe that the church has done a grave disservice to Jesus Christ and to the Christian faith by heaping guilt upon the heads of people who are divorced. Yes, the church should condemn divorce, but the church should never condemn those who are divorced. And there’s a very crucial difference. Well, you see, if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is anything at all, it is the Gospel which decrees that our God is the God of the second chance. And that means that we are called as Christians to do everything it is possible to do to make our marriage everything that God intends them to be. But when we have done everything that there is to do and still the relationship is broken, at that point, the Gospel says, “Confess your sins, learn from your mistakes, pick up the pieces of your life, and make a new start.”
At the point where a relationship is broken, God’s forgiving grace moves in. Understand, divorce is not a first resort or a second or a third resort. It’s a last resort. But when the last resort is reached, God is there, ready to forgive. So I condemn divorce, and I shall do everything within my power to help us, as God’s people, to avoid the experience of divorce. But I shall never, ever condemn my sisters and brothers who have experienced divorce. Rather, I shall join my Christ in loving them back to wholeness and happiness once more. Having said that, I wish to address the subject, How to Beat the Blahs in Marriage.
Our society is filled with answers, most of them worthless. One answer, for example, suggested by people today is the concept of open marriage. That concept which declares, in direct contradiction to Christian marriage, that in marriage, two do not become one; two remain two. And that means that each can come and go and do as each pleases, no sense of obligation or commitment to one another at all. My friends, that’s rubbish, just one more ill-founded, misguided experiment in living, and it’s turned out to be a colossal failure.
Now, another answer suggested by some people in our time is that individuals ought to live together prior to marriage in order to, as they put it, “See if things will work out.” More rubbish. Are you aware of the fact that recent studies have proved – that’s right, underscore that – have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the divorce rate among couples who chose to live together prior to marriage is twice as high as among those who did not? Young people, please take notice. Don’t let anyone sell you a bill of goods about the value of living together. In the first place, it’s wrong, but in the second place, it doesn’t work.
No, the only real answer is to be found on the pages of Scripture. But that’s where it ought to be found because marriage is more than just a human arrangement which we have contrived for our own convenience. Marriage is, in fact, nothing less than God’s plan for the human race. And not just God’s plan for the propagation of the human race, but God’s plan for the happiness and the welfare of His people. Put it very simply, God gives to His children through marriage and the family a joy and a happiness which He can give them in no other way. And the Scriptures show us how. So let’s take note of what I would choose to call the key passage of Scripture when it comes to the matter of marriage.
Now, marriage is discussed all the way through the Scriptures – and there’s an abundance of material there – but the key passage, I think, is the passage from Ephesians 5. Paul’s words here are dynamite. And if you and I take those words to heart, then I promise you the blahs will be blasted out of our marriages. Paul begins with, what I suppose we might term, a preamble; one great overarching verse that sums up the whole argument. He says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ.” In other words, place your partner first in that relationship, if for no other reason than that you belong to Jesus Christ. Because the more you love one another, the more you will reflect the love you have for Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul is saying in this whole passage, and it’s summed up in that great verse, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
But then Paul goes on, says two things, two very important things, things that we need to hear and we need to understand. The first thing he says is this, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, for the husband is the head of the home as Christ is the head of the church.”
Now, that may sound a bit old-fashioned to you in this modern day. But I’m here to suggest to you that that’s the best psychology the world has ever heard. But you’ve got to understand what he’s saying. That’s the important part. Paul is simply declaring to us that God holds the husband to be ultimately responsible for both the physical and the spiritual welfare of the entire family. That’s an enormous responsibility. Oh, there’s freedom in it. There’s freedom within the marriage to discover the details or work out a way of fulfilling that responsibility. There’s freedom in working out the details, yes, but ultimately the responsibility belongs to the husband and to no one else. That’s what he’s saying.
And if you’re a husband now or you think that someday you might be, then I suggest you take notes. God holds the husband accountable for fulfilling the spiritual and the physical needs of the family. And, you know, I think Paul’s right. And my experience in marital counseling leads me to believe that no woman enjoys being fully responsible for the physical and the spiritual welfare of the family, and no woman enjoys being forced to fulfill that responsibility. Oh, some of them do it, and many of them do it beautifully, but they don’t enjoy it. They do it because they have to do it. A woman’s God-given endowment finds its greatest fulfillment, its most joyous fulfillment, in a husband who sees himself as nothing less than the servant of Jesus Christ in the home. And any man who does not willingly and knowingly assume that responsibility is denied his God-given endowment as a man.
Now, let’s hear what Paul is saying. So many people don’t hear it, and they make a mistake. Paul is not suggesting here that women are to be held in the imprisonment in some kind of inferior state in the home. Not at all. Remember, it was Paul himself who said, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female.” Paul exalted women to a place of absolute equality with men, absolute, and it was diametrically opposed to the beliefs of his day. No, Paul is simply saying that when it comes to the basic unit of society, the family, someone’s going to be held accountable for what happens in that family, and God declares that that one shall be the husband.
But then Paul goes on to say a second thing. He says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
Did you catch that? “Love your wives as Christ loved the church.” And what kind of love is that? A love that’s unselfish, a love that’s faithful, a love that gives, never counting the cost but simply pays it; a love that spends its time, its energy, its comfort, spends even life itself for the sake of the beloved.
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” That means that no husband ever has the right to pompously declare himself to be the lord of the manor. Christ is the Lord of the manor. The husband is to live always in subjection to Jesus Christ, and in that subjection, to love, to care for, to nurture, and to cherish his wife as Christ loves and cares for and cherishes and nurtures the church. It’s as simple as that and yet as difficult as that. But, my friends, don’t settle for anything less than that in your homes. Don’t settle for anything less than that, for it is impossible to love one another too much. And the more you love one another, the more you discover Jesus Christ at the heart and the center of your life.
Now, having looked at what the Scriptures tell us, let’s note some basic principles built on Scripture which I believe can enrich the love that exists within our homes. Principle one, commitment. The greatest problem with the disposable marriages which we see in our time is the fact that marriage is not a state of enjoyment. Rather, it’s a commitment; a commitment of two people to one another, a commitment of two people together to Jesus Christ, and a commitment to a lifelong process of growth. That’s what the marriage vows are all about. They call us to explore together all of life, for the plenty and the wants, for the joy and the sorrow, both the sickness and the health – all of it. Here it is: marriage is a commitment to explore together all of life, for all of life. Write that on your heart. That’s easy to remember. Marriage is a commitment to explore together all of life, for all of life.
Principle number two, mutual respect. You know the glorious ideal of the Gospel for marriage. Paul said it: “Two shall become one.” And yet in Christian marriage, the two become one while retaining their separate, individual identities. And that’s an amazing thing. It’s an amazing thing to experience, and yet that’s what happens. It is a commitment based on mutual respect. In marriage, one personality does not absorb or devour the other. Rather, marriage instead enhances and develops individual interests and God-given talents. It’s a growth process with two people involved in the growing. Is there mutual respect in your relationship with those whom you love the most? Do you respect one another even when you disagree? Do you grant your partner the right to his or her opinion, and do you respect those opinions when they’re expressed? These are good questions to be asking yourself at this moment. Well, that’s what marriage is, a commitment of two to become one in mutual love and mutual respect.
And then principle three, this one may sound a little bit surprising to you, but I’m going to say it anyway. Principle three, proper regard for children. We’re very quick to talk about the fact that we ought to be doing everything we can for our children – and that’s true – but that’s true only up to a point. You see, we as Christians are called to rear our children for the purpose of giving them away. So, yes, we need to spend time with our children. Yes, we need to love our children. Yes, we need to be concerned about our children. But what really matters is not how much time we spend with our children, not how much we love our children, but how much time we spend with our spouse and how much we love our spouse. Because, you see, you’ve got to understand something here: the key to a child’s security, the key to a child’s normal growth and development, the key to the ultimate happiness in a child’s life, the key to the communicating to that child of the love and the power of Jesus Christ is the love and the quality of the love that exists between mom and dad. To be perfectly frank with you, the husband-wife relationship within the family must always take priority over everything else. And you can actually warp or even destroy that relationship by always putting your children first.
Now, having laid out three basic principles, let’s take note of some practical suggestions that I believe could help us to fulfill those principles in our lives. First, a word to the wives. This will sound crazy, but I mean it seriously. You need to master the ability of using butter on your husband. You need to learn how to butter him up. He’ll know it’s butter, but he’ll love it anyway. He’s made that way. It’s true. You see, the man who believes that he is the most important thing in the world to the woman he loves is a man who feels like a king. And a man who feels like a king will make his wife feel like a queen. I know marriages 10 or 20 or 30, some even 50, years old where romance burns as brightly now as it ever did. And in every case, in every single case, there is a woman there who learned the gentle art of expressing love through butter.
And now a hint to the husbands. Your wife needs to know that you love her, and she wants you to tell her that, and she wants you to tell her that more than once. So often the wife says, “Honey, do you love me?” And the husband snaps back, usually without even folding up the newspaper, “Of course I do. I married you, didn’t I?” Your wife needs to know that you love her, and she wants you to tell her, and she wants you to tell her more than once. She’s made that way. She wants your attention and your affection every single day. And then a thought for the two of you. Dr. Charlie Shedd, in his book, Promises to Peter, suggests that every couple ought to take one evening a week to be together, just the two of you, to go to dinner or to a movie or just a quiet evening at home. Just the two of you, once a week, 52 times a year, no exceptions. Now, I would have to say to you that that’s probably a little bit unrealistic for many marriages, but it’s a goal worthy of striving toward in our life together.
But I want to suggest something all of us can do. And that is to spend just a few minutes, 15 minutes at the most, every single day, just talking with one another; sharing hopes, dreams, fears, reminiscing about things in the past, the good times that we’ve had or even the tough times that we’ve had. Or if nothing else, just simply recounting the events which have transpired in the course of that day in our respective lives. Just 15 minutes every day. If your work calls you to travel, then I want to suggest to you that you invest the money in making a phone call home every single night. It’s worth the investment. Spend just those few minutes, every day, talking to one another. And I know it’s not easy to do the kinds of things that I’ve been talking about with you today, but a good marriage requires work and sacrifice. So work at it. I promise you it will be worth the effort.
This summer’s been tough for me. It’s been tough because I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. And it’s been tough because I’m sharing with you principles and ideas which I myself am still struggling to learn. And it’s been tough for me because, as I’ve let the light of the Bible fall across the subject of marriage, it has only illuminated for me my own failures. But there is one thing of which I am now and forever sure. It is this: if a man and a woman commit themselves to one another and to Jesus Christ in marriage, then they shall discover together a life that is as close to heaven as we ever get on this Earth. They shall gain for themselves a joy and a happiness which God can give them in no other way, and they shall learn in their own experience the truth of the poet’s words, “Be fair or foul – on land or sea – / Come wind or stormy weather, / Best or worst, whate’er may be, / we shall face them all together. / Even death, which friend from friend doth part, / and brother rend from brother, / shall but link us, heart to heart, / Closer, closer to each other.”That, my friends, is marriage in Christ. Let us pray.
Dear and most gracious heavenly Father, let our homes become a parable of Your love through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.