Monday, September 4, 2017

The Death of Marriage

The marriage relationship is an interesting, but complicated relationship. It can be a source of both great joy and deep pain. My husband and I met in college, quickly fell in love, got engaged, and got married within eight months. The extent of our premarital counseling was a pastor telling me he knew we loved each other, but he didn't think I had a realistic picture of marriage. Because I was a compliant person, I nodded, smiled in agreement, but thought "We will always love each other!" 

After we got married and graduated from college, my husband went on to get two more degrees. During my third pregnancy, I woke up with a man in our bedroom touching me. My husband woke up and chased him out of the house. But that intruder kept on intruding through flashbacks. I developed PTSD and couldn't sleep. When I did sleep, I woke up screaming. When I was touched unexpectedly, I screamed blood curdling screams that scared all of us. We didn't realize the abuse I had experienced earlier in life and a car accident in which there was a death had set me up for what I was experiencing with this new trauma. 

I didn't know the man I had married had been raised by a mother who suffered with mental illness and had at some point vowed that he wouldn’t marry "crazy." And screaming at a man who was no longer there, and screaming at little children who looked to me for safety looked “crazy” to him. What I needed most in that scary irrational time was to be taken in his arms and hugged and comforted, but I was met with his tendency to withdraw and anger—an anger that covered his big fear that I might end up just like her. He needed reassurance that I was okay and would not end up in a mental hospital like his mom, but neither of us could give the other what was needed. During that time, we both grieved the loss of the marriage we thought we would always have.

Recently, our pastors preached a sermon series on marriage. During one of the sermons I was triggered and I felt volcano type anger rising. Everything the pastor said, I agreed with. He and I have even talked about collaborating on a marriage book. Yet, I was seething inside. I realized later that the anger came from remembering a time I had gone through a conflict at church and had been encouraged by leaders not to use my voice. Being told to take personal responsibility instead of blaming in marriage felt like that time to me. It was also triggering because it resurfaced the frustration I felt early in marriage of wanting to have a marriage that reflected Christ and in our brokenness feeling stuck and unable to get there. We were stuck because we had many misconceptions about the role of submission and leadership, and I felt I lost my voice and ceased to be the person God created me to be to be a “good wife.” 

It also came from the baggage we both brought to our marriage—baggage that we were afraid and/or unwilling to unpack. The sermon was on personal responsibility and I had tried so hard to take responsibility in our marriage, but that in and of itself didn't take away the pain we both experienced and didn’t fix the dysfunctions with which we were struggling. That took a lot of time in Christian therapists’ offices after which we began to move forward slowly--so slowly. I began to find out who Christ created me to be and to heal from the wounds with which I had come to our marriage. Dysfunction is still something with which we struggle because those patterns were deeply entrenched. Yet, we just celebrated our 43rd anniversary--43 years of really, really good and 43 years of really, really hard. Forty-three years I wouldn't change for the world.

As I listened to the sermon, I prayed about the anger I was feeling and a picture popped into my head. It was a picture of an old wooden coffin. On the front of the coffin was a sign with the word Marriage calligraphed on it. The lid was on the coffin and there were some large railroad nails already pounded into it and there were other nails laying on top with a hammer, just waiting to be hammered in. I could see words etched into nails and I realized those were the things killing our marriages.

One nail had the words "marriage redefined" on it. When God designed marriage, it was to reflect His covenant with His people and that covenant was born of love and demonstrated through the sacrifice of Jesus. Marriage is to be a covenant relationship in which agape love drives each to give fully and sacrificially, sealing the covenant with a sexual union. Our culture has redefined marriage into a contract relationship. The difference is that a contract says, “You give me what I want, when I want it and I will love you” and vise versa. This creates a strong fear of the possibility of abandonment and a flurry of activity driven by fear, which gets expressed in anger, frustration, control, depression, and withdrawing. The contract kills trust, transparency, and grace and has contributed to serial monogamy that has become rampant in our culture and churches.  

What many don't understand is that God designed marriage not just to reflect His covenant, but to also provide a proving ground for sanctification. It is the place where sin can’t go undetected, for even dark, sinful secrets have symptoms. It is the place where selfishness, self-absorption, pride, uncontrolled anger, defense mechanisms, and self-protective actions get exposed. As we work through issues and confront one another those these things usually get resolved and changed over time. If we divorce, those things remain and can become the nails in the next marriage as well. Sometimes those things nail shut the coffin on not just one marriage, but two, three, four, five, or more. 

Another nail that goes along with this is a lack of commitment. Both our families had several divorces and we soon realized we had to take the "D" word out of our vocabulary because it was an extreme trigger for both of us. When people live under that threat, there is no safety in the relationship and people become fearful of being real, of asking each other for prayer, and of confessing their faults to one another. It makes them feel like they have to be perfect and they aren’t so they either were a mask to cover imperfections or they just give up and withdraw, refusing to change. 

There were several other nails clumped together. Those nails were premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, perverted sex, sex for hire, and masturbation. Sex was designed by God to seal the covenant of marriage. He designed it in such a way that chemicals are released in the body during orgasm that help a couple bond emotionally to one another. Every time a couple has sex, they are renewing their vows and creating a stronger bond. When those nails get hammered into a marriage, it destroys that process. Sex outside of marriage causes guilt and shame, which kills love. When people have multiple partners, use porn, or masturbation they move away each other and from loving and serving each other to self-serving gratification, killing the physiological process of bonding.  

There were other nails on that coffin--nails that included domestic violence, overt control, power-over relationships, toxic shame, contempt, addictions, untreated mental illness, physical illnesses, impatience, and ungodly speech. Many of which come out of unresolved pain and anger, sin-filled hearts, and a misunderstanding of God's design for marriage. For sake of space, I will only address words. Only 7 percent of communications is conveyed through words. The rest is through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. We can wound each other through all of those avenues. We have all heard the expression, "If looks could kill, I would be dead!" Who wants to move toward someone who gives dirty looks and eye rolls? Those looks on a repeated basis are unnerving. They break trust, hammering away at the heart of the other. And when one balls a fist and hits the other hand while speaking, or stands over them as they verbally assault them or call them horrible names, or come up behind them and whispers threats in the ear only they can hear—it strikes fear in the heart, breaks trust, destroys bonds, and kills the soul. And the words themselves they can be hateful and biting, literally tearing a heart to shreds. When is isolated and only hears that they are ugly, stupid, ignorant, too much, not good enough, crazy, and they will begin to believe it.  

We may not realize the absence of words can also kill a marriage. That takes place when someone arrogantly refuses to say anything kind, loving, and gracious, exhibiting anger through passive aggression. We are told that we are to encourage each other and build each other up. We have been instructed to love one another. Husbands have been instructed to treat wives with honor and wives to treat their husbands with respect. Overtime the lack of honoring, respect, and love can starves a marriage to death. This is because it starves hearts of the love they were designed to give and receive. Some of the word nails might seem insignificant, but we can destroy marriage one word at a time. 

We are created with a great big God-shaped hole in our hearts and we often come to marriage, trying to get the other to fill the hole only God can fill. But as the body of Christ, could it not be that God may use a spouse to fill a part of that hole? And if that is so, why would we not want to bless the person God has called us to love. We are instructed to have covenant marriages and instructed on how to love inside that covenant, why would we refuse to love well and refuse to deal with the sin in our lives? When we refuse to do so, do we not perpetrate the worst kind of abuse--spiritual abuse? I know I don't want to abuse the covenant God designed and I don’t want to take advantage of God's grace by making my spouse feel unloved and stuck in a miserable marriage. I want to do my best to love well.

I do know there are marriages in which spouses are committed to stay true to the covenant of marriage and they are married to a person not willing or able to take their responsibility seriously. The committed spouse will live in a state of grief because they desire the marriage to reflect God's glory and they know it doesn’t. There are some that are grieving because they know or sense their marriage bed is defiled by others or by pornographic images burned in the mind of a spouse. They will have to battle lies the enemy speaks over their pain either through their own mind or through others who don’t understand the nature of porn and sex addiction and tell them they just need to try harder so their spouse will behave. Please don't just try to suck it up. Get help. You don’t have to suffer in silence or wear a mask that belies pain you feel. God wants each one of us to fight for marriage! I long for churches to get educated about these things and then get involved by confronting the porn epidemic along with a lack of people committed to working on themselves and their marriages.  

I have found a lot of marriage books through the years that helped me hold on to hope in our rough patches. Bill and Pam Farrell have several that are fun to read—Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti and Marriage Whirlwind for starters. Other authors that write on a more serious note Ed Wheat—Love Life for Every Married Couple, Timothy Keller—The Meaning of Marriage, and Christopher and Rachel McClusky—When Two become One. Gary Thomas' book, Sacred Marriage

We want to be humble and learn to love well and to relate to each other in ways that create safety so we can grow. God never intended us to just survive marriage, He wants us to flourish in both the good and the hard so we become all He created us to be and enjoy true intimacy. I am a better person for having married my husband. I came to our marriage, making it all about me and God has used our rough spots to build my faith in Him, to expose my sin and selfishness, and to expose the wounds I needed to have healed. He showed me my own tendency to wound another and that was not easy. I will continue working on that until the day I die. 

Marriage isn't a short-term commitment or a curse to be endured. It is a beautiful covenant designed by an infinitely wise God who desires to fulfill His glory in His people to show the world what His love is like--committed, sacrificial, constant, edifying, and, yes, at times even confrontational. Marriage done His way satisfies the human heart’s desire.

As I drove home the day I saw the picture of the coffin in my head, I realized the source of those nails was the Enemy who wants to destroy God's image in us and in our marriages. It occurred to me we have to decide daily to refuse to hammer those nails in. Instead of fighting each other, we can choose to fight the one seeking to destroy us. Instead of hammering those nails in the coffin, why don't we put on humility and begin to take out the nails we already hammered. God can resurrect our marriages to be all He wants them to be. We don’t have to change partners to change our marriage when we choose to act out of who God says we are and choose to love and honor as Jesus does.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!