Marriage … nothing has the potential for such joy … yet we know either by experience or by story that nothing has the potential to bring such pain, too. Marriage is intended to be a fountain of life, and yet for far too many people, their marriage relationship feels much more like a drain than a fountain. We know not everyone is married … for some it’s a longing, for some it’s a history, and that’s okay … but for many people marriage is current reality, and I want to explore in this post how we can make our marriages a priority (again).
One of the great privileges that comes with being a pastor is the opportunity to get a front row view on people’s lives through dating, engagement, and marriage. I love meeting with couples that are full of anticipation, excitement, and joy as they plan for their wedding. I’ve helped couples think through their vows and the promises they will commit their lives to. I’ve been privileged to have many of these conversations and up till now, never once have I ever sat down with a couple and listened to their dreams for their marriage and heard them say they’re striving for mediocrity. Not once have I heard a couple say they’re just hoping to make it. Not once have I heard a couple promise in their vows to coast through life. Never once have I heard a promise to ‘bicker and banter’ or ‘ignore you’ in the vows they make to each other. Every marriage I’ve been around begins with promises of passion, daring dreams, unending optimism, with love and joy and hope and a deep sense of anticipation. We know lots of marriages struggle but think, ‘it will be different for us.’ The reality is though sometimes, somewhere along the way some of these words are replaced with words like habitual, dull, or boring. This is not how it’s meant to be! So let’s take a few moments to look at how this can happen. I’m convinced nobody does this on purpose … but it’s a slippery and easy slide to go down. Even more importantly, let’s look at what we can do to make our marriages a priority again.
We all know that a healthy marriage is a safe marriage, it’s a place where we’re safe to be ourselves, to love and to be loved at the most intimate parts of who we are. Whether you’re married or not we all look and long for this safety; it’s hardwired within us. The gift of a safe marriage is comfort – having a deep sense of safety in a relationship with your spouse will always lead you to feeling comfortable around each other. There are great gifts associated with feeling comfortable. You learn to express who you are. You learn about the person you married. You learn how to communicate how you really feel. You learn how to love and be loved; how to be vulnerable and how to live courageously. However, if we are not careful, a state of comfort can lead us to becoming too casual in our commitments to each other.
Merriam Webster gives three primary definitions for the word casual:
Casual – adj. – ca·su·al | \ ˈkazh-wəl , ˈka-zhə-wəl, ˈka-zhəl\
- Subject to, resulting from, or occurring by chance.
- Occurring without regularity
- Feeling or showing little concern
If we’re not intentional, comfortable marriages can all too easily become casual marriages. Days blur into weeks, which turn into months, which can turn into years or even decades where marriages lose passion and intentionality. If we let our marriages be governed by circumstances, a casual marriage can become a careless marriage.
If we aren’t incredibly intentional, then what began as a comfortable marriage can become a casual marriage, which will give way to a careless marriage. And we’ve all witnessed such covenants and the consequences can be so very tragic. We know that if we don’t intervene and do something, then our careless marriages will become caustic marriages. It’s here where dreams, passions, love, and intensity that at one point marked how every marriage begins seem like nothing more than a distant memory.
So what do we do? How do we intervene? How do we take the words of Revelation seriously and “return to the love we had at first?” How do we see our perhaps caustic, careless, casual marriage return to a place that both we and God long for it to be?
The first thing we must do is … seek God.
Seeking God First
Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 that we should, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to us.” Marriages collapse when we place our divine expectations on our human partner. Divine expectations are best placed on the Divine One. God alone can satisfy the deepest needs of our souls and it’s an unfair (and frankly unrealistic) expectation for us to anticipate our spouse to deliver what only God can do. Seek God daily. Allow Him to meet the deepest needs of your soul. Find in Him rest, peace, joy, wholeness, and passion and once again marvel at the gift your spouse is – not expecting your spouse to be the gift giver.
When we learn to seek God first, daily, and allow Him to meet our deepest needs, we’re able to approach our marriage from a posture of, “What can I give?” rather than demanding, “What do I get?” What can I give? How can I serve? Out of the overflow of God’s full satisfaction and goodness in my life how can I serve the person God’s entrusted to me in this marriage?
The second thing we must do is … Become world-class noticers.
Taking Time to Notice
I’m convinced that so many problems in marriage arise from feeling overlooked, ignored, unappreciated, or undervalued. We feel that our spouse notices work, children, friends, screens, hobbies or passions more than they notice us. We need to be husbands and wives that notice our spouses … notice their longings, their desires, and their feelings. Notice what they do and appreciate it. This can only happen when we seek to give and not take … seek to serve and not be served.
Getting Our Priorities Right
When we seek God first, and strive to be a world-class noticer, we then must prioritize marriage.
What I mean by that is our marriage relationship must be the priority relationship of the family. There’s no earthly relationship more important than your marriage. Period. Full stop, no caveats. If you have children, your relationship with them is secondary to your marriage. Friends, family, extended family, or work, while all important and should be a priority – they must never become the priority. There’s an old cliché that used to go around and was put up on a lot of posters that said something to the effect of:
“The greatest thing on earth that you can do for your children is to love your spouse.”
Clichés are clichés for a reason – and this is a good one. So good, in fact, that I’d expand it even further to say that after seeking God first, “The greatest thing you can do on earth is to love your spouse.” Families flourish when the marriage is the priority. Children flourish when Mom and Dad put each other first. Churches flourish when marriages flourish. The world is a healthier place when marriages are healthier.
Ephesians 5 starts out by saying, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…” and carries on later by saying this, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” As a response to God’s great love for us we’re invited to serve and love one another … not carelessly or casually, but intentionally and passionately.
First Alliance Church (FAC) is passionate about marriages because we’re passionate about people … in Calgary, and the world beyond. We long for everyone who is married to live in the reality that the best part of even the best day is when you get to come home. We boldly believe this is possible, and we’ll do everything in our power to proactively come alongside and help serve, resource, equip, or empower couples this end. We have an amazing team with all kinds of resources available … let’s not settle for dull, habitual, mediocre marriages. Let’s all commit to making our marriages a priority again. We’ll be better for it – and so will our families, our church, and indeed the world.
Written by Kyle Trigg, Family Life Pastor at FAC