I am continuing to receive responses to the three questions I have asked in recent weeks. Many of the responses are very moving to read, as they contain personal reflections on life and share some difficult circumstances. I thank you for sharing your answers with me.
Today I begin my first part of the new series of messages, based on your responses. The first part of the series is a series within a series as I talk about marriage, using the traditional wedding vows as an outline. Though not everyone in our congregation is married, obviously, the topic of marriage is always important and timely. At some point in life, we all encounter someone who is going through marriage difficulties, so perhaps these messages allow you to someone who asks you for advice.
Allow me to make a couple of disclaimers at the outset. First, no, I do not practice everything I preach when it comes to marriage. I just know that someone is going to run up to Tanya to ask her if I live up to all that I say, so I’m going to tell you from the beginning that I don’t. Second, the examples I will use will not be specifically from anyone here; they will mostly be composites or general observations. And third, I do not consider myself a marriage counselor, although marriage counseling makes up a good deal of the counseling I do for people, and I have learned a few things over the years and I will share those lessons with you throughout this series.
I will also add that I believe that the love shared by two people is one of the great evidences for the existence of God. If God does not exist, I don’t believe love can truly exist. If we were to take the purely scientific, materialistic view of the universe and of creation, I don’t think we could “test” love in a laboratory. The most we could say about love, if God does not exist, is that two people can come together and be bound together by shared biological urges or common neurosis. Love, like God, is not something that can be tested and measured in a lab or with a science experiment.
I don’t know how many weddings I have performed over the years, and I don’t remember all of them, but some I certainly do. The first wedding I officiated was in the summer of 1979. One of my best friends from childhood asked me to officiate at his wedding and I was pleased to do so. The wedding was in a park in western Pennsylvania, in a beautiful setting. When I go to the vows I turned to his fiancé and said, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? She stood there and looked at me with a strange look, which I didn’t understand, because I hadn’t realized what I had said. I wondered why she wouldn’t respond and she was muttering something under her breath. I eventually realized she was saying it’s husband, I’m the wife!
There is nothing quite like love and marriage. I can think of few things that bring so much joy, or, so much pain. And yet for all the importance of marriage, for something that is at the very foundation of life, very little preparation is provided to people. Most people learn about marriage by observing the marriage of their parents. Think about that for a moment; your children will enter into marriage with a set of expectations and behaviors based upon what they have observed in your marriage. How you treat your spouse may well be how they treat their spouse; how you handle conflict may well be how they deal with conflict; how you demonstrate love may well be how they express love.
How does that make you feel? Does it make you hopeful or nervous? And add to that the potential that your child may possibly marry a person whose observation of their parent’s marriage may lead them to hopes, expectations and behaviors that may be very different, even contradictory.
The first phrase of the marriage vows forms the basis of today’s message – I take you…to be my wedded…. I have titled this message Love Is A Choice. Love is certainly an emotion, but love is very much a choice. Every day we make a choice, either subconsciously or consciously to love; to love our spouse, our family, our work, our community – we choose to love any number of things.
1. Make That Choice Every Day.
Tanya and I are not plant people; we don’t have plants in the house because we neglect them and they always die. We have two big plant pots on our sun porch – and they’ve been there for months – with dead plants in them. For anything to flourish – be it a plant or a relationship – it takes time and nurturing.
A relationship doesn’t end after the wedding. You can’t assume love will continue to grow and blossom totally on its own after the wedding; love needs nurturing and time and care or it will wither and die.
Too many times in marriages, people stop nurturing their relationship. Before you get married you take the time to be together, but after the wedding we get caught up in so many other responsibilities and obligations that we don’t even notice that we are gradually allowing neglect to settle in.
Make the choice every day that you are going to love your spouse, and show that love in some concrete way. You cannot assume the other person knows; they need to hear it said and demonstrated.
2. Honor That Choice Every Day.
A while back I was in a store and in front of me in the check-out line were two young guys talking to the girl working at the register. Since they were taking up so much of my time I decided to listen in on their conversation.
One of the guys was just totally going down in flames as he tried to impress this girl, and his friend was just shaking his head. It turns out this guy went out with her a couple of times, but he couldn’t remember that they had gone out. She had to remind him they had gone on a few dates.
She was a really cute girl, and I’m thinking two things; how could you forget going out with her, and what was she doing going out with you? He should have stopped talking but he kept going on and on. His friend stood there shaking his head and finally said dude, just give it up. He just kept digging his hole deeper until the young lady looked at him and said, well, you’ve certainly made me feel special.
We honor our choice to love someone by making sure they know how special they are, by telling them how lucky we are to have them in our life and that we thank God for them. I am not totally foolish; I am well aware of how lucky I am that Tanya married me, but I can’t keep that to myself, I need to tell her that, she needs to hear it from me. Once again, we must say it; God gives us a gift in our spouse and we honor the gift of that relationship by saying how much we appreciate and love the other person.
Everyday life will absolutely wear down a marriage relationship. If you have the opportunity, watch a newly married couple and a couple that have been married a while. When you’re out to eat take a look around the restaurant and you can usually tell the difference between the newly married and those who have been married a long time. Those who are newly married seem to be very engaged in their conversation and their excitement is obvious, while those who have been married a while may be sitting and saying very little. Now, I’m not saying this is always true, and that your conversation always has to be exciting, but life can wear down the excitement and enjoyment of a relationship, and you have to choose every day to work at your marriage.
You also honor the choice to love by accepting the person God has given you as a spouse. Here’s the mistake that women often make as they approach marriage – I’ll change him after we get married. And here is the mistake men make as they are preparing for marriage – after that wedding is over I can quit trying to impress her and just be myself.
I think we should always be working hard at becoming better people, and part of that effort is to communicate to our spouses that we love them and accept them as the person God created them.
3. Protect That Choice Every Day.
One of the biggest misconceptions one can make about love is that it is primarily an emotional state of being, but it is primarily a choice.
There are so many things that attack the choice we make to love another person. Our society is not kind to committed relationships and honoring the love between married couples. We are preyed upon from all corners with images that will distort love and reality. Advertisers and pornographers manipulate and profit handsomely by exploitation. Questionable ideas of romance and love.
Protect your choice to love. Be very careful about the images you allow into your mind. Not just physical images but also images of love and marriage. Don’t fall for the illusion that you are a failure if things aren’t always perfect. Living with another person and sharing your life with them sometimes generates conflict, that’s just reality, it doesn’t mean you love has failed.
Protect your choice from the threat of other relationships. Let me say something very important here – never allow yourself to linger where you should not be. Never linger physically, mentally or emotionally. Watch not only your eyes, but your minds and your hearts as well.
The nature of modern life means there are times you may be around other people more often than your spouse. This is especially if you have young children and are working a lot. Sometimes you will find you are relating to other people more than to your spouse. Be very careful, because that is a fire just waiting to explode into disaster.
Most relationships begin the path of dissolving because of lingering where you should not linger. It may be looking at someone when you shouldn’t, it may be allowing yourself to become emotionally attached to someone and it leads down the path of greater disaster. You don’t get from point A to point Z in one step, and you don’t get back in one step.
Protect your choice to love your spouse every day. There may be days you don’t feel a lot of love, but you make that choice every day and honor that choice. The alternative is heartbreak.
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.