Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 21, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: In Sickness and In Health; 'Til Death Do Us Part - Building Permanence In Marriage

For a number of years I have puzzled over something related to weddings.  The question first struck me as I waited to begin a processional many years ago.  As I waited to enter the sanctuary with the men, one of them asked a question about returning the tuxes they had rented.  It was at that moment that a question popped into my mind and has caused me to wonder since then – why is it that women buy their wedding dresses but men rent their tuxes?  Does that speak to a much deeper, more philosophical question about the manner in which men and women think about marriage, or is it just a silly question?

This morning I want to add a note before I begin my message.  We’ve spent a number of weeks talking about marriage and I’ve said a couple of times that I hoped there was information helpful to everyone, married or not.  I will also add that marriage is not a necessity in order to become a whole person.  Sometimes, people are made to feel as though they are lacking something in their lives if they are not married.  That is not true. 

Why is it that our culture is so obsessed with gossip about marriages?  Would any of the tabloid magazines sell as many copies if they printed articles about healthy marriages?  And can people be obsessed with the marriages of others while ignoring the health and well-being of their own marriages?
This morning, as we combine the final two vows, in sickness and in health and until death do us part, we will focus on the idea of Building Permanence In Marriage.  What I want to do this morning in our concluding message is to provide a list of suggestions that I believe will help to build permanence in marriage.

But first, our Scripture passage tells us of the passing of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  As we have moved through this series, we’ve read a couple of stories from the life of Abraham and Sarah, and I thought it fitting that we read this story, one that tells us of the end of the long marriage of Sarah and Abraham.

Genesis 23:1-19
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old.
She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites.  He said,
“I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
The Hittites replied to Abraham,
“Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites.
He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”
10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city.
11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”
12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”
14 Ephron answered Abraham,
15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded
18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.
19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

1.  The Importance Of Friendship. 
There are two types of friendship important in marriage.  Number one, it is certainly important for husbands and wives to build upon a foundation of friendship.  Your spouse should be your best friend, they should be the person you want to be with and talk to.

Secondly, maintain friendships with other people.  Don’t isolate yourself from friendships with other people.  Encourage your spouse to spend time with their friends, as your marriage will benefit.  This is especially important for men, as we are more inclined to isolate ourselves from friendships. 

2.  Beware Of The Dangers Of Other Relationships.
I remember puzzling over a series presented some years ago by a news program about why men cheat.  I wondered why it was not about why men and women cheat.

We must beware of the dangers of infidelity.  Infidelity is a process that can begin very innocently and can ensnare a person before they even realize they are on dangerous ground.  At the beginning of this series I said that people are almost always surprised to find themselves in a situation such as infidelity; most of the time the response is how did this happen to me?  The answer is that it happened because they either ignored or didn’t see the signs, and that allowed them to move very gradually into infidelity, one small step at a time.

There are some warning signs, and we need to be aware of these –

When you find yourself discussing problems in your marriage, or your disappointment with your spouse with another person.
When that person begins to talk to you about the problems in their marriage or their disappointment with their spouse.
When you look forward to seeing someone.
When you start making up reasons to see that person.
When you make adjustments in your schedule in order to be with that person.
When you avoid telling your spouse that you have been with that person.
When you begin to feel an emotional attachment with that person.
If you find yourself experiencing any of these signs – run!  When any of these warning signs are in your life you may have already taken the first steps down a road that will only lead to heartache.

3. Think before you speak, and then think again. 
I think men have a built-in capacity to say the wrong thing; and then, as if to add insult to injury, we have a built-in capacity for not knowing we have said the wrong thing, which leads us to say more wrong things like Did I say something wrong?  Many times, when your wife asks you a question she is not looking for information; she is testing you to see if you either agree with her or if you will give the right answer.  Because, really, do they really need to get information from us?  We’re clueless – if they really need to know something, who are they going to ask?  Not us.  We men get questions such as Did you notice my new haircut?  You can’t answer that, because if you stumble around and say yes, then why didn’t you say something already?  She is merely pointing out that you didn’t notice.  Or it may be a question such as I don’t think I’m at all like my mother, do you?  And you say No, your mother is a great cook.   But even if you have more sense than me and just say no, then she’ll ask what’s wrong with my mother?

Be careful what you say; think before you speak, and then think again; as I obviously have not done.  The power of words, especially hurtful words, can leave a residue of damage for days, weeks, months and even years.  In the heat of the moment when we are upset we can say things we regret but there is no opportunity to take back those words.

I once heard someone illustrate the danger of careless words in this way – imagine going outside on a windy day with a feather pillow.  Cut open the pillow and allow the feathers to blow along the wind.  Then imagine trying to capture every one of those feathers and put them back in the pillow.  It would be impossible to do so, and illustrates what happens with our words – once they are spoken it is impossible to gather them up and take them back.  Once they are spoken, they are spoken.  In the moment, we say words that we know we shouldn’t, so we must think before we speak.  We must think before we speak careless words, words we know can hurt, and we words we sometimes want to cause hurt.

Think before you speak, and then think again.

4.  Avoid problems by not making assumptions. 
Most conflict, I believe, arises from mistaken assumptions that people make.

Being aware of our assumptions is so important when two people enter a marriage; they need to address issues about money, about children, about careers, about faith, but so often nothing is said and assumptions are made and if those assumptions clash there is going to be conflict and heartache.

Avoiding problems that come from making assumptions means we must work to build good communication.

5.  Think long term.
I have noticed in recent years that people preparing for marriage often go into it with the idea that it will not be permanent.  Our culture struggles with the idea of permanence; it seems everything has become temporary and relationships are affected by this type of thinking. 

Think long term about your marriage.  Think of spending the rest of your life with your spouse.  If we fail to think long term, we may fail to make our marriages last for the long term.

6.  Encourage Independence.
I think it’s important for people who are married to maintain a certain level of independence.  I don’t mean that you neglect your relationship but I believe being able to have a life apart from your spouse enriches a marriage and enriches life in general.  The danger is that some people have a sense of insecurity that can drive their spouse away.  Some people have a great need for constant reassurance, but the more they try to gain reassurance, the less they receive.

I believe it is healthy for spouses to have not only some similar interests, but different interests as well.  Tanya and I have many shared interests but also some that are unique to each of us.  She will often spend time reading a British murder mystery or watching Downton Abbey.  I am not interested in either of those.  I go to the basement, where I keep my music equipment, and I pursue my own interests in British culture – Pink Floyd. 

7.  Build The Spiritual Foundation To Your Marriage.
At the beginning of this series I said that I believe a spiritual foundation is an absolute necessity to maintain a healthy marriage, and I want to end by reaffirming that belief.

When I talk to couples preparing for marriage, I try to talk about their spiritual lives as well, but very often they are so wrapped up in the preparations that they can’t hear what I try to say.

Please hear me on this point – a spiritual foundation will provide a foundation that will allow your marriage to prosper and grow for all of your years together.

I have mentioned in the past my absolute failure at math.  When I began high school my goal was to be a civil engineer.  Failing Algebra scuttled that career decision, but I had another shortcoming that disqualified me from becoming an engineer – I don’t really care how things work.  I was never that inquisitive kid who took apart his toys to figure out how they worked.  I absolutely don’t care how things work; I just want them to work.  When I take out my phone I don’t ever question how it works; I just want it to work.  When I get in my care I don’t ever wonder about the engineering that makes it run; I just want it to run.    

Although I don’t care how things work, I better care – and understand – how a marriage works.  If I do not seek to understand what makes for a strong and healthy marriage it is unlikely that I will enjoy a marriage that is strong and healthy.

I hope that you have enjoyed, and found meaningful, these messages about marriage, but mostly, I hope and pray that you will enjoy a happy and healthy marriage.

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