Monday, March 4, 2013

the secret to longevity

i asked my parents a few months ago, who have been married 40 years - 40 years folks! - the secret to longevity in marriage. (closer to 41 at this point...)

i sat them each down separately and asked, "if you could say one thing that would help couples build a marriage that stands the test time, what would it be?"

it was so interesting for they both said almost the same thing without hearing the other's response.

my mom said, "perseverance - never. give. up."

my dad told me, "a marriage is built through the hard times - like winston churchill said, 'never, never, never give up.'"

so, if two people who have gone through 40 years of for better and for worse both point to the secret of staying married being perseverance, why are we so tempted to quit when things get tough?

i know i have written this before, but no one has a perfect marriage. everyone goes through hard times, and sometimes they are extremely hard times. yet, part of the beauty of marriage can only be experienced in the hard times. no one thinks that having to persevere is fun, but in learning perseverance we learn to lean on God. we experience His love on a deeper level in the leaning; in turn, we are able to walk out the self-denying love of Jesus in a more tangible way than we ever would if relationships were always easy.

timothy keller put it this way:
the reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. the gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
sometimes the hard times we persevere through are outside circumstances - job stresses, money strain, sickness, difficult extended family relationships, etc. other times the very thing that demands perseverance is the breakdown of our relationship with our spouse be it through impurity, unfaithfulness, or merely conflict and tension in communication. any one of these situations can cause serious need for perseverance on the side of both the husband and the wife.

in the midst of extreme or mild tension, we usually expect the other person to be amazingly patient and understanding with our issues and end up less patient and merciful with theirs. so many different circumstances can cause a divide in even the happiest looking marriages if the couple isn't proactive at choosing to walk together through the present challenges.

duke university ethics professor stanley hauerwas said an amazing statement on why people often do not persevere:
destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become "whole" and happy. the assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. this moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. it fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. we never know whom we marry; we just think we do. or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. for marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. the primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
we need to learn to love the one we are married to - in all the different changes that person goes through. i have heard the reason for divorce so often said that, "well, i just realized i got married too young and we were never right for each other." listen, none of us are really "right" for anyone because we are all terribly flawed and changing all the time. when we get married we are signing up to love this other terribly flawed, ever changing person. it is a beautiful blessed mess we are entering into, for better or for worse... for as long as we both shall live.

so why is it so incredibly important to never give up if you are going to be successful at this beautiful painful thing called marriage? 

because Jesus never gives up on us in our most fallen and unlovable state. His undeserved and merciful love draws forth love out of the most broken person, and we have the opportunity and invitation to do the same towards our spouse.

Jesus said,
he who is forgiven much loves much.
undeserved love in the bad times can draw forth so much love in the better times. when we can forgive someone and just stick by them in their messy weak, maybe unlovable, state, then we have shown what true faithfulness looks like. the demonstration of faithfulness and forgiveness makes the other person want to love in return. how can you refuse someone who looks right into the worst of you and still says yes?

as my dad so realistically put it, a good marriage is built in the hard times. when even just one spouse is willing to continually say yes in the hardest seasons, it lays a foundation for the rest of the marriage that is solid. if both are willing... well that is so helpful!

we do not have the strength to do this on our own - we must have the grace of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to say yes when it gets really really hard. but He will always give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, so if you are in that really great building time called "hard," ask! 

one more timothy keller quote because i just can't say it any better myself:
...we must say to ourselves something like this: "well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, He didn't think 'I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.' no, He was in agony, and He looked down at us - denying Him, abandoning Him, and betraying Him - and in the greatest act of love in history, He STAYED. He said, 'Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing.' He loved us, not because we were lovely to Him, but to make us lovely. that is why i am going to love my spouse." speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.
if i were looking at you from across my coffee table right now we would pause, take a sip of coffee, and breathe deep. because we both know... we know that this thing called marriage will take all we have to give and then more. we cannot do it without leaning on His strength. we cannot do it without the grace of His Holy Spirit. but eventually we would look each other in the eye after a long silence and nod. this is the life He has called us to - a demonstration of His love when it is undeserved because this is the same love He gives us every. single. day.

my friend, you can do this one day at a time.

never, never, never give up because He never, never, never gives up on you. on the other side of this thing you will look back and see how all the painful moments of saying yes built something beautiful and of great value lasting so much longer than you thought possible. and you will have entered into a deep knowing of His tender love towards you.

persevere. it really is worth it.


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