by Ruth, a.k.a. Momma Frizzle
On February’s calendar, Ash Wednesday proceeded Valentine’s by one day. Remembering sin’s curse then immediately commemorating love’s delight made for conflicting celebrations, but perhaps more realistic ones.
After all, the “dust-to-dust” of sin and death remembered on Ash Wednesday was brought about by the failure of the first marriage. Created by God in that perfect first place, it was a blessed union between two perfect people with no sinful baggage to ruin their pleasure. Everything was perfect. Yet the first couple found a way to mess it all up. Even when everything was right, they wanted more. They wanted their own way. They choose sin.
Ugh, what chance do the rest of us have? I’m certainly less of a woman than Eve, and my world is no Garden of Eden. But I’ve had more help than others; my father is a marriage and family counselor.
As his daughter, I’ve benefited from marriage advice my whole life. It’s not strange to listen to my parents talk about intimacy, romance, and sex. These are common discussion topics in our family. Still, it had been a while since I’d sat under my father’s instruction. So I jumped at the invitation to hear him speak at an Ash Wednesday luncheon designed to let churches know about Family Dynamics Institute, the marriage ministry he works with.
When my husband Dan (Daddy Rooster) showed up at the last minute too, I planted a big, juicy kiss on his lips in front of everybody. We usually ignore Valentine’s Day, but here we were attending a marriage workshop together. Very romantic!
My father started by boiling the principles of marriage down to STOP–LOOK–LISTEN–LOVE.
“Stop and remember how you were feeling when you first met your spouse,” my father said and paused for us all to do just that. Dan remembers the smell of my White Linen perfume. I remember how sunburned his face was.
My father continued, “During this stage, there was a lot of discovery going on. You spent a lot of time together. You shared more of yourself and were excited as you discovered differences. One of the things we’ve given up is time with one another. We are losing intimacy. Intimacy is openness and closeness and friendship. The key to intimacy is being known and understood.”
Intimacy requires focused time. One of my father’s suggestions was to literally stop and look deeply at your spouse. Drink in your spouse, free from distraction. Take 30 minutes a day where one person talks, while the other one listens. Then, switch.
My father also pinpointed some of barriers to unity and vulnerability. “Pride exalts myself above my spouse. Drift and distance occur because I am more concerned about myself. Pride and self centeredness come in and remove flexibility. I demand my spouse function the way I think she should or that is best for me. I become rigid and exacting. We want to work towards decreasing our areas of rigidity so that our areas of flexibility become larger and larger.”
We can do this is by choosing to enjoy our spouses for who they are and who God created them to be, Dad said. Celebrating those differences, like you did when you first met. My father also provided a helpful script for when conflict and disagreement does arise. “Affirm your love, especially at those times,” Dad said. “Say something like, ‘I’m committed to you. I’m committed to pursuing this conversation. I have confidence in us. We will come to a mutual and enthusiastic agreement that is win-win for both of us.’”
Our role model for “love as an action” is none other than God Himself. “God loved so much He gave,” my father pointed out. “Jesus had all the power in the world, but didn’t control or manipulate. He spoke in truth and love and then gave people the freedom to choose.”
Followers of Christ do not attempt the effort and sacrifice which married love requires on their own. Thank goodness! We have a Helper who comes alongside us – the Holy Spirit – who actually works in our hearts, minds, and wills to help us obey God and seek the good of others before ourselves. That’s revolutionary help, because the Bible is full of stuff that we can’t do on our own.
The principles of marriage may be simple – stop, look, listen, love. It’s the doing that’s hard. And will remain a struggle until the curse of Ash Wednesday fully passes away at the return of the Perfect Prince for His bride.
“Therefore, we proclaim the mystery of faith,” announces the Ash Wednesday liturgy. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Until then, we will not be perfect, but in the power of these truths, we can certainly do marriage better.