That is how long I lived with my family of origin before striking out on my own. There were the odd ‘extended stays’ beyond that, but those were not solid, uninterrupted blocks of time since I resided elsewhere, so – for the purpose of this post – I will exclude them.
Eighteen years. One month. One day.
That is how long I have been married to my beloved… I have now lived with my husband longer than I did with my family of origin. This does not make me a marriage expert by a long stretch, so feel free to take anything I say with several grains of salt.
J and I were probably the most unlikely candidates for long-term cohabitation. My family of origin looked reasonably sound from the outside but was seriously divisive on the inside, with divorced parents to boot. If a search was launched to find the least conspicuous whitewashed sepulchre, I am convinced that my family would have won the blue ribbon. Hands down. My beloved had parents who lived separate lives and his family life was colourful, to say the least.
No psychologist in their right mind would recommend such a union… but it was not up to a psychologist to decide.
Ours was destined to be a three-fold union. We were not naive enough to think we could swing it on our own. It would take Divine Glue to keep us together over the long haul, so our Heavenly Father had to be front and centre.
Eighteen years on, we have navigated stormy seas, dark paths, life-threatening cliffs and for all we know there is more to come.
Through thick and thin, there is a Companion whose grace still amazes… On the days when there is a disconnect and we try to pull the yoke in strange directions *cough-cough*, He calls us back to basics; His Word delivers a good ‘talking to’; He reminds us Whose we are… because Royal Connection ought to inspire royal behaviour.
Why do we (Christians) generally believe that marriage requires much more than God already requires of ordinary Christ-followers? I have no idea where we picked that up, but I aim to return it because discontentment does the heart no good when you are down in the trenches under enemy fire.
Are you deep in the trenches? Here are my seven top tips for survival:
1. Follow Christ closely, not afar off.
Love your neighbour/spouse as yourself, and pray for them as earnestly as you would pray if they were scheduled to be beheaded by ISIS. Yes. Satan is looking to short-circuit eternal destinies which are worth far more than bodies… and, on the days when your spouse seems to resemble the enemy, remember that there is a Divine admonition to love your enemies as well (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:17-21).
2. Remember that your spouse is not the enemy.
As a follower of Christ, your struggle is not with flesh and blood. There is an enemy who would rip every God-honouring marriage apart if he could. He has had thousands of years to practise doing just that. Do not assist him in his quest (1 Peter 5:8). Refer to #1 and remember Whose you are.
3. Keep the family altar burning.
Even if you have no time to eat, make time to pray together every morning and evening. Of course, if we flunk at #2 then #1 is already through the window, and everything comes to a screeching halt right here. Return to #1.
4. The world will not end because ‘x’ was not done.
Sure, the neglect of ‘x’ may be inconvenient, annoying or downright infuriating, but if there are no pools of blood, wailing sirens or the need to plan a funeral, life will go on. Do not mess up the atmosphere in your home and put the holy angels to flight because of it. If this seems too hard, return to #1 and #2.
5. Understand that love is messy.
See Calvary for reference. Love is not all cotton candy fluff and my hips tend to prefer it that way, come to think of it. Love navigates dirty sheets, morning breath and late night shifts with a puking kid… and survives. Love stares down the insensitive temple crowd and comes out stronger at the other end. Love is as much elbow grease as it is hugs and kisses and – truth be told – we would all be bored stupid if it was any other way.
6. Accept that submission is not a dirty word.
Paul told the Ephesian believers that “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God“ was connected to being “followers of God, as dear children”, so clearly we ought to master the concept, married or not. When he addresses wives and husbands in the verses immediately after, it was a foregone conclusion that he was talking to Christ-followers. For the Christ-follower (refer to #1), submission is a non-issue. It should be noted, however, that there can be no submission, in the fear of God, to one who is disconnected from Christ. Lovers according to the flesh can be sworn enemies according to the Spirit, for they will not encourage [and may try to prevent] the pursuit of spiritual interests. Choose wisely.
7. “When the passion goes away, it’s the practice that sustains us.”
This quotation is from the author, Jeff Goins. Goins was not addressing marriage when he wrote those words initially. He was talking about radical sacrifice and selfless service, which sounds about the same. Right? Every day will not feel like your wedding day (#RealTalk) – the realities of life will not allow it to be so. Mountaintop experiences will be intermingled with valleys, and that is part and parcel of being alive, as opposed to say… six feet under. Practise serving as Christ served. Walk, talk and breathe 1 Corinthians 13, by God’s grace. Only by His grace.
If you take a hard look at the list above, you will find – as I did – that everything leads back to #1. Isn’t it always about that for the Christian?
For how can we reflect Christ if we fail to follow hard on his heels? Peter thought a couple feet away from Light Personified would be safe enough and we all know how that turned out.
May our families flourish and exude the fragrance of heaven, even in hard places.
Especially in hard places.
Faithful is our God.