Marriage in Two Easy Lessons

I recently noticed a sweet little summary of marriage in the Bible, that I had not noticed before. I like what it says and it gives me a fresh handle on some things I have been teaching and new things I need to bring out in my teaching. So, here’s a look at “Marriage in Two Easy Lessons”.

The passage which caught my attention is in the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, written by one of the prophets at the close of the Old Testament era. Malachi is a prophet who challenged the backslidden attitudes of the people in his day. Malachi was preoccupied with challenging God’s people, including the religious leaders, about the fact that they were going through the motions but were missing the core essence of many godly things. One of those things Malachi addressed was marriage.

I was struck by the way Malachi summarised marriage in two simple descriptors. Have a look at the verse and see if you can see the two key points that impressed me. Malachi 2:14 “the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously: yet is she your companion, and the wife of your covenant.” Can you see in that verse that marriage is described as both a ‘companionship’ and a ‘covenant’?

Here we have marriage in two easy lessons. Let me unpack these two lessons for you. I’ll start with the second one, since it is something I have had a beef about more recently on this blog.

Marriage is a ‘covenant’. That means it is something which God created for us. We didn’t invent it and we don’t get to make of it what we want to. It is a divine creation to be operated and explored by God’s rules and for His purposes. I have spoken out already about how people try to make marriage into a product of their liking. They may choose to have consensus instead of headship. They may choose to have shared roles instead of God’s specifications for their roles. They may choose to allow things in their relationship which God does not allow. They may deem for their relationship to be temporary and transient when God declares that it is permanent.

By being a ‘covenant’, marriage is not something we can tamper with. God will judge us, as He did in Malachi’s day, on the basis of how we have treated the special relationship which He created. We cannot get off by saying, “Oh, we decided to make marriage into something more modern and more acceptable to our cultural values.” That just doesn’t wash with God. Marriage is what He made it to be. Your wife is the wife of your covenant, even if you don’t know what a covenant is. Husbands must love their wife. Wives must submit to their husband. The husband must be the head. The husband must perfect his wife and rule over her.

When a man says, “I don’t go in for that headship stuff”, he is defying God and rejecting the gift of marriage which God created for him and his wife. When a man says, “I won’t rule over my wife”, he is denying the wife any opportunity to prove herself as submissive, so he is denying her the chance to be a truly godly wife.

At the same time, given equal weight in Malachi’s summary, is the fact that marriage is a ‘companionship’. Husbands and wives are travelling companions. They are privileged with a close friendship relationship. The formal, by the book, covenant relationship is not the whole story. A couple could have a correct ‘covenant’ relationship and yet not even be good friends. Malachi rescues marriage from that sterility by giving equal weight to the fact that the couple are ‘companions’.

I find that exciting. While I am a strong contender for the covenant roles and model of marriage, I am delighted with having a bride who is my life-long companion. To see that companionship role enshrined so worthily in scripture seems completely fitting to me. Susan is my best friend, my partner, my lover, my travelling companion. She is the one who shares the happy moments with me and who blesses me like no other.

Also, by bringing companionship into focus, we can look at those things which spoil the journey – such as resentment, nagging, contention, unforgiveness, neglect, competition, and the like. When we see those things come between us we know that we have a divine mandate to remove them. Susan is not just my companion because she is my wife, but she is my companion because God declares it so! I have no right to have her as anything other than my companion. When either husband or wife would rather be on their own than with the ‘companion’, there may be something that is spoiling the divine quality which God intends every couple to enjoy.

Now, two cannot walk together except they are agreed (Amos 3:3). So couples may have to work at preserving companionship, just as we may have to work at the covenant aspects of our relationship. We can now do both of those things with a sense of divine injunction and authority, and with the clarity that these are the two broad lessons of marriage.

Un-Charming Prince – Forgiven

This is yet another instalment in the investigation of how to deal with the ugly reality most marriages confront, of the husband or wife not being what we want them to be. Susan and I have both experienced this in our marriage and I have spoken to many men and women who have their own story to tell of this phenomenon. At some point in most relationships we come to realise that the other person is less than we hoped and thought them to be. They may prove to have qualities far below what we expected.

I believe that the most powerful Repair Mechanism in marriage is forgiveness. So let me tell you about my own experience of having to forgive Susan. When she proved to be a Tainted Cinderella I struggled, but eventually resolved the situation by applying forgiveness. I think this experience will be instructive and helpful.

In the early years of my marriage to Susan, which took place almost 35 years ago, I was surprised to find that she was not the ideal wife I had expected. I did not realise I had specific expectations until they were not fulfilled. I simply thought that Susan would have the same ideas of marriage as me and would naturally do the things I thought she would. I was mistaken. Susan had her own ideas and her own determination to be and do what she thought was best. When I suggested she do things my way or fit in with my expectations she showed that she had no inclination to do so. She could tell me why her ideas were better and why mine should be rejected.

I don’t recall the detail of a lot of this now; since it was three decades ago and we have worked through many things since then. I do know that I found myself so bewildered and hurt by what Susan turned out to be that I would cry silent tears into my pillow. One day at church my pastor prophesied as he prayed for me and he said, on the Lord’s behalf, “I know the tears you shed at night”. That was an amazing prophetic revelation. I had told no-one of my situation and inner pain. I feared for a while that Susan would ask me about the tears. I didn’t want to tell her that she made me cry.

The problem was resolved very simply. I finally realised that I was despising Susan for being ‘Susan’. OK, she wasn’t the person I thought she was. She wasn’t the person I thought I was marrying. But I did marry Susan. Susan was my bride. I was rejecting and despising her for being ‘Susan’, because I wanted her to be someone else. I wanted a warm and devoted wife whose whole focus was to please me. I even coined the term, ‘Country Kitchen Mum’, to describe the idea of a loving woman who made you feel special and who made you the focus of her life. Susan was not a Country Kitchen Mum.

I finally came to the place, without me ever discussing it with Susan, of forgiving her for being ‘Susan’. I told God that I forgave Susan for not being the woman I wanted her to be. I committed myself to be Susan’s husband, to love her unconditionally, even though she was not the bride I thought I was marrying. I guess I felt a bit like Jacob must have felt being married off to a different person to the one he thought he was marrying.

Once I forgave Susan for being Susan something wonderful happened in my heart. It seemed that my fantasy ideas about the ideal wife I wanted Susan to be just evaporated and all the disappointment and hurt feelings I felt evaporated with them. I found myself on a journey of discovery, to build a very real relationship with a very real person; my wife Susan. At first I had been building a fantasy relationship with a person who did not exist. My season of struggle with the Tainted Cinderella was a vital step toward removing the fantasy notions.

Please note that it is possible for the dream to die and for bitterness and resentment to grow instead. If I had not forgiven Susan for being Susan I could have spent the rest of my life resenting Susan for being Susan. So the journey from the Honeymoon Phase to the Happy Reality Phase requires God’s grace, not just realisation. Forgiveness is the very powerful Repair Mechanism in marriage. Never hold back from using it. And the internal transformation you can enjoy will often surprise you.

This is part of a series of posts on the theme of the Un-Charming Prince:

Un-Charming Prince

What does a woman do when she wakes up one day and realises her Prince Charming is a dope? Or maybe he is irresponsible, opinionated, ineffective, vain, shallow, insecure, unreliable or otherwise less than charming. What does a wife do when she discovers that her hero is, in reality, an Un-Charming Prince?

I have seen at times the look of exasperation in the eyes of a young bride. I have heard the sighs of resignation. I have heard the sharp words or the hurt rebukes of a wife feeling sadly done-by as her husband heads off on some irresponsible or self-indulgent endeavour. My own sweet Susan expressed those very things herself, as she confronted my irresponsibility and general failure to be what she had hoped.

The process I am describing is, in fact, to be expected in every marriage. We all see in our beloved a range of things which are born of hope more than reality. We impose upon them our own biased view of who they are. We even overlook the evidence of their shortcomings. We may think that those things are just incidental glitches in an otherwise idyllic person. Or we may think that once we are married those negative qualities will smooth away. “She only needs someone to love her”, or, “Once I get him away from his friends he’ll be a much better person”, are the types of thoughts that can beguile us about our future spouse.

The initial phase of marriage is oft referred to as the ‘Honeymoon Phase’, where everything is seen with rose-coloured glasses. The ‘In-Love Phase’ is full of hopeful expectation. The ‘Honeymoon Phase’ is sweetened by new levels of relationship and intimacy. But eventually both the In-Love experience and the intoxication of the new intimacy must yield to the growing body of evidence. The weaknesses of the spouse continue to show up and the accumulating evidence becomes increasingly compelling. The small annoyances begin to loom as proof of deeper problems.

Just as the husband often proves to be an Un-Charming Prince, the wife equally proves to be other than her husband once hoped. As and when this happens, don’t be alarmed. This is an important step toward maturity and toward the deepening of your marriage and your joy. I don’t say that to be condescending, but I speak from sound personal experience. So in a few days I’ll share some of my own journey with you, in order for you to see that the ugly realisation of an Un-Charming Prince or a tainted Cinderella is a step toward greater blessing. Keep an eye out for further posts referring to the Un-Charming Prince – that will point you to my further discussions on this important issue.

This post is part of a series on the Un-Charming Prince:

My Woman of Faith

Last week I wrote how dependent wives can find it easier to be a ‘woman of faith’ than their husbands do in being a man of faith. A dependent person must look to God to protect them against the weaknesses or vagaries of those who have responsibility or power over them. In Colossians 3:20 we learn that obedience in children involves ‘faith’, since it pleases God and only faith does that (see Hebrews 11:6).

When a wife, child or dependent person happily submits to the leadership of someone who could possibly disadvantage them, they are likely doing so because they really trust God to protect them and provide for them.  This predisposition to trust God is an advantage in prompting a wife to be a woman of faith. Often men struggle to trust God because they are more likely to correlate their own physical efforts with the income and provision that comes in.

Here are two examples that have come to mind from my life journey, where my wife, Susan, has been my woman of faith, while I have been a man of fear. On one occasion I had stepped out, as a young married man, attempting to start my own business. I had worked out exactly how much money we needed each week and we were right on the line. Then, just a few days later our landlord arrived to advise that he was putting the rent up nearly 50%. As I walked back into the house, after farewelling the landlord, my head was spinning with the news and the new challenge. I had no idea how we were going to make ends meet. Susan, met me at the door, fairly dancing on the spot. She was just SO excited. She praised the Lord and exulted in how exciting this was. I was stunned! How could she be so delighted when we had just received such bad news? Yet she was right. It turned out to be an exciting and wonderful time for us and we didn’t get swept away into bankruptcy. God was good and still is today.

On a later occasion I was at Bible College in New Zealand and had arrived with very little money in the bank. Susan and I had three children by then and the youngest, Matthew, needed new shoes because he was growing fast. Susan asked me several times for funds to buy new shoes and I kept putting her off. I was afraid to use up a large chunk of what little money we had. There was no visible source of further funds and this money was to keep us going for many months yet.

Finally, when I tried to duck the question yet again, Susan challenged me point-blank. “You don’t trust the Lord to provide, do you?” The surprise and rebuke in her tone humbled me, because she was right. She chided me that God would provide. We were in Bible College, learning to be ministering people, so we should be the first to trust God. Here I was in fear and holding tightly to the little that we had, rather than trusting God. Suitably challenged I decided to give some of the money away – as well as releasing funds for the shoes. In very short order we received a much larger gift from friends in Australia. God was good to us, but He needed my woman of faith to shake me out of my fear.

I am hardly qualified tell others to be men and women of faith, when I have been so prone to doubt. But allow me to encourage you, whether you are a dependent wife or child, or an income earning person. Please become a man or woman of faith. It’s the best way to live.

It’s MY Baby

Here’s an important realization that I worked through which proved helpful for me as a dad.

Susan and I raised five sons before adding two more children to our family. The gap between son number five and child number six was fourteen years. Our “baby of the family” was a teenager when our first daughter was born. Over two years later our seventh child (our sixth son) was born.

For several years looking after the new babies in the family was made easier by the input of our older sons. Those boys learned how to bath a baby, how to clean a baby’s dirty bottom, and so on. The workload was shared around seven people.

Gradually, however, the older sons become less available, as they married off, found employment and so on. The ready helpers evaporated and an increased workload fell to Susan and me.

That’s where my own maturity had to take yet another step forward.

I found myself feeling miffed that I didn’t have the help I had become accustomed to. I found myself irritated when my plans had to be adjusted to accommodate the demands of the young children. I seemed to think that someone else should be feeling the impact of these children and not me. I had important things to do, places to go, plays to pursue.

Then it hit me! I realized one day, as the baby needed attention and there was no-one else to delegate the job to, that “It’s MY baby!” That tender young life in need of care, attention, love and affection was in my home, on the planet, because of choices made by ME, not someone else. This baby was not someone else’s responsibility. My daughter and son were not someone else’s problem, nor someone else’s distraction. They are MY children, born to me as a direct consequence of my actions, according to my hopes and dreams. Even if they had not been wanted, and they certainly were wanted and planned for, I would still have to accept full and final responsibility for them.

Coming to that realization was a wonderful release for me. I stood to my feet and headed in the direction of the crying child, with new resolve and with new energy to meet the challenges. The tiny voice was calling for Me, from My child. I found it easy then to release my sons to move off into the things for which they had been raised and prepared. I released them from being the caregivers for my baby. I released them from having to be “on duty”, with their lives on hold.