How to Have a Marathon Marriage
It’s interesting to find out what kids think about marriage. When asked how you decide who to marry, Kirsten, age 10 answered this way: “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.”
Alan, age 10, said this: “You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.”
When asked to give the right age to get married, six-year-old Freddie said, “No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.”
In answering the age-old question about whether it is better to be single or married, Anita, age 9, answered with some good insight: “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.”
And, when asked how best to make a marriage work, 10-year-old Ricky perceptively replied: “Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.”
Our marriage has gone through several different seasons. We’ve had our ups and our downs. We’ve experienced things that were funny -- and other things that made one, or both of us, cry. That’s really the nature of marriage -- it’s dynamic.
I see at least three stages of marriage.
1. The first stage is the romance stage. Most every relationship starts off here. During the romantic season of marriage, couples demonstrate intensity. They focus only on each other. Their feelings are strong, their passions are unbridled.
They also are a bit idealistic. During this stage, the tendency is to put your partner up on a pedestal. He or she can’t do anything wrong. They write poetry to each other. Listen to how a love struck man describes the love of his life in Song of Songs 4:
How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead [remember, this is a middle-eastern setting!] Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance...
He continues to describe her physical attributes -- but I think I’ll stop at the neckline!
2. If the Romance Stage is the ideal, in the Reality Stage the ideal can turn into an ordeal. Suddenly what once attracted you to your spouse becomes the very thing that drives you crazy. By the way, one clue that you’ve left the Romance stage is when you start rolling your eyes at couples who haven’t!
Dullness may set in. Things are no longer so exciting. Nothing’s really new. Disagreements turn into the cold war. Some of you feel cheated and trapped. What started out as puppy love has gone to the dogs.
Several years ago I met with a focus group to get their ideas about marriage. One of the questions I asked them was this: What advice would you give couples contemplating marriage? One wife responded very quickly by saying, “Don’t do it.” A husband chimed in: “Bail, baby, bail.” I think it’s fair to say that these two individuals are living in the reality stage of marriage.
That reminds me of the young minister who was performing his first wedding ceremony. He was nervous so he asked for some advice from an older pastor. The experienced man told the young preacher everything he needed to do and then made one final suggestion: “If you ever forget what you’re supposed to say, just quote Scripture.” The ceremony went smoothly until he pronounced the happy couple husband and wife. At that point his mind went blank. That’s when he remembered the advice of the old preacher. So he quoted the only verse that came to his mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
3. The third stage is the rethinking stage. The Romance Stage is when we think of marriage as the perfect ideal; the Reality Stage is where the ideal can turn into an ordeal; the Rethinking stage is when you want a new deal. In this stage, you really have at least 3 choices.
Choice #1 is to settle for the blahs. Maybe you know that your marriage isn’t that great, but you figure there’s not much you can do about it. It’s like what Minnie Pearl says: “Getting married is a lot like getting into a tub of hot water. After you get used to it, it ain’t so hot.” Some of you have cooled off and are just living like roommates, as you pour your life into other things, ignoring your spouse. Others of you deliberately hurt each other by launching verbal attacks, put downs, and other unkind behavior.
Choice #2 is to bail on your marriage. Maybe you just can’t take it anymore. You want out. You’ve been hurt too bad. You’ve gone too long with your needs unmet. You figure it’s just not worth it. The average length of marriages in America is 7.2 years -- and many don’t even make it for a couple months. It’s easier to get out of marriage today then it is to get out of a Book of the Month Club!
Friends, there’s a better way. You don’t have to settle for the blahs, and you don’t have to bail.
Option #3 is to Build Your Marriage. I know what some of you are thinking -- “You got to be kidding. Do you know how difficult it is to live with my spouse? There’s no way.” While I don’t know about all your difficulties, I do know that it is possible to build your marriage.
Ted Turner, media mogul and billionaire had this to say: “After having done CNN and the Superstation, winning the America’s Cup in 1997 and the ’95 World Series with the Atlanta Braves, I feel that I can do just about anything. Except have a successful marriage.”
I’m convinced that most of you want a successful marriage -- you really do. The problem is that some of you are stuck -- you just don’t know how to make it work.
Let me illustrate. Several weeks ago, I decided to put together the basketball hoop that Beth and the girls bought me for Christmas. I’m not very handy so I had to ramp up to the task. I knew I was in immediate trouble when I opened the box and couldn’t find the instructions!
I first took out all the pieces and laid them on our driveway. There were bolts and brackets everywhere. I made a half-hearted attempt to put the backboard together but got stuck when the bolts weren’t long enough. I then decided to be creative. I checked out the company’s web page in the hope that they would have the instruction manual on line. No such luck. I went back outside and moved the parts into different piles.
Fortunately for me, one of my neighbors came over to help. He is a lot handier than I am. We were beginning to make some progress but were still stumped at a couple key points. Other neighbors came over and scratched their heads with us. I then decided to call BigR to see if someone could help me over the phone. He tried to describe what the finished product was supposed to look like but I couldn’t picture it. So my neighbor and I decided to drive to the store and check it out ourselves. It helped a lot to see what it was supposed to look like.
When we got back two more neighbors came over to help. We finally figured it out after taking it apart several times. When we were ready to put it up, the whole thing came crashing down and almost sliced our hands and hit us in the head!
Friends, if you want to build a Marathon Marriage, if you want to put all the pieces together, then its best to have the instructions. We need to know what a marriage is supposed to look like. You need to consult the manufacturer’s manual if you want to have a marriage that lasts for the long haul. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game.
The Foundation of Marriage
That manual has been given to us by the Inventor and Designer of Marriage -- God Himself.
Context is always important when we study the Bible. Genesis 1 gives us a complete narration of creation. Genesis 2 retells the story in order to fill in the details concerning human existence and marriage. I see two principles in Genesis 2:18-23:
1. Marriage is designed by God to meet our core need for companionship. God creates Adam, breathes life into him and puts him into a garden to live. Then, in verse 18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This is a remarkable statement by God. Six times in Genesis 1, after each major creation event, God looked at what He created and said, “It is good.” But now in this expanded account of the sixth day of creation, there’s a moment in which God says that something is not good. Since God sees companionship as a core need, He moves to meet the problem of Adam’s loneliness.
When God says that He will create “a helper,” many people picture someone who just brings the chips and dip. That’s not the idea at all. In Psalm 46:1, this word is used of God Himself: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” A “helper” is one who supplies what is lacking in another person. God created Eve to do what Adam cannot do by Himself. It’s not that the man is better than the woman, or the woman better than the man, but that each one is inadequate alone. That’s how God designed the marriage relationship. The husband and the wife both need each other. Having said that, we might expect the next verse to say something like, “So God created Eve.” Instead of making a partner, God puts Adam to work on a big zoology term project.
In verses 19-20, we see that Adam is told to give names to all the animals. As he gives each one a name, God is preparing him for marriage. God is teaching Adam to be a leader. The power to name is the power of authority. Naming the animals was part of Adam’s premarital counseling session.
God was also training him to be a lover. As Adam surveyed all the animals he saw Mr. Giraffe and Mrs. Giraffe, Mr. Llama and Mrs. Llama. Everyone had a partner, but where was his? God was creating within Adam a gnawing hunger for a life mate, a hunger God would soon meet in the creation of Eve. Look at the end of verse 20: “…But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” Adam discovers for himself in verse 20 what God already knew in verse 18. He is living in paradise where he has everything his heart could want a dog named Lassie, a good job, and a sinless relationship with God. But Adam discovered a very important fact:
2. Everything else is a poor substitute for human companionship. For Adam, even the perfections of the Garden of Eden, the joy of working there, even the blessing of the presence of God could not resolve his loneliness.
In verses 21-23, God addresses Adam’s need for companionship: “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’”
Verse 22 tells us that God “brought her to the man.” As a pastor it has been my joy for 15 years to watch as proud fathers escort their daughters down the aisle. That is what happened in Eden. God was the Father of the bride and was bringing her to Adam. From this story we learn that God planned the human heart for love, marriage and companionship. The only thing man brought with him out of the Garden was marriage. As a pastor friend of mine says, “Marriage in a fallen world is truly Holy Matrimony and the only touch of paradise we will ever know this side of heaven.”
God creates a partner for Adam from his own flesh. Having come to appreciate his need, he wakes up from his sleep. The original Hebrew helps us see that he was pretty pumped. The phrase, “This is now” means something like, “This is it!” He said something like: “Wow! Oh, baby! Where have you been all my life? Got any plans on Thursday?” Or something like that. He now knows he is not alone. Isolation has given way to relationship and partnership.
4 Building Blocks
Verses 24-25 give us four building blocks for marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Building Block #1: Severance. God says first of all that when we get married, we need to leave our parents. What this means is that we need to sever the emotional umbilical cord. We need to make a break with our parents so that we can build a Marathon Marriage with our spouse. When you get married, your spouse is to become your second priority in life, after your relationship with God.
The word “leave” is a very strong word that is translated “forsake” in other places. Husbands and wives, you are to disconnect yourself from loyalty to your parent’s priorities, traditions, rules and influence.
[Hold up both cords to show the idea of leaving our parents -- cords should be held apart and pulled away from parents]
This doesn’t mean that you can never talk with them again. What it does mean is that your allegiance needs to change. Your loyalty now belongs to your spouse -- your partner should never have to compete with your parents.
Building Block #2: Permanence. Second, God says that once you leave, you then need to be committed to permanence. The word “united” literally means to be glued together -- “to melt 2 separate entities together to form a permanent bond.” The word you may hear in some weddings is “cleave”. It has the idea of being bonded or welded together. The union is so strong that it takes something extremely violent to dissolve it.
[Take two cords and put two ends together to show that the two are now “glued” together]
Building Block #3: Oneness. God says next that the two are to become one flesh. This phrase conveys the idea of partnership, or oneness. When a married couple becomes one flesh, their hearts and lives are knit together. This unity is to be experienced emotionally, spiritually, and physically. God’s objective for marriage is a loving relationship of oneness.
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 19:6: “They are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate.”
[Take two ropes and wrap them around each other several times to make one strong rope]
Building Block #4: Intimacy. The final element in God’s plan for marriage is intimacy. We see this in verse 25 where we read that “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Intimacy means knowing what is there and accepting it when all the covering whether it’s physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual is stripped away. Marriage is designed to be incredibly intimate. There is no way to hide your flaws because marriage makes you vulnerable and subject to shame. If you’re married, God’s intention is for you to be in a marathon marriage where you can safely be transparent and vulnerable without fear of being put down.
I’m convinced that oneness and intimacy do not happen automatically. It takes work. It involves understanding your spouse and working to meet his or her needs (we’re going to address this next Sunday). If you don’t work at it, oneness and intimacy can unravel. You’ll just start drifting apart.
[Let ropes loose at bottom so they start unraveling]
Isolation vs. Oneness
I like to picture marriage on a continuum. Every marriage is somewhere between Isolation and Oneness. You are either moving toward oneness, or you’re moving toward isolation. If you think you can just coast for a while, I have news for you: If you’re not doing what it takes to achieve oneness, you will move toward isolation. In other words, oneness and intimacy only happen when you commit to some hard work.
Where are you on the continuum? Are you moving toward oneness or isolation? Are you soul mates or just roommates? Are your hearts and lives knit together or are they unraveling?
Whatever season your marriage is in, it can get better! You don’t have to settle for the blahs, or bail on your spouse. No, with God’s help, you can build your marriage from the ground up. And, if you want a Marathon Marriage, you need to have:
#1 Severance. You leave your parents
#2 Permanence. You cleave permanently to your spouse
#3 Oneness. You strive to be united soul mates.
#4 Intimacy. You work toward open transparency.
A Cord of 3 Strands
The same man who wrote that love letter I read from earlier, also kept a journal. His name is Solomon. And, after writing about his love for his special lady, he wrote these words in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up!
I called an engineer this week to see how much more strong something is when you double it. He was not aware of how much stronger a rope is when it has two strands but he told me that when you double a 4x4 piece of angle iron, you increase the load 43 times! In other words, one piece can hold 2,200 pounds. When you add the other one, it can bear 96,000 pounds!
[Hold up the two ropes that are intertwined to show the strength and companionship of marriage]
Solomon continues in verse 12: “A cord of 3 strands is not quickly broken.” If a second strand provides more strength, can you imagine how much stronger three strands is?
[Take 3d cord and slowly wrap it around the other two]
What is Solomon referring to here? Who is this 3d strand? Friends, this third strand is Jesus Christ. As you open yourself to Him, as you confess your sins and shortcomings, as you surrender to His leadership in your life and your marriage, He will give you a fresh start, and He will give your marriage strength.
As your marriage moves through the various seasons -- the ideal of Romance; the ordeal of Reality; and the new deal of the Rethinking stage -- you really can have a new deal. You don’t have to settle for the blahs, or bail on your marriage. No. If you want a new deal, you need to cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ. You need to start living according to His guidelines. And you need to base and build your marriage according to His specifications.
If you have not yet surrendered yourself to Jesus Christ by asking Him to forgive you for your sins, this is your first step to having a Marathon Marriage. Actually, it’s the most important thing you can do even if you’re not married.
For those of you who are married -- I can’t say it any stronger -- Jesus Christ is the most important ingredient to having a marriage that lasts for the long haul. He will not only change your life, He will change your marriage. He’ll give you a new deal -- much better than you’ve ever had before!
If you have already made that decision to receive Jesus Christ into your life, then it’s time to surrender your marriage to Jesus. Ask him to be the leader of your relationship. Ask Him to help you deal with the various issues that come up. Ask Him to help you navigate through the changing seasons of your marriage. And determine to be sold out to Him.
I want to give all you married couples a 3-part assignment this week.
1. Discuss what season your marriage is in: Romance, Reality, or Rethinking.
2. Then spend some time talking about where your marriage is on the oneness/isolation continuum. Are you soul mates or just roommates?
3. Finally, I want you to brainstorm some ways that your marriage can move toward oneness. What do you need to do to have a Marathon Marriage? Be specific. What are those things that you personally can start doing to have a marriage of oneness? What do you need to stop doing that has been contributing to the feelings of isolation? If you want to be real daring -- ask your spouse what he or she thinks you should be doing to build your marriage.
Make Sure Jesus is There
A little boy sat through a Sunday School class and learned about the time Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine. When he got home, his dad asked him what he learned from this story. The boy thought for a moment and then answered: “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there.”
Song: “I See Jesus in You”
Prayer of Recommitment
As we close this morning, I’d like you to stand and close your eyes. If you’re married, and your spouse is here, I’d like you to hold hands.
If you’re married, take a moment to recommit yourself to a marriage characterized by leaving, cleaving, oneness, and intimacy.
If your marriage is in some difficulty, pray for God’s healing power to come into your relationship. Surrender yourself to Christ so that your spouse can see Jesus in you.
If you are a widow or a widower, thank God for the good memories. Ask Him for the grace you need this week.
If you are single because of divorce, pray for an intimate relationship with God to fill the void in your heart.
If you’re a single parent, ask God to be the missing parent for your children.
If you’re not married, and want to be married, pray that God will bring the best to you in His own time. Commit yourself to purity and tell the Lord that you won’t settle for second best.
If you have the gift of singleness, ask God to help you make an eternal impact in His kingdom work.