While attending a marriage seminar on communication, David and his wife listened to the instructor declare, “It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other.”
He addressed the men, “Can you describe your wife’s favorite flower?” David leaned over, touched his wife’s arm gently and whispered, “Pillsbury All Purpose, isn’t it?”
It’s Valentine weekend and for many people thoughts of love and romance have been on their minds and in their buying habits. Relationships are remember and cards, flowers, and candy (as well other things) are sent and received.
I felt strongly led a few weeks ago to take time out of our current series, “Getting In Shape For God,” (to be completed next week) and take time on this Valentine’s Day Sunday to address the importance and place of marriage in our lives and society.
If you have read the papers and watched the news you know that the issue of marriage has been frequently mentioned especially in regards to the push (in some parts of our nation) for same sex marriage. Then there has been the ongoing concern regarding the divorce rate, the cohabitation rate, and the impact of both on children and family life. Not to mention the impact of TV on perceptions of marriage.
Marriage is important. Marriage is wonderful. God created marriage for the purpose of both creating the human race and for a morally correct outlet of love. Genesis 2:24 and I Corinthians 7:1-9 supports these purposes.
I could take several weeks to deal with each of these issues and a series on marriage is a very appropriate sermon topic, but this morning I have felt led to speak primarily to married couples, but I invite all to listen today. And my sermon title gives you an idea of where I am headed. I am also aware of the emotions that surround this subject because of the experiences of many here this morning. It is my sincere hope and prayer that all of us will hear God’s voice and experience God’s presence, as we each need to, this morning.
A January 21, 2004 article by Emma Juhlin in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon Independent Student Newspaper, questioned the effects of reality TV on marriage. The article is entitled, “Counselors say reality TV shows harm image of healthy marriage.” With a subtitle of “Some marriage counselors claim shows like ’Newlyweds’ and ’The Bachelor’ exploit the institution of marriage.”
Juhlin interviewed several Oregon marriage counselors for this article and this is what two of them said:
Diane Thurlow, a counselor at Healthy Marriage Counseling in Eugene, said, “The reality television marriage shows make the institution look like a game… "It’s just fun and smiles and sex… "I think they minimize the vows people make to each other when they get married." "Society,” she continued, “doesn’t do a good job of showing people that it is difficult and how to be together successfully." She added that couples in their 30s and 40s are most likely to be influenced by the idyllic standards of reality television.”
Marriage counselor Marlin Schultz said he “is concerned that reality television programs don’t allow enough time for the couple to get to know each other. "One of the highest correlations in a successful relationship is friendship," Schultz said. "I’d like to see couples who have long-term, stable relationships (in reality television)."
Which brings us to our text of the morning, Song of Songs (or Songs of Solomon) 2:15, “Quick! Catch all the little foxes before they ruin the vineyard of your love, for the grapevines are all in blossom.”
Now some of you read your bulletin this morning and saw “Song of Songs” and perhaps gasped. “What, we are having a sermon out of this book?” And some perhaps thought, “What in the world is “Song of Songs?” That’s in the Bible?”
It appears after the book of Ecclesiastes and before the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. It is a book that some have wondered why it is in the Bible in the first place.
It is a book that is a love letter between a man and a woman that speaks directly to the sanctity of love that God wants us to have in our lives and especially in our marriages. Some might consider it erotic. But, maybe that is because we have forgotten that true love in marriage contains passion and because of our societal preoccupation with sex we have tainted this proper passion.
I recently read an excerpt from John Trent’s book, Love For All Seasons, in which he uses this verse to address the “little foxes” that can ruin a marriage. And I suggest this morning that when these foxes are not hunted down and done away with they can, in Trent’s words, “quickly grow into patterns of behavior or personal problems that become irritants and then genuine threats to the health and stability of our relationship.” How do we deal with them? Trent suggests five steps: (Overhead 1):
1. Recognize the Need to Do Some Things Differently
2. Focus on Your Strengths
3. State A Clear Goal
4. Divide the Goal into Measurable Behaviors
5. Stay Open To Change through All Seasons
What are some of the foxes that Trent speaks of? “They seem like annoyances not fundamental issues. “Small” things like bouncing a check, procrastinating on a chore, skipping church to sleep in on Sunday, or snipping at each other.” But they can grow into larger issues that can destroy a marriage.
We read in Exodus 18:13-26 of someone who recognized the need to do some things differently. It was a father-in-law, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. Here is the jist of the passage:
The next day, Moses sat as usual to hear the people’s complaints against each other. They were lined up in front of him from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “Why are you trying to do all this alone? The people have been standing here all day to get your help.”
“This is not good!” his father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you.
“Find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. [T] hey can take care of the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God directs you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.”
Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions. He chose capable men from all over Israel and made them judges over the people. They were put in charge of groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. These men were constantly available to administer justice. They brought the hard cases to Moses, but they judged the smaller matters themselves.
Overwork, it plagues all of us! But overwork affects our relationships as well.
A similar term that is often used in family therapy is “over functioning” because it describes a dynamic in which one member of a family either accepts the place of doing more than his/her share of the “work” or has that burden placed upon them because of the dynamics in the family, i.e., one is emotionally healthy and balanced and can function where as the others are not so healthy and balanced and cannot function like they should.
We see over functioning in Moses’ leadership. He is wearing himself out and working harder is not helping. Jethro sees this and makes a suggestion to do things differently.
Moses decides to try it. And it works! The workload begins to decrease. Moses then begins to come home earlier for supper! Talk about marriage enrichment! I can almost see Moses’ wife grabbing her dad then hugging him and saying, “Thanks for helping Moses get home and be more available! I love you daddy!”
Couples, as you think about your marriage, what is one “fox” you are dealing with and while you have tried to work harder at, it has not dealt with the “fox?” Do you have another idea in mind that you have not suggested for fear that it would be rejected? Write it down and find a good time when you both can discuss it.
Jethro took a risk by suggesting something different. And maybe it was hard (at first) for Moses to accept the idea because for many people (men and women) their identity gets too wrapped up in a role and when the role is threatened, so is their identity. Our identity must be rooted in Christ.
We also can learn from this passage that Jethro had Moses focus on his strengths that helped Moses to make the transition. We read in verses 19- 20 that Jethro affirms Moses’ strength by acknowledging his place of leadership, “You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing him their questions to be decided. You should tell them God’s decisions, teach them God’s laws and instructions, and show them how to conduct their lives.” Then he goes on to encourage Moses to find some help in the decision-making process.
Couples, what are the strengths that your spouse brings to your marriage? Write them down. How might those strengths be used to take care of the “fox” you have identified?
We have all heard and used the expression, “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” What does that mean? It means that sometimes we are so focused on a situation, issue, or problem that we fail to step back from time-to-time and review what the goal of our work is. And some times it takes another person (which can be our spouse) to make a statement that helps us step back and ask, “What am I trying to do here?”
Jethro saw something that Moses, in the midst of his daily leadership, had perhaps forgotten – the goal, the reason why he was doing what he was doing which was the Godly leadership of the Israelites.
Jethro stated a clear goal in his suggestions of decentralized leadership. What was it? It was to reduce Moses’ workload as leader. The plan was a decentralized decision-making process. But the goal was to reduce Moses’ workload.
“Time and time again,” writes John Trent (who is a marriage counselor), “I’ll ask a couple who seems stuck, “Where would you like to be in your relationship?” A very good question!
Couples, as you think about this “fox,” what is the goal? What would you like to see happen? Did Moses have any idea what he would be doing when he obeyed God and became the leader of Israel? Probably not!
The same holds true in our marriages. When we get married, we assume that all will be well. But, then the “fox” of an unexpected illness comes along and our relationship is tested. Or the “fox” of a terrible tragedy causes our priorities and goals to be forever changed. Or the “fox” of an affair damages the soul of our relationship.
We need to keep in mind a clear and stated goal that comes as we answer the question that John Trent poses to his clients, “Where would you like to be in your relationship?” Couples, what is your answer?
Now having a goal and achieving that goal are two different steps. And once again Jethro gives us a helpful illustration with his very specific plan of appointing judges over 1000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s and giving them the specific tasks of dealing with lesser matters that are “not too complicated or too important” as he says in verses 21 and 22.
Stating clear goals in measurable terms can help in our marriages. For example, as we deal with the challenges of income and expenses and the constant pressure to buy more and more on what seems to be less and less, a budget and/or a financial goal can be very helpful. Such goals serve as a reminder to us to stay the course during tough times.
Couples, what are two clear-cut things that you can do to deal with your marriage fox?
Finally our time with Moses and Jethro provide us a picture of our fifth way of keeping the foxes at bay in our marriages (and all of our relationships as well): Stay Open To Change through All Seasons.
Change happens. As we reflect on our lives, how much change has taken place? Quite a bit! Now some of that change we have had no control over – like aging. All of us are growing older. The question is, “How well we will age?” It’s an attitude issue.
And some of the changes have come, whether we like it or not, as a result of choices that we have made. Some of those choices we wish that we could take back, but we can’t and we, and others, are stuck with the results. It is those moments that we turn to God and His grace and mercy.
But, things are going to change for Moses. Down the road, Joshua will replace him as the leader of the Israelites and he will only see, and never enter, the Promised Land that he was leading the Israelites toward and into. He probably never believed that his leadership would end for him the way it did.
Flexibility is an important thing in a marriage. If we think (and we have) that we are going into a marriage to fix our spouse, we are going to find out (and have found out) that we cannot “fix” them. So we have to make a decision whether or not we are going to stay with them.
(Abuse is not a good reason. Can an abusive marriage be restored? Maybe. But, when a spouse begins to beat and threaten the other spouse and even family members I believe that the marriage vow of “to love and to cherish” has been broken by the acts of abuse.)
There are seasons to our lives and seasons to our marriages and with God’s help we can walk through them together. Flexibility is important as we change throughout our lives.
Couples, what can you do to keep the “foxes” out of the garden of marriage? What are some ways that you can incorporate flexibility into your marriage?
I believe in marriage. I believe that God created marriage so that the human race would function, as it should.
But, there are tremendous challenges to marriage these days. And the view of it from the perspective of “reality TV” troubles me.
It is not a game. It is not a show. It is a sacred promise to love and to serve “until death do us part.” Marriage is made in heaven and not on TV.
And while I am concerned about the condition of marriage, I am also encouraged that there are signs of a clearer understanding of and honest commitment to marriage. The comments of 23-year-old newlywed Lana Crator-Mabry (that appear in the final paragraphs of the University of Oregon article that I quoted from earlier) give me some hope.
She says, "I would hope no one would believe these shows and think that is how marriage is," Crator-Mabry said. "Marriage is a strong bond between two people that love each other. Marriage is full of commitments and sacrifices that bring friendship, passion and adventure. Reality shows don’t portray that."
God gave us marriage for some wonderful (and passionate) reasons – let us stay committed to adventure and wonder that God intended when He first created man and women. Amen.
(Overhead is available by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org and asking for 021504 svgs. The five steps suggested by John Trent come from his book, “Love For All Seasons” published by Moody Press)