Read an Excerpt
Marriage: From Surviving to Thriving
Practical Advice on Making Your Marriage Strong
By CHARLES R. SWINDOLL Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2007
Charles R. Swindoll
All right reserved.
Chapter One This Is Not Your Grandfather's Family
Imagine for a few moments that you are a modern-day Rip van Winkle. You're enjoying a relatively normal life in the mid-1960s with a mate at your side and children under the age of ten living at home. Life is good, yet a subtle uneasiness occasionally disturbs your peace. After the turmoil of Kennedy's assassination, Washington has returned to its usual bickering with Lyndon Johnson as the thirty-sixth president of the United States. All's quiet in Cuba and the Soviet Union for the moment, but that troublesome skirmish in Southeast Asia seems to be escalating.
You're also concerned because your children are now listening to the Beach Boys after a man known simply as Elvis introduced a different kind of music to popular audiences. His swiveling hips and suggestive antics have robbed television of its earlier innocence, but you patiently endure the Smothers Brothers and are learning to tolerate the edgy, off-color humor on Laugh-In. After all, there's always Lawrence Welk on Saturday night and Bonanza every Sunday evening after church.
"Weed" is what keeps your flowers from blooming larger, "pot" is where you grow herbs, a "mouse" is a pesky rodent, Coke is a soft drink, and "gay" means you're happy. Abortion, incest, homosexuality, and condom are words you would never hear from a pulpit and rarely in public. Beatniks have become hippies, but you never see them anywhere except on television, usually living in communes or somewhere between Santa Cruz and Portland, or maybe out on Cape Cod at the opposite coast.
For the most part, you enjoy your home and your quiet neighborhood. It's a safe place to be. Your kids take off on their bikes each Saturday morning, and except for lunch, you don't see them again until dark. You don't worry because the other parents help keep an eye out for trouble, rare as it is.
Life is good. Not perfect, but good. Simple. Stable. Manageable. Then ... you lie down for a nap.
When you open your eyes, forty years have gone by. Your children are now in their forties and your mate is gone. Having decided you would probably never meet his or her personal needs, divorce seemed the only reasonable alternative to ensure long-term happiness. And so your spouse has found another. Your homestead has been replaced by high-rise apartments, and affluence has displaced the simplicity and security of your old neighborhood. You're interested in exploring the world that has covered over the green, landscaped patches that surrounded your little yard. But you frown, realizing it's not safe out there anymore.
Staying in doesn't feel much better. A contraption in your study has pornography on it, so you stay out of there. Your television has ten times the channels it used to and four-letter words pepper most of the programs, including newscasts, sports shows, and especially late-night talk shows. You used to roll your eyes because married couples on television slept in twin beds, but now characters go through multiple partners in a single episode. In fact, you can see most of the between-the-sheets details on any given weekday afternoon.
In the world beyond your neighborhood, prayer is increasingly illegal while abortion is encouraged. Churches in mainline denominations are performing more and more same-sex marriage ceremonies. Voice your objections on biblical grounds, and immediately you will find yourself accused of "hate speech" and labeled "homophobic." Children are fed raw sexuality and brutal violence while sociologists marvel at the rise of bloodshed and teenage sex at school. Society's solution: pass them through metal detectors and hand them a condom.
To say that things have changed is a gross understatement.
In the late 1960s, Dallas Theological Seminary hosted a three-day lectureship featuring Dr. Francis Schaeffer. I sat spellbound as this unusual, modern-day prophet wearing a turtleneck sweater and knickers painted a vivid picture of our times. He revealed patterns in art and literature as they progressed through history, leading up to where we were then. He even ventured a few shocking predictions that have since come to pass. The exact words of his last prediction have never left my mind: "Someday we will wake up and find that the America we once knew is gone." Schaeffer, though dead now, still speaks. How right he was!
This Is Not Your Grandfather's Family
The effect on the family has not been a small one. The images of domestic roles have become so smeared, we can barely recognize them. A masculine father who carries out his role as the spiritual leader of the family must do so apologetically. However tender and sensitive his approach, our culture will accuse him of being patriarchal and authoritarian. A feminine mother who delights in her role as caregiver and supporter will disappoint a watching world. Despite her dignified, sacrificial strength, too many will leave her with the odd feeling that she has something to prove. Besides, in this culture of blurred lines, the children have become the centerpiece of the home. Everything must revolve around their wants and needs. However, even today as you look at homes where the children are happiest, you'll see that their well-being grows out of an enduring, intimate union between their mom and dad. That hasn't changed even a little.
But then I can hardly blame the "children-first" reformers. Let's face facts. For many, the home is no longer a safe place. James Patterson and Peter Kim, authors of The Day America Told the Truth, are undeniably correct when they say that America is the most violent country in the world, and that the home is the epicenter of that violence. Stories of spouse abuse and child abuse have become so common that we have lost our sense of outrage.
Men afraid to be men. Women ashamed of being women. Children unsure of who's in charge. Homes that have become battlegrounds. And all of it so unstable, so temporary. In some respects, admittedly, things are better than forty years ago, but in so many others, far worse. We can debate each point endlessly, but we must agree on one inescapable truth: this is not your grandfather's family.
Let me assure you at this point that this chapter isn't heading where you might expect, so bear with me. Conservative politicians often begin their speeches much the way I have chosen to lead off this book. They spout statistics and point to alarming downward trends in order to grab the attention of fearful constituents and then promise a political solution. I support many of them and hope they contribute a positive influence in whatever office they hold. Still other social reformers decry the evils of modern technology and its threat to families. My message is pointed and direct, but it's not meant to sound cranky or old-fashioned. I have no interest in returning to yesteryear. I love the conveniences and delights of today's time. I wouldn't go back if I could.
I write this, not as a politician and not as a social scientist, but as a husband, a dad, a granddad, a pastor, and hopefully, your friend. My desire is to have everyone reading these pages, whether young or old, conservative or liberal, optimistic or pessimistic, begin this straightforward look at marriage and family from the same vantage point, with this simple axiom:
The world has changed, and it's going to keep changing.
That's no big revelation, I realize, but keeping it in the forefront of our minds will help us in three important ways. First, it tears from our clutching fingers the futile and frustrating hope that we can ever return to the past. Second, it alerts us to the fact that we are changing as things around us change. Third, it urges us to look for something permanent.
Face the Future
We can't solve modern problems by going back in time. Retreating to the safety of the familiar is an understandable response, but God has called us to a life of faith. And faith requires us to face the unknown while trusting Him completely. Furthermore, clinging to the good ol' days prevents older generations from teaching younger ones. Young families need perspective and encouragement to help them deal with today, where decisions shape the future-a future we will all share.
I have experienced, as I'm sure you have, a change in my Thinking as our society has changed. When we first encounter extreme evil, we naturally react with shock and outrage. I remember the chill that ran down my spine when I read of the mother who drowned her children by running her car into a lake. I was outraged by the mother who drowned her children in a bathtub. Then as a few more of these stories came to light, I noticed that each time I was a little more detached than the last. I felt myself move from shock to detachment, to indifference, to apathy. In unguarded moments, I must confess to a gradual, inevitable slide toward a passive acceptance of what I know to be wrong. What once made me blush now saddens me but rarely shocks me.
I wish I could say I'm still surprised to hear of believers living together without a marriage covenant. I don't accept it. I won't condone it. Our church must take disciplinary action if this situation involves our members, but I'm not as disturbed as I once was. My biblical stand remains as firm as ever on the matter, but no thanks to a culture that has moved from apathy to full acceptance of this sin and so many others.
A few, very influential leaders in popular culture use this slippery slope to advance their personal agenda. In a 1991 interview with The Advocate, a homosexual publication, entertainer Madonna answered a pointed question-about the provacative images she used in her videos and her stage act, and what effect they might have on teenage kids in Middle America. In response, she said kids digest the unusual, gender-confused images on a number of levels. She expected that some would be consciously disgusted, yet unconsciously aroused and challenged by the sight of men dancing with one another in women's lingerie. Others might be amused by the irony, which will help them overcome their fear of the forbidden. She concluded her statement by suggesting that, by repeated exposure, the provocative would gradually become less bizarre, more normal.
Don't be fooled. This is more than harmless fun or mere "artistic expression." This is a conscious effort to move our moral boundaries by degrees.
Pause, and let that sink in.
Robert Lewis, a pastor in Little Rock, Arkansas, wrote these very astute words in his book, Real Family Values:
The Christian family looks on while people in authority make decisions that contradict everything they know to be true.... Anesthetized by a corrupt culture, many families have lost the ability to discern between good and evil. Our moral edge has become dull. Our children sit next to us on the sofa at night soaking up the opinions, values, and images of a godless society. Our silence and passivity are lethal to them. And then we have the audacity to marvel at their lack of spiritual passion and their propensity for moral compromise!
If you're like most believers, it's very possible that your conscience has been desensitized. Perhaps you sometimes find yourself rethinking some truths that you know are in the Scriptures but wonder now if they're relevant. Beware! You're feeling the tug of gravity, and a helpless slide into moral compromise is not far away. Trust me, I've felt it. No one is immune.
Search for Truth
With all of this talk of change, we need to focus our attention on some unchanging truths-things that haven't changed.
First, the heart of humanity hasn't changed. You and I are, by birth, by nature, and by choice, inwardly depraved, which is to say that we are entirely corrupt. That's not to say that we have no good in us; we do. However, anything good in us has been tainted with evil. It touches everything. Without the redeeming power of Christ we cannot halt our own moral slide. Only the power of the Holy Spirit working within us can do that.
Second, God's desire for His people hasn't changed. God is holy and just and pure. He tells us in the Scriptures to be as He is, so He expects His people to be holy, just, and pure. Not prudish, not dated, not cranky, but holy and just and pure. We know this is possible, because He would never give us a directive that cannot be fulfilled. Furthermore, He promised those who are His that He would transform us by His power. This has not changed. We can count on it.
Third, God continues to be faithful and compassionate, and He wants us to be faithful and compassionate. We can stand against what is clearly wrong and definitely contrary to the Scriptures and, with no sense of conflict, love those who live another way. Yes, we can proclaim the truth of God's Word while reaching out in genuine interest to improve the lives of others. In fact, that was the essence of Christ's ministry on earth. But don't expect any medals. Just as Jesus was crucified, so you can expect a cool response at best and outright persecution at worst. But know that if you do it correctly, lives will be impacted for Him. God's holiness hasn't changed; neither has His compassion.
Fourth, God's truth remains unchanged, as revealed in the Scriptures. As the popular media challenges traditional concepts and desensitizes our moral nerve endings, and as the courts redefine truth to accommodate an evolving moral standard, we can count on the Bible to reflect the mind of God, who is the source of all truth. All else may fail, but, as always, we can count on God's Word.
Let me summarize everything I have said so far:
The world has changed and it's going to keep changing, but God never changes; so we are safe when we cling to Him.
Hope for the Family in General and Your Marriage in Particular
Our goal in this book is not to recover a bygone era but to remain current and relevant without compromising our commitment to the truth of God's Word. The statement above was no less true when Moses wrote Deuteronomy than it is today. Change is not new. Certainly, things change from generation to generation, but even within a generation, nothing remains the same. Look back over the years you spent in your family of origin. Didn't it seem as though your parents were always coping with one big change or another? The new addition to the family or surprising death. The different job. The unfamiliar location. The different house or school or car or level of income. As I say in my book, Getting Through the Tough Stuff, it's always something!
The events recorded in Deuteronomy occurred after a lot of changes. And the people of Israel were about to face even more. Jacob's sons had settled in Egypt as a great famine ravaged Canaan, the Promised Land. But as Canaan recovered, the Hebrew people remained in a very prosperous region of Egypt. As is often the case, prosperity eroded into slavery, and the Israelites couldn't leave if they wanted to. After 430 years in Egypt, God delivered them from their bondage, giving them Moses as their leader. Talk about changes!
Moses led this nation of perhaps as many as two million people out of Egypt to reclaim the land that God had given them through their forefather, Abraham. But when they arrived at the border and sized up the competition, the Israelites failed to trust the Lord. They voted to return to slavery rather than conquer the land He had promised to give them. To punish the unbelieving generation, He caused the nation to live as nomads until their children were old enough to carry on. Megachanges accompanied those difficult decades.
After forty years of wandering, the nation was finally ready to enter the land. Moses, at 120 years of age, had come to the end of his life. Deuteronomy represents his last word to the people of Israel. Like a venerable great-grandfather on his deathbed, Moses pulled his family around him and reiterated his most important lessons. That's where we get the name of the book. Deutero means "second." Nomos means "law." Deuteronomy is the retelling of the Law of God in practical terms.
Excerpted from Marriage: From Surviving to Thriving by CHARLES R. SWINDOLL Copyright © 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.