Read an Excerpt
Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments
By Winston T. Smith
New Growth PressCopyright © 2010 Winston T. Smith
All rights reserved.
Marriages Change in Ordinary Moments
What You'll Learn in This Chapter:
Our marriages are made up of ordinary moments, recurring irritations and disappointments. God doesn't seem involved in them, and we don't really expect them to change.
Ordinary moments become extraordinary opportunities for change when we realize that:
God is love and is involved in every moment in which we struggle to love.
Jesus empowers us and teaches us how to love in practical, concrete ways.
Change involves making daily choices to love consistently, over time.
An Ordinary Moment
I could feel my blood pressure rising. With every passing moment I was getting more and more angry. It was 2:30. My son's baseball practice was at 3:00, my daughter had a birthday party at 4:00, and I had to lead a Bible study at 5:00. What's more, my wife was not answering her cell phone. I'd been calling her every few minutes since 1:00, and now it was almost 2:30. She should have been home long ago. She knew what was on the schedule, and she'd assured me she'd be home on time.
How was I going to prepare my Bible study with all this taxiing to do? Did she not care that I was juggling this all by myself? My anger mounted as I pictured her chatting with friends, while her cell phone, set to vibrate, hummed away unnoticed in her handbag.
I resigned myself to plan B: all three kids would come to baseball practice, and the girls would play in an empty part of the field, while I sat in the van and worked on the Bible study. There would be distractions. I would want to watch practice, and the girls would need to be watched. They would get bored and start asking for things. It was not ideal, but it would have to do.
I barked orders at the kids to get ready to go. There were a hundred questions:
"Where's mommy?" "Why do we have to go to baseball practice?" "Am I going to miss my party?" "Where are my shoes?" "Can we stop at the store and get a snack?"
Every question was a frustrating reminder that I shouldn't have to be dealing with this.
Just then the phone rang, "Win, have you been trying to call me?"
"Yeeeeees," I replied, injecting as much sarcasm as possible into that one word.
"I have to get Gresham to practice and Charlotte to her birthday party, and I'm not prepared for Bible study. Why haven't you answered your phone?"
"I didn't hear it ringing in my bag. I'm so sorry. I'll be home in a few minutes. I just couldn't get away as soon as I thought I could."
Instead of waiting for Kim to return and let her deliver our son to practice, I loaded the kids into the car and took them myself. When I returned home, fifteen minutes later, Kim was there wondering why I hadn't waited for her.
She retreated to a safe distance. I sat alone staring at the kitchen table. I was more than just annoyed; I was fuming. Beneath the anger I also felt embarrassed and ashamed. Part of me felt justified in my anger, while another part of me wondered why I'd gotten so worked up. Irritation would be understandable, but anger? My response was out of proportion, and I knew it.
I soon realized that part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that this feeling was familiar, even ordinary. How often have I been angry with Kim because I felt that she hasn't stopped to think about me? And how often have I had the same pouty reaction and witnessed the same destructive result?
I was tired of reliving this moment, tired of having the same old argument and getting the same old result.
What Makes Ordinary Moments Ordinary?
Every marriage has these moments—moments marked by frustration, disappointment, anger, or sadness—when you want things to be better but you've no idea what to do next or how to do things differently. We aren't perfect, and we don't marry perfect people.
Moments like these are ordinary in several other important ways.
Ordinary Moments Happen Over and Over Again
Maybe the exact thing happens over and over again. Maybe the same familiar thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions haunt every difficult situation. For me, there have been many times when I felt that my wants or needs weren't showing up on Kim's radar (though on many of those occasions that was not actually the case). The situations aren't always the same: it isn't always baseball practice or errands or Bible study. It can be the way money has been spent, or the status of the laundry, or how long it has been since we've slowed down enough to connect. But there's a familiar pattern in it all. There's my sense of being forgotten, followed by her surprise, then my smoldering anger, then her retreat. It's just too ordinary.
In Ordinary Moments God Seems Uninvolved
Because these moments happen again and again, it may be difficult to detect God's involvement. Perhaps you've never even thought to ask God for help precisely because these moments are so ordinary. Why bother God?
Maybe you're afraid to ask God to get involved because you're ashamed. You should be able to do better. God must be disappointed in you.
Or maybe you asked God for help, but there was no answer. God's apparent silence after prayer is especially hard. He seems more than uninvolved; he seems to have abandoned or forgotten you.
Whether or not you've sought God's help, these moments feel ordinary because they aren't accompanied by miracles or dramatic changes; they're God-less moments. If you don't see—or can't see—how God fits into the picture, it doesn't really matter whether you consider yourself a religious person or not.
Recall my own frustration with Kim when I was being denied time that I deemed necessary to prepare a Bible study. My mind was engaged in trying to know God's Word so that I could help others, and yet my heart was far from him. In the moment, it didn't occur to me to turn to God for help or to believe that he was concerned or involved. No matter how spiritual we think we are, it's easy to find ourselves living as if God were far, far away.
We Don't Expect Ordinary Moments to Change
If you've experienced enough of these ordinary moments without sensing any change, you either become accustomed to the annoyance and indifferent to it or, worse, you abandon any hope for change. Indifference and hopelessness are both dangerous. The danger isn't simply that you're unhappy or that your marriage is less than it could be; it's that God becomes increasingly irrelevant to your marriage, the relationship that defines your life more than any other.
God, in his mercy, has prevented Kim and me from ever reaching that point. As I sat fuming at the kitchen table, God, as always, began to work in my heart, reminding me of important truths, softening me so that we could move forward. Knowing God makes ordinary moments extraordinary.
How Ordinary Moments Become Extraordinary
In marriage, the biggest obstacle to change is our attitude toward it. Often we expect change to be ushered in by a dramatic turning point that can forever be remembered as the moment things got better.
We wish this turning point—this momentous change—would happen for our spouse rather than for us, right? They're the ones who need an experience like Ebenezer Scrooge had. Your spouse goes to bed dour and embittered, three spirits (or a marriage counselor) visit in the night, and the next morning he or she wakes up generous and joyful.
Sometimes lasting change happens quickly and dramatically, but usually this kind of change requires deliberate, careful steps over a long period of time. People who insist on quick fixes and dramatic turning points often miss the path to real, lasting change. What's more, the longer path to change is what the Bible holds out to us as the more typical way that God works in our lives. Usually, change is more like the Israelites' long trek to the Promised Land than like the apostle Paul's dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.
Staying on the long path to change requires understanding how God operates in the ordinary moments. The path to change in your marriage is built on this truth: God is involved in every moment of your marriage. In that sense, there are no ordinary moments, only moments filled with God's activity, of which you may or may not be aware and in which you may or may not choose to participate. God is the ruler of the entire universe, and yet, he has a special concern for you, and he wants you to see him act in the ordinary details of your marriage. More than that, he wants you to be a part of that work.
In his first letter, the apostle John explains how God wants to make a difference in our relationships:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7–12)
This passage identifies three ingredients necessary for the ordinary moments of marriage to become extraordinary moments of change. These are the three critical ingredients that this book will build upon.
1. Marriages change when we recognize God's agenda for so-called ordinary moments
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7–8, italics mine).
"God is love." We all want more love in our marriages. Who doesn't love love? For the most part, we marry because of love—or at least because we hope for love. But in the most difficult moments we don't feel loved, and we find it hard to love. God may not seem to make much difference in these moments; however, his involvement is crucial because God is love. When we find it hard to love, we need him all the more. A lack of love should prompt us to not just look more closely at our marriage but at our relationship with God.
The bad news: your love problems are bigger than you think because love problems are God problems. The good news: the solution is bigger than you think because God cares and is involved. Having more love in your marriage means having more of God in your marriage. Having trouble loving is evidence either that you don't know God or that something is interfering in your relationship with God.
As a little girl my daughter, Sydney, earned a reputation for being a picky eater. We even found it hard to entice her with fast-food burgers and fries! Once when my mother-in-law learned that we'd eaten at a McDonald's, she asked, "Sydney, what did you eat at McDonald's?"
"I ate a cheeseburger," she replied proudly.
"You ate a cheeseburger!" my mother-in-law said with surprise. "I thought you didn't like cheeseburgers."
"I just take off all the stuff I don't like," Sydney explained. "First, I take off the pickles and the onions, and then the cheese, and then the ketchup and the mustard, and finally the big round brown thing in the middle." My daughter had discovered the secret to liking cheeseburgers: remove the hamburger itself and just eat the bread!
We can all be like Sydney. We may pay lip service to the notion that God is love and that we want to be more loving, but then we remove God from the discussion. If we believe that God is love, then he must be part of the solution. In fact, he must be the most important part—the "big thing in the middle," if you will.
2. Marriages change when we're willing to love in practical, Christlike ways, especially in the difficult moments
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9–10).
Ask ten different people what love is, and chances are you'll get ten different answers. Love isn't quite the mystery it seems. Based on what we hear on the radio, see on television, or read in magazines, we might get the idea that love is a wonderfully indescribable something that happens to us, an uncontrollable and unpredictable thing that comes and goes. That makes for great romance novels, but it doesn't offer much hope for our marriages.
The Bible tells us specific things about love. In the passage above, we learn that love became a human being named Jesus who lived among us. While love can be exciting and feel wonderful, ultimately, love is a person, not an experience. When you need help loving your spouse, you don't have to wait to feel loving or yearn for lost romance or guess what love is; you can look to Jesus and learn from him. Jesus, as love, took action. He spoke and acted in ways that made a difference, ways that made love visible among us. As we trust him and learn from him, we can do love too.
There are two critical ingredients to loving in a Christlike way. The first ingredient is connecting with and depending on Christ, not as a religious man who lived two thousand years ago, but as God's own Son who's with you and able to help you in the most difficult moments of your marriage. The second ingredient is knowing what love looks like in the details of the moment. Jesus doesn't just motivate us to love; he teaches how to love in the moment—what it looks like and how to do it.
As a four-year-old, my son was en-thralled with the Bible story of how the shepherd boy David courageously kills the giant Goliath, by striking him with a single stone flung from his sling. (Though David carried five rocks with him, he only needed one.) Pretending to be David, my son would run through the house with one of my socks wadded up and stuffed inside of the other, swinging it madly over his head looking for giants to slay. Hoping to help him reflect on the deeper meaning of the story, I commented to him once as he stalked giants, "David sure had a lot of faith to go up against that giant, didn't he?" Without a moment's hesitation, my son replied, "He had a lot of faith and a lot of rocks!"
Maybe you're facing giants in your marriage, and being asked to look to Jesus feels like being offered faith without rocks! Remember that faith is only a prelude to action. You need faith that Jesus will help you every step of the way, but you also need to take concrete action. In every area of marriage we examine, we will explore both the whys and the hows of love.
When the Bible tells us that Jesus is "an atoning sacrifice for our sins," that means that Jesus is able to remove from your heart all obstacles to loving others. Sin isn't a very popular topic, but we must take it into account. Some of the biggest giants in our marriages reside in our own hearts. As much as we say we want to love, sin squashes our best efforts. Jesus isn't just an encouraging coach or an example to follow but our champion who's able to defeat giants we'd never be able to tackle on our own. We will explore these giants in the next few chapters, but for now understand that for love to make a difference it must be more than an emotional boost. It can only be found in Jesus and it has to show up in the details of your marriage.
3. Marriages change when we're willing to love consistently, over time, not because our spouses change but because we're in a growing relationship with God
"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:11–12).
If you aren't seeing miracles, it might be that you don't know how to recognize them. The apostle John tells us that learning to love each other involves at least two miracles: first, God lives in us, and, second, God becomes visible. "God lives in us and his love is made complete." The invisible becomes visible. That is a miracle.
Excerpted from Marriage Matters by Winston T. Smith. Copyright © 2010 Winston T. Smith. Excerpted by permission of New Growth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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