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Chapter One How to have the perfect marriage
- Eric -
"Great marriages aren't stumbled upon, they are fought for."
I woke up this morning, like I do every morning, with the desire to have the greatest marriage in the history of the world. Aiming to have the perfect marriage is my mission, it's my quest; it's my Mt Everest. And yes, I'm fully aware of how great a masterpiece I am attempting to paint.
Where others aim to become the world's fastest human or the next American Idol, my ambition is a bit misunderstood by the mainstream mentality. I know great marriage doesn't come cheap -- I know how much such a lofty ambition will cost me. It will take my pride and flush it down the toilet; it will tax every millimeter of my soul and ruthlessly expose my every selfish tendency; it will renovate my entire existence.
And I say, "bring it on!"
Great marriage is like an Olympic event. To compete at a world-class level in the arena of love demands extreme dedication, the focus of your entire being, and a staggering expenditure of heart, mind, and body. Marriage is certainly not life under a shade tree -- it's an emotional, physical, and psychological obstacle course in which only the fortified survive. Great marriages are the stuff of the heartiest and stoutest souls. Marriage inevitably weeds out the serious lovers from the casual holiday-ers seeking a short-term thrill and a few wedding gifts. Marriage is boot camp for the soul, the testing of the fiber of the heart, and the proving ground for the true substance of one's love.
And I say, "bring it on!"
Great marriages aren't stumbled upon, they are fought for. And if you achieve this impossible goal, there is no gold medal awaiting you on a podium in the end, no screaming crowd to applaud your many efforts, and no Wheaties box photo op to authenticate your sacrifice for posterity. No one outside of your God, your spouse, and your children may ever know what you have achieved.
And I say, "bring it on!"
Great marriage garners a much greater reward than mere human accolades. It wins the applause of heaven, the utter delight and total affection of your spouse for a lifetime, the purest and most perfect intimate pleasure a human can possibly know, and as a final bonus -- the lifelong admiration and respect of your children. A great marriage may cost you everything, but it also will unlock your heart to know the depths of God Almighty. In short, a great marriage gives back ten thousand times more than it takes.
So I say, "bring it on!"
What did you wake up this morning desiring to pursue? A cup of Starbucks? A few more hours sleep? An available bathroom? In the first ninety days of your new life together as a couple, you have an opportunity to establish a larger vision for your life as newly-weds. You too can share in my wake up routine, desiring to make your marriage into the world's very best. In fact, it's my desire that you will enter into a little bit of healthy competition with me and say, "Eric, your love story with Leslie is not even going to compare to mine!" As Paul encouraged the Romans, "Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10b). (1) I want you to look at my desire as a threat. I want your competitive juices to flow and I want your heart to burn with a clear sense of purpose. I want you to give me a run for my money! I want you to try and "outdo" me. After all, what's the challenge in it if no one else tries? Imagine God saying to me, "Well, Eric, you're the only one who even attempted, so I guess you are the champion." That's no fun! When I was eleven I won a huge trophy at a piano competition, but it was because I was the only contestant. Believe me, there's no satisfaction in winning that way!
What sort of marriage are you going to aim for? A miserable one? A mediocre one? Or a marvelous one? Should I consider you serious competition, or just another marriage license signee?
This book is about having a marvelous marriage; a marriage that sparkles, a marriage that will go the distance without ever losing its luster, a marriage that makes Hollywood's rendition of romance look forlorn and in need of a make-over. This book is written for those who are willing to do whatever it takes to scale the Everest of married love. This book is for those willing to wake up every morning and compete with me and Leslie for the world championship of lifelong romance.
If you are in, then you need to be all in. Olympians train six to eight hours a day to gain mastery of their craft. What are you willing to give to gain mastery in marriage? Are you willing to put in the time, the effort, and the passion necessary to do it right? If you only want to offer your spouse a peck on the cheek as you leave for work each morning and roses once a year on Valentine's Day, this book isn't for you. But if you want to train like a champion, taste the mind-boggling ecstasy of marriage intimacy, and share in the most perfect satisfaction this side of heaven, then read on.
Since I was a little tike I've wanted to have big muscles. But no matter how hard I've tried, it just hasn't worked out for me. I seem to have a body that refuses to look cool. As a result of this muscle fetish, you can probably understand why my childhood heroes were Samson, Superman, Arnold Schwarzennegar, the Bionic Man, and Popeye the Sailor-man. But I realized as I grew older that each one of these men had a secret to their strength that made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to imitate. Samson had the Nazarite vow and the long hair thing going, Superman was from another planet, Arnold worked out with weights six hours a day, the Bionic Man had to have six million dollars worth of work surgically done on him, and of course, Popeye had to eat spinach. Why couldn't superheroes just eat Pop Tarts, wear Levis, and listen to Bon Jovi? Why did they have to be so extreme, so different? Why did their secret have to be something so difficult to apply in my own life?
As humans, it's tempting to seek the easy way to the top. We want to make our millions in the lottery, build our muscles with steroids, find instant fame through a reality show, and become well-read with Cliff's notes. Most of us don't want to travel the real road to success -- the one that involves hard work and making sacrifices. Not many of us are willing to take a Nazarite vow and look like a fool to this world around us, live life as if we are from another planet, spend the juiciest hours of everyday in training, yield ourselves to God's operating knife, and worst of all, swallow our spinach to gain superhuman strength. But such is the map to real marriage success.
Are you willing to take your spinach? If so, I'd like to introduce you to the two secrets of all great spouses. I assure you they won't seem very appealing on the outside; superhero secrets never do. But if you are willing to take a Nazarite-like vow and go under God's surgical knife, you too could become the next superhero spouse.
Superhero Secret #1 Going under God's Surgical Knife
"Superhero spouses are those who learn to love out of a heavenly implanted heart."
The other day I had a conversation with a young married man at the local coffee shop. We'll call him Barry. Like many other young men his age, Barry is an aficionado of marriage mediocrity.
"It's nag, nag, nag!" He said a little louder than was socially appropriate for conversation in a public place. His lip snarled in disgust as he took a long sip from his Carmel Macchiato. "My wife wants me to be something I'm just not!"
I let Barry rage on for several minutes, providing me with a few more quotations for this book. "I just tell her, look babe, you need to stop trying to make our marriage into a fairy tale -- that just isn't reality." My favorite was Barry's description of what really makes a marriage work. "When she finally gives up trying to turn me into her personal Prince Charming, then we might just get somewhere!"
When Barry finally awakened to the fact that he'd been talking for five minutes straight without even asking me question, he turned the conversation in my direction.
"So, man, what type of work do you do?
"Oh, I'm a writer."
"That's cool, man!" he said. "What do you write about?"
"Romance and relationships."
After that, Barry began shuffling around awkwardly and quickly changed the subject to the poor job the electrician did in installing the electrical outlet on the coffee shop wall.
It's fairly obvious that Barry is no superhero spouse. But then, let's be honest, none of us are. The problem with Barry isn't found in the fact that he is not a Prince Charming, it's the fact that he doesn't believe he can ever even become one. He lacks both vision and willingness. He's bought into the "I'm a guy and this is the way I'm always gonna be!" syndrome. That syndrome spells the end of every potential superhero husband. And the problem doesn't just lie with guys. Women frequently buy into a similar mindset, sabotaging their ability to become superhero wives.
The ability to love well, unfortunately, doesn't come naturally to any one. But there are two ways of looking at the "Barry" tendency in all of us. One is to say, "This is just the way I am, so learn to live with it, babe!" But the second option, though odd and uncomfortable, breeds superhuman results. It simply says, "I don't have what it takes in and of myself to be a great spouse. I need something more! And babe, because I love you so much, I'll go under the operating knife to get it!"
Imagine how Popeye must have felt when he heard that his great strength could only be gained through endless jars of spinach. You may very well feel an identical nauseating reflex in the back of your throat when you realize that amazing spouses find their strength in . . . ahem . . . giving up their life. Popeye actually had it pretty easy when you consider what God truly requires of those of us who want to be great spouses. Remember, superhero secrets never sound very appealing, and that's why there are only a few in each generation willing to don the red cape of greatness.
The Bionic Man had to die before he was brought back to life as a superhero. He lay lifeless on the operating table while the government decided to invest six million dollars worth of bio-technology into his hapless body. He had to go under the surgical knife. Large pieces of him had to be removed before the cool superhuman gadgets could be placed within him. He woke up a different man. He woke up on that operating table a man able to pull off the impossible.
The Bionic Man is but a pitiful shadow of what God desires to do in and through us if we will simply give up our life and submit to His operating table. Great lovers are made not through grit, determination, and romantic sentiment. Great lovers are the creations of a heavenly surgeon. If we let go of our life as we now know it and allow Him to take us under the knife, He doesn't invest a mere six million dollars worth of bio-technology in us. Rather, He surgically plants His heart, His mind, His vision, His love, His joy, His peace, His strength, and His passion into our being. He pulls off a medical miracle and surgically places His very own life inside of our skin. And when we wake up, we wake up a different person. We wake up on His operating table as one able to pull off the impossible. We are then able to live and love like the ultimate superhero named Jesus Christ. Because it is no longer we who are living, but Christ who is living in us. (Galatians 2:20) (2)
We all desire the perfect marriage. Even those of us who relate to Barry would love to share in a marriage that sparkles with endless pleasures. We all long for the stuff that great fairy tales are made of, growing old and gray next to one that we fall more and more in love with as the years go by. But the perfect marriage is impossible to any of us attempting to do it by human effort. The perfect marriage is only possible if we yield to the super-heroic life of God and allow Him to love in and through us.
To give up your life and submit to God's operating table will be possibly the hardest thing you may ever do while living on planet earth. Every instinct in your being will scream, "Don't let go of the controls!" When it comes to "dying to self" the Barry tendency in each of us barks loudly in protest. But superhero spouses are those who learn to love out of a heavenly implanted heart. So I encourage you to seriously consider going under God's surgical knife and giving up the controls of your life. Yes, it's a painful operation, but trust me, the results are divine.
Superhero Secret #2 Training Like an Action Hero
"The secret to becoming the ultimate lover is to cultivate the life of the heavenly Lover within."
Jed has a pile of fluffy brown hair atop his head and, like me, has a body much more suited for golf, than football. Well meaning women refer to him as "skinny," though to him, the word "skinny" is derogatory. But despite his unwieldy hairdo and his supremely thin frame, Jed is quite a skilled love technician. In fact, in his pre-marriage relationship with, Meri, who is now his wife, he proved himself more than worthy of the title "hopeless romantic."
He literally swept Meri off her feet the day he proposed, donning a white prince costume and riding a white horse. His poetic flare combined with his creative genius won Meri's heart, as she says, "a hundred times over." Jed's specialty was flowers. Every flower that he gave Meri was accompanied with a poetic definition of what that flower would always represent in their life together. He was a gentleman, a protector, and a sensitive student of the one he loved. Jed's romantic fervor was deeply impacting on Meri and she couldn't wait to spend her life with such a thoughtful and creative man.
Unfortunately, Jed lost the magic once the honeymoon was over. He just couldn't whip up the romance, the poetic thoughts just weren't there anymore, and the flower idea was so expensive to keep up on a gym teacher's salary. After three months of Meri's cooking, Jed also claims that he no longer fit into the white prince costume either.
"I promised Meri before we were married," Jed confided in me, "that I wouldn't ever become like one of those sedentary barker-lounger husbands that lets the romance slip away once the honeymoon ended."
Jed is so frustrated with himself. He had pulled off some incredible romantic stunts while winning Meri's heart. But little did Jed realize that romancing a girl's heart in the pre-marriage years is completely different than romancing a wife's heart for a lifetime thereafter. It's important to note that Jed isn't like Barry (mentioned in the previous section) who doesn't even desire to be a prince charming for his girl. Jed really does want to be a superhero in his home.
"Living with a woman is a lot harder than I expected," Jed confessed. "I lose my patience so easily with Meri. Even though I want to be sensitive and loving, for some reason I am constantly saying things I regret."
As Jed is realizing, marriage demands more out of us than we are able to give. It calls for something superhuman. And Jed is feeling it. Ordinary romantically-inclined Jed is not enough to lift the thirteen ton barbell that marriage throws at us, chuckling, "Go ahead and try to lift me, I dare you!"
Jed realizes that he desperately needs God's help to make his marriage work, but doesn't know how exactly God would want to help him. And this is where secret #2 comes in.
God wants to take Jed -- and all of us who are willing - through superhero bootcamp.
When God surgically implants himself into a human body, His superhero development has only just begun. He wants men, like Jed, to know that He doesn't make great spouses overnight, but rather, He crafts them over time. He trains them like athletes, He builds them like action heroes.
Think how strange and extraordinary this is. If Jed yields to the God of the Universe and allows Him to have His way in his life, then a super-heroic new life is active and alive within his human skin. That's a bit Marvel-Comics-strange, don't you think? But what is even more strange and extraordinary is how this life actually grows and coordinates itself within his life, taking over every facet, every corner of his existence until it is perfectly integrated into every action of his every day and into every part of his relationship with Meri.
Up until this surgical invasion of Jed's life, he has always been the one in control of his actions. But now a new power, a new presence resides within his lanky six foot frame. For the romance and the beauty of Jed's marriage to remain, God (a.k.a. the real Prince Charming) must remain at the helm of Jed's life. He must be allowed to script his love story with Meri. Jed's job is to give God the control position at every turn throughout every day and allow the great Heavenly Romantic to build him into a world-class husband. New habits must be made, while old habits must be broken. Jed must learn to give up his rights to everything he holds dear. He is no longer the master of his existence; he has been demoted to the head butler position. Now whatever God, the new master of his estate, commands, he must learn to immediately obey and put into action. Jed's body has been officially taken over. He is now possessed by a super power. And this power is love itself.
This is the process that each and every one of us must go through to emerge as great spouses. It's not enough to promise our spouse that we will be great in marriage. It's necessary to allow the God of the Universe to daily build us into something tremendous.
Every single day is an opportunity to train and coordinate this new life and new power within. For instance, when our spouse says something hurtful or insensitive, our natural human response is to bite back with something equally hurtful. But in that moment, if instead we yield to the power of Christ within us, He equips us to respond to our spouse in His tender way, not our own selfish one. He teaches us to love our spouse as He loves us.
Christ loves far differently than we love. He doesn't give or withhold His affection based on how we treat Him. He doesn't try to "balance the scales" or "even the score". He loves fully, completely, unconditionally, without thought to His own rights. He gives everything to us, though we are so undeserving of His selfless love. And when He overtakes our life that is how He trains us to love our spouse. Instead of only giving to our spouse as much as our spouse deserves, He trains us to give selflessly even if we don't receive the same in return. Instead of giving fifty percent to our marriage and expecting our spouse to give the other fifty percent, He trains us to give one hundred percent to our marriage no matter what our spouse brings to the table. He trains us to lay down our rights and focus on giving, rather than on getting. The more we yield to His divine life within us, the more we learn to treat our spouse with the supernatural love and selflessness of Christ.
This is the secret of all the super-heroic spouses down through the ages. They learn to become the ultimate lover by first cultivating and maturing the life of the ultimate heavenly Lover within.
How hard is it to cultivate and mature this powerful new life? It is the hardest thing we will ever do outside of laying down on the operating table and submitting to the operating knife. Our body naturally wants to reject this divine implant. We want to cling to our right to remain self-focused in our marriage. We want to hold on to our ability to live the way we want to, expecting our spouse to adjust around our agenda. In learning to share our life with another human, it can seem like the most impossible task in the world to be Christ-like -- to be unconditionally selfless, servant-hearted, tender, forgiving, and understanding.
But God is more interested than even we are in bringing us through this process. It is not up to us to drum up the resolve to love our spouse like Christ loves us. It is His job to be the perfect Prince Charming. It is our job to get out of the way and allow Him to take center stage in our love story.
Great spouses willingly submit to God's training, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how rigorous and how painful the process, because they know the end result it brings. With every step of obedience, with every choice to treat your spouse as more important than yourself, with every decision to showcase God's love rather than your own selfish desires -- the divine life of God grows more and more prominent and becomes more and more evident.
God knows what we can handle, and He is sure to never give us more difficulty than what we can bear at any moment. But don't get God confused with Santa Clause. He is by no means a softie with His children. He loves us too much to leave us as weaklings and sappy romantics who don't know how to truly protect our marriages. He trains His children to be like oak trees amidst life's storms. Trust me, if you allow Him, He will transform you into an action hero fully capable of building one of the world's greatest marriages.
Most of us, like Jed, have attempted, in our own strength, to imitate Jesus Christ -- to be tender and sensitive, caring and considerate at all times. After all, Christ is the most profound illustration of love this world has ever seen. To try to emulate Christ is a noble venture, but it isn't the way a mere human is supposed to go about becoming a superheroic spouse. It's not imitation but impartation that we need. Only when the life of God has been imparted can we possibly imitate His perfection in our marriages.
"It sounds just a little extreme, Eric," a young wife once said to me after I spoke about this concept to a roomful of couples. "Can't my marriage still work without me having to go through all of that?"
Extreme measures are needed to prepare you to be a great spouse because the battle over your marriage is extreme. Satan does not want your marriage to thrive through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, 'til death parts. The enemy of your soul is also the enemy of your marriage. He is scared of God gaining control over your life. He realizes that he has absolutely no power over you as long as you are yielding to God and allowing His divinely implanted life -- His supernatural power -- to operate your existence. So Satan's goal in each and every moment of the day is to get you to return back to your own powers, your own heart, your own mind to deal with the daily challenges of marriage. Selfishness is the great spouse's Kryptonite
• Footnote: Kryptonite stripped Superman of all of his super powers and drained him of all physical strength When you take the controls back to your own life and pursue what you want rather than what God wants, you instantly lose your super powers and become vulnerable to Satan's agenda in your life.
Our arch nemesis has one very simple objective in each of our lives and marriages: to get us to fall into the trap of selfishness. He knows that if he can get us to protect and serve ourselves, our images, our wants, and our agenda, then our pockets will be stuffed full of Kryptonite and we will be emptied of all that is heroic and capable of true love. Our enemy wants us to reject the implanted life of Christ and retake the controls of our existence.
Satan is very aware that the kind of love that stands the test of time is selfless. Selfless love seeks your spouse's highest good -- in the smallest tests, like allowing your spouse to eat that last piece of cake or choose the movie on Saturday night, as well as in the most extreme tests of personal sacrifice known to man. Selfless love makes you willing not just to give up your right to the most comfortable chair, but to shed your very blood to showcase your extreme devotion and affection for your spouse.
A great lover learns to live every moment as a selfless moment and therefore is always strong to fight for the beauty and excellence of married love
• Footnote: Leslie and I write about developing this lifestyle in great detail in our book When God Writes Your Life Story. We can't just swallow our spinach once and expect it to keep us strong for fifty years of marriage. As lovers in search of the purest most perfect love, we must learn to yield to God's control over our life -- not just in the beginning of our marital venture, but every moment of every day along the way
I have told Leslie time and again that there isn't another man alive that I would desire to switch places with. I honestly believe I have not only the best wife on planet earth, but the sweetest, most magical marriage as well. I love my wife so much it hurts. The beauty of what we share together is indescribable. Day in and day out we experience something that most people in this world have given up believing even exists -- an amazing marriage.
But what we have has come with a price. We have both given up countless personal ambitions and gratifying experiences so that we could make ourselves available to God and to each other. Our lives are owned and operated by the God of the Universe and He has taught us how to love, how to serve, how to sacrifice, how to give, and how to cherish every little nuance of our spouse.
The world may tell you that a perfect marriage is humanly impossible. And they are right. But God is in the business of pulling off the impossible in and through our lives if we allow Him to be the one in control. As far as I'm concerned, my marriage with Leslie is perfect. That is not to say that it is absent of human error, but rather that it is one in which our human weakness is constantly given back over to God so that He can turn it into a picture of His Almighty strength. And by saying that it is perfect isn't to claim that selfishness never rears its ugly head, but rather that it is a marriage in which selfishness is combated daily and viewed as the enemy that it really is. It's perfect not because it's a completed masterpiece and all the rough spots have been smoothed, but that it is constantly moving in the direction of heavenly perfection. It's perfect because the ultimate Superhero has been invited into the center of our lives and our marriage to do as He sees fit.
Our marriage has cost us both everything, it has broken us, it has humbled us, it has proven to us how desperately in need of divine assistance we really are. But trust me when I say, it has been ten thousand times worth the price we've paid to get it.
It's my desire to have the world's greatest marriage. As a man, it is my desire to outdo every other husband as the most noble, most princely, most amazing husband ever. What about you? Are you going to let Leslie and I be the only ones experiencing all the marriage bliss? Or are you willing to do whatever it takes to find the same thing in your own marriage? Are you willing to fight for that taste of heaven on earth that God is ready to help you find?
In these first ninety days of your newly-wedded love, you must decide if you are willing to swallow your spinach and aim for the impossible or if you want to just remain everyday mediocre lovers that share an everyday mediocre love story. Remember, this is a book about marvelous marriages. It's a book about staying madly in love through all of life's ups and downs. It's a book about extraordinary sex. It's a book about discovering the ultimate purpose in marriage and winning its ultimate reward. But it will always be like a carrot dangling in front of you down the raceway of life if you attempt to have these things in mere human strength. This is a book for superheroes -- men and women made into extraordinary spouses by the extraordinary life of God within.
Not even a single instant of life is wasted that is spent in the pursuit of learning to love as Christ loves.
So let the games begin! And may God decide when it is all said and done which one of us has won first prize. Here's to a lifetime of the most exquisite pleasure and a million rides into the sunset!
Putting it into Action Step One: Adopt a marriage Mission Statement
- Leslie -
"Don't ever become apathetic in your quest for a Christ-centered marriage."
It takes focus and commitment to fight daily for your marriage relationship. It means submitting to God's desires afresh each and every morning. It means giving up your own rights each moment of the day. It means not allowing Satan to creep in and undermine the super-hero power of Christ within by convincing you to cling to your selfish agenda. It's important to have a clear vision of what you are fighting for, so you don't ever become apathetic in your quest for a Christ-centered marriage that stands the test of time.
Eric and I have found that having a marriage mission statement helps remind us of God's vision for our marriage. It keeps us focused on what we are fighting to protect on a daily basis. Our marriage mission statement is:
To have a marriage relationship that is a reflection of the love relationship we share with our true Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. To be faithful to each other in every way -- heart, mind, soul, and body for as long as we both shall live. To serve and love each other selflessly, unconditionally, the way Christ loves us. To seek each other's highest good and lay down our lives for each other, as Christ laid down His life for us. To experience marriage the way God intended it to be -- as a little taste of Heaven on earth.
Individually, take some time to think and pray about God's purpose for your marriage. Write down the words or sentences that best describe the goals and desires God has given you for your new marriage relationship. Share them with your spouse. Based on what each of you have written and discussed, decide together what your marriage mission statement will be. Then craft your mission statement: a few sentences or paragraphs that express God's purpose for your marriage.
As a couple, take some time to pray specifically for God to supernaturally enable you to live out the words you have written in your mission statement. In your own human strength, you won't be able to fulfill God's expectations for your marriage. Unless He is at the center of your love, your marriage mission statement will only be some hollow words on a piece of paper. But if the Author of romance is your foundation, you will be amazed at what can happen in and through your marriage relationship. He alone can make the words you have written in your mission statement into so much more than wishful thinking -- He can weave those words into the very fabric of your daily life.
It's a good idea to place your marriage mission statement somewhere you can see it often -- you may even want to type it up, laminate it, and put a copy in your wallet. Your marriage mission statement reminds you never to settle for mediocrity, to always keep pursuing more and more of the beauty God has awaiting you. It helps spur you on to greatness, like that Olympic athlete with his eye on the gold medal. And anytime you are having conflict or discouragement in your marriage relationship, take out your marriage mission statement and read it -- together if possible. As hard as this may be to do in the heat of emotion, it will remind you why God brought you together, and help re-focus you both on what is truly important. It will help keep you headed toward the same destination, even in the midst of life's ups and downs.
Step Two: Exchange your expectations
"Surrender is not a one-time act; is a daily, moment-by-moment decision."
Surrendering your life to the God of the universe is a very personal decision. No one else can make it for you. As a couple, set aside some time when both of you can be alone and individually evaluate where God is in your life and heart. If possible, go to a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. You may want to have a pen and paper ready. If you have already given God the pen of your life, renew your commitment to let Him script your life and love story in His own perfect time and way. And if you have never invited the King of all kings to be the ruler over every part of your life, now is the time to relinquish control. As long as you hold the pen of your life, you won't be able to script anything more than a mediocre marriage, at best. It's only when God has complete access to your inner life that He can transform you into a heroic spouse.
Here are some things to consider during your time of soul-searching and waiting on God… As stated earlier, surrender is not a one-time act; it is a daily, moment-by-moment decision. It's not enough just to let Him write your story before marriage -- He wants to continue to script your love story even after you take your vows. Allow God to shine His light into your soul. Ask Him to show you anything you are clinging to, anything you are unwillingly to let Him have access to. As stated earlier, success comes when you exchange your own human hopes and dreams for God's heavenly ones. When it comes to marriage, many of us have self-built expectations and ideals that must be replaced with God's plans and desires for our lifelong romance.
For example, the first few months that Eric and I were married turned out to be far different than anything I ever would have expected. We moved from a warm climate to sub-zero temperatures in a small Michigan town that, to me, was in the middle of nowhere. We lived in a bed and breakfast that had closed down for the winter. In the summer it was a gorgeous place, with a shimmering lake and beautiful trees. But when we lived there, the lake was frozen, the trees where barren, and the skies were gloomy. The house seemed big and creepy (like the setting for a horror movie) especially when Eric left for work each morning in our one car, and I was stuck there all day by myself. And things only seemed to get worse as the weeks went by.
I woke up one morning to find my legs covered in bug bites. The house turned out to be infested with fleas. It was disgusting -- we could actually see them jumping out of the carpet. A few days later, I heard strange noises coming from the fireplace. A family of raccoons had moved in for the winter, haunting me with their scratching and clawing all day long, filling my mind with images of rabid animals breaking down the fireplace door and chasing me around the house. We couldn't seem to get rid of the raccoons or the fleas, no matter what we tried. We set off "flea bombs" in our house which only seemed to make the fleas multiply. I, on the other hand, developed an allergic reaction to the chemicals and ended up with a severe bronchial infection that kept me in bed for a month. And then our pipes burst and flooded our kitchen, destroying our washing machine in the process. So two months into our "happily ever after marriage", I was sick in bed with a horrible cough, covered with flea bites, listening to raccoons fight in the fireplace, and surrounded by piles of dirty clothes. This was a far cry from the cute little home with the white picket fence that I'd always imagined!
God challenged me to give Him the pen of my life afresh; to lay down my agenda, my expectations, and my plans for what our married life was supposed to be; to allow Him to take us through whatever trials and challenges He saw fit; to let Him continue to script our love story in His own perfect way. I realized that I'd subconsciously been thinking of marriage as the time when "everything would finally be perfect" in my life, that I would be completely satisfied and fulfilled simply because I was finally married. But I was looking for satisfaction in human things; in having a comfortable home, a white picket fence, and a husband that knew how to meet all of my needs.
After spending time doing some serious soul-searching, I was reminded that my number one source of fulfillment and satisfaction must be Christ alone. My external circumstances might never be perfect. My marriage to Eric, though wonderful, could never fulfill the deepest needs of my heart. But my relationship with the God of the universe could satisfy and fulfill me completely, if I would simply surrender my entire life to Him.
In eleven years of marriage to Eric, my expectations have been shaken many times. We've experienced everything from financial struggles to health struggles to extremely difficult ministry challenges and disappointments. But through it all, our marriage has thrived. God has held the pen and scripted our story, and though each chapter turns out differently than we would have imagined, we have found time and time again that the Author of romance always knows what He is doing. God being in control, scripting our story is what has given us the deepest, truest form of fulfillment that marriage can offer. And whenever we begin to take the pen back and try to manipulate things to turn out our way, He gently reminds us that true satisfaction is only found when He is at the helm.
Think about your own expectations for married life. Are you hoping for the cute home with the white picket fence, financial security, sterling health, three perfect children, and a great retirement plan? Are you expecting your spouse to be the person of your dreams twenty-four hours a day? If so, you are likely in for some disappointment. Sure, God might allow you to have seasons of health and financial security. And yes, there may be times when your spouse completely fulfills the romantic dreams of your heart. But if you are looking to your circumstances to bring you satisfaction, and if you are turning to your spouse to meet all of your deepest needs -- you will be disappointed somewhere along the line. Let Christ have His way, even if it means giving up everything you ever hoped for in life. Let Christ be your source of true fulfillment, even when your spouse lets you down. Your life may not ever look the way you pictured it, but you will find satisfaction and security that can't be shaken by the circumstances or disappointments of life.
Allow yourself to be brought under God's surgical knife. He must remove anything that stands in the way of complete surrender to Him. Allow Him to take your human dreams, hopes, and expectations and replace them with His agenda for your life and your marriage -- whatever that may be. Only when you allow God to surgically altar you, own you, and operate you can you truly be prepared to experience "happily ever after" even in the midst of fleas, raccoons, and whatever challenges life throws your way.
Step Three: Replace Selfish Habits
"Marriage is a constant decision to either yield to Christ or yield to your selfish wants."
Training to be a super-heroic spouse starts with learning to yield to Christ each moment of the day. After inviting Christ to take over our inner life, most of us continue to go about our own merry way, acting the way we've always acted and doing the things we've always done. To learn to love our spouse like Christ loves, we must learn to get out of the way and let Christ live His life through us. That means our old habits have to die. We must re-train our responses. We must choose a new "default printer" for our internal computer.
During the daily challenges of life, most of us have developed selfish habits. This is especially true in marriage. Marriage is a constant decision to either yield to Christ or yield to your selfish wants. You want the comfortable chair, you want to choose how to spend your time on Saturday afternoon, you want to decide where to keep your mountain bike (what's wrong with the living room floor?!) and you want your spouse to constantly meet your needs and serve your desires.
Now, Christ wants to re-program you to be concerned with what He wants, not what you want. Christ is far less concerned with helping you get "what you need out of this marriage" as He is with teaching you to yield to Him, to sacrifice your own personal agenda, and to lay down your life in service for your spouse, even if they are undeserving.
As a couple, plan a time where both of you can be alone and individually evaluate the habits of your life together thus far. Have a pen and paper ready, and prayerfully ask God to reveal to you any selfish habits you may have already adopted. Do you fight for the comfortable chair, control of the remote, the last piece of cake? Guys, do you ignore your wife's pleas for you to pick up your dirty clothes, spend more time with her on the weekends, or turn off the computer at night, simply because you are holding onto your "right" to do things your way? Girls, do you manipulate your husband into serving your own agenda? Do you give him the silent treatment when he says something insensitive to you? Do you regularly ignore his desire for sex just because you "aren't in the mood"?
Allow God to show you any area in which you have been acting selfishly in your new life with your spouse. And then, ask Him to show you how Christ would have you respond in those areas. For each selfish habit that you write down, write the Christ-like response next to it. Guys, if you are used to spending Saturday afternoons watching sports on T.V. because it is your "right," the new Christ-like response might be turning off the television this Saturday and asking your wife how you can be sensitive to her desires during the weekend. Girls, if you are used to "pouting" whenever your husband says or does something that bothers you, the new Christ-like response might be graciously addressing the issue with your husband in a loving and respectful way.
Even if you haven't been married long enough for obvious selfish habits to have formed, there still may be selfish attitudes that you have brought into your marriage. Do you inwardly expect your spouse to bend around your agenda, your plans, and your wants? Do you subconsciously think of your house, your possessions, and your time as your own, to do with as you please? If so, allow Christ to replace these selfish attitudes with His selfless, servant-hearted ones.
Remember, Christ is not concerned with "balancing the scales" or "evening the score." He hasn't called you to give fifty percent to your marriage and expect your spouse to give the other fifty. He asks you to give one hundred percent to your marriage, even if your spouse if not giving one hundred percent in return. So don't focus on your spouse's selfish habits. Just focus on dealing with your own.
Make it your focus to begin putting these new, Christ-like habits into practice, starting right now. Be aware that it will take time for heavenly habits to replace the old selfish ones. As you are learning to yield to Christ's desires instead of your own, it may seem awkward and uncomfortable. The selfish part of you may rebel and fight for control. But the more you lay down your own agenda and yield to Christ's desires, the more natural and habitual these new responses will become. Imagine a piece of black construction paper enfolded around a bright light bulb. If a small hole is poked in the paper, a beam of light makes its way through the stark black texture. And the larger that hole becomes, the greater is the amount of light that cascades through the darkness. The more you (the black construction paper) learn to get out of the way, the more Christ's light will shine through your life. The less your spouse sees of you, the more your spouse will see of Him.
Chapter One In a Nutshell
Mere human romanticism won't cut it when it comes to achieving greatness in marriage. Roses and rhymes are wonderful, but they won't, in and of themselves, make a marriage something to behold. In fact, a perfect marriage is only possible when we, as human spouses, submit to God's operating table and go under His operating knife. Superhero spouses are born, when the super-heroic life of God is surgically implanted within and the ultimate Prince Charming is allowed to love in and through us.
When God surgically implants himself into a human body, His superhero development has only just begun. He doesn't make great lovers overnight -- He crafts them over time. He trains them like athletes; He builds them like action heroes. And in the end, His goal is to make them look, act, and love just like Him.
Cultivating and maturing this God-life within is the ancient secret of every truly masterful husband or wife throughout history. When Christ is allowed to reside within and make our body his princely domain, He trains us to love as he loves, serve as he serves, and forgive as he forgives. As husband and wife, our job isn't to script for ourselves a great love story, but rather, simply to give him the pen and allow Him to direct the amazing drama.