In this book, Adam Hamilton explores how, with God’s help, we can make love last. Drawing upon a survey of thousands of couples and singles, interviews with relationship and marriage therapists, the latest research in the field, and wisdom from the Bible, Hamilton looks at what it takes to create and sustain healthy, meaningful romantic relationships across the course of a lifetime.
More Than a Piece of Paper
What She Wants; What He Wants
The Significance of Sexual Intimacy
Habits That Hurt, Habits That Heal
Clothe, Bear With, and Forgive
A Love That Lasts a Lifetime
About the Author
Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country. The Church Report named Hamilton’s congregation the most influential mainline church in America, and he preached at the National Prayer Service as part of the presidential inauguration festivities in 2013 and was appointed to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.Hamilton is the best-selling and award-winning author of Creed, Half Truths, The Call, The Journey, The Way, 24 Hours That Changed the World, John, Revival, Not a Silent Night, Enough, When Christians Get It Wrong, and Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, all published by Abingdon Press. Learn more about Adam Hamilton at AdamHamilton.org.
Read an Excerpt
Love to Stay
Sex, Grace, and Commitment
By Adam Hamilton
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
More Than a Piece of Paper
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." ... So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:18, 21-25
An elderly couple lay down for bed one night. The woman said to her husband, "When we were younger, you used to lie close to me." The man sighed and moved closer.
The woman said, "I remember when you used to hold my hand." The man sighed again, a little frustrated, but reached out and took her hand.
Then the woman said, "I remember when you used to nibble my ear." This time the man angrily threw back the covers and got up to leave. Shocked, the woman asked, "Where are you going?"
The man replied, "To get my teeth!"
I love this story. Simple but moving, it offers a glimpse of a love that can last a lifetime—selfless, sacrificial, the kind love that gets a husband out of his warm bed to find his teeth in the cup of Efferdent so he can bless his wife!
As that husband would probably tell you, one of the most important things about love, marriage, and sexual intimacy is that it's hard work. When we fall in love, it seems so easy. But maintaining love over decades—that's another story. Most couples have seasons when they fall out of love. Most report that their sex life seems boring at times. Most think about calling it quits. Most fight fairly regularly. But those who don't give up, who work on their marriage, who endure "until they are parted by death" find profound rewards. This book is written to help you find or rediscover a love that not only stays but deepens over the years.
The Changing Face of Marriage
The social changes of the past few decades have done nothing to dampen the human need for romantic partnership, for someone with whom to share love and intimacy, but those changes have certainly altered the way relationships play out. Divorce rates have declined since their peak in the 1980s, and yet the probability of divorce for a couple marrying today is still between 40 and 50 percent. What's more, many of the couples whose marriages do last will have serious and painful issues to work through.
Young people who have seen the reality behind those statistics, watching as their parents and grandparents divorced, have decided to postpone their own weddings, so the marriage rate has declined precipitously in the past 50 years. In 1960, 72 percent of all Americans over 18 were married; in 2011, it was 51 percent. In 1960, the average age of men and women marrying for the first time was 22.8 and 20.3, respectively; in 2011, the average age was 28.7 and 26.5 I seldom officiate at a wedding where the parents of both the bride and groom are still happily married. Typically at least one set of parents is divorced.
The number of young people choosing to live together rather than marry is dramatically higher as well, and their success rates are even worse than those who marry, with 50 percent breaking up within the first five years. It would appear that whether we're married or cohabiting, we're not sure how to have lasting, loving relationships. And where, at a time when this generation's role models have made such a mess of marriage, would we go to learn about those relationships?
In order to get a driver's license you have to pass a test, and high schools offer driver's education to teach what we all know is essential to safe driving. But a marriage license? To get one in my home state of Kansas, you need just $75 and a birth certificate. There is no training, no preparation, no certification. Some churches, including ours, require premarital counseling, but when you're young, you may not be paying attention because you figure you know it all and love is enough.
The church where my wife LaVon and I got married gave us one hour of premarital counseling with our pastor. One hour to prepare a 17-year-old and 18-year-old for a lifetime relationship! There are so many things I wish someone had told us, though I have to admit that we, like most young people, may not have paid attention.
If you haven't had any instruction and then hit turbulence in your marriage, where do you go for help? You can seek out a counselor, but tragically many of us—let's face it, mostly men—tend to think that going to a counselor is a sign that we're failing. So instead we say to our spouses, "Go ahead, you can see a counselor, but I don't need one." Guys, that's like having a car that you love and deciding it's not manly to take it to a mechanic if it overheats. You can keep on driving it, but eventually you'll ruin the engine. In marriage, it's helpful and sometimes essential to consult an objective third party who is trained in helping couples work through common, and sometimes not so common, marital issues.
With so many people struggling in marriage and young people postponing marriage, does it mean that marriage is dead? A lot of people think so. It's not hard to find pundits suggesting that maybe humans just aren't cut out for long-term, monogamous relationships. A Pew Research Center study found that 40 percent of people think marriage is obsolete, though interestingly enough a majority of those respondents still want to get married!
In that study, researchers asked people to characterize their level of happiness and found that, despite all the challenges of marriage, those who were married were 11–28 percent more likely to describe themselves as "very happy" than those who were single.
Of course, those statistics don't mean that being single causes unhappiness; many singles are very happy. What it tells me is that marriage isn't obsolete and that the institution offers something valuable to those who figure out how to make it work. It just looks like more of us need help in figuring that out.
The Meaning and Mission of Marriage
Not long ago I spoke to a young couple in our congregation who told me they wanted to move in together but weren't interested in getting married. They said, "We don't know why we need a piece of paper to love and be committed to one another." Another young man commented how he thought a legal contract for love was silly. In his mind, it was more romantic to love someone who could leave if she wanted. Her choosing to stay showed she wasn't sticking around just because of a piece of paper. His perspective reflected a view held by many young adults today.
Marriage rightly understood is much more than a piece of paper. Christians and Jews believe that marriage was created by God, that it was God's way of addressing a need in human beings. It was part of the very story of Creation, told in the opening pages of the Bible. Some read that story literally, others more poetically or figuratively, but in either case we agree that the story is archetypal and deals with some of the really big questions in life: "Where did we come from?" "Is there a God, and if so, what is God like?" "What does it mean to be human?" and, yes, "What is the meaning and mission of marriage?"
Looking back, I wish I had understood more clearly that marriage has a mission. I was madly in love with LaVon. I couldn't keep my hands off her. But everything else was guesswork. Nobody ever said, "Adam, this is the meaning of marriage. This is your mission statement. This is what you're supposed to do after you say, 'I do.'"
From the first, the Bible makes clear that marriage is a calling from God to care for, bless, and serve another. We are called to channel God's love and kindness to all, but marriage calls us to do it in a special, intentional way toward someone with whom we will partner in life.
In Genesis we find two Creation stories. The first, found in Genesis chapter one, repeatedly states that everything God created was "good." On the seventh day God takes it a step further and declares everything he had made "very good." In the second Creation story, found in Genesis chapter two, we reach the first thing that is "not good."
"It is not good," declares God, "that the man should be alone." This speaks of the hunger each of us is born with for intimacy with others. And so God says, "I will make him a helper as his partner" (Genesis 2:18).
God brings to Adam all the animals and birds formed out of the ground. Adam is given the prerogative of naming each and, it seems, the opportunity to find among them a creature who could be a partner and companion. But, says Genesis 2:20b, "no suitable helper was found" (NIV).
God looks at the man and sees the longing in his heart. God says, as I imagine the story, "I have something in mind for you that you would not believe if I were to tell you." God causes the man to fall into a deep sleep and takes from his side a rib. He closes up the place with flesh and forms a new and improved model of the human—woman!
I picture Adam wiping the sleep from his eyes and taking a look at Eve, so like him and yet so mysteriously and maddeningly different. As Adam's heart beat faster, he must have thought, This is what I have been waiting for! Genesis 2:23 quotes him as saying,
"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."
The narrator of Genesis continues, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (v. 24)—a euphemism for sexual intimacy. The narrator goes on to say that "the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed" (v. 25). Right here, in the foundational story of the Bible, we find love, sex, and marriage, presented in such a way as to make clear the meaning and mission inherent in the partnership that brings all three together. The story tells us that marriage is God's gift to men and women, a way of blessing us as it meets a fundamental, existential need we have as human beings. Genesis doesn't talk of romance or emotion, but rather of God's offer of a partner—a companion and helper—with whom to walk through this life.
The mission of marriage is for both husband and wife to be helpers, partners, and companions for one another. Being a helper does not imply a subservient role for either the woman or the man. The word for "helper" in Genesis 2 is the Hebrew ezer, always used in the Bible to connote one who is stronger coming to help one who is weaker. In fact, it is often applied to God himself in relation to humanity. The idea is not that a weaker person is brought in to serve the stronger, but that two people bring their mutual strengths to the relationship in order to bless one another.
Both parties in any marriage are intended to be each other's helpers and companions. They are making a covenant with God and with each other to bless and minister to one another. They are meant to be counterparts, to complement each other the way the left shoe complements the right shoe in a long journey on a rocky road. Ideally, it's an equality that comes from complementary strengths working in unison.
To be a helper is to seek the best for the person you're helping—in the way they can best receive it. Some of us need to be reminded that our job is not to solve all the problems our spouse brings to us; in fact, most people hate it when we try to solve all their problems.
When they bring us problems and lay out things that are burdening them, the help we can bring is to come alongside them, encourage and bless them, and build them up—the very things we need when we are troubled. That is part of what it means to be a helper.
Eros, Agape, and the Vision of Marriage
When I married LaVon, I made a covenant with God to bless her, to encourage her, and to incarnate ("put flesh on") the love of God for her. I believe I'm called to build her up and help her be the woman God wants her to be, just as part of her job in my life is to help me be the man God wants me to be.
Everything we've talked about and will talk about in the rest of this book shows that these are things we find very hard to do. Part of the reason for the difficulty is built into our very complementarity—in so many ways, those who marry are very, very different from each other. We think differently. We experience things differently. We see the world differently. The things I think are going to bless LaVon sometimes only irritate her. Any man who's ever bought a woman a vacuum cleaner for Christmas—and I have to admit I've done it—knows what I'm talking about.
Men and women may have had difficulties understanding each other's needs from the very beginning. In the Genesis story, when God confronts Adam about eating the forbidden fruit, Adam instantly blames Eve. Reading that passage makes me smile, because this is precisely how marriages work!
When Eve was created, she may have looked at Adam and then at God and said, "Really? Him? This is the best you could do? He burps, he scratches, he never listens to me, and he watches the animals play games all weekend long! When he does pay attention to me, he can't keep his hands to himself! And did you see what he made me for my birthday last year? A broom!"
Adam may have countered by saying, "Do you know how crazy she makes me? She's moody. She's always after me to pick up my things. And the talking! How could one person have so many things to say? She doesn't give me any time just to kick back in my man cave. And when it comes to 'be fruitful and multiply,' I'm not sure she got the message!"
We still carry the differences that can drive each other crazy, but at least we've been given the blueprints for how to treat each other. What the Hebrew word ezer (helper) is to our Old Testament understanding of marriage, agape is to our New Testament understanding. Agape is of course the Greek word for "love," or more precisely one of the Greek words for love. Another word, eros, has to do with the passionate, sexual side of love—we get the word erotic from it. Eros is also the name of the Greek god whose Roman counterpart was Cupid; Cupid's arrow was said to produce the heart-pounding desire that kicks off the passionate early days of romantic longing.
But you can't build a marriage or a long-term relationship on eros alone. It's just not possible. Eventually, eros must be transformed into something more substantial. Augmented by the desire to help and encourage, to nurture and lift up, eros is transformed into agape, a selfless, sacrificial love that wishes the best for the other.
Agape, which is independent of our own personal feelings, is what God intended for us from the time he created us. Paul describes that love in his famous passage from 1 Corinthians, where he writes, "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Jesus taught and championed this beautiful ideal. He said it was what God seeks from each of us. Jesus, at the end of his life, showed us what that love looks like. As he hung on the cross, he was saying, in effect, "This is agape—laying down your life for others."
Jesus showed us the ideal, the pattern for what love looks like. It's what we're called to strive for in all our relationships, but especially in marriage. Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25).
It is a lovely thought. Unfortunately, men and women do not readily display agape love toward each other. By nature, I am not selfless but selfish. It is easy to believe that the world revolves around me. I don't automatically think first of others. But as a Christian, I hear the call of Jesus to love LaVon selflessly and sacrificially, regardless of what I'm feeling or what my inclinations are. Christ's very life was agape love writ large, and I decided many years ago to follow him. Agape is what I'm aiming for. It's what I pray that I might demonstrate more of, both to LaVon and to others.
As we strive to live the Christian ideal, the Holy Spirit changes our hearts in a process called conversion. We are changed from the inside out, so that over the course of a lifetime we're meant to become more and more loving. In twenty years I should be able to love LaVon more fully, selflessly, and completely than I do now. The biblical and theological word for this process is sanctification, or being perfected in love by God.
Excerpted from Love to Stay by Adam Hamilton. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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.
Table of Contents
1 More Than a Piece of Paper 13
2 What She Wants, What He Wants 31
3 The Significance of Sexual Intimacy 55
4 Habits That Hurt, Habits That Heal 79
5 Clothe, Bear With, Forgive 105
6 A Love That Lasts 131
Appendix A Love, Sex, and Marriage Survey (Excerpts) 157
Appendix B Advice from Couples Married 50+ Years 170