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WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
"I just didn't think it would be like this," Mary said. She looked completely exhausted and defeated.
Sam just looked angry. He didn't want to be with me talking about his marriage to Mary. In fact, if the truth be told, he didn't want to be married to Mary. He'd had it! "Fifteen years — fifteen years! — and this is what I get?"
Mary refused to answer; she just sat there and sobbed.
"Look what my hard work gave you. No one you know lives in a house like yours. No one you know has the things I've provided for you. No one has had the wonderful experiences around the world that I've given you. But, no, it's never enough. Mary, I'm tired of your constant complaining. I'm tired of daily criticism. I just don't want to do this anymore, and I don't think you do either," Sam said, as his voice trailed off.
I looked at Sam and Mary, and I knew it had not always been like this. I've sat with many couples while they were in the process of considering marriage, which has often been a bit of a frustrating experience for me. No, I haven't been frustrated because they were "madly" in love; I think it's wonderful when a man and woman adore one another. I think it's wonderful when they decide to spend their lives with one another. I understand that in the throes of the romance of the moment, they find it hard to concentrate on the preparatory work that needs to get done. None of this has frustrated me. I think that deep mutual affection is a beautiful thing.
Here's what has frustrated me again and again: unrealistic expectations. There — I've said it. I am persuaded that it is more regular than irregular for couples to get married with unrealistic expectations. Again and again I have sat with couples who simply do not seem to be taking seriously the important things the Bible has to say about what every marriage will encounter in the here and now. Unrealistic expectations always lead to disappointment.
You know this is true if you have ever looked at a vacation Web site before traveling there. No vacation site will actually look as nice and function as well as it does on its promotional site on the Internet. You inevitably end up disappointed because you started out with unrealistic expectations.
We took our family on a vacation to Disney World. We looked at that beautiful Disney literature. But we weren't told that we would stand under a blazing sun for 90 minutes in 120-degree heat and 200-percent humidity to ride a ride that takes 33 seconds!
My son, who was at this time just a little guy, saw a ride that he wanted to go on. We walked for what seemed like forever and finally found the end of the line. We stood in line so long that my son and I had this conversation: "Dad," he said, "why are we standing here?" I said, "There is a ride at the end of this line." And he said, with a look of complete exhaustion, "And what ride is it?" We had been in the line so long that he had forgotten why we were standing there. Unrealistic expectations always lead to disappointment.
USING THE BIBLE BIBLICALLY
Part of the problem is the way we use Scripture. We mistakenly treat the Bible as if it were arranged by topic — you know, the world's best compendium of human problems and divine solutions. So when we're thinking about marriage, we run to all the marriage passages. But the Bible isn't an encyclopedia; it is a story, the great origin-to-destiny story of redemption. In fact, it is more than a story. It is a theologically annotated story. It is a story with God's notes. This means that we cannot understand what the Bible has to say about marriage by looking only at the marriage passages, because there is a vast amount of biblical information about marriage not found in the marriage passages.
In fact, we could argue, to the degree that every portion of the Bible tells us things about God, about ourselves, about life in this present world, and about the nature of the human struggle and the divine solution, to that degree every passage in the Bible is a marriage passage. Every passage imparts to us insight that is vital for a proper understanding of the passages that directly address marriage, and every passage tells us what we should expect as we deal with the comprehensive relationship of marriage.
One of our problems is that we have not used the Bible biblically, and this has set us up for surprises we shouldn't have had.
PLEASE DON'T MESS THIS UP
But the unrealistic expectations have another source. It's almost as though the potential husband and wife are motivated not to hear the truth about what they will inevitably face, because they don't want anything to mess up the unfettered affection that has left them in a virtual romantic delirium. Now again, I want to say that I think that deep and mutual affection is a beautiful thing, but we must not let it motivate us to deny reality.
That dynamic is like what happens to you while you are consuming a wonderful meal of deep-fried fish and chips, which will be followed by a dessert of rich chocolate cake and ice cream. You simply have no interest in considering what this meal is doing to your heart and waistline. You do not want to discuss calories and cholesterol. You are not very motivated to consider fat and sugar content. No, you want to savor every delectable morsel. You want to consume all the fish and fries you can while they are still warm and crunchy. And no matter how full you are, you are planning to consume a hearty piece of that four-layer, double-chocolate mousse cake.
You see, in the midst of the power of premarital romance, it is very hard to get yourself to want to take a hard and honest look at reality, that is, those things that every couple will face someday, somehow, someway. You are scared that under the heat of the light of truth, your affection may evaporate. You fear that something is going to mess up the delight of what you are experiencing at the moment. What you are experiencing is one of the most powerful things a human being can experience. Love is compelling. It is motivating. It is intoxicating. It can command your mind and control your emotions. You sit with the one you love, considering your marriage to come, and you want what you are now feeling and experiencing to last forever. And you're not about to do anything that will mess it up.
Here's how it tends to work: you're in love and convinced that the love you are now feeling will get you through anything you might face. You simply don't want to dig up potential difficulty. You don't want to consider what could be. You don't want to let the future get in the way of what you are experiencing in the moment. Your attention span is short. You are in love, and you like it, and you are not about to let anything get in the way. You look at one another with glazed eyes, and you are sure that the powerful love you are feeling will get you through anything. You don't feel that you have much to fear. You are sure that few people have felt the love that you feel for one another. You know that other couples have problems, but you are convinced you are not like them. You are sure they must not have felt what you are feeling. You are in love, and you are sure that everything will work out right. You are simply not interested in being realistic.
BETWEEN THE ALREADY AND THE NOT YET
There is a way that theologians think about life in the here and now that is very helpful and can impart to us realistic expectations. Everything we say and do, everything we commit ourselves to, and every situation, location, and relationship we experience is experienced between the already and the not yet. You will never understand the things you face every day until you understand that you live in the middle. Everything in your life is shaped by what the middle is like. Perhaps you're thinking, "Paul, I don't know what you're talking about." Permit me to explain.
Knowing that you are living between the already and the not yet tells you where you are located in God's story of redemption. Stay with me; this is intensely practical. Already God has given us his Word as our guide. Already he has sent his Son to live, die, and rise again for our salvation. Already he has given us his Spirit to live within us. But the world has not yet been restored. Sin has not yet been completely eradicated. We have not yet been formed in the perfect likeness of Jesus. Suffering, sadness, and death are not yet no more.
It is hard to live in the middle, but that is exactly where we live. We live in a world that is still sadly and terribly broken. Your marriage will not escape its brokenness. We live with flawed people. Your marriage will not be protected from those flaws. When you start unpacking what life is really like between the already and the not yet, you gain perspectives that are enormously helpful for understanding the things you need to face if you want a marriage that is wholesome and healthy in the eyes of God.
You and I simply never know for sure what is coming next. Think about it: your life has not worked according to your plan. You could not have written yourself into your present situation twenty years ago. Last week didn't work according to your plan. Today won't work according to your plan. Your life is under the wise and sovereign plan of another (see Acts 17:26–27; Dan. 4:34b–35). This means that, every day, you deal with the unexpected, with things you didn't plan to have on your plate. This is surely true of your marriage. Problems come your way that have a huge impact on you and your spouse. Sickness and sin get in the way of what you thought you would be sharing together. Every marriage is required to face the unexpected. But dealing with the unexpected doesn't mean you have to be unprepared. This book is all about the principle of prepared spontaneity.
Now, I know it sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't. You actually can be prepared for things that you don't yet know you will face. You can be ready for things that you had no idea would come your way. In fact, I am persuaded that this is one of the main functions of Scripture. It enables us to be prepared to decide, think, desire, act, and speak well in a world in which we aren't sovereign. Here's how it works: if we have taken in what the Bible says about God, ourselves, life, sin, and the surrounding world, we are ready to deal spontaneously with things we didn't know we would be dealing with.
Again and again I have sat with couples who are surprised by what they are dealing with. Yet, when I give them an opportunity to tell their story, I am impressed to find, once again, that the things they are dealing with are the kinds of things the Bible predicts that flawed people in a fallen world will face. It is troubling when I sit with a wife who is shocked that her husband is a sinner or with a husband who was unprepared for the fact that his wife is tempted to be selfish.
More couples than I can number have been surprised that their marriage needs the regular rescue of grace. And because they did not take the Bible seriously, they were caught short in that moment, when the rubber meets the road in daily life, where grace was their only hope.
It's not just the prediction of potential problems that people haven't taken seriously, but the message of promised provision as well. Prepared spontaneity is not just about being aware of what you are going to face and therefore being ready to face it. It is also about knowing what you have been given so that you can face it with practical courage and hope.
This book will lay out for you a lifestyle of readiness that takes seriously the practical and life-giving wisdom perspectives of the Word of God. These wisdom insights will cause you to live prepared, even though your hand isn't on the joystick, and you don't really know what is around the next corner of your marriage.
YOU CAN EXPECT THE EXPECTED
Jim got sick and had to forsake his climb up the corporate ladder. This brought stress into his marriage to Jen that he would never have anticipated. Brad and Savannah got busier and busier and quit communicating as they should, and their relationship paid the price. Brent struggled with a secret sin for years, and when Liz discovered it, it almost ended their marriage. India and Frank always seemed to be in a battle for control. It was an exhausting marriage to be a part of. Alfie and Sue never seemed to be in the same place spiritually. Jared and Sally had an infectious affection for one another, but their financial woes brought much stress to their marriage. Jung's mother pulled her into loyalty battles again and again. It caused lots of conflict between her and Kim.
There are two observations to make about all these marriages. First, none was a bad marriage. No one was about to walk out. No one had been unfaithful as yet. There had been no abuse or violence. But none was experiencing what God had in mind when he created their union in the first place. And all of them were surprised at what they had to face as a couple.
Second, everything that each couple faced is predicted by command, principle, proposition, or perspective in the Bible. These couples should have expected the expected. If they had approached the Bible as a wonderful window onto their marriage, they would have known what to expect and not been surprised at what came their way.
So what are the essential wisdom perspectives that Scripture gives us that enable us to have realistic expectations for our marriage?
1) You Are Conducting Your Marriage in a Fallen World
Sam can't believe he has been suddenly laid-off after all these years. Julie struggles with the thought of living with a man with a chronic disease. Jared never thought he would be dealing with the things he is facing with his son. Mary feels like a prisoner in the house she loves, which is located in a neighborhood now gone bad. Sherrie struggles with the responses she has received to her biracial marriage. John often wonders why life has to be so hard.
We all face the same thing. Our marriages live in the middle of a world that does not function as God intended. Somehow, someway, your marriage is touched every day by the brokenness of our world. Maybe it simply has to do with the necessity of living with the low-grade hassles of a broken world, or maybe you are facing major issues that have altered the course of your life and your marriage. But there is one thing for sure: you will not escape the environment in which God has chosen you to live. It is not an accident that you are conducting your marriage in this broken world. It is not an accident that you have to deal with the things you do. None of this is fate, chance, or luck. It is all a part of God's redemptive plan. Acts 17 says that he determines the exact place where you live and the exact length of your life. He knows where you live, and he is not surprised at what you are facing. Even though you face things that make no sense to you, there is meaning and purpose to everything you face. I am persuaded that understanding your fallen world and God's purpose for keeping you in it is foundational to building a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.
There is no better window on what we face in the here-and-now world in which we live than the descriptive words that the Bible uses: "grieved," "trials," and "tested" (1 Pet. 1:6–7). Now, these words should cause you to pause. Of all the descriptive words that Peter has at his disposal to describe what God is doing in us through the environment in which we live, it is very significant that he uses these three words. Each is instructive and interpretive. First, you will not escape the grief of life in the fallen world. That grief can be the momentary pain of a little disappointment or the long-term mourning of a significant moment of loss. The point is that, along the way, grief touches us all in little or significant ways. Second, we all face trials. We will deal with things we would never have planned for ourselves or inserted into our schedules. We will grieve because we will face difficulty that we neither anticipated nor planned. The final word brings the portrait of life in this fallen world together. The word tested does not mean tested like in an exam. No, it means "tempered" or "refined."
With this word, tested, God tells you one of the most significant things you will ever understand about your marriage in the here and now. God decided to leave you in this fallen world to live, love, and work, because he intended to use the difficulties you face to do something in you that couldn't be done any other way. You see, most of us have a personal happiness paradigm. Now, it is not wrong to want to be happy, and it is not wrong to work toward marital happiness. God has given you the capacity for enjoyment and placed wonderful things around you to enjoy. The problem is not that this is a wrong goal, but that it is way too small a goal. God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal. If he was not working on this, he would not be faithful to his promises to you. God has a personal holiness paradigm. Don't be put off by the language here. The words mean that God is working through your daily circumstances to change you.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What Did You Expect?"
Copyright © 2010 Paul David Tripp.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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 What Did You Expect?,
2 Reason to Continue,
3 Whose Kingdom?,
4 Day by Day,
COMMITMENT 1: We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.,
5 Coming Clean: Confession,
6 Canceling Debts,
COMMITMENT 2: We will make growth and change our daily agenda.,
7 Pulling Weeds,
8 Planting Seeds,
COMMITMENT 3: We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.,
9 Sticking Out Your Neck,
10 Someone to Be Trusted,
COMMITMENT 4: We will commit to building a relationship of love.,
11 All You Need Is Love,
12 Ready, Willing, and Waiting,
COMMITMENT 5: We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.,
13 Amazing Grace,
14 Before Dark,
COMMITMENT 6: We will work to protect our marriage.,
15 Eyes Wide Open,
16 On Your Knees,
17 Worship, Work, and Grace,
What People are Saying About This
“Noel and I listened to most of this book driving in the car! Wise words. Authentic experience. Provocative application. Turned a long trip into a fruitful two-person marriage seminar.”
John Piper, Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary; author, Desiring God
“When Paul Tripp teaches, preaches, or writes he does so through the lens of the gospel. In What Did You Expect?, Paul faithfully and brilliantly lets the gospel bear its weight on the messiness and beauty of marriage. I, personally, found the book to be helpful, and we use it extensively at the Village Church.”
Matt Chandler,Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
“At once deeply theological and practically relevant, this is one of the top books on marriage I have ever read. Paul Tripp allows readers to examine marriage through a biblical lens so that we understand how God can graciously heal our hurting homes. As a pastor, I will implore our people to read this book as soon as it is available.”
Chris Brauns, Pastor, The Red Brick Church, Stillman Valley, Illinois; author, Unpacking Forgiveness, Bound Together, and When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search
“What I’ve come to expect from Paul Tripp is consistently deep, transparent, biblical, wise, practical, gospel-driven counsel. Rather than muddying the water with self-focused strategies designed to meet our ever-multiplying needs, Paul, as the seasoned soul-physician he is, correctly diagnoses our problems and provides the curehumble faith in Jesus Christ. I wasn’t disappointed. You won’t be either.”
Elyse Fitzpatrick, author, Give Them Grace
“Paul Tripp brings many years of counseling, growth as a husband, and deepening discovery of the liberating power of grace to this realistic and challenging guide to God’s engagement in redeeming marriages that are threatened by complacency, misunderstanding, and selfishness. The Bible’s message of the humbling and healing power of Christ’s mercy and the powerful presence of his Spirit in our homes comes through loud and clear. The daily practicality of gospel doctrine is made crystal clear by Tripp’s transparency about his personal missteps in becoming a Christ-reflecting husband and the many examples of couples who have discovered that they are sinners married to sinners. But that the third, divine Party in marriage gives hope and change when unrealistic expectations are shattered and when we confront our sin. But be warned: Tripp’s diagnostic questions are downright uncomfortable. Even those with strong marriages by God’s grace will find their deep tendencies toward self-coronation challenged!”
Dennis E. Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California; author, Him We Proclaim; Walking with Jesus through His Word; and Journeys with Jesus
“Paul Tripp issues a challenge for couples to roll up their sleeves, get to work, and do what it takes to build a God-honoring relationship. He presents six commitments for couples to make, and contained within each is insightful, practical, and effective advice on how to construct a loving, growing, grace-soaked marriage.”
Mary A. Kassian,author, Girls Gone Wise