Before you are married, you think love and lovey feelings will sprout out of you like old-man ear hair and bubble up like the oil when Jethro shoots the ground in the intro to every episode of Beverly Hillbillies. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t happen that way. Now I’m sure we would always be this romantic if we lived in Paris. Or if WWII had just ended.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard about marriage is this – Love is a choice you make every day. Choose to love your spouse despite all of your shortcomings and all of theirs, despite the circumstances, and despite your preferences. And we can love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). I will grant you that marriage has a lot of legwork, like getting chocolates and roses, romantic movies and crazy expensive dinners … and in some cultures, slaughtering a chicken or giving her camels. But what about the not-so-surface-level stuff?
Couples that make it in marriage wade through the same crap as everyone else – the only difference is they don’t let it take their marriage down. One of the two will stand up and fight for what is right every time. One of them will take their problem back to the Gospel, repent, and open up the gates for the other one to get rid of their stupid pride and do the same.
It is not just about dealing with difficult situations when they arise – 7 1/2 times out of 10, you are reacting too late. (I made that statistic up.) It is also about being proactive to work on communication, dealing with conflict, and working out how to resolve a fight before the inevitable fights that matter. Preventative maintenance, just like with your house and your body, is also key to marriage. When I say “Preventative Maintenance,” I don’t mean doing what you know you should do just because it will save you trouble down the road. Just like with the Gospel and being a Christian, “doing” is not about drudgery or what you know you should do, but “being” – experiencing God’s love and acceptance, and out of that love, responding with joy with acts of grace, kindness, and love. Because the fights, the disagreements, the arguments, maybe even a little eye-rolling – it will all come. And you know why? Because it’s been following you all your life and all my life, and you are the common denominator in all of your dysfunctional relationships. You. And Me. Yaigh! I thought that would brighten your day!
So why do I tell you all of this? Well, because this leads me to:
1. Having Prep time. I need 2 hours a week to write handwritten notes of love and encouragement, write draft e-mails from the book Water of the Word, Valley of Vision, C.H. Spurgeon’s Daily Dose, and others. So I take Sunday mornings from 7am – 9am to do all this. Also, it is my privilege to plan a date night (always on Friday nights … unless it is Monday night), knowing that this night is for talking, connecting, sharing, and trying to know my wife more. So I go in knowing that I need to be attentive, talkative, and focused on the conversation … hey, some guys need to know that ahead of time. I’m one of them. I’m not ashamed.2. Picking a book of the Bible to study together, then consistently setting times to read and talk through Scripture. This is impossible to do if I am not in a regular study of the Word. And I don’t think my wife wants me to teach her so much as open the dialogue to talk through the Scriptures. I’m thinking Hebrews, then Psalms.
3. Praying together. I don’t know why, but this one is difficult for me. I’m not sure if I am embarrassed to pray with my wife, if it is a spiritual attack, or if I am not praying enough in my personal life so that it overflows into my relationship with my wife, but I am terrible at this. Seriously – pray for me to pray more. I need prayer.
4. Worship together. I play the guitar and used to lead worship. I learned to play the guitar so that I could worship on my own, and now that I’m married, I want to invite my wife into my personal worship time. As awkward and scary as that might seem, I’m excited to see what God does with that.
It is weird to say “Lead my home spiritually.” It sounds so grownup. And I don’t feel like a grownup most days. I think of myself as if I were still in college. I don’t always remember that I’m 30, that I have a steady job, or that 1/3 of my life is spent at that job, or that I am about to take on the largest debt I will (hopefully) ever have in a house. I’ll be honest – I’m no pro at being a great husband. I mess up much more than I succeed at being a godly husband for my wife. The important thing is to learn from every mistake so you don’t keep repeating it. I haven’t even been married that long – just 2 1/2 years. But I’ve seen great marriages and horrible ones, and one of the huge differences I see between the two is how much thought, planning, conversation, and work is put into the every day, common, run-of-the-mill events all of us experience. As Paul David Tripp says, most of us have 4 or 5 “big” moments in our lives, and 99.99% of our lives consists of “small” moments. If we live and prepare only for those big moments, we will miss our lives. But if we live a cultivate for the small moments, we will actually live the life we are living, instead of waiting to live the life we wish for.
So get out there and live in, prepare for, talk through, and figure out how to enjoy your life, i.e., your small moments. When your wife starts talking to you, stop what you are doing, put down your stupid cell phone and engage her in conversation. Make time to plan out encouragement for her every day of the week. When you find yourself sitting in front of the TV while eating dinner, think about turning it off and actually hanging out with your wife. You may find that you are not so bad at living a “small” life, and practice only makes you better.