My 24-year old daughter recently participated in a wedding that many merely dream about: the Ritz-Carlton, beautifully manicured acreage, surrounding waterscapes, celebrative music filling the air with anticipation, enough food and drinks to feed a veritable army and, of course, a fashionably elegant wedding party dressed to the nines. Add in a healthy dose of fabulous weather, and you have a magic moment. But external trappings do not always great marriages make!
On the way home my daughter, caught in a reflective fog, enumerated friends whose marriages were already destabilized. “It seems to me that a lot of people spend a lot of time and money preparing for the wedding, but not much preparing for the marriage,” she mused. Stop the world! There’s a piece of earth-shattering perspective. Why wasn’t I thinking of insightful things like that at 24? I wondered.
Today, statistics scream to us of the implosion of marriage. In this disposable society, marriage partners become throw-away items if they don’t fit into the other’s “wants, needs and goals.”
I purposely used the word implosion and not explosion. Webster’s defines it as “to collapse inward as if from external pressure.” Our landscape of marriage looks like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or a once-stately high-rise brought to a pile of rubble by demolition experts. So what key pressures and charges are toppling today’s marriages?
It’s a Covenant, not a Contract!
On any given weekend, and even in the church, exhilarated brides and nervous grooms say their “I do’s” without understanding God’s deepest intent for the relationship into which they enter. They ritually run through the elements of a ceremony without understanding the Rock from which it was hewn!
Having had the joy of speaking in marriage conferences, I often start with the differences between a “contract” and a covenant. Tying it back into the covenant dealings of God with His people, I remind them that the Hebrew word so often used for covenant is “beriyth” meaning “a solemn agreement cut between parties with binding force.” I unpack the elements of God’s covenants with His leaders and people, followed by a look at the first-century Jewish wedding (which was seen as a covenant relation). Then I show the elements of covenant still present in the modern-day wedding ceremony. Afterwards, I often have scores of people say, “I’ve never heard that before! Why don’t we hear that in weddings today?” What an attention-grabbing question, indeed! Why don’t they?
The typical wedding ceremony is crammed with symbols of God’s plan for a covenant marriage:
- The groom enters first because he is the initiator of the covenant.
- The white runner depicts holy ground.
- The father walks his daughter down the aisle because he is coming to the end of his spiritual leadership and prepares to surrender that role to the man in whose hands he will place her.
- She walks down an aisle (and they will exit by it) representing the “walk of death”, when those entering Biblical covenants walked between the halves of a slain animal, as if to say, “may what happened to this animal happen to me if I break this covenant.”
- The groom says his vows first because at that moment, he becomes the spiritual head.
And we all could stand being reminded that:
A contract is based on distrust;
A covenant is based on trust.
A contract is based on limited liability;
A covenant is based on unlimited responsibility.
A contract can be voided by a court or mutual consent;
A covenant is not to be voided.
A contract says, “What’s mine is mine”;
A covenant says. “What’s mine is yours.”
In the past fifteen years, I can’t remember doing a ceremony without focusing on these important elements and what they mean to those taking their “vows”.
What an amazing time of discipling for all involved, and we could be missing it! There are some wonderful resources out there to help any minister capture perhaps one of the most powerful equipping experiences in life. They can move couples from focusing on simply the “wedding,” to concentrating on the covenantal relationship and the strength it brings to the experience.
Enter With Your Eyes Open!
As marriages hurtle into the future before them, we must remind every couple to keep their eyes open for the needs and fears of the other. A wise, seasoned counselor told me years ago that the greatest need of women is security, and her greatest fear is insecurity. Conversely,the greatest need of a man is adequacy, and his greatest fear, inadequacy. If only my wife and I had been told this before we got married, not years later!
Within every wife, there is a little girl craving to hear that she is pretty, valued, treasured and loved. She can handle multiple moves, shaky finances, job difficulties and worse as long as she is relationally secure with her man. Every husband longs to hear, “I’m proud of you because…” He yearns to know he is adequate in his leadership. In conference after conference, women sit stunned when my wife asks men to lower their head and raise their hand on what they would prefer to hear from their wife: “I love you,” or “I’m proud of you.” “I’m proud of you” wins hands down (or up in this case). Even the makers of Viagra and Calais understand a man’s passionate desire to be adequate!
So, what implosions might be avoided if every couple walking toward the altar were clearly guided on the foundational need/fear of their potential mate? It would so clearly show how our IEDs (improvised explosive devices) of words and actions within marriage can rupture the infrastructure of our relationships and bring our homes crashing in around us.
Why Wait ‘til All Else Fails?
I remember well the older gentleman, looking deep into my eyes—with a glint in his—as he said, “When all else fails, son, pray with your wife.” After some 35 years of marriage, I would scream, “DON’T WAIT UNTIL ALL ELSE FAILS!”
I am shaken by how many men across the nation who characterize themselves as “Christian” husbands miss a key ingredient of quake-proof marriages: praying with their spouse. Notice I didn’t say “praying for their spouse.” Sure, that’s important; but something profoundly powerful happens when a husband leads his wife in a time of shared prayer. And ask any wife if she would prefer her husband not lead their prayer, and she’ll likely take your head off! Every woman deeply needs her husband to take the spiritual lead in their home, and this means more than just taking the family to church. It’s an investment of himself in hands-on application.
But why don’t more men do it? Multiple reasons: lack of a good model, a feeling of inadequacy, a fear of failure, not knowing how to begin, lack of equipping…and on and on it goes.
So, to reverse the implosion, could churches spend focused time on equipping men to pray with their wives? Start simply: suggest getting a notebook/journal and writing down prayer needs and requests with their date and the answers as they come. (It blows a woman’s mind when she sees her husband writing down what she says!) And encourage them to begin where they are right now, and repeat that it’s not too late!
At a recent men’s conference, I spoke on this subject and challenged the men to start right where they were, right NOW. The next morning, a 73-year old man sought me out, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he declared, “I did something for the first time last night, something I should have done years ago. I prayed with my wife.” He choked as he recounted the amazing experience and regretted what he had missed for years. Then I asked, “What did your wife do?” With faltering voice, he whispered, “She said she had been waiting all of our married life for this day.” Enough said! And here is the amazing part: his “adequacy-rating” skyrockets, and she feels increasingly secure.
It Doesn’t Just Happen
As I step back and reflect on what I have observed in these last years of societal-wide marriage implosion, above all one missing ingredient comes to mind: intentionality. I have never seen any man say, “I think I’ll marry someone who won’t love me in ten years,” or a woman who proclaimed, “All I want is a breadwinner.” No, every couple marches into marriage looking for the best of times and not giving a second-thought to the possibility of the worst of times. With a beautiful wedding, a breathtaking honeymoon, and a bright new future, what more is there? Not much, is the answer, without intentionality.
Great marriages, or even solid marriages, don’t just happen. They are intentional. Partners must take practical steps to ensure the marriage that starts well can end well. People don’t just “slide” into marriages that last.
Maybe one of the most overlooked resources of our churches are mentoring couples who can be encouragers to younger or newly married couples. In our world of hectic schedules, unending expectations, “performance” mentalities and non-stop pressure, a spiritually mature couple to come alongside a newer one could be a life-saving resource and a pressure-release all at the same time. Their practical wisdom from an intentional, biblically-centered journey could be just what the doctor ordered.
So, could it be that my 24-year old daughter was right? Maybe we are tempted to spend a lot more effort on preparing for the wedding that we do preparing for the marriage. So, the ball’s in our court; may be become leaders, churches and people who act to reverse the implosion, triggering an explosion of stable homes.