Bitter or Sweet? – Part 1

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We receive a fair amount of e-mails. While most are greatly encouraging, a few trouble our hearts. The ones that usually sadden Teri and me the most have to do with marriage difficulties. I’m convinced that no one wants a rocky marriage, or one where each is pulling in different directions. Yet that is quite common. If we have the honor and pleasure of a spouse with which to share a life together, why not make it a wonderful experience? Why not be committed to making our marriages joyous examples to the world of how good a Christ-centered marriage really can be? Living each day with your best friend by your side as you seek to follow the Lord’s direction together, step-by-step, is a beautiful thing.

I’m convinced that any man and woman can live happily together in marriage if they want to, and I believe Scripture teaches that as well. How does one begin to improve a suffering marriage? You start in the same way you would if the marriage is okay currently, but the couple desired to make it better. Every thing good starts with the Lord Jesus Christ. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). First, do we have a relationship with Jesus? Sadly, many will count a childhood profession as salvation, but they have never had a real saving relationship with the God of creation. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). Do you have the confidence of a real relationship with Jesus?

A human relationship with limited or little communication will suffer, and so will ours with the Lord if we aren’t reading His Word every morning and then communing with Him in prayer. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). We would do better in life to neglect the habit of breakfast than to miss our morning fellowship with the Lord Jesus. He encourages, convicts, and even admonishes us through His Word and prayer, and it is needful to keep our lives on track. Jesus Christ, the Living Bread, is the spiritual nutrition that our hearts need daily. We can’t change a spouse, but there is much that we can do in our lives that will help matters.

Every marriage will suffer when our spirits are not receiving His grace and strength. The Lord has the insight into a marriage of what is needed. Without Him we really don’t even know what to pray for. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). There is such power available to us if we will appropriate it.

In addition to developing our relationship with the Lord Jesus to strengthen a marriage, are you spending quality and quantity time with your wife? Time together is critical to the health of the marriage. I would encourage you not to count time in front of the TV or watching a movie as time together. Go for walks early in the morning if you have an older child who could be awake while the others slept. Take your wife out to eat (not a movie), and listen to her. Communicate with each other. Sandwiches at the park or in the car are great if finances prohibit eating at a restaurant, and they don’t cost any more than eating at home.

Years ago when the children were young, I made it a financial and time priority to take Teri on a weekly date. She tells me how important those couple of hours were to her each week when we were able to talk to each other without the interruptions of children. In more recent years, we have been able to walk together early each morning. Not only are we exercising, but we have over an hour of time to communicate. We also attempt to get away briefly once or twice a year. For Mother’s and Father’s Day, we have the tradition of giving a night away together, which we take when we are able to fit it into the schedule. We love our time away, although we have found that our enjoyment of the children is so great, it makes it difficult to be away from them. However, we have found it good for our relationship to have that time for just the two of us, even though it isn’t very long.

An attitude check is great for the marriage. We have a family friend who is such a delight to be around. She is positive and always complimentary. She constantly says nice things when we are with her. She doesn’t flatter, but the things she says come from her heart. She is quite a marvel to us, and I’m sure to many others. It is just nice to be around her. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

People enjoy being around someone who is kind and positive, which would include a husband. What is it like for your wife to be around you? Do you praise or criticize her? Do you thank her for the countless ways she blesses you? I am so grateful for Teri’s respect, love, and deep desire to be an encouragement to me. Then there are the “things” she does for me. She takes the initiative for clean clothes showing up in my drawers every week. If you have folded many clothes, you realize how much time that takes. I wonder if men did the laundry, if they wouldn’t just dump them in the drawer without folding them with the justification that they would soon be pulled out and worn. What about making the bed? Timing is such that Teri makes it while I’m busy, and I have never heard her complain. Does your wife make your meals, clean your house, run errands, and raise and homeschool your children? Do you have a grateful heart for your wife, and do your words communicate that to her?

Equally important to what you say to your wife are the edifying thoughts you think about her. It is easy to begin thinking negative or critical thoughts about a wife. Soon you will find, as I have, how those negative thoughts grow and color your interactions. It is far better to focus on your wife’s good qualities and be grateful for them. We all have faults, and if either husband or wife dwells on the other’s negatives, it will poison the marriage. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mout out of thine eye; and beoThou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:2-5). Think about what your wife does well and what a blessing she is. Hopefully, by God’s grace, she will do the same.

We can’t change a spouse, but we certainly can appropriate God’s grace in changing ourselves. Then as we change, often that will be a stimulus in changing those around us. Marriage can be one of the most wonderful experiences this side of Heaven. We’ve found that a great marriage doesn’t just happen, but it takes desire and effort. Why not be committed to doing everything in your power to make your marriage a testimony to God’s grace? We will continue this discussion next month.

Unwanted Feelings – Part 3

Having lived with anger, anxiety, and depression for several years, I wouldn’t want anyone to be continually experiencing those negative emotions. There are more negative emotions that rob us of the joy we desire to have for ourselves, for our families, and for those with whom we are in contact. Grief is one of those emotions if it is not properly worked through. Grief started out our discussion of dealing with unwanted feelings through this e-mail:

I woke up hurting and aching about the adoption this morning, and the feeling never left. Seeking HIM and seeking the peace and clarity that only HE can give.

Could you please pray for me to find my comfort in Christ? And to trust HIM. If you have time, could you please send me a Scripture that brings you comfort in times of loss? I will meditate on it. Amy

The first two articles in this series can be found here. If you haven’t read those articles, I encourage you to do so because those points are critical to our success. We began with the importance of crying out to the Lord Jesus for His grace and strength in our weakness, including asking others to pray for us. Then we moved into the arena of our thoughts and being thankful rather than focused on what is causing the negative feelings. We also saw the importance of using Scripture to help us.

Let me give you a personal example. Right now I am in the midst of a season of life that is probably very different from most of you, but one you will likely face in the future. I am helping my mom take care of my father, whose health is quickly failing. Each morning I go just around the corner from my house to their house to spend the next half hour getting him out of bed, cleaned up, dressed, and into his recliner chair for breakfast.

As I arrive at their house, I have a choice concerning my thoughts. I can think, “Lord, this is too hard. I don’t want to have to do this. It is depressing to see my dad in this condition.” On the other hand I can have thoughts like the following: “Thank You, Lord, that I live close to my parents, so I can help in their time of need. Lord, help me to lighten their load and make this time a little easier and happier for them. Lord, allow me to show love no matter what task I am faced with doing. Lord, let me never make them feel like a burden. Help me bring a bit of sunshine and joy into their lives this morning with a happy smile and uplifting conversation.”

There is a huge difference in the outcome of those two scenarios but only one difference in what was done. The difference was what I did with my thoughts. Here is a verse I share with you so often in Mom’s Corners. Read it, memorize it, and use it often because it is an integral part of walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

When I allow the “poor me” thoughts, I am giving in to myself—to my flesh. However when I take the thoughts captive and bring them into the captivity of Christ, I gain His grace that allows me to walk in the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit that comes with it. This is true for my mornings with my parents, and it is the same for my friend, Amy. As long as she thinks about her loss, how sad it makes her, how devastating it is for her, her empty arms—she simply feels sadder and sadder. However, when she takes the thoughts captive and begins to concentrate on resting in God’s will in her life, trusting her husband’s decisions, thanking God for the children already given to her and other blessings in her life, and rejoicing in the happy reunion with her baby in heaven one day, then the sadness will be replaced by peace and joy.

I would also encourage you to get up and get busy when you have unwanted feelings. If you sit and think about them, they have a way of multiplying and entrenching themselves more firmly. Sometimes that ends up with unwanted actions that accompany the unwanted feelings—an outcome we most certainly would like to avoid. We just finished a series, Lazy to Self-Disciplined on moving from laziness to self-discipline. There will be some good hints if you reread those articles that would motivate you to choose to do something when it would be best for you to be active.

I firmly believe that having a schedule allows us to avoid many unwanted feelings and to deal with the ones that come. The productivity of life with a schedule removes the negative emotions like stress, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed that often arise when we are behind on the tasks that need to be accomplished in our lives. The harmony of sweeter relationships achieved by a family on a schedule, lets us avoid the anger, worry, and bitterness that we feel when our children are bickering, unruly, and disobedient. The direction of a schedule will keep us moving when sadness overwhelms, anxiety consumes, or depression despairs. If you could use help with scheduling, I suggest Managers of Their Homes because in that book, I teach you how to make and utilize a schedule.

I hope that the next time you find yourself flooded with unwanted feelings you will immediately begin to pray. Then take your thoughts captive by being grateful rather than sad, content rather than angry, or trusting rather than worried. Use Scripture to help you with that process. Also do something to take your mind off of what caused the feelings and the feelings themselves. I think you will be very excited! Share your success stories with me. I have a couple of examples I would like to give you next month. Maybe you will have more for me.