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.