Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Guard Your Heart in Marriage

Last week I posted “How to Live Proverbs 4:23 in a World of Love and Heartbreak.”  Shortly thereafter someone asked me the question, “What about once you are married?  Then what does this verse mean?”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a romantic at heart.  I still love that my hubby proposed at the exact time on the clock that he asked me to be his girlfriend.  His ringtone is our first dance song because it still makes me smile just as bright as it did nearly fourteen years ago.  And in college, I once gave him a message in a bottle for Valentine’s Day when he was a peer advisor on a pretty much all football player floor.  I thank my lucky stars that he stuck with me.  I’m pretty sure that violates all things man code.

We are a culture smitten for romantic love and fueled by movie lines like, “You complete me.”  Anyone who says they didn’t melt when Tom Cruise came running through that door is down-right lying.

We love love, but do we love love for what love really is?

Not long ago I was sitting around a table when I heard, “Ya.  He’s gotten skinny from stress.  His wife told him one morning that she didn’t know if she felt love for him anymore and packed up.”  Not only did this hit me hard because this was a young couple, but because this is one of multiple marriages I know of recently that have unraveled for the same reason.

“Feel” love?

If that is the standard for marriage we’re all in trouble because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s ever scurried away a hot mess.  Marriage by its very nature puts us in constant contact with another to see the best and worst of us.  Maybe more of the worst because we trust that they’re in it for the long haul and, therefore, are more comfortable letting our true colors shine through.  Less than precious moments, unfortunately, come with the territory.

And when did we get this notion in our heads that marriage needs to be steamy magnetic attraction all the time to mean we’re in love?  Let’s be honest, if that were true we’d be a completely exhausted, non-productive people.  Love is not heart-pounding romance all the time.

Perhaps we’ve confused likeability with love and passion with purpose.

I flipped The Message Bible open to the most famous love verse of all time and found love defined like this:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.  (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Did you catch it?

Love and marriage is not about our happiness.  It’s not about feeling completed by another.  Quite the opposite, it’s about first being whole in God to live selflessly with and for the other.  It lets go of keeping score of what the other does and doesn’t do for us and shifts emphasis to seeing our spouse through the eyes of Christ.  In doing so, we better see their good and can champion them to be their best.

As was the case for the single people, the key to guarding our heart in marriage is focusing on His idea of love not the romanticized earthly model.

So it is important we make choices to reinforce this Truth in our lived experience.  As a non-expert, here are things my hubby and I feel are pretty key.

Recognize that love is a choice not solely a feeling.  If you don’t settle that in your mind from the get-go there will be trouble in paradise quickly.  Our kids irritate us and make wrong decisions but we don’t consider permanently fleeing.  We talk through it with them, forgive them, and try to work as a team to make whatever the problem better.  The same should be true for our spouse.  We choose to love them and in doing so we fight for our marriage always because our spouse is a gift and our marriage holy.  Attitude is everything.

Make a decision to keep your eyes on your spouse alone.  It seems like a given but in today’s society it’s not.  I’ve seen multiple marriages crumble because of a grass might be greener on the other side mentality.  Sadly, this leads to an endless cycle of new questions and wants.  Relationships continue to fail because contentment is never found in the One who can eternally satisfy.

Share your high and low every day.  It’s my favorite marriage ritual and as hokey as it sounds it ensures we discuss the things most affecting us when our busy lives sometimes limit discussion time.

Worship, pray, and talk about your faith together.  This world is draining and tough and will beat up the best of us.  Making sure that God is steering your sails and that you are talking through things with Him at the center is vital.  It keeps you in tighter communion with the Lord and empowers you to work through the "stuff" of life.

Forgive.  Ruth Bell Graham once said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”  Amen.

Flirt/Date.  That’s right. I said it.  And often!  Just because we choose to love does not mean we enter a lackluster life.  Fan the flame, my friends!  Marriage is the context that God gave us to fully express romantic love.  Flirt with each other because it is fun J  Date because even if you have kids you were a couple first and the strength in your unity will give your kids security.  These special moments will only intensify your desire to choose to love.

Spend time with other Christian friends/couples.  I believe it is true all throughout life – our friends will either be toxic or build us up.  If you as a couple choose to hang out with fellow Believers, especially fellow Believers committed to living out this “I do” thing, you will be encouraged in your faith walk and motivated to better love one another with a more Christ-like attitude.  You’ll want not to have a better spouse but to be a better spouse because your first priority will be glorifying God.  The outflow of that will be two people wanting to encourage the other so much that God creates in our marriages closeness and blessing greater than we can imagine.
Ultimately, guarding our hearts in marriage is more of a mental exercise than an emotional one.  In dually leaning in on Christ and committing to the marital vows, we are freed to trust that our spouse will be in it forever even though our likes and dislikes and circumstances and dreams may change along the way.  A chord of three stands is strong.  And this is good news for those of us living an imperfectly perfect life.
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  1. I like the good advice here. I had such a good example in my parents who so clearly loved each other beyond and above the love they had for us. They're best friends, intimate confidants and if I can do half as good in my marriage I'll be blessed!

    1. Isn't having parents who loved each other well the best example? I'm grateful for the same with my parents.


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