The Priority Our Marriage Needs

Kory has said it in a recent sermon.  I mentioned it in response to a question while serving on the women’s panel during worship.  We’ve talked about it in the Bible study we led together the past seven weeks.  We’ve referenced it over the years countless times as we’ve mentored other young families through parenting curriculum.  And we spent time with a More Than Moms group just this week talking about it again.  

Because we’re wrapping up a seven week sermon series on marriage at church, it’s been on my heart incessantly.  And I’m passionate about it.  So I’m going to share it again here for my own benefit and the hope that it might bless you too.  

Are you ready?  

If we want to be the very best parent we can be, we must first be the very best spouse we can be.  

Said differently

We will never be a better parent to our children than we are a spouse to our husband or wife.  

As a result, our marriage must be the priority relationship within our family.  After our personal relationship with Christ, our marriage must take precedence over all other relationships, including the relationship between parent and child.

I believe this with all my heart, and my heart breaks when I see entire households struggling because the marriage component of the family unit is breaking down.  

I won’t pretend that Kory and I have this down perfectly.  We don’t.  And we are constantly working on improving the quality of our marriage by trying to get better in areas where we are weak.  

I also won’t pretend to understand the hurts that men and women in broken marriages are experiencing, nor can I begin to grasp the unique challenges that single parents face while raising their children.  But I believe this principle applies to all of us with children, whether we’re married or single.  It’s just that the application is different.

Make no mistake about it.  Our kids need to see us engaged in healthy adult relationships.  Period.  

Whether we’re single or married, this begins with our relationship with God.  

If we’re single, this continues by modeling healthy relationships with other adults, whether it’s a person we’re dating, or our family and friends.

If we’re married, it can and should involve these other adult relationships, but our marriage should be the priority relationship in our family.

This isn’t easy.  And it requires work.  Everyday.  And no doubt that we’ll all go through seasons where the quality of our relationship with our spouse ebbs and flows.  

But so often, the couples we’ve counseled who are struggling, admittedly struggle because they’ve let their children become the center of the family.  

This usually happens over time, not overnight.  And it most always occurs in the name of good parenting.  No doubt it’s well-intentioned.  But it’s also subtle.  It sneaks up on us.  And before we know it, we realize we’re in a marriage with little to no spiritual, emotional, or physical intimacy.

The unfortunate reality is that while we may spend tons of effort catering to the needs of our children, what they really need is to know with assurance that mom and dad love each other and that we’re committed to one another.  

Indeed, we are the head and the heart of our families, and we need to act like it.  We need to function in such a way that, through our relationship, our children see tangible expressions of the fruits of the spirit.

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. And self-control.

Every day.    

It’s a tall order.  But there are some things we can do as “preventive medicine,” to increase the quality of our physical, spiritual, and emotional oneness as married people.  These practices will allow us to enjoy the fulness of God’s design for our marriages and bless our children all at the same time, even in the throws of the most challenging parenting years.  And they will help us keep our marriage the priority in our families.

There are countless ideas we could include on this list, but Kory and I put our heads together, and this is our Top Eleven:

1.  Pray together and for one another.

2.  Schedule standing date nights every week if possible.

3.  Practice “couch time.”  (This is a concept we learned during a parenting class years ago.  It involves 15 minutes of conversation between husband and wife at the beginning or end of the day in front of, but not including, the children.  This serves as a tangible reminder that mom and dad’s relationship is the priority relationship in the home.)

4.  Get out of town together, even if just for one or two nights, and even if just for an inexpensive road trip.

5.  Worship together.

6.  Join a couples Sunday School class or Bible study.

7.  Go to a marriage enrichment seminar or retreat once every 3 to 5 years.

8.  See a counselor 1 to 2 times a year whether you “need” to or not.

9.  Read marriage books together.

10. Find a hobby to share.

11. Spend time with other couples who share similar values.

There is no doubt that if we truly love our children, we will commit to make our marriage relationship a priority.  

Our children need to see us enjoy each other’s company, show affection to each other, laugh together, and do things together.  And when we do have disagreements, our children should observe us resolve those conflicts in a healthy way that demonstrates the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  

If we do this, our children will be richly blessed. 

Do you want to be the parent of your kids’ dreams?  Then love your spouse well.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” 

Genesis 1:27-31 (emphasis added).

 

 

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Turning The Trash Into Treasure

Kory takes the trash to the curb every week. I hardly notice that he does this chore. Except when he forgets. Because when he forgets, we have to go two weeks without a trash pick-up.  The trash can and recycle bin fill to overflowing and things begin to get a little stinky. (On these occasions, I’ve heard him wonder out loud if all we do while he’s at work is sit around make trash!  Sometimes I feel that way.)

I rarely tell him “thank you” for taking out the trash. Strike that. I NEVER tell him “thank you” for taking out the trash. And I never offer to do the job for him. In fact, when he’s out of town, chances are that the trash won’t be taken to the curb. Why? Because sadly, I don’t know when trash pick-up day is, and I just don’t think about it when he’s gone.

Same thing with the cars. If something needs to be repaired, it’s Kory’s job. Not mine. Pest control, yard work, and house repairs too.  They all fall into the same category. Kory’s work. But don’t fret.  I have my own list of jobs around the house that are my responsibility.  Bills, grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning to name a few.  And generally speaking, I handle these jobs on my own.

I don’t recall that Kory and I ever sat down and made a list of “his” and “her” jobs around the house when we were newly weds.  But over time, as we’ve learned to manage our marriage, careers, and children, different responsibilities have settled onto each of our shoulders, and now we have somewhat clearly-defined roles that help us keep our home in order.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But Kory’s new sermon series on marriage, “More Than Just Married,” and the marriage Bible study we’re leading together on Sunday nights has caused me to think about our roles a little differently.  

Last Sunday night during our first Bible study session, we began discussing the difference between our “desires” for marriage and our “expectations” for marriage.  No doubt that we both had dreams and desires for marriage before we said “I do”.  But what about after we walked down the aisle?  Did those hopes for marriage stay in the category of dreams and desires or did they transform into weighty expectations that we began to dump on each other?  

As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve had to acknowledge that at least as far as I’m concerned, there are certainly some things that I “expect” of Kory.  And I know that I expect these things because when he doesn’t perform to my satisfaction, my response may be fueled with anger, sadness, or frustration.  I’m sure he feels the same way about me sometimes.

But when we carry around the weight of expectations, it dramatically changes the dynamic of our relationship with our spouse.  Why?  Because the covenant of marriage is transformed into a contractual relationship where each spouse’s decision to perform is contingent on whether the other is doing his or her part.  This is score keeping at its finest, my friends.  And the problem is that no one gets any credit for contributing because, after all, each of our contributions is expected by the other.  It’s the baseline.  The moral minimum.  The very least we can do.  To get ahead of the game, we have to do the bonus questions and earn some extra credit!  

Now I know that Kory and I are getting some things right in this department.  There are certainly things I consciously appreciate about him.  But there’s always room for improvement if we really want to experience the fullness of God’s design for our marriage.  So I’m taking some time to identify those things I expect of Kory, and I’m committing to transform those expectations back into desires.  

On Sunday night at Bible study, I discovered two tools that I’m hoping will help me do this:

1.  Expressions of Gratitude

2.  Acts of Service

First, I’m going to try to start being more intentional about saying “thank you” to Kory for all that he does for our family.  From taking out the trash to providing for us financially, he does so many things that are a blessing to me and to our children.  He deserves some words of thanks and affirmation for all that he does and all that he is for our family.

And second, the next time I notice that Kory hasn’t done something that is part of “his jobs” around the house, instead of getting angry, sad, or frustrated, I’m going to do it for him.  And while I do it, instead of grumbling about it, I’m going to try to consider it an unexpected opportunity to serve my husband and to show him the love and grace of Jesus Christ through the ordinary details of our life together.  

Now I know this will be easier said than done because there’s no doubt I’ve formed some bad habits in this regard.  And, as you know, habits are not easily broken.  So in the coming weeks, this will be at the top of my prayer list as I try to change my way of thinking!  

Now I better get going because I’ve got some trash to take out!

  

Fried Pies With A Side of Road Trip

Today, I’m traveling from Dallas to Houston with my husband.  He’s attending a clergy covenant group meeting, and I’m tagging along.  For the next 30 hours, I have him all to myself.  And for the 24 hours after that, I have myself…to myself.  

So far, we’ve shared a sandwich and not just one, but two, fried pies.  (Thankfully, I did not make any New Year’s Resolutions that relate in any way to food.  Oh wait a minute, yes I did!  On Sunday, I resolved to Eat, Drink, and Be Joyful in 2014 thanks to an inspiring message by our Senior Associate Pastor.  So two fried pies fits right in with all that!)   

We chose Apricot and Peach. Peach was hands down our favorite!

 

It’s cold outside, but from the warmth of my heated seat inside the car, it’s a gorgeous day.

We’ve had some great conversation.  Kory begins a new sermon series next Sunday called “More Than Just Married,” and together, we will be leading a Bible study also on the topic of marriage on Sunday nights for the next six weeks.  Both of our heart’s passions revolve around helping couples build and maintain healthy marriage and family relationships, and we absolutely love teaching on those topics.  

As we’ve looked over the Bible study curriculum we’re using for our class, we’ve had some fun in the car talking about the “Great Expectations” each of us brought into our marriage over 14 years ago.  Oh how different they were!  And both of us agree, the lives we’re living are nothing like either of us thought they’d be.  

I’m smitten over this respite!  And I’m beyond excited to be alone with my husband in the car.  It’s not the trip to Italy I’ve been dreaming about in my mind for the last few years, but I’ll take it!  It represents what I believe will be a new chapter in this new season in the life of our family and ministry, and I’m excited about that!

If you’ve been following this blog since it’s inception in September, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that 2013 was a doozy for our family.  A good doozy, but a doozy nonetheless.  And through it all, while we’ve managed to stay connected as a couple and as a family, there is no doubt that we’ve been less studious and disciplined in both our marriage and family relationships.  So I’m excited to get back into the “relationship gym” if you will.

We’re kicking off 2014 with this mini-trip out of town, followed by six weeks of study on marriage.  Then, we’ve been blessed to receive an invitation to attend a marriage retreat in March.  And after that, Kory will launch a parenting series called “Learning to Fly:  Preparing Our Kids For Life”.  

I can hardly wait.  Because I need to become a student again.  I need to stretch my marriage and parenting muscles, refine what I’m doing, and develop some new techniques.  I need to carve out more time and energy for my husband and for my kids.  And I need to get better.  As a wife and as a mom.

So besides Eating, Drinking, and Being Joyful, what is my New Year’s Resolution?  To study the art of marriage and parenting.  To invest in the lives of others who are trying to do the same.  And to try and make a difference both in my own family and in the lives of other families.