A 25 & 50 Year Martyrdom
R. Paul Stevens, Professor Emeritus at Regent College, was visiting the Wedding Church in Cana of Galilee with his wife Gail when a hilarious event took place. After introducing himself to the resident Roman Catholic clergyman, Father Joseph, Stevens informed him that he and his wife were there celebrating their 25thanniversary. Joseph shouted: “Mama Mia, twenty five years of martyrdom! Gail’s parents were also on the trip and shared that they were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. Brother Joseph again shouted: “Mama Mia, a fifty-year martyrdom!”
While certainly meant to be a joke, the point is still clear: our call to sacrifice for each other should never be discounted. Father Joseph’s comments reveal a theology of vocation for all Christians, that whether we sacrifice by taking ordination vows or by marriage (or both potentially, as is the case for Protestants), we all are called to sacrifice in whichever covenant we choose.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The CEO & The Service Station Attendant
Not too long ago, there was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who pulled into a service station to get gas. He went inside to pay, and when he came out, he noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him. In fact, back in high school before she met her eventual husband, she used to date this man.
The CEO got in the car, and the two drove in silence. He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke: “I bet I know what you were thinking. I bet you were thinking you’re glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant.
“No, I was thinking if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be a service station attendant.”
C.S. Lewis & Joy Davidson: A Mystical Way of Revealing God
One of the most compelling love stories in our time involves a couple who, in the beginning, lived an ocean apart. He was a scruffy old Oxford bachelor, a Christian apologist and an author of bestselling books for children. She, an American, was much younger and divorced with two sons.
After meeting during her visit to England in 1952, C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidson fed their relationship by mail. Intellectual sparks from the minds of each ignited their appreciation and respect for each other. When Joy moved to England with her boys, the relationship enjoyed the benefits of proximity. And when her departure from England seemed imminent because of a lack of funds and an expiring visitor’s visa, C. S. Lewis made a decision: If Joy would agree, they would be married.
Early in the marriage, Joy’s body revealed a secret it had kept hidden. She had cancer—and it was irreversible. The well-ordered life of C. S. Lewis suffered a meltdown. But in the process, the English man of letters realized how deep his love for Joy really was. Moving on with their lives, the Lewises sought and received the added blessing of the church on their marriage, which had originally been formalized in a register’s office.
They gave Joy the best treatment available. Then he brought her home, committed to her care. It is not surprising that Joy’s body responded. However, her remission was short-lived. Near death, Joy told him, “You have made me happy.” Then, a little while after, “I am at peace with God.” Joy died at 10:15 that evening in 1960. “She smiled,” Lewis later recalled, “but not at me.” If there is a lesson to be gained from this amazing love story, it must be that partners without a spiritual depth of oneness can never compete with the fullness of love that soul mates enjoy. Marriage, when it is healthy, has a mystical way of revealing God; a way of bringing a smiling peace to our restless hearts.
Cohabitation and the Definitely Maybe Relationship
The tension between autonomy and intimacy is most clearly evidenced in the trend toward cohabitation. Today, between 50 and 70 percent of American couples are cohabiting before or instead of marrying. Living together is now seen as the only mature way to begin an intimate relationship while preserving one’s personal integrity. This is the “definitely maybe” approach, whereby covenant is replaced with “wait and see” and “try before you buy.”
If intimate relationships were mortgages, we might call these sub-prime commitments. They are high-risk projects with little or no collateral security. Unfortunately, just like sub-prime mortgages, these relationships are designed to fail.
What is most startling about the trend of living together outside of marriage is that it is becoming increasingly popular, even though research shows overwhelmingly that cohabiting ultimately undermines relationships. Indeed, the evidence completely contradicts the popular belief that “testing” a relationship first is the best way to secure its future.
As a path to marriage, cohabitation is extremely unreliable, with only one in five cohabiting relationships ending in marriage, and these figures are getting worse over time. Even in those cases where living together does subsequently lead to marriage, cohabiting significantly increases the likelihood of an eventual divorce. Not surprisingly, serial cohabiters show radically higher rates of divorce in their subsequent marriages; women who cohabit multiple times before marrying divorce more than twice as frequently as those who live only with their future husband.
Demanding More and Satisfied Less
Our culture is still stuck on viewing marriage through the lens of happiness first and foremost—defining happiness by romantic intensity and sexual chemistry. Since the 1960s, sociologists have found a steady progression of young American men and women who demand more and more of love—yet we’re getting less and less out of our marriages.
In 1967, a study of college-age women found that 76 percent of women said they would marry someone if the man had every trait they were looking for, even if they didn’t feel “romantic love” toward them. In more recent research, 91 percent of women said “absolutely not.” That’s a huge shift. People have been pursuing such pairings for several generations now, and I’m asking you to be an astute and honest observer: how’s that working out for us?
“Divorce? Never, But Murder, Often”
The British actress Sybil Thorndike was married to Sir Lewis Casson, another prolific actor. Their marriage was rather tumultuous at times, and after his death, she was once asked, “Did you ever think of divorce?” “Divorce? Never. But murder often!”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
A Dying Man’s Last Words
A man was dying and he called his wife to his bedside. He affectionately told her he loved her but he also had to confess something to her. “I haven’t been 100% faithful to you in our marriage. I’m so sorry.” Through tears, the wife replied, “I know. That’s why I poisoned you.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Echo of An Argument
Philip Yancey writes of a friend whose marriage was choked by hostility. One night the friend reached the breaking point: “I hate you!” he screamed at his wife. “I won’t take it any more. I’ve had enough! I won’t go on! I won’t let it happen! No! No! No!”
Several months later, he woke up in the middle of the night to strange sounds coming from the room of his two-year-old son. He walked down the hall and stopped by his son’s door. What he heard sent shivers down his spine and took away his breath. Inside, his son was repeating in soft voice—with precisely the same inflection and intonation he had heard—the argument that had passed between his mother and father: “I hate you! … I won’t take it! … No!”
This is life without forgiveness.
Finding a Mate
Most men and women fall in love with individuals of the same ethnic, social, religious, educational and economic background, those of similar physical attractiveness, a comparable intelligence, similar attitudes, expectations, values, interests, and those with similar social and communication skills.
Helen Fisher, the New Psychology of Love.
Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately—they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in big ways but in little ways day in and day out.
Hearing God’s Voice in an Argument
A friend of mine named T (seriously, that’s his name) says something really weird happened to him once, right after he got married. He heard God say something. Or he thinks he did, anyway. The content of the short message smacked him in the face, he told me. “So my wife and I were having a big argument about something, and I was totally right,” he said.
“You know how most of the time you might be right or you’re both kind of right, or something, but this time—totally seriously—I was absolutely right, and I knew it, and it was incredibly frustrating. I was so angry.
She was absolutely being wrong.” So what happened? “I went in our bedroom and I was seething. And that’s when something popped in my head, and it practically knocked me over. I honestly think it was something God was telling me directly. Totally stopped me in my tracks.” And what was that? “It was, ‘So, do you want me to judge her right now?’” Whoa.
Life Isn’t Fair
In this excerpt from Gillian Marchenko’s memoir on her battle with depression, Still Life, her husband, a pastor named Sergei describes the reality that both life, and marriage, are often not as would have expected, nor what we would have hoped. And yet, even in the midst of the disappointment, there is a lesson of grace to be learned:
Sergei preached a sermon from the book of Matthew once about the difference between fairness and faithfulness. In Jesus’ parable, a man employed people to work in his fields. Some worked from morning on. Some started at midday. Others came to work with just an hour of the workday left.
When the employer passed out the wages, all were surprised to see that they received the same amount. The full day’s workers objected. But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:13-16)
Sergei said that a lot of us are concerned with fairness in the world, and we want to mold God into our image of precise fairness. But the God of the Bible, the One who gave his only Son, Jesus, on the cross for our sins, isn’t in the business of fairness.
He does what he wants when he wants, and because of his great love and sacrifice for us, he is always faithful.
“Marriage, for instance, isn’t about fairness. Marriage is not based on an exchange of goods and services. It is not about each spouse pulling his or her own weight.
It is about grace.” I watched my husband stand in front of his flock and speak these words…Grace applies to all marriages, even if both people are mentally healthy…So to love someone is to serve him or her without the expectation of them loving you back. It is not based on the quality or even the reality of their love.
A husband and wife, prior to marriage, decided that he’d make all the major decisions and she the minor ones. After 20 years of marriage, he was asked how this arrangement had worked. “Great! in all these years I’ve never had to make a major decision.”
Marriage and Commitment
A committed person is giving her word and placing a piece of herself in another person’s keeping. The word “commitment” derives from the Latin mittere, which means “to send.” She is sending herself out and giving another person a claim. She is creating a higher entity. When you enter a marriage, your property is still yours, but it is no longer only yours. It belongs to your spouse, too, or, more properly, it belongs to the union you have both created—this new higher-level thing.
One summer I spoke at a church in Pennsylvania, and a young woman came up to me afterward. She and her boyfriend were talking about marriage. She asked my advice, and we discussed her boyfriend’s strengths. I then asked her about his weaknesses. She blushed a bit and answered, “You know, that’s what’s so amazing. I don’t think he has any.” “Really?” “I know.
I can’t believe it either. I guess I just got lucky.” I reminded her of James 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways,” and said to her, “I’m going to trust the truth of Scripture—that we all stumble, including your boyfriend—more than I’ll trust your perception. Since you asked for it, my advice is this: don’t marry this guy until you can tell me how he stumbles, because I guarantee you—even more than that, God’s Word guarantees you—that he does stumble, and you might as well know what you’re signing up for before you marry him.”
“Now You Can Write Your Book”
Had it not been for a confident wife, Sophia, we might not have listed among the great names of literature the great name of Nathaniel Hawthorne. When Nathaniel, a heartbroken man, went home to tell his wife that he was a failure and had been fired from his job in a customhouse, she surprised him with an exclamation of joy. “Now,” she said triumphantly, “you can write your book!”
“Yes,” replied the man, with sagging confidence, “and what shall we live on while I am writing it?”
To his amazement, she opened a drawer and pulled out a substantial amount of money. “Where on earth did you get that?” he exclaimed.
“I have always known you were a man of genius,” she told him. “I knew that someday you would write a masterpiece. So every week, out of the money you gave me for housekeeping I saved a little bit. So here is enough to last us for one whole year.”
From her trust and confidence came one of the greatest novels of American literature, The Scarlet Letter.
An Opportunity to Excel in Love
Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life. . . . Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value, and I slowly began to understand that the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness. . . . If we view the marriage relationship as an opportunity to excel in love, it doesn’t matter how difficult the person is whom we are called to love; it doesn’t matter even whether that love is ever returned. We can still excel at love. We can still say, “Like it or not, I’m going to love you like nobody ever has.” . . .
Marriage creates a situation in which our desire to be served and coddled can be replaced with a more noble desire to serve others—even to sacrifice for others. . . . Each day we must die to our own desires and rise as a servant. Each day we are called to identify with the suffering Christ on the cross, and then be empowered by the resurrected Christ. We die to our expectations, our demands, and our fears. We rise to compromise, service, and courage.
Our Aim in Marriage is Destructive
A man or woman’s aim is to find a mate who completes him or her. In this view, marriage is an end in itself, and sexual consummation is a celebration of such completion. Yet the Bible teaches that God created marriage not as an end but as a means to an end. . . . [Marriage] is a living portrait drawn by a Divine Painter who wants the world to know that he loves his people so much that he has sent his Son to die for their sins.
The Primary Problem of Marriage
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage.
It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is … learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Stanley Hauerwas, Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and ‘Human Sexuality,’” Christian Century, April 19, 1978, 417-422.
The Prize Winner
One day the fair was in town and a father of five children decided it was a good opportunity to give his wife a break. When they arrived, the father, who was quite the shot, knew instantly what game he wanted to play. Arriving at the shooting gallery he quickly won a prize-a stuffed animal.
But which of the five kids should he give it to? After a few moments, he came up with a solution. Who does everything mommy asks? Who is the most obedient to mommy? Who never talks back to mommy?” Each of the five children answered at the same time, not without a sense of resignation, “you deserve the prize daddy.”
A Promise of Marital Bliss
I challenge those who come to me for marriage counseling this way: “If you do what I tell you to do for an entire month, I can promise you that by the end of the month, you will be in love with your mate. Are you willing to give it a try?”
When couples accept my challenge, the results are invariably successful. My prescription for creating love is simple: Do ten things each day that you would do if you really were in love. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are often identified as being in love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do to make the other person happy and fulfilled. Often, we don’t realize that what a person does influences what he feels.
Dr. Anthony Campolo, in Homemade, June, 1988
The Promise Made Up for the Faults
In Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth the character Mrs. Antrobus says to her spouse, ‘I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I married you because you gave me a promise.’ She takes off her ring and looks at it. ‘That promise made up for your faults and the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married, and it was the promise that made the marriage.”
The (Seeming) End of the Line
A few years ago Christian friends of ours, after several years of marriage, came to see Esther and me to explain that their relationship had reached an impasse and that they could see no alternative but to end it. After a downward spiral of conflict and loss of trust, they struggled to have a civil conversation with each other and had begun to form romantic attachments with other people.
They were surprised when we said that they had simply reached a normal stage in every marriage, the stage where going on together seems impossible and unthinkable, where you wonder what you saw in each other in the first place. This was a stage that we had reached early on in our own marriage and had repeated several times since. If happiness or emotional resonance had been our main interpretive dials for navigating our relationship, we would have split up many times.
Over the following weeks, we worked through some practical ways in which our friends could turn around the destructive dynamics that had taken hold in their relationship and, in their place, foster trust, intimacy, and commitment to each other. Many years later, their marriage is on a solid footing, and they are thriving with a family. The tragedy is that so many Christian marriages never recover from the same downward spiral.
We in the church have not spoken and ministered effectively into our culture’s prioritization of authenticity above all else in matters of sexuality and relationships. When a marriage ceases to make us happy or the traveling becomes heavy going, we have no other master story to navigate us through the storm.
So we take this as a sign that it simply “wasn’t meant to be”—that we are not among the lucky ones when it comes to marriage. Christian tradition emphasizes courage and perseverance in the face of suffering, but even within the church, seeking happiness and avoiding emotional pain have become our highest virtues.
A businessman moved over slightly as a young man crowded into the airplane seat next to him. As they both fastened their seat belts, the businessman good-naturedly asked whether the young man was traveling on business or pleasure.
“Pleasure,” the young man replied. “I’m on my honeymoon.”
“Your honeymoon?” the businessman asked, mystified. “Where’s your wife?”
“Oh, she’s a few rows back. The plane was full, so we couldn’t get seats together.”
The plane hadn’t started rolling yet, so the businessman said, “I’d be happy to change seats with her so that the two of you can be together.”
“That’s OK,” the young man replied. “I’ve been talking to her all week.”
The Ten Most Dramatic Sounds in Life
A group of motion-picture engineers classified the following as the ten most dramatic sounds in the movies: a baby’s first cry; the blast of a siren; the thunder of breakers on rocks; the roar of a forest fire; a foghorn; the slow drip of water; the galloping of horses; the sound of a distant train whistle; the howl of a dog; the wedding march. And one of these sounds causes more emotional response and upheaval than any other, has the power to bring forth almost every human emotion: sadness, envy, regret, sorrow, tears, as well as supreme joy. It is the wedding march.
James S. Flora in Pulpit Digest.
Timothy & Jessica
When my friend Wayne and his wife, Diane, were expecting their first child, they started praying for their baby. They believed prayer was their primary parental responsibility, so why wait till their baby was born? Every evening, Wayne would lay hands on Diane’s stomach and pray the promises in Scripture that they had circled for their baby. During the early stages of pregnancy, they came across a book that said it was never too early to start praying for their baby’s future spouse.
At first it seemed odd praying for a spouse before they even knew the gender of their baby, but they prayed for their baby and their baby’s spouse day after day until their due date. Wayne and Diane decided to wait until birth to discover their baby’s gender, but they prayed that God would reveal what the baby’s name should be. In October 1983, the Lord gave them a girl’s name. It was spelled Jessica. Then in December, the Lord gave them a boy’s name, and they started praying for Timothy.
They weren’t sure why God had given them two different names, but they prayed circles around both Jessica and Timothy until Diane gave birth. On May 5, 1984, God answered their prayers, and the answer was spelled Timothy. Wayne and Diane continued to circle their son in prayer, but they also kept praying for the girl that he would one day marry. Twenty-two years and two weeks of accumulated prayers culminated on May 19, 2006 — the day Timothy’s bride walked down the aisle. Her name? Jessica. Here’s the rest of the story.
Their future daughter-in-law was born on October 19, 1983, the same month that God gave them the name Jessica.
A thousand miles away, Wayne and Diane were praying for her by name. They thought Jessica would be their daughter, not their daughter-in-law, but God always has a surprise up His sovereign sleeve. For Wayne and Diane, Jericho has two spellings — Timothy and Jessica — but the same last name. In case you’re wondering, Timothy was allowed to date girls who weren’t named Jessica! Wayne and Diane didn’t even tell Timothy that God had given them the name of his future spouse before he was born until after he was engaged.
The Ubiquity of Marriage
The ubiquity of marriage speaks for itself. There has never been a culture or a century that we know of in which marriage was not central to human life…This sounds like a controversial statement, but it is not. As all social history books will tell you, marriage had its origins in “prehistory”—in other words, the human race cannot remember a time in which marriage did not exist. There have been some efforts to make the case that this or that remote culture or small ethnic group has existed without marriage, but none of these efforts are widely regarded as successful.
What Attracts us to Our Spouse Sometimes Also Can Drive Us Nuts
My husband says my ability to talk is what first attracted him to me. He loved how I could work a room, making the shy ones feel included. I could converse with the college president and yuck it up with the grocery store bag boy all in the same afternoon. Yep. My college sweetheart loved how I could talk. So this rather shy guy bought a ring, slipped it on my finger, grabbed my hand, and off we proceeded down the church aisle and into marital bliss.
My proficiency at all things linguistic hadn’t bothered him before. In fact, he had felt it was an asset. I talked and talked. He smiled and listened. And it really didn’t seem to bother him. Then, about three days into our honeymoon, he had this thought: “When is she ever gonna shut up?”
In fact, if I make it to heaven before he does, he’s decided just what should go on my tombstone: A period. Ask him why, and he’ll declare, “Well, she’ll finally be done yacking!” (He insists my language has no periods — just commas, colons, and semicolons — because there’s always more to come!)
What is Marriage For?
One day we were out running errands. The radio in my car was playing in the background, and between songs there was an advertisement for an online dating service. The spokesman-doctor-expert guy was doing his spiel on how to find the right match in marriage, and his punch line was “opposites attract, and then attack.”
I reached over and turned off the radio.
Not long after, I started having second thoughts. I was defining love as “deep feelings of affection,” and my “love” was fading. And that scared me to death. I’m an idealist. “Good enough” doesn’t cut it for me. I want my life to be spectacular. But my marriage was fast becoming ordinary. I wasn’t okay with that.
Questions started haunting my thoughts . . . Did we make a mistake? We were so young. Did we jump the gun? Are we really right for each other? Why don’t I feel the way I used to?
What’s wrong with me?
I was sailing without a rudder, blown off course by my doubts and capsized by my fears. In hindsight, my crisis of faith was based on a faulty understanding of marriage.
It wasn’t that my marriage was in trouble. It was more like my unrealistic expectations were in trouble. Ninety percent of the problem was in my head. In short, I had no idea what marriage was for. And I was not alone. I would argue that far too many of us have a decent idea what marriage is but are confused at best, if not clueless, as to what marriage is for.
Daniel Webster, a 19th century lawyer and statesman, was courting his wife-to-be, Grace Fletcher. As he held bundles of silk thread for her, he suggested, “Grace, we’ve been engaged in untying knots; let us see if we can tie a knot which will not untie for a lifetime.” They stopped right then and tied a random silk knot that would be almost impossible to untie. Grace accepted Webster’s proposal.
After they passed from this world, their children found a little box marked “Precious Documents.” Among the contents were letters of courtship and a tiny silk knot—one that had never been untied.
What’s Wrong about the 50% Divorce Statistic
For years we’ve all heard the grim statistic claiming that 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce, but that bleak prognosis doesn’t apply to most couples getting married today or even most of those who married in the last few decades. Th truth about marriage is that divorce is getting less common.
Divorce rates have dropped sharply since peaking in the late 1970s, for a variety of reasons. In many ways, the marital bond is stronger and better than it ever has been…marrying before the age of twenty-five and dropping out of college predicted a whopping 51 percent divorce rate. What happened to couples who delayed marriage until after completing college and after the age of twenty-five? After twenty years of marriage, only 19 percent of them had divorced.
You Can’t Completely Satisfy Me and that’s Okay
Years ago Wendy and I were out to dinner and she observed that something was different about our marriage in recent years, something good. She asked me if I had any insight into what it was. After reflecting a bit I said with a smile, “Yeah, I think I know what it is. I think I’ve been realizing deep in my heart that you can’t satisfy me.”
She got a big smile on her face and said, “Yeah, that’s it. And I’ve been realizing the same thing—you can’t satisfy me either.” I imagine anyone overhearing us in the restaurant would have thought we were about to get divorced, but to us that realization was cause for joy and celebration. We had never felt closer and freer in our love.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Marriage. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!