February 14 causes Americans to think of romance and marriage. But marital bliss eludes many couples, as the divorce rate shows. However, the common belief that 50% of marriages end in divorce is based on faulty calculations. TruthOrFiction.com said, “One of the latest reports about divorce was released this year by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It is based on a 1995 federal study of nearly 11,000 women ages 15-44. It predicted that one-third of new marriages among younger people will end in divorce within 10 years and 43 percent within 15 years. That is not a death sentence, however; it's a forecast. Martha Farnsworth Riche, former head of the Census Bureau, told USA Today, "This is what is going to happen unless we want to change it."
Christian author and speaker, Gary Thomas, is a man who wants to change it. He challenges how people think about marriage in his book, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy? By that he means that interpersonal relationships provide the perfect opportunity to serve rather than be served and to give of yourself sacrificially. “The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage” (page 51).
“Love is not a natural response that gushes out of us unbidden. Infatuation sometimes does that—at the beginning of a relationship at least—but hate is always ready to naturally spring forth….Christian love, on the other hand, must be chased after, aspired to, and practiced. The popular culture completely misunderstands this principle. …a man who says, ‘I’ve never loved you’ is a man who is saying essentially this: ‘I’ve never acted like a Christian.’ When we love well, we please God” (pp. 40-41).
Part of the problem is a person’s expectation that a spouse is supposed to make one happy. Thomas says, “In many of my seminars, I stress this over and over again: Husbands, you are married to a fallen woman in a broken world. Wives, you are married to a sinful man in a sinful world….He may come home with the best of intentions and still lose his temper. She may have all of the desire but none of the energy” (p. 69). Therefore, looking for a “better” spouse is ineffective, while becoming a better spouse improve the relationship.
“I have a theory:” Thomas writes. “Behind virtually every case of marital dissatisfaction lies unrepented sin. Couples don’t fall out of love so much as they fall out of repentance. Sin, wrong attitudes, and personal failures that are not dealt with slowly erode the relationship, assaulting and eventually erasing the once lofty promises made in the throes of an earlier (and less polluted) passion” (p. 96).
“Use the revelation of your sin as a means to grow in the foundational Christian virtue of humility, leading you to confession and renouncement. Then go the next step and adopt the positive virtue that corresponds to the sin you are renouncing. If you’ve used women in the past, practice serving your wife. If you’ve been quick to ridicule your husband, practice giving him encouragement and praise. View marriage as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. …Correspondingly, give [your partner] the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our growth in holiness” (p. 97).
“I don’t know why this works, only that it does work. It takes time, and by time I mean maybe years. But if your heart is driven by the desire to draw near to Jesus, you find joy by becoming like Jesus. You’ll never find that joy by doing something that offends Jesus—such as instigating a divorce or an affair” (p. 101).
The back cover says, “Sacred Marriage doesn’t tell how to build a better marriage—it shows how your marriage can help you deepen your relationship with God. From the practice of forgiveness, to the ecstasy of lovemaking, to the history you create together, everything about your marriage is filled with the potential for discovering and revealing Christ’s character.”
For Valentine’s Day, here’s a gift that won’t wilt, tarnish, or provide unneeded calories: Acquire the book Sacred Marriage and read it to each other. Your relationship with your mate will improve significantly simply by embracing this new perspective.
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