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A Firm Foundation

With God in control, your marriage can thrive.

A good marriage isn't necessarily an easy marriage. Take, for example, our friends Dan and Debbie. They fell desperately in love during high school and got married in college. The intoxication of young love was intense, but so was the hangover when infatuation wore off. Both came from divorced parents, so they had few good role models of happy marriages. Both were stubborn and willful. Lots of days they just didn't like each other and wondered whether they should be married at all. So many members of their extended families had divorced that failure was almost expected. They felt quite alone.

Yet today, 25 years later, Dan and Debbie make one of the best marriages we know. Their differences complement each other. They encourage and strengthen many others through their hospitality and outreach.

"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

How did they make it? The answer has to do with faith. During their high school years both had come to trust in Jesus Christ. In fact, their faith drew them together in that intoxicating love. Through their struggles, they lost the intoxication but not the faith. They held on to the conviction that God loved them. They believed God wanted them to persist—and they were deeply committed to following God. That gave them the extra strength they needed. They came out tested and strong.

When we see people struggling in their marriage, this is our message, before any other: God is for you as a married couple. Too often your friends and family aren't sure. When they recognize the depth of your differences, they may stand back and wait to see if you self-destruct.

God is unreservedly on your side, not in some abstract and theoretical sense, but in earthy, deeply practical ways. He doesn't wait to see how marriage works out. He works for your marriage.

When Jesus was asked about divorce, he didn't speak to the legalities. Nor did he offer advice on how to overcome problems. His response went directly to God: "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female?. . .Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart" (Matthew 19:4, 6, The Message).

An important corollary is this: God is working on your spouse. Sooner or later every married person comes to the traumatic realization that his or her mate has character flaws. We don't mean bad habits, such as leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor. If your spouse can't be trusted to tell the truth, or shows an uncontrollable temper, or reacts with fear and rigidity to change, those are character flaws. You probably have limited leverage to change them. Those flaws are well defended!

However, you aren't the only one involved. God is working on your spouse. (He's also working on you.) Sometimes your job is simply to trust God's pace of change. Tell God, "I trust you to do what you need to do with my partner. Take the time you need: I give it to you."

When marriage partners have that kind of faith, they learn to accept each other. They don't have to like each other's character defects. Nor should they ignore them. (If your spouse abuses you or has problems with alcohol, for example, intervention is essential.) Accepting each other means you accept Jesus as the person in charge of your partner's life. If Jesus is willing to work patiently with such material—and to love it despite the obvious flaws—you can be willing to do the same. Such faith helps a marriage endure and grow.

Making faith work for your marriage

So far we've talked about faith as a way of looking at the world—a perspective that brings God into your understanding of reality. To make faith a pillar in your marriage takes more than perspective, though. Some practical steps are necessary.

Find a church where you can worship together. How basic can you get? Yet some marriages fail to settle this fundamental point. If you don't attend church, or if you sit in different pews on Sunday morning, you'll have a hard time building your marriage on faith. Likewise, if you're in the same building but one partner is mentally out to lunch, your "spiritual unity" will be fractured.

Some neighborhood friends of ours used to faithfully attend a nearby church. We thought they were happy there until one day Beth stopped us in the street. "What do I have to do," she asked, "if I want to go to your church?"

It came out that her husband, Peter, had attended her church for years but never really liked it. Recently, some events had completely alienated him. He swore he was done attending. Worse, their children followed his lead and wanted to stay home too.

It was difficult for Beth to stop attending her church. She realized, though, that her family needed a church they all could appreciate. Though she agonized over leaving the church traditions she'd grown up with, the traditions she loved, Beth began attending our church with Peter. Soon the whole family became involved. They never miss a service. Beth has come to love our church deeply. She has no regrets, because she loves going to church with her whole family.

The point is not that our particular church is wonderful. The same thing has happened with some families leaving our church. While we regret losing them, we understand their need. To build your marriage on faith, you need to worship together. Church provides a common starting point for everything you do—and especially for your life of faith together.

Find a community of faith for you as a couple. This isn't the same as finding a place to worship together. A "fellowship" group or a Bible study often supply such support. You need people who, like God, are for you as a married couple—people who know you both well, who interact with you frequently, and who believe in you as a unit.

Early in our marriage, we had a Bible study with a collection of single and married couples from several different churches. We met in our apartment, and not all the meetings were fabulous or inspiring. Some people who came had deep problems, and sometimes those threatened to dominate the group. Nevertheless, that group came to know us intimately, and they shared their lives with us. They believed in us! As a married couple, we grew closer in faith through that small, struggling community.

Pray together. For many couples, this is difficult advice. They can't explain what the problem is—after all, they're not shy about sleeping together—but when they try to pray they feel awkward.

Prayer is a deeply intimate exercise, with great personal vulnerability. Every couple needs to find a way that's comfortable to them. Charlie Shedd, a wise counselor, used to advise couples to pray silently while holding hands, and then tell each other what they'd prayed. We've known couples who could only pray together reading from a prayer book. Whatever works!

Sometimes couples have such an idealistic conception of what family prayer should be, it keeps them from praying. We're grateful we haven't suffered from such high standards. For us, prayer is usually a few minutes at the beginning of the day, done "on the fly." Nevertheless prayer is a connection point for our day. It reminds us our faith is the glue that holds us together.

God made your marriage. He put you together. He isn't a God who goes halfway. He doesn't give up on something he's started. God is for your marriage. Get a grip on that, and it will make a strong pillar for your marriage.

Popie Stafford is a marriage and family therapist. Tim Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, is author of Never Mind the Joneses: Building Core Values in a Way that Fits Your Family (InterVarsity Press).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Growth; Marriage; Strength
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2004
Posted September 12, 2008

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