marriage is like a child

I may not have kids of my own, but I have enough nieces, nephews, friends, and children from the ministries I’m involved in to know a thing or two about raising them!

One thing I know is that children are fragile when they’re first born, and as they grow, they are supposed to get stronger. Children at a young age need constant attention so that they don’t hurt themselves, and so that they can receive the nourishment they need to survive.

I couldn’t help but thinking that marriage is the same way.

When you first get married, you need to establish boundaries. You need to establish new rules. The people around you depend on you, as the husband of wife, to create the atmosphere for how you two interact with each other. And you need to be careful about who (and what) you let into your marriage, especially in the beginning, but as you continue to mature together.

People will try to give you unsolicited advice about how to treat your spouse. But you know. You may not be an expert, but you are now the closest person to your spouse. The newlywed stage is a learning process. You will learn your spouse’s favorite color. You will learn how your spouse likes his steak. You will learn your spouse’s schedule, and what keeps him calm. And eventually, the people giving you unsolicited advice will be asking you how to interact with your spouse.

Our marriage is two and a half years old, and from the very beginning, we’ve had to give our marriage constant attention. We’ve had to adjust our lives to the new schedule, and we’ve had to learn new routines to make our marriage work. We’ve had moments that make us roll our eyes because of how ridiculous they are, but we’ve also had moments that work so well, they’re like watching a child walk or hearing her say her first words.

But my absolute favorite part of marriage now is when people ask me questions about my spouse, and I actually know the answers! Like, “Does he like shrimp?”, or “Do you think he’d be up for this or that?”

I also want to note that marriage requires a lot of grace, just like it requires grace to parent a child. We may think that the mistakes we make now will affect the rest of our lives, that if we mess up in the beginning of our marriage, we can never have hope again. But that is not true. Sure, our mistakes have consequences, but there is grace. I’m not the same person I was when I got married. There were times I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, and I know it hurt my husband. And there were times he said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, and it hurt me. But there’s grace. Thank God for His grace! So don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out right from the beginning. Trust in God’s grace to sustain you through it all.

How much attention do you give to your marriage? Is your marriage high on your priority list? Like a child requires constant attention and a change of schedule, you need to make time for your marriage, and make time for the man or woman who matters most to you. Then, as you both grow, you will see your marriage grow, and you will be amazed as the work you put into your marriage early will produce fruit.

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash


God Gives Us More Than We (Think) We can Handle

When I was in college, as part of my major, I had to go on an internship out of the country for at least six weeks. After months of searching and praying, I finally found an internship in Andalucia, Spain, with an organization called Camino Global (which has since then merged with Avant Ministries). It was required that I speak at least intermediate Spanish, and I had to raise funds all on my own. Then, when I finally learned Spanish and mustered up the funds, I had to take a plane by myself, and be in a country where I didn’t know anyone…all by myself.

Needless to say, it was more than I could handle.

A common misnomer is that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. The basis for this is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13. I’ve wrestled with this for years because, as I struggle with anxiety and know that God has spared me from so much pain, I know that God truly is in control of my life. But there also have been times where I truly believed that God had given me more than I could handle.

The axiom should be replaced with God knows what we can handle. Instead of trusting in our own strength, we can trust in the grace of God. We can trust His hand to guide our lives. The early church was persecuted for their faith; Paul even says that when they were in Asia, they were burdened beyond what they could bear (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). But, as Paul declares, God didn’t allow them to go through beating and mocking for nothing. Rather, Paul and his missionary team endured trials so that they could rely on God and not on themselves.

We place limits on ourselves that God never put there. God also places limits on us through our circumstances when we think we can handle it. The same guy from the Bible, Paul, heard “no” from God several times. God actually prevented Paul from going to Asia and Bithynia at a certain point in his ministry (Acts 16:6). There are different speculations about why Paul wasn’t allowed to go to those places at those specific times, but the short answer is: it wasn’t God’s will. Maybe it’s that Paul couldn’t handle it, but maybe it’s that God knew what was best for everyone involved in the situation.

To come back to my experience in Spain, I did it. Taking a plane by myself was difficult, and even debilitating, but God provided. On the way there, I sat next to two gentlemen who traveled to Spain every year; they gave me advice about what to do, and they even showed me how to go through customs. On the way home (the longest flight I’ve ever been on), I sat with a boy from Israel whose family had moved to Texas; because he was sitting away from his family, I felt responsible for him, which gave me little time to worry. On my connecting flight, I sat with a guy who was a prayer leader for Liberty University, and he prayed with me during the flight. And that was just the plane.

The first few days were hard, but again, I did it. I made some friends and listened to music and practiced my Spanish. I had a couple of nightmares, and I did panic once, but God used the people around me to help me find peace in Him. By the end of the experience, I was ready to go back to Spain after paying off my college loans. Thank You, God, for your grace!

During that time, God knew what I could handle. His grace sustained me through the six weeks I was away from family and friends. In fact, His grace allowed me to make new family and friends. However, there were other times where I wanted to go and serve Him in other countries, but He closed each door. I like to think that God knew what I could handle, and that He found another person who He would grow like He grew me in Spain.

You’re braver than you think. You can handle more than you think you do. But for the things that debilitate you, trust in God’s grace. He knows what you can handle.

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash


Prayers for Eyes to See

Marriage is hard. It’s not impossible, and it’s definitely worthy of fighting for, but marriage really is a fight. It’s a fight against our own will, against our spouse’s idiosyncrasies, and against what society expects of us.

The hardest part of marriage is that you realize that your Prince Charming, or your Queen, is a human. A human who burps, says the wrong thing sometimes, and leaves his socks on the floor (in all seriousness, left my socks on the floor yesterday!). A human who talks too much, nags sometimes, and leaves her hair ties everywhere.

We need to pray for eyes to see our spouses the way that God sees them.

God made man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27). When God created us and put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He called His creation “very good” (v. 31). In light of that knowledge, doesn’t that make our spouse a little more valuable in our eyes? But instead of focusing on that, we tend to focus on their flaws, slip-ups, and imperfections.

Since the Fall of man, it is true that we are not perfect. We have been stained by sin, and the image of God has been distorted in us. But by the grace of Jesus, and what He did for us on the cross 2,000 years ago, we now wear the righteousness of Christ when we accept Jesus as our Master. Now, when God looks at us, He looks at us with grace. We are no longer marred with sin in His eyes; instead, we are His precious, beloved children.

Are you viewing your spouse with grace, or with judgment? Are you nitpicking his every mistake, or are you choosing to look past his imperfections? Choose today to pray for eyes to see your spouse the way that God sees him.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some Biblical tips to help you pray:

Search your own heart. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus tells us to remove the plank in our own eyes before we judge the speck in our brother’s eye. Before you say a word about the faults in your spouse, think about your own faults. As I mentioned before, God looks at you with grace. Forgive your spouse as the Lord has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). When you realize how much God loves you and how much He has forgiven you, it makes it easier to overlook your spouse’s shortcomings.

Make a list of what you love about your spouse. Sometimes, all it takes is a shift in perspective. Your spouse may seem like a loser, but that’s only because you’re focusing on his flaws. Focus on what makes him a winner. Write down a list of things you love about your spouse. Think especially back to why you first married him. Thank God for this person that He has given you, the one who will be doing life with you from now until the day you die.

Surrender your idiosyncrasies to God. Admittedly, I’m a control freak, and I often want to fix everything about my spouse (truthfully, there isn’t much to fix!). But I’ve realized in the twenty-six months we’ve been married that I can’t fix him, nor can I control him. What I can control is how I respond to his shortcomings. If I find some flaws more difficult to overlook than others, I need to let them go and surrender them to God. You can tell God how you feel about your spouse, but ultimately, you need to get to a place where you put the issue in God’s hands.

Choose grace for your spouse. Grace is a choice, and it’s a choice more easily made when the God of grace is with you. In light of all that we have discussed, choose to have grace-colored glasses when you look at your spouse. You’ll find that whatever bothered you about him is no longer as apparent.

Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash


Emotional Consequences

One of my favorite parts of marriage is that I can be completely and totally honest with my husband without any judgment. I used to fear conflict, thinking that any conflict could cause a break in the relationship. Now that I’m in a stable relationship and we can fight without worrying about destroying our marriage, I feel safe.

Although I’m safe to say what I want, what I say has emotional consequences.

Words have the power of life and death. We speak what we don’t mean sometimes. We speak to control. We speak to encourage. However, our words have consequences, good and bad.

When you’re uncomfortable, you have defense mechanisms, like sarcasm, insulting, or joking, but those defense mechanisms can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. Since it is part of our spouse’s job to shape us, God can use our spouses to help us surrender our defense mechanisms.

As listeners, we can’t let people speak to us however they want. I have trigger words like “What is your problem?” that will shut me down in an argument. If Lenny wants to shut me down, he can use that, because he knows it will make me stop talking. But he also knows that if he uses those words, he’ll be breaking our trust, and he could put some emotional distance between us. Lenny will accomplish what he wants (shutting me up) but it comes with consequences.

We have different boundaries, and we have to be clear about them. We can’t let people get away with their words. We can be clear about what we expect, and if people don’t respect our requests, we have to follow through with our consequences.

We hate being parented by anyone, including our spouses. However, you are not parenting your spouse. You are sticking up for yourself. Your job is not to train your spouse; your job is to protect yourself from experiencing and causing emotional damage.

So, talk about your boundaries, and what would happen if your spouse were to cross those boundaries. Now, you obviously can’t threaten to leave, unless there is abuse involved. However, you are entitled to request counseling or to say that you are not going to be as trusting of your spouse. Remember the vows you made to each other and remind your spouse of them.

If you are in a dating relationship, breaking up IS still a viable option for you. There is nothing binding you together. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious anymore that insults, sarcasm, and threats hurt people, so you need to be clear about how those words make you feel. If your SO has a history of hurting you with his/her words, and you’ve made it clear that his/her actions are bothering you and nothing has changed, you have every right to leave. Do that for yourself. Do not keep hurting yourself when you know he/she can use words to hurt you.

To demonstrate how to have emotional boundaries in the midst of defense mechanisms, I’ll use a hypothetical situation. Jack confesses to Polly that he gets fearful around the topic of family conflicts, and that when the topic arises, he uses sarcasm to deflect his feelings. Polly understands this, but she confesses that she gets angry when people make fun of her family, so she could respond to his sarcasm with an angry outburst. Polly promises that she will try not to bring up family conflicts around him, and Jack promises that he will try not to be sarcastic or make jokes about her family.

Since we’re not perfect, Jack and Polly may have some issues with this at first. But now, when they fight about Polly bringing up family conflicts and Jack making fun of her family, they have an understanding about why the conflict is happening, and they are able to develop consequences as a result. If Polly brings up a family conflict, Jack will use sarcasm. If Jack uses sarcasm, Polly will have an angry outburst. Eventually, Polly will learn not to bring up family conflicts (or will at least approach the conflict in a different manner) because she will not want her husband to be sarcastic. Eventually, Jack will learn not to react with sarcasm because he will not want his wife to have an angry outburst.

While grace is needed in this situation, do not get too comfortable with emotional tension. If your spouse is using defense mechanisms against you, continue to love him, but don’t allow the behavior to continue. Do not punish your spouse, but be clear about your expectations and continue to remind your spouse about them as the behavior continues. Remember your vows, and remember that you are both in the process of growing.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash


Marriage Monday (on Tuesday)- What to Expect in Marriage

“One winter a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it under his coat. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound.” (Aesop’s Fables, Eliot/Jacobs Version)

Just like the snake, humans have natural tendencies toward specific behaviors because of the influences of this world.  Because of the Fall, we have tendencies to sin and to fall short of perfection.  However, we expect people to look a certain way, act a certain way, and say certain things.  We get annoyed that people don’t fit into our molds of what the perfect husband, the perfect parent, or the perfect child looks like.  But when we actually try to control them, we find out that there’s nothing we can do to change them.  Some people are just the way they are, and we can’t fix them.

I tend to be a control freak. I really like perfection, whatever that is.  And most often, my lack of perfection and the lack of perfection in others leaves me pretty dissatisfied with relationships.  I keep having the same conflicts with the same people and I keep doing the same thing to try to fix it.  Doesn’t Einstein define that as insanity?

For those who want to change their spouses, remember the analogy of the snake.  If he has been trained his entire life to run away from conflict, then don’t get mad at him when he fears you raising your voice.  If she has been influenced to clean when she’s stressed, then don’t be surprised when she can’t sit still.  We have all been influenced by the way we’ve grown up, the people we’ve met, and the experiences we have undergone.  The patterns we have developed are not going to change overnight.  If they change, they will take time.  And they will take grace.

My advice to you today is from my dear friend, Elsa: let it go.  My husband would not be happy, because he has vowed never to see this movie.  But the simplicity of the lyrics and the sweetness in Idina Menzel’s voice as she sings these words reminds me that it truly is that simple.  You can’t control when your husband likes to check his phone every night before bed, thus shining the light in your face?  Let it go.  You can’t control that your wife likes to talk a lot right before bed, thus keeping you from precious sleep?  Let it go.  Just take a deep breath and walk away.  Don’t bring it up.  Just…let it go.

If it’s really an issue that makes your blood boil, pray about it.  God can intervene, and He will either change the habit or change your heart about it.  Be open to both.

I must add that there are expectations in marriage that are normal and healthy.  You expect your husband to remain faithful to you.  You expect your wife to honor the budget that you created together.  I know gender roles have changed a little bit over the years, but either spouse or both are expected to do their share of cleaning the house, shopping, raising the kids, and keeping the romance alive.  Your spouse is supposed make you feel safe.  Your spouse is expected to seek reconciliation and peace in your marriage, not to tear you down or talk bad about you.

Just like the snake analogy, people who are abusive, unfaithful, and lazy have also been shaped by their natural tendencies and by their environments.  Jealousy may also ensue from people who have been abused, cheated on, or neglected in past relationships, and this jealousy can manifest in anger, controlling behavior, or the silent treatment.  Knowing this, it is easy to feel sympathy for those who hurt us.  We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  But abuse, infidelity, laziness, and jealousy are all detrimental to a marriage, in addition to our well-being, and so they must be confronted.

If your spouse has an issue with these detrimental habits in your marriage, do not let it go.  Pray earnestly, but do not be afraid to confront your spouse.  If your spouse does not listen, consider counseling or other resources to help you deal with your spouse in a graceful manner.

Grace is God’s indescribable gift to us (2 Corinthians 9:15).  When our spouses do not meet our expectations, let us extend this same gift to them.  Instead of making them meet your expectations, let God reveal His expectations for you and your life partner.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash


Grace Covers Our Happily Ever After

There is a lie from our culture that says that once we have a husband, everything is going to be okay.  We struggle with sin, and we feel ashamed and unworthy, but once that Prince Charming comes on his white horse to pick us up, we’re clean and we no longer struggle.  Friend, my Prince Charming came a long time ago, and His name is Jesus.  I didn’t need my husband to rescue me, and even if I did, he did not (and cannot) make me perfect.

Even after you’ve found what our culture calls your “Prince Charming,” your marriage will not instantly be a happily ever after.

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we had a lot of internal (between the two of us) and external (from other people) conflict while planning.  I thought that all the conflict would be resolved once we crossed the finish line into marriage.

But it didn’t go quite like that.

Once we made it back from our honeymoon, once the drama of wedding planning was officially over…we looked at each other and thought, now what? Although the Bible says that two become one flesh when we get married, we still felt like separate people.  We still had our own agendas, our own habits, and our own traditions to maintain.  Where did this whole marriage thing fit in?

On Sunday, it will be our one year anniversary.  The other day, we were thinking about the past year.  I realized how much we had learned in just one year.  What was difficult for us before was still difficult, but it is a lot easier now.  What was impossible for us before was now thinkable, and we know it will only get better in time.  After one year, we now communicate better.  After one year, we now have shorter fights.  After one year, we now strategically pray for each other and know how to ask for what we need.  After one year, we have realized more about becoming one flesh.

We should have a strong foundation in Christ when we go into marriage, but we should not expect that everything will go according to plan.  We don’t have to worry if we make a mistake in our marriage, as long as we learn from them to improve for the future.  It’s not the end of the world if we fight and use words that we, according to pre-marital counselors, should never use.  Our marriage isn’t going to fail just because we skipped out on date night.  We’re not terrible people if we go over budget every once in a while.  Our habits, conflicts, and communication styles can change, because God is constantly changing us.  While we seek to do everything right in our marriage, when we fall short, we can rely on God’s grace to keep us together.

Now that we’re nearing the end of our first year of marriage, we can look back and see all that God has done in our marriage from the beginning.  But we also understand that we’re not marriage experts.  Looking back on our first year, we can plan ahead for the next year.  How can we communicate even better?  How can we make our quality time even more meaningful?  How can we resolve conflict in such a way that we both win?  How can we make better decisions that accommodate both of our needs?

Marriage does not make everything better.  As a matter of fact, marriage exposes the flaws that we have so that we can work toward making them better.  Marriage takes time, and time takes patience on the part of both the husband and the wife.  Celebrate your successes together, while also looking at how you can both improve.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Wisdom Wednesday

It Takes Time (And Grace) to Figure it Out

I’ve been doing a series on how to find rest in the midst of our busyness.  I’m doing this series because, ultimately, I need this advice more than anyone else.  I do my devotionals in the morning, but honestly, I just can’t relate to what I’m reading.  All I can think about is the endless list of tasks I have to complete, the people I have to see, and the events I have to attend.  Whenever I have any amount of free time, it usually involves catching up on what I put to the side, what I promised I would do whenever I had time.  What I really need more than anything else is for someone to give me practical tips on how to be still even though I’m busy.

If I had to give advice to myself, I would say this: I’m being too hard on myself.

I know I mention this a lot, but my life has been busy since I graduated college.  I wrote a post when I graduated college about how I didn’t know what God had planned for me.  About six months later, the roller coaster began.  You can read about the ups and downs of my life in other posts, especially this one.  For the sake of this post, I will let you in on my current situation.  My husband and I have been married for almost seven months. Due to the fact that we both have full-time jobs and long commutes to and from work, we are exhausted by the time we get home.  Not to mention we are both involved in various ministries during the week that allow us just enough time to stop home and eat a quick bite for dinner.  Oh, and yeah, I’m trying to publish a book, which involves proposing to various literary agents.

The residual effects of our busyness are why I feel so guilty for being constantly on-the-go.  We don’t get to see our families on a regular basis, and the desire and obligation to see them hangs over our heads.  Our place of living is not as spotless as it was when I had all the time in the world to clean it.  Seeing crumbs on the floor, piles of laundry on our bed, and dishes in the sink makes me feel like I’m not taking care of the place that God has given me.  Plus, the overarching nagging of my responsibilities causes me to be irritable and impatient.  I constantly hear this ringing in my ear, telling me that I should be doing things more efficiently, that I’m not being a good wife or a good family member or a good employee.

So, I shall take this moment to ask myself: What is the problem here, the busyness, or that little voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough?

My husband and I are still newlyweds.  My apartment is still new to me.  I’m still trying to figure out my schedule.  And in the midst of all of the “newness,” God’s grace is with me.  He is not angry at me for failing to understand everything right away.  It takes time to learn how to be a great wife, an efficient house-cleaner, a brilliant employee, and all of the other roles that God has entrusted to me.  For now, all God expects of me is to lean on Him and be patient with myself.

If you find yourself feeling guilty for not having everything figured out, my word of encouragement to you is to be patient with yourself.  Even if others expect you to be an expert (fill in the blank), you cannot be without practice.  It may involve making mistakes; you may have to discover several ways that don’t work before you discover the one way that works for you.  All that matters is: you’re not alone, and you will get through this.

My challenge this week for you is to affirm yourself.  Instead of focusing on what you are doing wrong, write down what you are doing right. Thank God for the ability to do those things well.  I would also challenge you to ask God to help you in the process of figuring it out.  It will take time.  Be patient with yourself and humbly ask God for strength to endure the transitional period.  God, through Jesus Christ, understands our weaknesses and gives us grace and mercy when we need it.  Ask God for that grace when you hear that voice that says you are not good enough.