This past weekend was as intense as they come. Our family went through various rites of passage with friends and loved ones. A couple of our sons had fun at a baby shower, we rejoiced at the wedding of good friends, and we mourned the passing of a dear uncle. Tucked in amongst all that were ministry engagements with a men’s group, a young adults’ group and a married couples’ group. Oh, and did I mention there was the Sunday sermon and worship leading as well?
And so, by Sunday evening, when my beloved and I shared our lives with those in the married couples’ group, our talk wasn’t just an academic exercise. We were living out the three movements in the life of a marriage. As Soo Inn shared, going back to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, there should be an upward focus, an inward focus, and an outward focus to each marriage. And, in fact, I would stretch that to cover strong friendships too. Adam and Eve were created to have communion with God, to be companions for each other, and to engage in meaningful work together.
How does that pan out in our relationships? When we realize that God is the head of our marriages, we remove the fuse from potential power struggles that can and often do arise. Some husbands take their headship so seriously that they turn into dictators in the home. Wives turn into radical feminists in rebellion, or they become doormats in resignation. Yes, the Bible does exhort wives to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24), but the caveat is that husbands must love, nurture and sacrificially care for their wives (Eph 5:25-30). There are double the number of verses for husbands as there are for wives. (Hmmm…many conclusions to draw from this…but we won’t go down that road!) The focus here is on Christ and the Church, and Christ never did anything that was not directly ordained or taught by His Father.
So, how do we nurture our upward focus? We share a daily devotion together, we pray together and we seek God’s direction for both the big and little things that confront us in the course of daily living. As we jointly turn to God in all things, we also build a storehouse of shared struggles and victories (okay, let’s not get too triumphalistic here, maybe more like shared answers to prayers). Sharing this upward focus also means that we have an inbuilt bridge in the marriage for those moments when things are rough. It’s a little difficult to be praying together if you’re angry with each other. And if the praying together is a non-negotiable, then the anger will need to be sorted out. As Florence Littauer put it in her book After Every Wedding Comes a Marriage (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1981, 191), “When a wall has come up between us and we’re talking through the cracks, we need a carpenter to take it down. We need Jesus.”
It would have been pretty hard to speak at a meeting of married couples if Soo Inn and I were at loggerheads with one another much of the time. The inward focus of our marriage behoves us to work at building up and not tearing down. Acceptance, affirmation (not flattery), encouragement (not condemnation) and, sometimes when needed, a contrarian view of things. We would be the first to admit that nurturing a marriage (or any close relationship, for that matter) is hard work. And not always easy, at that. But we do it because we want the best for each other. Working at it also means that we begin to understand each other better and can negotiate the minefields of marriage with greater “success”. I now realize that Soo Inn’s need for “cave time” is not a rejection of my presence, but a need to be still both before the Lord and within himself, to recoup and be restored in order to better bless me. I, too, retreat into myself when I’m grappling with issues that need sorting out.
And although my dear husband thinks that he’s being a big bully when he keeps badgering me to find out the cause of my silence, I actually treasure his efforts get me to talk about the things that are upsetting me. And the poor man has to cope with pre-menopausal hormonal swings too! So, yes, it is hard work all round. But it is worth it!
The third movement within a marriage is an outward one and is only possible because we have made the effort to focus on the other two movements. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were tasked with subduing and overseeing the whole of creation. How awesome a job description is that? What this tells us is that there is a vocational element to our marriages. This doesn’t mean that we must necessarily serve in the same ministry. If that happens then it’s a bonus. What is does mean is a shared missional outlook for the marriage. Can you imagine what it would be like if Soo Inn’s heart for mentoring was met by my reluctance to meet (and genuinely be nice) to new people all the time? We have been able to arrive at a mutually edifying outward focus only because we have attended to our upward and inward foci. We are meant to jointly bless creation. And, in doing that, we don’t just bless others. We are blessed in turn by a greater unity of purpose and the shared joys and rewards.
So, how did we survive the weekend? By looking upward, inward and outward.