My Reaction To (*most*) Evangelical Books On Relationships & Marriage

I know they’re out there. But I, personally, have trouble finding a theologically deep, well-written (!!!), thought-provoking book on marriage, celibacy, dating, relationships…etc. Which is simultaneously sad and frustrating.

So if you have one that you recommend, I’d love to hear it. I shant judge you (even if I do judge the book). So let’s hear it.

Because I’m running out of windows.

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3 Myths About Marriage That Ought To Be Debunked

marriage

I got married just over a year ago. So I’m far from an expert on this topic. I mean, I’m not even acclimated to using scented hand soaps yet. Therefore I present these propositions as just that: a means for beginning some conversations.

Because marriage is meant to be a personified example of Christ’s love for the Church, God’s faithfulness to us, His people. Inasmuch, it behooves married couples to live in transparency. For when we don’t take intentional steps to lift the veil on our relationships, we contribute to a Christian culture that holds the blessings and trials of matrimony hostage. We present the testimony of marriage as something that can only be witnessed within a marriage. And nothing could be further from the truth. Christian marriage is supposed to be a light; we shouldn’t pull down the shades on its rays.

And so I want to lift the veil. I want to start some conversations. Thus, here are three myths about marriage that need to be debunked:

1) Marriage is easy.

Marriage is anything but easy. This week, my wife and I have had not one, but two knock-down, drag-out arguments. I’m talking the kind that starts with:

Annnnd usually evolves into:

So yeah. Those kinda fights. Both these required hours of talking, forgiving and apologizing. This isn’t too abnormal; we dedicate several hours a week just to ironing out a few rough spots in our marriage, chiseling away at the obnoxious kinks we each have.

When we were engaged, I had many people tell me “just hang in there, marriage is so much easier than engagement.” And that’s true. Engagement is like being forced to sit cross-legged on a bed of hot coals and read the same page of Twilight over and over again…all while someone holds a margarita just out of reach. But if I could tweak the phrasing just a little bit, I’d say that marriage- when compared to a dating or engagement relationship- is not so much easier as it is richer. Engagement is like putting hours of work into a delicious meal that you can’t eat quite yet; marriage is the feast finally spread out before you.

I hope the testimony of my marriage is never: “look at this! Too easy!” Rather I hope and pray that our marriage displays and proclaims that love is work. It can be tiring, it can wear you down, beat you up, and mold you; in a word, marriage crucifies the you you used to know. Marriage teaches us that this creates a wonderfully terrifying thing. Love is patient, kind, transformative, adventurous, risky, selfless and beautiful. Of all the things it is– it isn’t easy. Rather, a marriage lived out should proclaim that the cost of loving another person is one’s own self-entitlement. It’s not easy. But, at the same time, it’s wondrous beyond words.

2) In-laws, finances and past sins are the greatest source of marital tension.

The monster-in-law personae is cliché and yet pop culture still loves to assert its inevitability (because King of Queens wasn’t enough).

Likewise, there’s hoards of statistics that illustrate how many couples have more disputes about money than anything else. And, being Christians, many of us have been informed (with limited tact) that our sexual sins will haunt a marriage.

All of this is true…but only to a point. Because none of these make or break the marriage- though they are often the scapegoat. Instead, the most vital component of marriage is communication. Good communication can buoy a couple through the greatest trials of life; the ability for a couple to hear and be heard (the former being of primary importance) is the tipping point in a marriage. Without good communication, the smallest bill can cause an eruption; guilt from one’s past can impede and strangle; dealing with one’s in-laws can spark tidal waves in all directions. Communication is key.

And it should be noted that communication goes beyond the actual act of talking. Physical touch and intimacy is communication; how much time is spent out with the guys is communication; taking out the trash is communication. All of these things say something to your spouse. Their absence, presence or tone have the power to uplift or impede a marriage.

3) Sex is the best part of marriage.

Sex is a wonderful and good thing. But it is easily idolized in Christian relationships. Much of this is because sex is the forbidden fruit of dating relationships; almost every other aspect of marriage can be experienced, even if just to a lesser degree. But sex is always held- with painful depletions of tact-at arms length.

Because of this, it’s easy to (subconsciously) elevate sex to greater degree of importance than other aspects of a marriage. And this can set a couple up for a world of trouble. What if sex isn’t as great as you imagined it to be? What if sexual intimacy actually comes across as a bit awkward- even difficult- at first? When we expect sex to be -not just the cherry atop the sundae- but also the entire sundae itself and the rest of the relationship simply the bowl in which it sits, we can find marriage to feel a little empty, cheated even.

So while sexual intimacy and fulfillment is a wonderful and necessary part of a marriage, it should never be viewed as the end-all, be-all. Instead, marriage must be ordered in such a way that our end goal is love for another human being. Sex is one of many means to this end, but hardly it’s epitome.

Love is simply intricate. And every marriage revolves around something. Sometimes it’s physical attraction; other times it’s money, or shared experiences and goals; other times is an emotional connection between two people. The problem is that all of these things are fickle and unstable, at best. Attraction fades, emotional connections wear out over time, bankruptcy happens, quality time is monopolized by the demands of a family. In a matter of time the central identity of a marriage can easily disappear, leaving the rest of the relationship to collapse as well.

But when we base a marriage around the well-being of another person we allow and acknowledge the inevitable presence of Christ within our marriage. It is Christ who- and this is Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaking- is the mediator not just between ourselves and God, but also ourselves and others. A prioritization of another person, especially within framework of marriage, inevitably results in living life through the mediation of Christ. Christ becomes the filter for our actions. He forgives our anger and transforms it into empathy. He hears our miscommunications and translates them into sincerity. He oversaw the creation of our bodies, and ignites the passion that brings them together. In a word, a marriage centered on the goal of serving the other person, is centered on Christ; Christ who takes our mutated, imperfect and selfishly tainted thing we call ‘love’ and presents it as a microcosm of Christ’s love for the church.

This is a beautiful thing; one of the greatest mysteries of creation. So great, in fact, that it takes a lifetime with another person, a lifetime of relying on the meditation of Christ, to even begin to understand it.

In such a manner, a marriage becomes a story. And not the story of two people. Rather, it transcends itself to the story of Love Incarnate that is being played out within all of creation. And it’s story is greater than a lifetime of spousal love can even begin to imitate. It’s the story of Love that mediates for all, forgives for all, and is in the process of transforming everyone into it’s likeness.

And that, I propose, is a story worth telling.

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Raw Grace & Cigarettes

ice cream

I went for a run the other day. It was a warm day. I was on a gravel backroad, one that hadn’t been plowed too thoroughly. The sun had transformed the remnants of snow into several inches of slush. Running on slush is like trying to use a treadmill that’s moving-not only backwards-but also out on each side: my feet flailed and my hands waved in numerous directions trying to keep balance. It was not my most eloquent moment; I must’ve looked something like a moose galloping while on crack.

With such a gait I constantly looked over my shoulder, worried not so much that a car coming from behind might plow me over, but more so that the driver might witness me in such a buffoonic state. If I heard a car coming, I’d slow down to a controlled and dignified stroll, tipping an imaginary hat to passer-byes and whistling a fine tune. This instead of appearing rabid.

I grew up quietly. I suppose that is an apt way of putting it. In that I think my childhood flew under the radar for any grand humiliation of my own ego. I was benched in high school football. I lost my bid for student body president. But these were just dents in the armor, so to speak. My pride was bruised, at worse. But I was always able to regain composure, adopt a facade of propriety, before the car came up behind me.

But if marriage is anything its the voice of reality calling ‘bullSHEET!’ on our facades of humility. It’s the car driving up on me slowly, quietly, so I don’t notice until its too late. And then the driver smirks as he goes by.

My wife and I are in a hectic season of life, working while also full-time students. We survive on ritual, keeping ourselves sane with our own nightly routine; it consists of a small cup of frozen yogurt and watching our favorite TV show (I’m not saying it’s Gilmore Girls, I’m just saying that if it was… then Lorelai is really starting to piss me off). It’s liturgies like this that fuels our life together, silly as they may seem.

But the other night we had a fight. It takes two to tango but sometimes one partner takes the lead. And on this particular night I had two left feet and was going out of my way to stomp them on my wife’s toes. We’d had a miscommunication, you see. And I’d responded with stubbornness, anger even, retreating to a corner of our apartment whence I muttered and fumed. It was as if I was smoking an emotional cigarette. Every breath added to the stench in the room.

My wife tried to make peace:

“Can we move on? I’m sorry. Please? I’ll get out the ice cream. You set up Gilmore Girls Band of Brothers.”

I acted like I didn’t hear. She said ‘peace?’ and my ego said ‘never surrender!’ I’d been caught off guard with my armor lying at my feet, but now I had it on I wasn’t about to withhold any blows.

When she tried for a third time, I swung my blade. I walked into the bathroom and started brushing my teeth. Such abrasion was like popping some Milk Duds in the face of a priest holding the Eucharist. No ice cream tonight; my armor’s staying on.

But there are moments of raw grace in life. These are not so much our pride breaking down as it is Grace entering the conversation, stepping between the knights, catching one sword in each hand, and- as if we were five- telling us to stop.

Then Grace looks at me: “Quit being an ass.”

Thus I recalled that day running in the slush. I imagined hearing a car coming behind me. As it passed the driver smirked at me, my pride flailing like an inflatable wavy hands character. But this time, I look back at the driver and say: “Screw you! I know I look like an oaf. But I’m trying.” He smirks again and drives on. But I feel lighter; he’s dragging my facade behind the car.

I finished rinsing and returned to our family room. She was curled up on the couch.

“I just want our night back,” she said.

I kissed her on the forehead then took dessert out of the freezer, remnants of toothpaste on my tongue.

And the ice cream-toothpaste mixture tasted how a moose on crack looks: bloody ridiculous. But sometimes repentance does. And there’s a lesson in that, I believe. Raw grace is hard to swallow; the final puff on an emotional cigaret leaves a morbid taste.

But she set her head on my shoulder. And her grace began to remove my armor. Slowly.

The night was ours. Again.

But for $@#!’s-sake, Lorelai…

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