Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I Vowed To Obey

Photo by Ryan Patch Photo

Four years ago I walked down the aisle and said my vows to my husband. This morning, as we got ready for our separate days, I said, "I know it's only been four years, but wow, have we changed!" My husband agreed and we were both silent for a minute contemplating everything we've walked through together since June 6, 2008. Well, maybe that was just me; he was probably mentally prepping for work.

And then I said, "Yeah, remember that whole "obey" bit in my vows?!?" We both chuckled a bit and looked at each other with understanding. He said what we were both thinking, "Well, we were in a different world then." I nodded.

Indeed, we were simply in a different world. 

I reflect back upon it now and a bit shocked at how limited our resources were as we prepared for marriage. Don't get me wrong, we had great marriage resources in friends, mentors, and our church. We read marriage books and went to premarital counseling. But EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE we had as we prepared for marriage was complementarian. We were members of a complementarian denomination, had been discipled by a para-church ministry that was mostly complementarian. And as a reader, I thought I was reading a wide variety of marriage books, but it turns out that most of them said the same complementarian things. 

I've never been one to simply swallow gender expectations, but I was left with what felt like two options:

1) Have a great complementarian marriage.
2) Buck the teaching we were given and struggle to find our own way.

And so, as we wrote our marriage vows, using old vows from different traditions, we wrote vows that were not identical. Josh vowed to love and honor me, and I vowed to respect and obey him. We mutually agreed upon these words.

Fortunately, our marriage has been happy. I could create a dramatic story here of how our complementarian start pushed us to the brink of disaster, but it didn't. We were fine, I think in large part because Josh is one of the least power-hungry men I know. From what I recall, we weren't living a very complementarian day-to-day life, in fact we may have been practicing egalitarianism by default, but whatever happened, it was mostly a non-issue. I don't remember discussing our gender roles once in our early days of marriage. We just did life together, and we were pretty darn happy about it.

But as time went on, I began to question complementarianism, mostly because of things outside our marriage, things related to work and my calling in life. If anything, the safety and health of our marriage allowed me to ask questions that were seen as dangerous at the time. Slowly, we met older married couples who didn't preach complementarian views to us; they were a breath of fresh air. I read one non-complementarian (but neither egalitarian) marriage book that I was introduced to. And things slowly started to shift.

Now, on our four year anniversary, I think we can safely say that we've left the complementarian waters behind. While I still have a few unresolved issues with egalitarian interpretations of certain pieces of Scripture (those are posts for another day), we consider ourselves egalitarians. We attend graduate school at an egalitarian Evangelical university. We are members of an egalitarian (yet also largely conservative) Evangelical church. And if we wrote our vows again today, we both agree that my vows would not differ from his.

While I wouldn't include "to obey" in my vows today, I consider my vows holy, so I won't try to ignore, alter, or break them. 

But I'm also grateful that I'm married to a man who looked at me quite seriously this morning and said, "I'll obey you too, okay?" 

"Deal," I said, "and I'll cherish you."


As a big fan of Rachel Held Evans, I share this post with her blogging community for One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality 2012. Head on over to her site to read some great posts "discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications.  The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society." 

Here's one of my favorites of the series so far. You can read words from other bloggers who are participating in the synchroblog at the Twitter hashtag #mutuality2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Let's Talk Parenting Taboos

I've watched this video twice now at and really think it's worth discussing. (It's also available as episode 4 on TedTalks: Sex, Secrets & Love on Netflix Instant.) My husband and I are probably their target audience as soon-to-be parents, so it's probably not surprising that I think it's fascinating. And it's good for a laugh or two, so give it a watch!

Here are the four taboos they say apply to parenthood:

1. You can't say you didn't fall in love with your baby in the first minute. 

They use this chart to show that fathers and mothers often have different experiences of love for their children. If this is somewhat true, I think it might be valuable to adjust my expectations for how Josh will interact with our babies. Given, Josh is not the same person as Rufus in the chart, but perhaps this is a common difference between moms and dads. Thoughts from fathers and mothers out there?

2. You can't tak about how lonely having a baby can be.

3. You can't talk about your miscarriage.

4. You can't say your "average happiness" has declined since having a child.

Rufus, the husband in the speaking couple, says he discovered this chart (above) while his son was about nine months old while reading Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. 

Then, Rufus says he created a different chart (below), showing that while average happiness may be low during early parenthood, the momentary highs and lows are similar to when we were children ourselves. We will be elated one moment when our child smiles, but we will be devastated the very next moment.

I think this was probably the most interesting part of the talk for me, especially as I try to adjust my expectations for parenthood. He says that "age is a form of lithium," which actually resonated with me as someone who remembers being more animated as a child. I am a fairly even-keeled person now, though I do see myself changing a bit already from pregnancy hormones, but it's not drastic. For the most part, I don't experience super highs or super lows. Mothers and fathers, should I prepare for this to change?

I'd love to hear thoughts on this talk from those who have been in the trenches!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why More Sex on Screen Might be Good

Before I begin, can I just say that I’ve been pretty nervous to publish this one. I can see the places people will go with objecting to this blog, but I still think I have a point. I haven’t been able to shake my desire to start this conversation.

So, here goes…

Sex. Lots and lots of sex. That’s what we are culturally saturated with. Most of us realize this reality when we mindfully listen to the radio, pay attention to commercials on TV, or attend a party. Even within the church, lots of us seem to think that sex is the center of adult life.

Most of the time, Christians just give the tried and true response: “We’re too saturated with sex. It’s private and should remain that way!”

Today, I’d like to offer a counter-intuitive antidote to our preoccupation with sex. It might catch you off guard, so prepare yourself. Ready?

We need to be exposed to more sex—not movie sex, but real sex.

The reason: Real sex isn’t (always) sexy. In the movies, what we see is movie sex. Sure, sometimes real life sex is like movie sex. But most of the time? Sex isn’t like that at all.

How often do you see lube or condoms in sex scenes? Are people saying, “Nope, this position isn’t working.” Are the people even talking at all? Think about it! Are women experiencing any pain? Are there leg cramps, elbows to the nose, or sneezes?

I personally would love to see a sex scene right now that tries to show the difficulty of having sex while nauseous. Would. Love. It.

Respectful, non-graphic exposure to real sexuality will ground us in the reality that sex isn’t magic. Sex doesn’t fix our problems. Having sex doesn’t make us feel complete. Sex doesn’t solve our loneliness. And sex is often an expression of power, selfishness, and pain, not an expression of love, service, or covenant.  Sex isn’t always sexy. In fact, real sex might often make us cringe.

Fortunately, my husband and I were part of an honest community when we were dating and engaged, so we were as prepared for real sex as we probably could have been. But unfortunately, I have known numerous Christian newlyweds who have come home from their honeymoons disillusioned. What they experienced wasn’t what they had seen on screen their whole lives. And they’d never really heard Christians say, “Um, real sex isn’t always like that.” Instead, they had heard Christians simply try to hide sex in the Privacy of Marriage Bed closet.

I think Christian subculture does a huge disservice to virgin couples. Sex takes some learning. If you are waiting until marriage for sex, your honeymoon probably won’t be where your best sex happens. But that’s good. If it did, it’d be all downhill from there. That’s a sad thought. I offer the reality that your honeymoon may feel more like learning to ride a bike than effortlessly riding along with the wind in your hair. The training wheels may be frustrating and you may fall off a few times (literally). Movies and TV rarely show this reality, but maybe they should.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer about sex. But instead of agreeing with people who think that Christians should avoid talking about sex, I want us to have more honest conversations about sex. And when we talk about real sex, we see that it’s just one part of life, not the thing to which all things in life lead.

So, here’s to more sex on screen, as long as it’s realistic. Of course, of course… a respectful, non-graphic depiction of sex. But sex nonetheless.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Week 15 Update

Before launching some great (in my opinion) blog material next week, I wanted to give a quick personal update, especially about how the pregnancy is going. Aside from the pregnancy, life is busy, but deeply good. I'm in the midst of midterms, but genuinely enjoying my classes. I am taking Greek II, Gospels, and Kingdom of God (Joshua-Monarchy). My husband remains one of the hardest working people I know, putting in 75-hour weeks. Our date nights have continued to be necessary, and we welcome them eagerly. 

The pregnancy continues to be free of complications, a fact which still surprises me when I think about it. I am no longer expecting miscarriage as I was in the first few weeks, but the fear still lingers. 

Just today we had an OB appointment and we had a new nurse who could not find the heartbeat on the first try. She left the room without saying much, and in those 2-3 minutes that she was gone, I had gone to The Dark Place. Luckily, my husband was there with me. She came back in and saw that I was upset and apologized profusely for not communicating more clearly; she simply didn't know what she was doing and wanted someone to help her. On the second try, she found a good, strong heartbeat quickly and continued to apologize for scaring me. 

That continues to be my fear: going in for an appointment and getting bad news. It doesn't make sense logically to me since I've started feeling the baby move, but logic has very little to do with the matter. 

We are attempting to find out the sex of the baby next month, and we will deal with the unpleasantries at that time, if they come. I have started to get a little bump, and though my energy is back I am still sick. If you are interested in following the "boring" details week to week, I do have a personal blog that you can follow. I don't even proofread what I write there, so be warned; it's purely for our family's record keeping. But here it is if you're interested. While it is purely personal, I don't consider it private. 

Blessings to you all as Spring (or Autumn if you're in the Southern Hemisphere) rolls around. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unemployed or Underemployed?

'American Unemployment from Jan 2008 through May 2010' photo (c) 2010, Chuck Simmins - license: my husband and I moved to California a year and a half ago, we had no jobs lined up, only a spot in grad school. Upon arriving, we settled into our new town and immediately started applying for jobs. After we arrived in California, it was about two months before we found work, although even then I was underemployed and continued looking for work.

But we look back upon those months as some of the best we’ve had. Although money was tight, we decided to make the best out of our situations. Here are some of the things we did that helped us not only survive, but thrive:

Learn to live on very little money. We achieved this mostly through becoming coupon masters. We studied our store circulars, made use of the great resource of Money Saving Mom, and learned how to get many products for free. Now that we’re both in grad school and working, this skill still comes in handy. In addition, it forced me to learn my new city very quickly.

Host a TV or movie marathon party. During our months of unemployment, we planned a fun day for a Lord of the Rings marathon. We didn’t have friends in our new town at this time, but if you do, invite some close friends. If you don’t have the DVDs you need, make use of free trial memberships for Blockbuster, Netflix, or another movie rental company. Or try your local library.

Get healthy. While we were unemployed, my husband lost 40 lbs and I lost 25. We had time to cook fresh, healthy meals and we made use of trial memberships at the local gym. We also went for bike rides, long walks, and played tennis. These activities not only led to physical health, but they lifted our moods. I know that many people gain weight during unemployment, but you can buck the trend. And, to be frank, one of the best ways to save money is to simply eat less.

Become a great cook. Learn to make soups, sauces, and other things that we typically buy canned from scratch. Try to make demanding recipes that you’ve never had time to learn. Beef bourguignon anyone? Learn to make your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants at home. (I plan to tackle Tikka Masala next summer.) Not only will this save you money, but you will hone your cooking skills and reap the rewards for life.

Tackle a project you’ve never had time to do. Build a bike, start a garden, or write a book. Pick something that engages the unused parts of your skill set. I tackled a family tree project, and I guarantee that my husband was glad I had something to occupy myself with.

Volunteer your time. You might not have funding to contribute to great causes, but you do have the time. Clean the local park, visit the local nursing home, or email your church’s pastor to ask where they need some hands on deck. Explain your situation so that people realize you might have to reassess your commitment when you find a job.

Foster important relationships. One of the reasons our months of unemployment were some of the best months we’ve had since being married was because my husband and I were able to spend a lot of quality time together. Those months were like a second honeymoon for us. If you are unemployed and your spouse it not, ask him/her how you can serve them and do it. Married or not, seek to serve and love others in your life. Call your grandma and ask her questions about her life. Email an old teacher and thank him for his contribution to your life. Write a snail mail letter to a friend. Pray frequently and spend time listening to God.

Have you ever spent time unemployed or underemployed? What did you do to make the most of that challenging time?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Husband, the Provider: Part 2

Yesterday I asked the question, Is the husband supposed to be the provider for his family? You can read Husband, the Provider: Part 1, which included my personal background and an explanation as to why I'm addressing this topic. 

What the Bible Says

I know that just because something doesn't sit well with me doesn't mean it is unbiblical or unwise. I am a sinner, and because of that my judgment is not inherently Godly nor selfless. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't sit right with me because I am bent toward looking out for myself instead of others. This is one reason God gave us His Scriptures: We need correction.

But when I turn to Scripture, I don't find any support for the notion that the husband should be the provider for a family. I do find support for the idea that all people should be hard workers so that they are good witnesses to the watching world, and so that they should not be a drain on their community (1 Thess 4:9-12). I find support for women who are entrepreneurs (Prov 31:10-31) and business women (Acts 16:14). And I find that distinct gender roles are a result of The Fall, not a result of God's design (my post on Gen 1-3). 

There are two scriptures that I have seen as references for prescriptive gender roles of male employment and female homemaking. They are Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 5:8

'The househusband' photo (c) 2011, José Orsini - license:, I would like to quickly clarify that Titus 2:3-5 has nothing to do with income or the duties of men. It is about women being responsible instead of being lazy, unkind, or selfish. It does not say that men should not do those things listed. I have no problem working for the good of my home, but that verse neither prohibits me from working outside the home nor does it exclude my husband from the responsibilities of housework. Those conclusions are, at best, a result of weak exegesis. Moreover, this verse begs for us to have a real discussion about the false separation between income-producing activities and tending to our home. 

But Titus 2:5 also reveals one of my biggest pet peeves with Bible interpretation as it applies to gender: Just because the Bible says men or women should do something, that doesn't mean it prohibits the other sex from also doing that same thing. 

Now to 1 Timothy 5:8. As is the case with many verses, the Bible translators here have used male pronouns, but this Scripture simply is not talking about men, it is talking about all people. There is no gender indication in this verse at all. All articles and nouns could be masculine, feminine, or neuter. (However, even if the articles and nouns were masculine, that would still not indicate "men to the exclusion of women." When a masculine gender is used in Greek, it simply means "all people" unless the context specifies.) This verse is about us, all of us, taking care of our families, perhaps specifically in regard to widows and the aging. In fact, you could even make an argument that this verse, based on the context, is addressing widows themselves.

Our discussion of Scripture as it applies to gender could continue, but from what I can tell, the teaching that men are supposed to be the provider for a family is not based on the Bible. 


Of course, I understand why these traditional roles exist. Some women suffer morning sickness or "baby brain" during pregnancy. Most women need to physically recover after birth. Some women breastfeed. Because of these things, men have been physically freer to leave the home for work. I get it. It is often sensible, in many couples, for the man to be the breadwinner. 

But that doesn't mean all couples should function that way.

The decision that men are to be the breadwinners might be wisest for many couples, but for other couples, things might look differently. In many couples, the man might want to stay home with the kids and the woman might thrive being the breadwinner. Or they both might want to work part-time. Or, heaven forbid, non-parental childcare might be a good option too! Not all couples find themselves fulfilling traditional roles, and if it works, that should be as encouraged as any other system.

However, when non-traditional couples are given as examples to some traditionalists, I have often heard either 1) "Yeah, but is it good for that man to stay at home? Isn't there something wrong with him if he doesn't feel the responsibility to provide?" or 2) "How could any woman be okay with leaving her children all day long?"

'Till mit Tragetuch' photo (c) 2006, Till Westermayer - license: should probably be addressed in a separate post, a post on the decision mothers make to stay at home or work. It's a topic that needs some honest discussion. But briefly, I don't see why we should expect fathers to be okay with leaving their children all day long. Any parent should have a hard time parting with their new babies, even dads. Of course it's hard for mothers to go to work after having a new child, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't.

As to #1: I understand that many men feel the need to provide, and I understand that this drive is often a good, even Godly, sentiment. Men are absolutely called by God to care for other people, not to be derelict in caring for their families and friends. But how that responsibility is executed is not the same for all men. Some men want to earn money, others want to change diapers and be a homeschooling dad. The important thing is that couples come together as partners and figure out what works best for them.

However, I think the male drive to provide can be a culturally-acceptable idol, and that is a serious problem. If you feel the need to do anything, that thing is probably an idol for you. As Tim Keller says, idols are "good things that become ultimate things." If you are a man and you feel as if you are a failure because your wife makes more money than you, you're most likely dealing with an idol. Men are not defined by what they do; men are defined by GodAny attempt to prove your identity or worth is idolatry. 

Often, our areas of giftedness from God are where we are most likely to develop idols. Women (including myself) who are tempted to feel incomplete without children are battling idolatry. It is a culturally-encouraged idol, but it's an idol nonetheless. The same is true for men who feel that their manhood depends upon their ability to provide.

The male drive to provide can also be an idol because sometimes men are placing burdens on their own shoulders that are ultimately God's burdens. Yes, we are to be God-like, but that does not mean that we are to put ourselves in the place of God. God, not the husband or wife, is the ultimate provider for all families. He is Jehovah-Jireh. Our duty is to seek first His Kingdom, trusting that "all these things" will be provided for us (Matt 6:24-34). Throughout Scripture, things might get tough, but God provides (and he often provides through other humans). 

While husbands and wives should be partners, responsibly making decisions about income and childcare, they are not ultimately responsible for providing for their family; God is. Even husbands who have taken on the sole breadwinning responsibility in their home are not the ones who are providing; God is.

Now, to clarify, let me carefully explain what I am not saying:

I am not saying that families with a stay-at-home mom and an employed dad are unbiblical or sexist. I am saying that every couple should figure out what works best for their situation; the Bible is not prescriptive in this regard. 

I am not saying that men should be lazy, irresponsible, or negligent toward their families. Rather, I am saying that all people within the Christian community are expected to be diligent workers as much as they are able. 

I am not saying that husbands should place the burden of providing onto their wives. That is a reversal of tradition, but it overcorrects and is also an error. The ultimate burden to provide for Christians is placed on God's shoulders, and our duty is to work hard and seek first God's kingdom, not our own. 

I am not saying that the drive to provide is inherently bad. But I am saying that the drive to provide can be idolatrous and show a lack of trust in God.

So, what do you think? Are there any Scriptures I left out? A whole book could be written about this topic, and I'm sure many of you have thoughts on the subject. I would especially love to hear from men.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Husband, the Provider: Part 1

'Don Draper style' photo (c) 2011, _caas - license: the husband supposed to be the provider for his family?

This is a question I've been meaning to address for some time now. It's a big issue that is very personal for a lot of people, so I want to be cautious and thorough in my words. I have broken up this post into two parts, and I have organized it for easy skimming. Let me begin by explaining my personal background.

Personal History

I grew up in a very traditional home. When my parents were newlyweds, they both worked. In fact, according to family legend, for that first year of their marriage my mother brought in more income than my father. Soon, however, my mother was pregnant, so my dad searched for a job that would provide him the opportunity to climb the income ladder a bit. When he found it, he and my mom moved across the country so that he could pursue his career and provide for his new family. Since that move and my sister's birth, my mother has never worked full-time. 

My mother was a brilliant stay-at-home mother who volunteered at local ministries, was involved with the PTA, helped us with our homework, and drove us from sporting event to music recital. She was in no way lazy or spoiled. My father provided nearly all of the income for our family and he taught us to be very responsible with our resources. He worked hard at work, but he was also very involved in our schooling, took care of our family's house and property, and taught me how to turn a double-play and fire a gun. I was truly happy most of the time, and I think the division of labor system that my parents used worked well. 

My husband and I are childless, and for the past four years we have both worked, each bringing in about the same amount of money. In the future, however, he will probably make substantially more than me, and I am fine with that. I am not threatened by his earning potential because I believe that marriage must include the coming together of all aspects of life, including finances. Our income has always been ours, never his nor mine. 

Impetus for Addressing this Issue Now

I read two things recently that convinced me that we must continue dialoguing about this issue. First, a reader left this comment on a popular blog post, Gender Stereotypes, and it left me completely flabbergasted. If you don't think this topic needs to be addressed, the sentence that simultaneously saddened and angered me was:

"We actually got kicked out of a church because they believed so strongly that men need to be the "financial providers of the family"."
Second, Owen Strachan recently wrote this post over at Her.meneutics. His initial post frustrated me, but his second post dealt much more with the issue of the husband needing to provide for his family. Here are some quotes from his second piece:
"I try to help out [with housework] where I can, but I am called of God to break my back to provide for my family so that my wife can care for my children and also my home in order that they and it might flourish." 
"Women, not men, are to work at home."
The notion that men, and not women, are the ones who have a God-given requirement to provide for their families is not a new one. But it is one that needs exploration.

In addition, when I read For Women Only while Josh and I were dating, I was also exposed to the notion that men have a God-given drive to be the breadwinners, and that this is a good thing. There's a whole chapter in For Women Only about the male drive to provide (with the subtitle "How his need to provide weighs your man down, and why he likes it that way"), but here's a little quote:

"As one young man told me, "My job is to worry about providing so that my wife doesn't have to. That's one way I show her I love her"" (80). 
That chapter never sat well with me, and I am beginning to understand why.

What the Bible Says

I know that just because something doesn't sit well with me doesn't mean it is unbiblical or unwise. I am a sinner, and because of that my judgment is not inherently Godly nor selfless. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't sit right with me because I am bent toward looking out for myself instead of others. This is one reason God gave us his Scriptures: We need correction.

To be continued tomorrow in Husband, the Provider: Part 2.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is Marriage Before Children Just Extended Dating?

A few weeks ago I watched this video promoting The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. I love the Kellers, and I have learned a tremendous amount from them. I don't agree with all of their views about gender and marriage, but that has never been a problem for me. I have been able to recognize that they simply have different convictions based on what I know has been a very careful reading of Scripture on their part. Usually, when they say things that rub me the wrong way, I am able to accept the difference and mentally move on.

But a little after 1 hour and 12 minutes into this video, they say something that has been bothering me for the past few weeks. Try as I might, I haven't been able to shake it.

Tim: Kathy always says that you're really not married until you do have children. Before that, it's sort of a long date.

Kathy: It's absolutely true. You're on a really long date until the kids show up.

Now, I don't know how to process this claim. The claim is purely anecdotal which makes it hard to engage with. But I'm going to try.

To be honest, my first response is to feel deeply hurt by it, but I know that just because something is hurtful doesn't mean it is untrue or unkind. Sometimes the truest, kindest words bring pain, and I am okay with living in that reality. But I'm not sure this claim is true, so the pain isn't easy to accept.

I feel pain from this claim because, try as we might, we're still not parents. And does that mean that Josh and I aren't "really married"? If so, boy does that add a heap of pain and pressure to our struggle to have children. As if a miscarriage and fruitless trying to conceive weren't enough, now we have to question the legitimacy of our marriage?

I understand that our marriage will change drastically when our kids show up, but does a change in any marriage indicate that the previous season wasn't the real thing? A number of things bring change to a marriage: illness, loss, a career change, spiritual growth, etc. Marriages go through many seasons. This fluid characteristic of marriage is something that should be expected and accepted, not something that should be used to make some marriages seem more legitimate than others. 

Isn't this similar to the reasoning some people use to explain divorce?: "Oh, we're not the same people we were when we got married." Change isn't a reason for divorce; change is inevitable. Marriage is not built on a foundation of changelessness; marriage is built on commitment, a commitment that must exist because change exists. Once you've said those vows, the marriage is, in my mind, real. It might not be challenging at that point, but it's real.

Or are the Kellers right?

Are couples who have been married 3 months and have never faced a single hardship really married?

Are couples who marry at 50 and have children from previous marriages really married?

Where Abraham and Sarah really married before Isaac came along? Jacob and Rachel?

Are couples like Carl and Ellie in Up really married? (Also, thank you Pixar for telling a love story that involved a miscarriage and childlessness. We need more of those in our collective memory!)

How does this work? I don't think it does, but I could be wrong.

I think this is the type of thinking that heaps pain atop pain for couples who are childless either by choice or by hardship. And I think it unnecessarily pressures couples into feeling like they must have kids in order to legitimize their marriage.

I'm pretty sure I understand what the Kellers meant to communicate when answering the question in the video. But I am disappointed because they are usually thoughtful and careful about what they say, and I don't think these words were fully thought out.

But enough about what I think. What do you think? Parents, I'd especially love to hear from you. I'd also love to hear from couples who have been through the empty-nesting years. That is a major marital transition that might be similar to the early years of parenting. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 6: Tough Times

'Divorce and Children' photo (c) 2010, o5com - license: blunt confession here: I hate divorce. I don't hate divorcees, but I hate the causes of divorce and the pain that results from divorce. I want to do everything I can to build up my own marriage and the marriages of my family and friends. 

I recently heard an interesting statistic that I thought was worth sharing:

Over two-thirds of unhappy couples will be happy again if they stick it out for five years.

I heard this recently from Tim Keller. (The shortest video clip I can find with the quote is here, around minute 4:30.) Tim and Kathy Keller have written a new book, The Meaning of Marriage. I have yet to read it, but most of my understanding about marriage comes from the Kellers, so I whole-heartedly recommend it.

As Kathy says, many people want to ditch when the going gets hard, but marriage takes an investment. And like a financial investment, you ride out the low times; you don't jump ship. 

So if you are discouraged and unhappy about your marriage, I hope this is encouraging. I know you might feel lonely and miserable, but please know that a) you are not alone, and b) all hope is not lost. 

When Josh and I hit a rough patch, please remind me of my vows, vows which were meant to prevent us from jumping ship.

Also, please know that if you are divorced, I have no condemnation for you. It's hard to speak clearly and strongly against divorce without making divorcees feel bad, so please don't read condemnation in my words. The Bible does allow some reasons for divorce, and I understand that sometimes it is the necessary course of action.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Male-female Differences: a Win-win

A friend who works in a Christian school (attached to a church) texted this photo to me last week. She found it in the youth room. I would apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but I like that the medium matches the message. 

I don't think I even need to explain the horrors found within this photo. But I will say that I couldn't actually believe my eyes as they squinted to see the photo on my little phone. If anyone knows the source of this photo (it looks like a coloring book to me, which is even more horrifying), I'd love to be informed.

Read this to discover some of what I would have to say about a marriage like this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 5: Date Nights

I finally have a reason to put a photo of Tine Fey in a blog post. Win! But seriously, isn't she awesome?

Now for the topic at hand: date nights.

Josh and I are only in our fourth year of marriage, so I'm certainly not an expert on marriage. But I do want us to be able have very frank and respectful conversations about what our marriages really look like. So here's what I hope will be a conversation starter:

Josh and I did not need to go on dates until this year. 

To clarify, I'm talking about dating in marriage. When we were dating and engaged we obviously went on dates so that we could see each other. And we loved to go on dates. We expected that once we got married we would keep a weekly date night as strictly as we keep our Sabbath. In fact, we felt like we had to keep a weekly date night in order to have a good marriage. Honestly, I think some well-intentioned people even told us that it was a requirement in all good marriages.

But we (and they) were wrong. It turns out that we didn't need to go on a weekly date night to stay connected. We worked together, often spending all day together. We communicated easily and fought very little. I know it might sound crazy to some people, but if we needed to schedule anything to keep our marriage healthy it wasn't date nights, it was time alone and time spent having fun with peers. 

So why do I bring this up? Because now we've instituted weekly date nights. In fact, we've schedule two: a mini date night midweek and a real date night on Fridays. So what has changed?

Honestly, I think we've become a bit more normal now. We're not working together any longer and our schedules are extremely full. Our communication doesn't come as easily as it used to and we are finding it more difficult to connect in a significant way. We still love and like each other, but things have simply gotten harder.

If our connectedness used to get an A+ rating, we've slipped into the B+ category. While a B+ might be a great score for a lot of marriages, we know that things will only get harder and continue to decline if we don't enact some changes. We don't want to wait to give our marriage a tune-up when we're in the C, D, or F category. (Also, now that Josh knows our connectedness can be given a letter grade, his competitiveness has kicked in. He's a bit of an overachiever.)

So, I'd love to hear from you! 

If you're married, do you go on dates? What do you do on date nights? What might help make ours great?

If you don't go on date nights, there is no judgment here. I don't expect everyone's marriage to look like ours. Marriages and marriage advice aren't one size fits all. We'll never tell you that if you don't go on them your marriage is doomed. That seems a bit like false marital dogma to me.

As my mom used to say ad nauseam, "If it applies, apply it, if not, ignore it." She's pretty smart. I'm going to add to her advice, especially in regard to marriage advice you might receive:

If it applies, apply it. If it doesn't apply, store it away because you never know when it will come in handy.

From Dating to Marriage series:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 3: Sex Before Marriage

'glue' photo (c) 2007, lylamerle - license: lot of the conversation during this series, From Dating to Marriage, has revolved around avoiding marriage to an ill-suited life partner.

In Part 1: Pre-Engagement Counseling, I addressed how vital pre-engagement counseling can be for some couples who are pursuing marriage. While premarital counseling is helpful, it sometimes makes the best of a bad situation rather than leading to the termination of an unhealthy relationship. The momentum of engagement can feel unstoppable.

In Part 2: Preparing for Marriage while Single, I gave a few suggestions for singles who are pursuing marriage. Two of those suggestions involved not entering a dating relationship with someone who is ill-suited for you. If you don't start dating someone who isn't marriage material, momentum will not lead you toward marrying them.

As you can tell in both of these conversations, I do not trust the natural momentum in romantic relationships. I think that our best judgment is often cast aside when it is most needed. And one of the factors I find most to blame for relational momentum is our sexuality. 

Most (but not all) of us have the urge to merge. There is nothing wrong with our desire for sex and intimacy. Our sexuality reveals our God-given design for community, sharing, and pleasure. This aspect of humanity is a beautiful thing that reflects the beauty of the Trinity, the beauty of Christ and His Church, and the beauty of creation.

Like all good things, our sexuality suffers from our brokenness, both personally and communally. Too often, sex is less about sharing and more about getting. Or sex can easily become an idol or drug; many of us use it as something that defines us, and others use it as something that numbs them to reality. 

But my argument for abstaining from sex before marriage is not because of how broken our sexuality is. While there are good reasons to abstain because of our sexual brokenness, I have always found them unhelpful to the abstinence conversation at large. Sure, some or most of us want to have sex for the wrong reasons, but arguments for abstinence based out of the negative aspects of sexuality are easy to dismiss by saying, "Well, I don't struggle with that issue, so then having sex is fine for me."

My argument for abstaining from sex before marriage is based on how amazing and powerful sex is, not how harmful sex is.

Both science and my experience confirm that God has designed sex to bond people. Sure, not all sexual encounters lead to deep bonding, but they should. God was the original Pavlov. Chemically, our bodies respond to touch, sex, and orgasm. The positive hormones that are released actually train our brains to be favorable toward the person we've shared a sexual experience with. 

Within marriage, this is brilliant. Life together causes strain on a marriage, but sex should create pleasure, and pleasure trains your brain to be favorable towards your partner: "Oh you, I like you. You're fun to be with." Not only are we training our brains to look favorably upon our sexual partners when we sleep with them, but we are releasing built-up stress. Living together, paying the bills, and raising the kids all create stress. Thank God for the release valve of sex.

BUT, outside of marriage, sex acts in the same way; we become bonded to one another and the stresses of the relationship are more easily overcome. And that is not ideal when discerning whether or not someone makes an ideal life partner. You should be bonding to the person, not to their body or to what they do for you sexually. And you need to develop better ways than sex to overcome conflict when dating. Those perks are great within marriage, but a marriage built upon sex as a problem solver is not healthy. 

When making the decision to marry, arguably the most important decision of your life, sex can cloud your judgment. Of course, any physical intimacy can cloud your judgment, which is why I believe any physical progression should be entered into cautiously. For many people, not being physically involved with your boyfriend/girlfriend might actually be the best choice, especially when the relationship is new. 

I know this might sound crazy to a lot of people. I really do get it. "Sex is such an important part of a relationships. How could you take that out and still know if you should marry someone?" I have a few answers to this. 

First, sex changes over time, so just because you have great sex with someone now doesn't mean you will forever. I've heard this is especially true for women after giving birth. Many couples have to relearn sex after birth because the woman's body is forever changed. 

Second, you can learn to have great sex with someone, so bad sex while dating might actually undermine a great relationship that could lead to an amazing marriage. Of the married couples I know, most would say that the sex they are having now is better than the sex they had when they were first married. 

Third, there are periods in many marriages when sex is not possible. If sex was a foundation of your decision to get married, these seasons will be rockier than they already are. Marriage should be built on something stronger, and sex should be a reinforcement and refresher.

It's given that all sexual relationships, marital and otherwise, are mixed together with sin and brokenness. I don't know a single person without sexual baggage. (They might exist, but they're as elusive as Big Foot in my life.) But even in the situation where two people are dating and simply want to have sex for purely selfless and loving motives, I still don't think it's a good idea. And if abstinence is a good idea for them, it's a good idea for those of us with some selfish sexual motives.

I don't think God advises us to remain sexually pure until marriage because He's a prude. I really think He does it to protect us. Obeying God in this area is valuable even if it doesn't make sense to you. But this was my attempt at explaining why I think God gets this one 100% right. 

I could write much more, but I'll refrain. I'd rather hear from you. What did I miss? What other conclusions can you draw? Do you have any personal experiences that contradict or support God's call to keep sex only within marriage?

From Dating to Marriage series:

Friday, August 26, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 2: Preparing for Marriage while Single

'Bouquet toss' photo (c) 2008, John Mayer - license: Dating to Marriage, Part 1: Pre-Engagement Counseling

To continue our conversation about dating and marriage, I'd like to take things a step further by saying that even single people can begin preparing for marriage. What's the best way to do that? I'm sure there are lots of great ways, but these come to mind first:

1) Accept the fact that you are single because God loves you, not because God is holding out on you. Don't try to explain away your singleness with shallow, conciliatory cliches. He has you where He wants you, and that is to be single. Paige Benton Brown says it much better in this article:

"I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single. The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me."

Seriously, read all of her article Singled Out by God for Good, and maybe even print out the .pdf version to share with your small group. Even as a married woman living in the land of Want in regard to having children, that article speaks truth I need to hear.

2) Replace the lies we have all learned from the broken marriages around us with a redeemed vision of marriage. How do you do this when no one has a perfect marriage? Reading the Bible, listening to sound biblical teaching, and spending time with emotionally healthy couples will go a long way. 

My vision of marriage was crafted most by The Marriage Series by Tim Keller. While the series is incredibly helpful for married couples, I think it might actually have more value for singles (and dating couples) who are learning about the vision and purpose of marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller are also releasing a book on marriage this Fall, which I expect will be very similar to the sermon series. I disagree with them on some minor points (mostly about gender roles), but I don't have to agree with everything Tim and Kathy say to admit that they have a good grasp on why God created marriage.

In short, you can't get married for the right reasons unless you know what the right reasons are. 

3) Don't date losers. If you don't date losers, you won't marry a loser, and that will save you (and those who love you) decades of heartache. 

Now, to clarify, losers is a very harsh word. I recognize that, but the point holds. I am NOT advocating that you wait for the perfect man/woman before you start dating. No one will be perfect, so while you shouldn't date losers, you will always date sinners. There is a big difference. What is the difference in my mind? 

Sinners admit that they aren't perfect and need help. Sinners make mistakes, but they also try to learn from them. Sinners want to serve before being served, even if they have selfish moments. Sinners might be hurtful but they aren't abusive. Losers, on the other hand, are selfish, abusive, or lazy. 

I'm sure there are other ways to indicate that someone is a loser, but the basic principal applies: If you don't date someone, the momentum will never carry you toward marrying them. 

4) Don't date someone who is not a good partner for you. There might be someone who is a great person, but that doesn't make them a great life partner for you. Marriage is, in my opinion, more about partnership than about romance. So even if you have great chemistry and your parents like him or her, that doesn't mean that you should be partners for life. 

To clarify, I am NOT advocating that you make a list and refuse to date anyone who doesn't meet your standards. I'm not a big believer in lists for spouses unless the list is very short. I would have put a lot of dumb things down on my list that might have disqualified my husband. I'm so glad God knew what I needed. A vague list of sorts might work, but I would suggest following only the spirit of your created law, not the letter of it.

But, what I am advocating is that you find someone who is on the same journey as you, someone who has the same values and vision for life. Most differences can be overcome or even humorous. But differences that send you in two different directions are not easy to overcome. And again, just as with point 3, if you don't start dating someone who would make a poor life partner, you won't find yourself hurling toward marriage.

Now, I know there are a lot of singles out there trying to be content and to not think about marriage. For some of you, marriage might even be an idol that you have had to submit to God. In either of these cases, ask a trusted friend for help as you try to navigate the waters of singleness and dating with clarity and purpose. I don't mean this blog to be yet another thing that makes it difficult to be content. I hope these are helpful tips rather than hurtful to where you are in your journey.

From Dating to Marriage series:
Part 1: Pre-Engagement Counseling
Part 3: Sex Before Marriage
Interlude: Music Video!
Part 4: Oh, Dating...
Part 5: Date Nights
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