I strongly believe that we are living in a culture, generation, and society that has strayed far from the true understanding of what marriage is. Looking back over the last 20+ years as a "church going Christian", it is sad to say that the church standard for marriage is not much different than society's. We are suffering from the same issues, and have the same divorce rate statistics.
What are we teaching? What are we not teaching? We should be impacted by that reality. That marriages built as Christ followers should be different.
Thinking back over the years, I realize now how silly some of the ideas are we share (in "corporate" church) regarding marriage. It is almost as if the church dismisses marriage with "cookie cutter" molds because it doesn't have a better answer for the staggering problem. And as a result, we are led to believe that we will (somehow) spend the rest of our lives in marital bliss. But sadly, these useless and impractical myths go passed unchecked. Is this information really any good? Is it something I can use and fall back on in the years to come? We can't continue saying and doing the same things, and expect a different result.
I think it is time to call this thing for what it is, and go behind the curtain to expose the wizard (so to speak). So what I want to share with you here, are a few of the myths that I have personally encountered. And I want to debunk them in light of the reality that marriage is.
First of all, it is going to sound like I'm being hard on the church. And I am! If the world around us doesn't have anywhere to look to see how marriage should be, then what hope is there? If the illustration of marriage presented by Christ is not lived out for the world to see, then by what standard or value will we attribute marriage too? Christianity has a way of dumbing difficult issues down to present a nice and neat package. Or we just avoid them all together for the sake of saving face. And so I warn you in advance, you may not like what you read. These are my opinions based off my experience and beliefs.
These are all equally important "issues" and are in no particular order.
1. What we say, what we don't say.
The very first issue that comes to my mind is in regards to what is taught versus what is not. There are 52 weeks in a year, and how many of those are spent discussing the biggest decision you will ever make next to salvation? It is bad enough that most of us will only learn how to do this thing called marriage with "on the job training" (so to speak). Most of us are never taught how to do this thing called marriage. We signed up for the most important and potentially difficult task of our lives, with no knowledge or training. Most premarital counseling I've come across is a joke. I think about all the things that I learned in school growing up. And how much of that information had anything to do with marriage.
So society isn't offering a solution in the area of equipping either. Don't count on society to teach you. We will spend more time researching a new car, than learning how to live next to the person we will commit the rest of our lives too.
What about divorce?
Let's face it, we don't like talking about divorce when half the church falls under that category. That is sensitive territory. We don't want to talk about sex either, because that's rated "R" and you don't discuss that in church. You're not supposed to talk about the bedroom in church. We will talk about financing the new church building however. And if don't tithe, the "locusts" will eat your "plunder". We ignore issues like anger, depression, complacency, addictions and secrets that destroy relationships. By all means, let's keep it neat and clean! No one wants to leave church with the task of having to go home, and talk about all the garbage that's been hiding under their rug.
It might save their marriage though...
I have one last question for this topic: do our children deserve the same?
We complain about how messed up the world and our society is, yet most of the issues our children will be subject to (their model for marriage) happen under "our" roof. We are their marital role models. I would not wish divorce on my worst enemy, much less imagine my children having to endure it. While I understand we cannot control what decisions they make, or what they do. We can do everything in our power to set them up for success. We have got to man up and start talking about difficult subjects, and stop worrying about what other people think. Drop the pride and lose the fake Sunday masks we hide behind, because we don't want people to think we are screwed up. We are all in the same boat. It's time to start having tough discussions as a body of believers. And let God heal our Land - the land of family, relationship, and marriage.
One of the most frightening words spoken in the House of God, next to divorce and porn. Yet, you are here now because "sex" happened. In fact, lots of people probably show up at church feeling great because they had sex before coffee, got the kids dressed, and made it to 2nd service on time. That's the recipe to the start of a good Sunday! In fact, the strangest place you can go to hear about sex is - The Bible! Yep...that's right. There is more sex in The Bible than a Howard Stern talk show. And I mean crazy and wild stuff too! The same book we read from the pulpit on Sunday morning, and read to the kids before they go to sleep. Yet we refuse to use it's principles in church, to learn the values of sexuality. We (especially) refuse to address it in context of marriage or premarital counseling, where it is most needed. In fact the only principle that I can recall ever being reinforced and revisited on multiple occasions is - "don't have sex before marriage".
If you tell a child not to look in the closet, and then leave that child alone in the house; what is the first thing they are going to go do? It is human nature to explore the forbidden. As a child grows up, their innocence begins to war with their curiosity. When we hit puberty, we start having thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the opposite sex that we have never had before. I bet most of us can recall the first time you saw someone of the opposite sex nude. We were given a sex drive by God, and everything He created He called good! But without wisdom, understanding, value, and guidance - we are inevitably led by our feelings and passion. We spend so much time trying to prevent people from behaving a certain way, thinking we are going to help them not do what we did. Because no one taught us this stuff either. If we talk about sex in a way that empowers us to be pure and responsible, by the non-condemning standards set by God - we can revolutionize sexuality. There is no better example to use here than gun control. If you teach someone all about firearms; how they work, how to handle them, the dangers they pose etc. They almost always have a greater respect for them. Handling them carefully, wisely, and without incident. Even children taught to use a firearm properly, rarely have issues when compared to those who are just told to avoid them all together.
Wisdom is power in this case. If a child is raised understanding the entire concept of sexuality and purity in regards to biblical standards, there is a greater chance they may choose purity. Out of a God given conviction in their soul, rather than a mandate made by religious thinking. Let's face it, most people these days fall at least once before they marry. And the ones who go the distance are few and far between. It's bad enough that the world is against us. Our entire culture is drenched in sexuality and sexual themes. You can't escape it. And to be honest, if I had to choose - I'd rather someone slip up in their purity and save their marriage. Than slip up anyway and end up divorced. Teaching children and young adults simply not to have sex until they are married isn't going to cut it. Worst case scenario, you end up with infatuated couples with raging hormones running off to the chapel to get married. Because they are too convicted to have sex before they get married. So they get married to have guilt free sex. This is sad! But so true! We have to re-think our "sex talk" strategies. Either outcome is not the best one. But one is worse than the other. If two people have sex before marriage, that's not God's desire. But in light of divorce on top of that...? We are insulting the intelligence of the next generation that needs proper mentoring, instruction, and godly examples to follow. We are being poor stewards of the responsibility to demonstrate what God's intention for sex is; all because we dumb it down or refuse to talk about it entirely. I could go on and on, but I'm hoping you get the point.
3. Never Settle
This mentality actually bothers me a lot. In the age of "Paris Hiltons", The Real World, and "Kim Kardashians" - we have this false idea of perfection. If the absence of teaching and knowledge are one extreme, the idea of "never settling" is the other. Because the problem is, you indeed - never settle. Settling would ultimately mean "choosing". So if you never settle, you are essentially saying you will never choose someone. And that leaves already frustrated people confused, angry, and subject to a lot of bad decision making. As well as lost time. The idea is that there might always be someone better out there. The idea is "this person has X characteristics I like, but what if they had X characteristics instead?" So the hunt continues. Then five years and ten boy/girl friends later, a very frustrated and confused "thirty something" year old man/woman is wondering "what is wrong with me?" - or - "where are all the good men/women?"
Among other things...
If you were to ask these very same people if they thought they were being too picky they would say "of course not!" Which is usually followed up with "I don't expect them to be perfect". But in actuality - you do! And that was ingrained in you with this extreme line of thinking. It is the marital "fear tactic" of all. Just never settle! And you will never have to worry about making a poor choice.
Let me tell you the truth, you will settle! The only way to avoid settling is to never marry. And at face value, this philosophy masquerades as wisdom. But the truth is, it is rooted in selfishness. It says that you deserve what you deserve and you don't have to spend the rest of your life with anything less. And while you have the freedom to choose, try carrying that same philosophy into your marriage. It doesn't work! That line of thinking is all about entitlement.
What I am not saying is to have no standards. Or to not choose wisely with no discretion. But there is a difference between maturity and balance when using discretion. The characteristics that should be taken into account first are the ones that show the greatest signs of making a marriage go the distance. The second part of that equation would be to apply the same level of prejudice and discretion on yourself as you do another person. Because at least 50% of the time it's not the other person that causes the divorce. It's you! Just something to think about...
Here is an excerpt from a book I recently read. The author (a well-known pastor of a large church) describes the many women who have met him for counseling. Some of who are married and fed up; others that are single and fed up. Both seem to be longing for the absence of what they consider a godly man. Now the context here is referring to women looking for men (I didn't write the book) but the same would apply for men who are looking for a "seemingly-perfect-woman". Be honest with yourself and see if your "never settle" version of the opposite sex matches this description:
"Some women visualize the ideal man as a strong, healthy, well-dressed, good-looking, aggressive, successful, dependable and responsible businessman. Others picture someone adventurous, exciting, romantic, and possibly artistic. Either way, he is interested in all things and excels in most. He loves only one woman but charms them all. He's an attentive listener and is in touch with his feelings. And most excellent of all, he is a super spiritual leader in his home.
Have you ever seen anyone who answers this description? Take heart, friend. Neither has any woman."
4. Love is enough
Simply put, "no it's not".
Love should be enough. Unfortunately, it is not. Our concept of true love and God's idea of true love are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I personally believe that every marriage will have to traverse this issue at some point. It is our human nature to take things for granted. It is our nature to not value the most important things in our possession until they are gone. And sadly, if we get those things back we may make that mistake all over again. Think about all the relationships you have had in your life that did not end up in marriage, yet you told your partner at the time "I love you". We have robbed love of it's true power. We say "I love you" like we say "I love ice cream". For some of us it means about the same, and we have about as much excitement for it. As long as the craving for ice cream is there, we can say "I love you". It's almost the same thing. Love that matters is that which says "I will never give up!" But not many are weathering the storms of life together with a "never give up" attitude.
I know not all circumstances are under our control. And I realize that one person with a "never give up" attitude can marry someone that doesn't have that same mentality. But we all have control over ourselves.
True love is selfless.
True love never gives up.
But the feelings we associate with love - not the actions that define it - are where we are failing. Don't ever think that simply saying "I love you" is enough. I understand that not all divorce is necessarily a matter of one person giving up. I'm simply stating that true love never gives up. And "feeling" based love will not be enough to hold a marriage together. What will you do when you don't feel those "feelings" anymore?
5. I'll never get divorced
This is probably the most ironic myth of them all. The idea that we think we will never see the dark day of divorce. Even with 50/50 odds, we somehow think we will be the exception. No one ever went to the altar thinking that they would be divorced. No man (that I am aware of) got down on one knee to present a ring to his bride to be - all the while thinking "I wonder if this will last?" There is something inherently strong in the early stages of love and infatuation that make two people feel invincible. And I conclude that if those feelings were sustainable throughout the days of our lives, our marriages could very well come close to invincible. But the truth is, we can't control anything in life but "us".
We also enter into relationships without knowing our partner through and through. Even they don't know themselves through and through. We don't know ourselves through and through. We truly don't know what we are capable of giving or withstanding until the very moment we are tested. And every relationship will endure such stress and tests. Still yet, we don't stay the same as people. So even if we could learn everything there is to know about each other, by the time we do - we have already changed again. So instead of thinking that we may never get divorced, a more sobering idea is that no one is above divorce. I'm not saying that we should live in fear of divorce. But live in a healthy respect that even we are capable of divorce. If someone carelessly plays with fire, eventually they will get burned. Anyone that assumes marriage is a "given" because they said "I do", is sorely mistaken. And they too will wake up burned and crushed because they thought that divorce would never happen to them. There is something about our ideals as Christians that have given us the false belief that we won't ever face divorce. After all, God hates it right? So we do too! Ask those same people their opinion on divorce after they sign the papers.
I'm not trying to sound judgmental or harsh. After all, I am a product of divorce. And I said I would never be divorced. My point is; understand that everyone is a candidate for divorce. And you are either working your way further from it, or closer to it.
My hope is that we will learn truth versus the fantasy that the Christian world paints at times. I am not pulling my punches here. I believe that the church (not a building or a name) has been called to re-present Christ, and represent Christ in all we do. And marriage is too important and too serious to not model better in a broken world. If we can't do it right for the world to see, then who will?