“If you don’t want to get stung, Kurt, stay away from the bees.” That’s what my mom used to tell me all the time. Because of an early bad experience with a wasp, my life’s mission as a child was to destroy their nests whenever and wherever possible. The thing is, I’d still get stung. Little did I know how apt an illustration that would be for our temptation toward sexual sin. If you don’t want to get stung by sexual sin, stay away from what will inevitably sting you!
Paul’s letter to young Timothy emphatically warns him against even getting near to such dangers: “Run away from anything that stimulates youthful lust” (2 Timothy 2:22). Now’s a good time to recall what we’ve already covered: what we think and dwell upon is often what we ultimately do. When it comes to sexual sin, when we allow our thought life to become polluted by the pervasive perversions of the world, it’s not long before we try to hide behind a smokescreen of lies to cover up our sins.
God offers a prescription for that disease. In fact, it’s preventative medicine that helps free us from future pain. Proverbs 4:23-27 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (emphasis added).
“Guarding your heart” doesn’t mean living in a bubble and physically running away at the sight of every attractive person of the opposite sex. It means establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries with the opposite sex in order to protect yourself and your marriage. To start your gears turning as to how you can specifically guard your heart, consider these situations that should warn your heart and mind to make a hasty retreat:
Being alone in a private place with an unrelated member of the opposite sex.
Being alone with someone with whom you have an obvious and unhealthy attraction.
Lingering and/or inappropriate physical contact.
Unhealthy and unholy media input, like smutty romance novels or sex-centric movies and TV series (Matthew 6:22).
Emotional/physical weariness leading to moral failures.
Hanging out in tempting places.
Hanging out with bad company (1 Corinthians 15:33).
We all have hearts bent toward foolishness, and it only takes a spark to start a fire. However, when you actively work to purify your thought life, you’re ensuring that no flames start burning for anyone other than your spouse. Stop for a moment and consider what areas of your thought life need purging. Talk to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor about your issues. Let me remind you again that seeking help is a sign of courage, not weakness. Remember too that a very wise man once said, “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God is there for you in the midst of your struggle. Run to his throne with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
The grass is never greener on the other side unless the other side receives as much care and attention as your own. As you guard your heart, you’re watering your own lawn, and you will see your marriage grow and thrive.
[This is an excerpt from my recently published book: Mr. & Mrs. ~ How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage! Click HERE to order it on Amazon. BTW, when you order the print version, you get the digital version for free!]
A conflict-free marriage would be paradise, wouldn’t it?
There’s this couple who somehow managed for fifty years to have a conflict-free marriage. On the event of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, a local newspaper reporter asked them about their storied happy marriage.
“What’s the secret behind your relationship’s success? How have you both managed, for all these years, to be known as the town’s most peaceful and loving couple?”
With a gleam in his eye, Tom glanced up at the young reporter.
“Well, it began very early, on our honeymoon in fact. We went to the Grand Canyon and took a coupla’ horses to the bottom. We hadn’t gone too far down when my wife’s horse stumbled. She right near fell off the thing. I saw her give the horse a stern look, then she just said, ‘That’s once.’ About a mile later, that horse lost its footing again and made Linda drop her water. She paused, gave the horse that same stern look, then said, ‘That’s twice.’ Course, as that poor horse’s luck would have it, he stumbled yet again. This time, my wife got off her horse, took a gun from her purse, then shot the animal!”
The reporter’s eyes couldn’t have gotten any wider. “What happened then?”
“I couldn’t believe it! First off, I didn’t know she had a gun. Second, I didn’t know she knew how to use a gun. And third, I didn’t know she’d kill a horse for bein’ a horse. I shouted at her, ‘What’s wrong with you woman? Why’d you shoot that poor animal? Are you crazy?’ She slowly gazed up at me with a look I’d seen before: ‘That’s once.’”
The reporter dropped his pen and paper. “Then what?”
“We’ve been happily married ever since.”
Old Tom laughed, but the reporter couldn’t tell if he’d been fooling around or not. He published the story as-is the next day, much to Old Tom’s delight.
A Peaceful, Easy Marriage
OK, I’ll admit it. That’s a total pastor story. You know what a pastor story is? It’s an embellished illustration pastors use to make a point. Sometimes they’ve really happened and sometimes not. Sometimes they become exaggerated as more and more pastors use the story, like a spiritual game of Telephone. Although I’d like to believe the story I just shared has some origins in truth, Tom and Linda’s tall tale underscores this chapter’s divisive topic: conflict.
I hate to break it to you, but your marriage will never be conflict-free. One person + one person = two perspectives, and two perspectives = inevitable conflict. Yes, there are healthy ways to deal with and mitigate conflict, but major differences of opinion will be a constant thorn in the side of both people in the relationship. Over time, you may even begin to believe that the other person is the thorn. The most difficult part about conflict in marriages is the fact that we’re warring with the one we profess to love.
So, aside from the threat of horse-murdering violence, how can a man and woman in a covenant relationship fight without becoming enemies?
Conflict Can Be Good for You
Conflict is like dynamite. If used rightly, it helps people. Used wrongly, it kills.
Conflict is also like fire. It will burn you, but it’ll also guide your way.
The key aspect in both of those illustrations is the knowledge and experience of the one wielding the substance. If a person understands the constructive aspects of a destructive device, they’ll be much more wary about its dangers and more intent on reaping its benefits.
If you know how to deal with it, conflict can actually benefit your marriage. In fact, conflict can push your marriage to new heights, but only if you allow it to be a sanctifying process and not a game you have to win at all costs.
Let me tell you something you already know: from head to toe and body to soul, men and women are vastly different.
Let me tell you something else you already know: these God-created differences are the main source of marital conflict.
It’s a conundrum, I know.
If he created us “male and female,” why do our sharp edges always seem to cut those so near to us? Why would God create Adam and Eve for each other’s pleasure only for marriage to become a frequent hotbed of conflict?
Essentially, why would God make us so different knowing that those differences could lead to so much pain?
I’m a pastor, so you can imagine how many couples in conflict I’ve listened to over the years. Jeff and Tonya are a real couple (with fake names) that represent so many Christian married couples that have come through my door with their heads hung low, defeated by each other.
They were college sweethearts who quickly married after graduation. They bought a nice house, landed good jobs, popped out two great kids, and bought a mini-van. All seemed well on the outside, but they were both changing. After six years of marriage, they’d grown to hate each other and wanted to file for divorce. It’s a cliché wrapped in a Christian version of a Lifetime movie, and it breaks my heart every time I see it play out in the lives of my church members.
I’m glad to report that they did seek counseling and God worked to bring them back together. But first they had to unlearn what they had accepted as truth about marriage and then begin understanding the very different relational needs of men and women.
The Cycle of Covenant Love
Now, not all marriages suffer under the weight of looming or ongoing conflict, but all committed marriages consistently cycle through the four recurring stages of covenant love: Romance > Trouble > Disillusionment > Joy.
Most relationships start with the excitement of romance, all experience trials at some point, which typically leads to the valley of disillusionment or despair, but always ends in joy for those who stay the course. And joy leads to another season of romance!
However, if you think about it, each stage occurs because of the God-ordained differences between the sexes. And precisely half of the cycle is wonderful and intoxicating and half could be filled with bitter tears.
On this side of paradise, we’re lucky for such an even split. What I’m getting at is that men and women are different—and that’s completely OK! When God created the sexes, He knew what He was doing. Knowing and appreciating our differences is crucial to having healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Recognizing that our differences will cause us to occasionally face trouble and disillusionment can help us persevere through those times and find joy and romance again.
One of the most challenging yet fascinating aspects of covenant marriage is how God uses someone often so different from us to show us who we really are. Yet we’re prone to shrink back from this reality because it likely means we need to change in some way, or admit fault, or learn to be less self- serving. Too often, we refrain from asking ourselves the hard questions about our relationships because we fear the answers might have far too much to do with ourselves.
Even if you have yet to marry, it’s important for you understand the opposite gender’s needs and desires, which can enhance all of your relationships with the opposite sex.
When I was sixteen years old, I gave my heart to my wife and she’s held it close ever since. The years haven’t always been easy (I am, after all, a recovering idiot), but I’d still choose her, and she’d still choose me. I am a blessed man indeed!
But maintaining love takes work.
Here are four things I’ve learned along the way:
It ain’t always easy. Romance is but a recurring season (it comes and goes), and sometimes we’re not even sure we like each other let alone love each other. You’d think after several decades together my wife and I wouldn’t say stupid stuff or do hurtful things to each other. We do. You’d think by now we’d be communication experts. We’re not. You’d think we’d figure out how to live selflessly. We haven’t. Love ain’t easy. Never has been. Probably never will be.
It will cost you to truly love. Anything and everything of value costs us time, energy, and money. To love your spouse means sometimes you will sacrifice your agenda and schedule to satisfy theirs. It means sometimes you will serve them even when you’re dead-dog tired. It means sometimes you will invest your hard-earned cash to bless them rather than spend it (or waste it) on what you want. Sacrifice. Service. Investment. Yup…love will cost you.
It takes a sticky attitude to survive. When it’s more convenient to bail out rather than work it out, you’ll take the path of least resistance unless you’re committed to sticking it out over the long haul. Stick-to-it-tiveness is missing in many marriages today. However, love that is sticky is love that will last.
It’s always worth it. I can’t promise you a pony or a prize for hanging in there, but I can promise you joy. Joy is the result of spending your life with someone who is broken (like you) and weathering the storms with faith in a God who is bigger and better than your spouse. And joy comes when you can look forward and know in your heart, “Whatever comes and whatever we face, we will face it together by God’s grace.”
Don’t expect love to always be fun and romantic. Remember that true love takes hard work and a humble heart. And true love is what matters most.
May I pray for you?
God, your love for us cost you immeasurably. We broke your heart, yet you gave us your son. Help us to be people who will work hard for what matters. And nothing matters more than love. Amen.
“So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel.
But it only seemed like a few days, he loved her so much”