Why Marriage Fails

I am writing this on the occasion of my wife’s and mine 42nd wedding anniversary.

By today’s standards we married quite young.  She was 19 and I was barely 21.

We have one son and daughter-in-law and three precious grandchildren.  God has blessed us beyond measure, yet at one point in our marriage we nearly divorced.

The circumstances that led up to the “almost divorce” are largely irrelevant because they amounted to the single most important reason marriages fail, that of self-centeredness.

Because we both were self-centered, there was plenty of sin where I sinned against her and she against me. Sin complicates everything and we learned that the hard way.

At the time, we would not have called it sin. We knew of God, but we did not know God simply because we had not been born again (John 3:3-8). I doubt either of us thought we’d ever fight, much less contemplate divorce, and the pre-marital counseling we had (in the church in which we married) simply wasn’t realistic nor did it prepare us for much of anything.

14095972_10208989877137463_3172001838895308492_nSo, why did we stay together?

I would say the first thing was recognizing we took vows, the traditional kind; you know, the good times, bad times, sickness and in health kind of vows.

Somehow, even though we did not know God, those vows mattered and we grasped, perhaps vaguely that divorce was somehow wrong. We see it now as God’s grace working in our lives even though we did not know him in a personal, applicable way.

The crisis of considering divorce was actually another sign of God’s intervening grace working in our lives because it led us to him.

There came a time through various means that we both realized we had been born again. We also began to realize being born again meant much more than salvation and it had a bearing on our marriage and parenting. We began to understand that the gospel is of first importance and (1 Cor. 15:3) that it has application beyond salvation.

For the first time it mattered what God’s Word said about sin, marriage, children, finances, conflict, sex, and most importantly, worship. We learned, not all at once, that you cannot worship yourself and worship God at the same time.

If you worship yourself, you are bound to be self-centered and be all about your needs, your wants, and your desires. If you worship the God of the Bible, you will be more concerned about what He wants and what He says in his Word about what your priorities should be. You will, if you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, obey God even when you do not feel like it.

When God and his Word become central in a marriage the worship of self is weakened, though not fully destroyed this side of heaven. When the worship of self is weakened the worship of God is strengthened, as is the marriage relationship, because now what God says in His Word is more important than my needs, wants, and desires.  It’s not any more complicated than that and this leads to a marriage that can be relatively conflict free and even happy.

Christian marriages fail and marriage counseling fails because either one partner or both can never quite get over their self-centered worship disorder.

I’m happy to say, today, that I am grateful to God for the crisis He brought my wife and I, because it led us to him and a very happy marriage even after 42 years.

Terminal Illness

(This is a blog that I wrote in 2009. Then, as now, the subject of terminal illness has been on my mind.)

One of my best friends has cancer. He has had it for about 6-7 years. Over that time it has gotten better, then worse, then better and now worse. Each time it reoccurs the word “terminal” would be in the shadows of each conversation. My friend’s attitude over these years has been remarkable.

You see, my friend would be quick to point out we all are terminal. He would mean that in a physical and spiritual sense and of course be right. It is the spiritual sense of being terminal that we should be most concerned about. All people die physically but not all people spend eternity in spiritual death.

The world fears death of the physical sort for many reasons but really does not understand that sin is the fatal illness that causes the fear. We live in a world of mistakes, errors and poor judgments but never in a world of sinful people who sin simply because they are sinners by nature and by choice. Sin is marginalized and there is no real need for the gospel.

It is interesting to me that those of us who hold to the doctrine of total depravity (the terminal illness we are born with) can also be so blinded to our own depravity.

We’re pretty good at recognizing other’s depravity but when our own depravity is pointed out the defenses go up quicker than a politician spinning his adulterous affair. This is a form of self-righteousness that basically says, “who me a sinner” as if that is somehow an impossibility!

I’ve done it and if you are honest so have you. There is something inside of us that is so blind to our own sin that we react in horribly defensive ways. We seek to vindicate ourselves, defend ourselves, blame shift (the devil made me do it) or otherwise dodge responsibility.

The denial leads to further defensive posturing and word games that seek to camouflage what is really going on. We look in the mirror (James 1:22-25) and instead of doing the word we break the mirror!

I like what Lane and Tripp have to say in How Do People Change:

“Only when you accept the bad news of the gospel does the good news make any sense. The grace, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, patience, power, healing, and hope of the gospel are for sinners. They are only meaningful to you if you admit you have the disease and realize it is terminal.” (pg 14, How People Change, Tripp and Lane)

We tend to define sin as bad behavior. This is why even the world of unbelievers will admit to bad judgment, errors, or mistakes being made. Some of us would likewise seek to minimize sin by admitting to bad judgment, errors or mistakes. We would do this to avoid repentance and having to admit we sinned. The defensive mechanism is strong and self-righteousness is too often the default position.

Our biggest problem as believers is that we really do not believe we are the problem. We do not see that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Mark 7:21-22). Scripture is clear; our biggest problem is our own hearts.

Change that sticks comes through the heart. The first step is admitting our own sinfulness in a specific way. The good news only really becomes the good news when we accept the bad news that our hearts are the problem.

The Cross is then our only hope. The apostle Paul put it like this:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 7:24-25a, ESV

(My friend went to be the Lord on July 31st, 2010.)

Lying to Self by Misinterpreting the Facts (Matthew 7:1-5,12)

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)

This was my passage one morning some time ago in my devotional. In the author’s commentary (Tabletalk Magazine) on the passage he said this:

“Each of us is prone to different sins, but if there is one transgression that we all have committed, it is the sin of lying…The great man of letters Mark Twain was surely on to something when he said, ‘A man is never more truthful than he acknowledges himself a liar.”’

I found this to be an alarming statement since I consider myself to be an honest person. This is not to say I’ve never lied. Certainly I have, I just don’t remember when. Or do I? Oh yes, there was that time back in 1977 when I told this whopper. Or was it in 1971 when I was bragging about something?

If you are like me, and you are, then you’ll minimize your lying to a few select occurrences way back in your past and like me, consider yourself an honest person. We’re so blind to the depth of our sin and so anxious to appear righteous that we are hopeless minimizers of our own problems. Here’s what the commentator said next:

“Twain’s statement, no doubt unintentional on his part, captures an essential biblical truth: ‘All men are liars’ (Psalm 116:11) Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

Think about that for a second-we will wink at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit. Ouch!

We like to confine those kinds of tactics to politicians but the fact is we all do it!

Each of us lives out our lives not on the basis of facts, but on how we choose to interpret facts. In other words, our perception of the facts becomes our reality. Consider an example with tragic consequences:

I once counseled a couple where the woman was convinced her husband was cheating on her. The situation was complicated by the fact that early in the marriage (some 25 years before) he had done so. He had repented she had forgiven him when it had happened.

Fact: The husband cheated on his wife 25 years prior.

Fact: The husband had repented.

Fact: The wife had forgiven him.

They both agreed to the facts and until the last year or two the incident seemed to be regulated to their distant past.

What happened is that this poor gal began to interpret various current circumstances as evidence that he once again was cheating on her.

When he worked overtime, it was because he was with another woman. Never mind his check stub showed overtime and he could produce witnesses that he indeed was at work when he said he was.

When something was out of place in their home it was because some other woman had been there to mess things up. The husband’s denials fell on deaf ears.

The woman would not listen to their adult son who told his beloved mother she was acting irrationally.

judgingIn this woman’s mind all types of circumstantial “facts” led her to conclude the husband was cheating on her again. She really believed she had figured it all out and had become a prosecuting attorney determined to be proven right.

The poor woman had worked herself into“suspicion frenzy” and was driving herself crazy and her husband as well. There was nothing the poor guy could do to prove his loyalty or put her mind at ease. Her perception was her reality. Her interpretation was the only interpretation.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

I felt a great deal of sympathy for them both. The one time victim of adultery had become the victimizer with a heart of bitterness that blinded her to alternative interpretations of circumstances.

What she wanted; what she desired, no demanded, in her heart was an absolute guarantee that her husband had not cheated again and would not.

The husband even produced a hand written statement repenting again of the first offense, swearing he had not repeated the offense and committing himself to her alone.

She wouldn’t accept this and did not accept my counsel that at some point she just had to trust God explaining to her that we all are fallible and that speaking in absolutes from a human point of view does not recognize the weaknesses of our own hearts-even hers.

I further explained that we are so messed up we do not realize that even when we have facts we will twist the interpretation of those facts for the sake of our own benefit.

The poor woman did not understand this. She did not recognize that she had turned herself over to serving an idol of security. The normal desire to want security from her husband had turned into an absolute demand fueled by his long-ago infidelity. She could not or would not grasp that she had become a slave to her idol and looked to that idol as “her savior.”

Jesus dealt with the issue of judging righteously in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

Sadly, the poor woman would not apply this passage nor any other and left counseling convinced that I was involved in the conspiracy.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

This is an important truth. Jesus summed up what our attitude should be when interpreting the facts:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Roses Have Thorns, But Not Always

Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief. (Proverbs 14:13)

In the lobby of my church a sudden outburst of laughing will pound through my office walls.  At times I will look out just to see what is so funny.  And it is funny, what I see.  There may be two or maybe ten who are all enjoying a good story or the end of some tease.  But I know these people.  There is the one who is still recovering from surgery and has burdens for her family and their faith.  There is the one whose spouse is a broken person who brings so many burdens into the home and lives of the family.  There is that person whose job is currently up in the air and the reality of the unknown is upon him.  I see the parents laughing who has a wayward child and they are very concerned.

If I wanted to stop any of that laughter all I would need to do is pull one of them aside and inquire as to how is the situation, the burden.  Laughing eyes will reflect the burden and pain that is just below the surface.  Tears or anguished faces will appear and a softer, heavier voice will speak.

For all of us there are times of great laughter that hide the pain we suffer within.  It is the reality of living in this broken, sinful age.  We will hold in our arms a small baby and be filled with joy never knowing that the end will be grief.  We will walk down an aisle to marry only for the end to be grief.  We will start out our life in college and in the end is grief.

We must never forget that many things in this life bring joy.  And we can enjoy them as such.  But like the thorns of the rose so too do all things bringing joy.  So we hold things that belong to this age lightly.  Rejoicing in the times of joy and weeping with those who weep in grief.  We gather together on Sunday to hold up fists of rebellion to the gods of this age as we declare by faith that God the Father “. . . raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:20-21)

Jesus tells us that we will never taste the fullness of death, called the second death, if our hope is in Him alone.  Peter tells us we are kept safe by God’s power so that even if we have grief and sorrow we shall never be lost.  Paul tells us that by the great love of our heavenly Father we were forgiven and raised up with Jesus Christ in the heavenly places all because we are in union with His Son.

I need to remember this more each day.

And so do you.

This is a cross post from www.matthenry.wordpress.com