10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

Per usual, any time after I preach I like to share ten things that helped to inspire, inform, or encourage further discussion on that morning’s topic/scripture. So look no further:

TEN STEPS TO HAVING A PERFECT MARRIAGE
(or, whatever)

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1. As I was preparing this sermon I listened to the following playlist. It’s full of some of my favorite love songs (“Your Song” by Elton John, “What is Life?” by George Harrison, “I’m In Love With a Girl” by Big Star), songs that are not technically love songs but have a lot of sentimental value, and every song from our wedding ceremony.

A few short anecdotes on some of the songs:

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol – Alyssa is a big fan of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” and now I am too. If you’ve ever seen the show you’re familiar with the song. While we were dating I told Alyssa I was going to make her a mix-tape with only “Chasing Cars” on it. It’s a running joke in our house.

“When I Fall In Love” by Sam Cooke – Before we told each other we loved one another but we both knew it privately we would drive around and listen to music. I’ve always enjoyed jazz aplenty so I used that as a cover to play just about every version of this tune I could find. Because I’m subtle.

“These Days” by Mates of State – After getting lunch one Sunday before we were dating Alyssa and I were driving to meet some friends at the beach. This song came on my playlist and it got us to talking about the films of Wes Anderson (the original version of this song was featured in The Royal Tenebaums) which led to her finding times to his most recent film and to me asking her out on first date.

The following songs are from our wedding:

  • “Messiah/You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham for when the bridesmaids entered
  • “Holy (Wedding Day)” by the City Harmonic for the processional
  • “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves for communion
  • “We Are One” by Wilder Adkins for the recessional
  • “The Nearness of You” by Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong was our first dance

Anyways! I really love – pun absolutely, 100% intended – this playlist. Enjoy!

2. The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller

I’ve mentioned this book several times. It’s the book that convinced me to buy a ring and propose. Everybody, married or otherwise, must read this book. It is incredible. Tim and Kathy Keller are beyond wise. Some choice quotes:

That gospel message should both humble and lift the believer up at the same time. It teaches us that we are indeed self-centered sinners. It perforates our illusions about our goodness and superiority. But the gospel also fills us with more love and affirmation than we could ever imagine. It means we don’t need to earn our self-worth through incessant service and work. It means also that we don’t mind so much when we are deprived of some comfort, compliment, or reward. We don’t have to keep records and accounts anymore. We can feely give and freely receive.

“Fear” in the Bible means to be overwhelmed, to be controlled by something. To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and his love. It means that, because of his bright holiness and magnificent love, you find him “fearfully beautiful.” That is why the more we experience God’s grace and forgiveness, the more we experience a trembling awe and wonder before the greatness of all that he is and has done for us. Fearing him means bowing before him out of amazement at this glory and beauty.

… when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yoursef to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person? And for that, the marriage vow is not just helpful but it is even a test.

…the Bible sees God as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise.

3. In the sermon I said that: “Christ is the foundation on which God, the Father, is building His home and the Spirit is calling to us, ‘Come in! Come in! Come home!'” After saying this I toyed with the idea of reading the following poem. I had read this to Atticus before bed this past Saturday. Alyssa, in her great wisdom, advised against it because it disrupted the flow of the sermon and I agreed with her. But! It is a great poem. Perhaps the Spirit is nudging you now as I share it here:

Invitation
Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

4. What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of MarriageNew York Magazine, Heather Havrilesky

There’s strong language if that kind of thing bothers you but I found this article just absolutely fantastic. Some more choice quotes:

But once you’ve been married for a long time (my tenth anniversary is in a few months!), a whole new kind of romance takes over. It’s not the romance of rom-coms, which are predicated on the question of “Will he/she really love me (which seems impossible), or does he/she actually hate me (which seems far more likely and even a little more sporting)?” Long-married romance is not the romance of watching someone’s every move like a stalker, and wanting to lick his face but trying to restrain yourself. It’s not even the romance of “Whoa, you bought me flowers, you must REALLY love me!” or “Wow, look at us here, as the sun sets, your lips on mine, we REALLY ARE DOING THIS LOVE THING, RIGHT HERE.” That’s dating romance, newlywed romance. You’re still pinching yourself. You’re still fixated on whether it’s really happening. You’re still kind of sort of looking for proof. The little bits of proof bring the romance. The question of whether you’ll get the proof you require brings the romance. (The looking for proof also brings lots of fights, but that’s a subject for another day.)

After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof. What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being.

Now let’s tackle something even darker and more unpleasant, the seeming antithesis of our modern notion of romance: Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

Because survival is ugly. Survival means sometimes smelling and sounding the wrong way. It’s one thing for a person to buy you flowers, to purchase a nice dinner, to PROVE that they truly, deeply want to have some good sweet-talky time and some touching time alone with you, and maybe they’d like to do that whole routine forever and ever and ever.

True romance, though, is … Two deluded, lazy people face a bewildering sea of filth and blood and gore together, but they make it through somehow, some way, without losing their minds completely.

You are not better than you are, though, and neither is your partner. That’s romance. Laughing at how beaten-down you sometimes are, in your tireless quest to survive, is romance. It’s sexy to feel less than totally sexy and still feel like you’re sexy to one person, no matter what.

5. When Almena was sharing how she and OJ met she had mentioned that he had been reading poetry in their school’s courtyard. Then she said it was the 70’s as if poetry stopped being hip post-’79 but I think poetry is still great. Here’s a famous love sonnet from a long time ago:

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.
Elizabeth Barret Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

6. Every CS Lewis book is my favorite CS Lewis book. But for the sake of this post The Four Loves is my favorite CS Lewis book. Two more choice quotes:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

7.I’ve suggested it before, I’ll suggest it again: Go watch Parenthood. Netflix has every season now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

At one point when one of her daughter’s marriage is on the rocks something fierce the family matriarch, Camille Braverman, explains the essence of marriage: “You know what marriage is sweetie? You know what it’s about? Forgiveness.”

Yep. Go watch the show and cry your tears.

8. St. Paul says marriage is “…a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Throughout the scriptures God’s relationship to his people is often described amorously. You see it in Ephesians, Hosea, Revelation… But one book is especially rich (and uncomfortable): Song of Songs

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

9. Twenty YearsThe Rabbit Room, Russ Ramesy 

There is only one human relationship we come know in this life that is meant by God to be intimate in affection, proximity, and purpose until death itself separates us—the marriage relationship. In marriage God gives a gift of incalculable worth—a sworn partner for life.

This is a short and lovely reflections on twenty years of marriage. Loaded into this piece is the idea I brought up about never ceasing getting to know your spouse. Which OJ so wonderfully illustrated when he told us that after 38 years of marriage he just recently learned Almena enjoys buying and using power tools.

10. With This Ring, I Am Dead. Mockingbird, Stephanie Phillips.

This sacred covenant we’ve entered appears constantly threatened by the desecrating forces of my own sin and inadequacies. But it’s not. The union holds; the institution remains; the vows are intact–and none of it is made less beautiful in the end, only more real. This is a battleground where the distinction between my efforts to obtain approval through the law (armed with a toothbrush and expectations) and the “it is finished already” truth of the Gospel are writ large and daily. There are failures; oh so many. There are wounds. At the end of every day, there are two people lying in a home that often doubles as a battlefield, casualties of our own characters.

But there’s also this: the waking to each other, still here. Nobody disappeared in the night. (Yet.) And, to be mildly spoilery, the awareness of the gift we give each other, echoed in that TV narrative:

You stayed?!

Which echoes the gift given to us on the cross, at Christmas, and throughout the history of grace: He stays.

 

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10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)