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Practical Christian Theology

“Wedding rings: the world’s smallest handcuffs.” ~Anonymous

There is a myth that romantic love never occurred till the Romantic Age and that before then couples related and mated as spouses but not as lovers. People who hold such opinions should read the Bible. The Bible is filled with real-life drama, making shambles of most persons’ short-sighted views.

God instituted marriage (Genesis 1:27; 2:24) in the Garden of Eden. One man and one woman. Mated for life. Monogamy. And throughout the pages of Scripture are real-life accounts of real-life duos: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Shechem and Dinah, Samson and Delilah, Boaz and Ruth, Elkanah and Hannah, David and Bathsheba, Mary and Joseph …. All illustrating not only how couples relate with one another but that love and chemistry have always been a part of the mix.

LOVE

“Anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart.” ~Anonymous

Most of us will marry because we think we are in love and this is the right person for us. But is s/he? We come to marriage, as we come to life, with certain expectations, stemming from the way we have been reared or acculturated. Rich people, for example, have expectations that poor people would consider shallow, because to the poor, life is all about survival, not about appearances. The poor don’t care if the towels and washcloths don’t match or what store they came from—they’re thankful to have a towel. Or if the grass gets a little high, or if the car is a little messy, or if their hair is a little shaggy, or if their clothes are a little crumpled—they’re thankful just to have a lawn, or wheels, or something to wear. They can live with less than perfect, and they don’t care a whit about what people think.

Therefore, for the sake of compatibility, it is better that a person marries someone in his same cultural, social, and religious milieu, don’t you think? Rich people are happier with rich people, middle class with middle class, poor with poor, Catholic with Catholic, Protestant with Protestant, uptight with uptight, hippie with hippie, aesthetic with aesthetic, reserved with reserved, educated with educated, uneducated with uneducated, or what-have-you. Like should marry like.

PREMARITAL COUNSELING

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” ~William Congreve

For these reasons couples need premarital counseling—better now than later, after they’ve made a mess of things. Opposites attract—meaning male and female: opposite gender. What did you think it meant? But if it is opposite values and opposite milieu, then someone needs to intervene and break the magnetic hold. Someone needs to sit the couple down and give them a few words of wisdom. Not about intimacy—though that might enter into it, it should not be the focus. Couples, more likely, need hardheaded advice about money, personal tastes, responsibility, and the seriousness of wedding vows.

WEDDING VOWS

“Don’t marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.” ~James C Dobson

The new thing now is to have the ceremony at the beach, on a lawn, or in a park—anywhere but a church—and to let the couple write their own vows. http://www.backgroundsy.com/file/preview/wedding-rings.jpgWhat does this say about marriage? That someone is not taking the vows or what is happening here seriously. It’s fantasy. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always get a divorce.” “We’ll try it for a while and see how it works.” Whoa! Someone really doesn’t understand marriage. Real “marriage is not a relationship to be entered into lightly.” It is for life. It is for keeps. And God takes vows seriously (Ecclesiastes 5:2-6).

“If God takes our idle words seriously, how much more seriously does He take those words spoken with forethought? And if He takes our normal statements seriously, how much more seriously does He take our promises, especially when those promises are raised to the level of the formal vow?” ~RC Sproul

DISENCHANTMENT

“A blaze first pleases, then tires the sight.” ~Samuel Johnson

Disenchantment is inevitable. Because no matter how well you think you know someone—even if you’ve been engaged five years—you will learn something new almost immediately after the ceremony and days thereafter. You may learn that your handsome young prince has smelly feet or bad breath, that he snores or wheezes in his sleep, that he refuses to pick up after himself, won’t take out the garbage until you prod him … drinks cola or milk straight from the container … brings home uninvited guests and expects you to feed them, fails to call when he is running late … or that your beautiful young princess drools toothpaste on her clothes every time she brushes, drops hair all over the bathroom sink, lets her toenails grow so long they scrape your legs at night … has BO so bad she scares away the skunks … leaves her wet towel on the bathroom floor … can’t cook, sees no need to wash the dirty dishes as long as there are clean dishes still available … and regardless of what the house looks like inside, sails out the door looking as fresh as a daisy. Obviously, there are going to be some adjustments to make.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition.” ~William Throsby Bridges

HEADSHIP

The husband is the natural head of the woman and of the home—God made him that way—so the wife should naturally defer to his leadership. If the two are jostling for position—he is bullying, she is trying to boss—they are candidates for rank-and-file warfare. Life is too short for such carnal activity. Give it up.

In our home my husband always chose where we lived and what we drove—I never made a decision about such things until I had to, because I was alone. He also chose our electronics, appliances, furniture, and other major purchases. I made decisions about carpet, lights, mattress, bedding, dishes, and what to cook, when. I did not always like his decisions, but I lived with them.

I remember one car I was particularly fond of, a plush Oldsmobile Delta 88, with a big, responsive, eight-cylinder engine and a smooth ride. He traded it for a new, simple Chevrolet Impala, straight-six, with an engine so small that when you popped the hood, you could see the ground (this was before the days of EPA). I cried, but he gave me the keys. It became my school car.

FINANCES

“A married person does not live in isolation. He or she has made a promise, a pledge, a vow, to another person. Until that vow is fulfilled and the promise is kept, the individual is in debt to his marriage partner. That is what he owes. ‘You owe it to yourself’ is not a valid excuse for breaking a marriage vow but a creed of selfishness.” ~RC Sproul

A couple may start out as playmates, but they will end up as workmates; and they need to know how to work together to create a shared life. Selfishness exhibits its ugly head not only with flirtations but also with finances. One self-seeking, materialistic spouse, constantly wanting “things,” can destroy a marriage. An aesthetic spouse may consider the other’s “things” a waste of money. Or maybe each wants “things” the other doesn’t want. Suddenly “things,” money, self, and greed become more important than the couple or the family.

In a marriage there must be a common good, and the common good means each sacrifices his desires to the whole. “All for one, and one for all.” A husband’s or wife’s salary is not his own. The money is spoken for before it is earned. S/he is no longer “me,” but now “we,” and they need to assimilate themselves into, and see themselves as, a single corporate unit.

He cannot buy a boat or a pool table with “his” disposable income because “it’s my money” anymore than she can waste “her” money on clothes or shopping. Usually, however, men want big-ticket items, leisure toys, and what women “waste” in pennies, often for the home, men “waste” in dollars, for themselves.

Accomplished men tend to be higher wage-earners anyway and have more money to play with. Women tend to be more serious and sometimes what she wants is not something so frivolous as make-up and nails, but simply to go back to school. Higher education may or may not pay off in dollars; but because there is more to education than meets the eye, you should not think of it in terms of earning power or potential payback. Education increases a person’s IQ, empowers the self, and makes the person better able to cope with life. So, if you can handle the money and the stress, better to get an education while you’re still young.

CHILDREN

“Love is a flower which turns into fruit at marriage.” ~Finnish Proverb

The first child can be an exciting, and stressful, time. You will want to get all the helpful literature you can and walk yourself gingerly through the process. When it comes time for the delivery, the husband may or may not want to attend his wife. One young pastor was waiting beside his wife during labor; and when, late at night, she began to exhibit the acute pain of advanced labor, he became so uncomfortable he couldn’t watch. He ran outside, in the dark, and vomited, then passed out on the grass, and afterward was rolling and groaning as if feeling her agony. Someone came along and offered to help, but he declined. “Don’t mind me,” he said, gripping his abdomen as if it were cramping. “We’re just having a baby.”

Children make a couple a family. Now husband and wife are more than lovers (though they are still that too): they are parents, each related to the child. And, as some say, children change everything. You never know what living with a baby is like until he has to be fed and diapered every four hours, or starts squalling as you’ve finally dozed off, or upchucks all over your fresh clean clothes as you’re ready to go out the door. A baby is demanding; and as you will learn, you no longer belong to yourself: you belong to him. You have to sacrifice your own desires and your own ambitions to his happiness.

“Men are never manlier than when they are tender with their children—whether holding a baby in their arms, loving their grade-schooler, or hugging their teenager or adult children.” ~R Kent Hughes

WORKMATES

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ideally, some would say, the husband works outside the home, and the wife stays home, manages the house, has babies, and cares for the children. If you can live that way in today’s two-income world, have at it. I know such a family, with ten children, where the dad is professionally employed, and the homemaker-mother homeschools the children; but obviously this is rare. Usually both husband and wife work outside the home; then it comes down to who does the chores and chauffeurs the children. If the wife is going to help bring in an income, then the husband needs to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

In our home, my husband always took care of the cars: cleaning and maintenance. He also vacuumed or mopped the floors, tended the garden, and helped with laundry; I did all the cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing (summer produce), bed-making, sewing, and ironing. We worked together on home repairs, grocery shopping, and chauffeuring the children. We never complained or fought over chores: we just pitched in and helped one another. Sooner or later, you realize there has to be some kind of work schedule and shared responsibility.

One weeknight, about 8:00 pm, my husband came into the kitchen and found me cleaning the oven. Knowing that I had worked all day, he said, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” meaning it was a heavy-duty job that would keep till the weekend or till a time when he could help; but I insisted.

One weeknight, after our waterline, between the well and the house, had frozen, my husband went out and dug up the line, then, single-handedly, with mallet and shovel, reshaped the trench a couple of feet deeper so he could reposition the waterline below the frost line. Never one to put off a home repair (as some husbands do), he refused to eat till the job was done; and, though the temp was well below freezing, he turned on the backyard floodlights so he could work outdoors till the wee hours of the morning. Knowing he had worked all day, I said, “You shouldn’t be doing that by yourself. Why don’t you wait till Saturday and I’ll help you?” “No,” he said. “I wanna do it now.”

That’s the way married life is. A husband and a wife are a team. Each is called alongside to help. Each tries to spare the other by being the assistant.

I read of a certain farmer, who, having nothing else to do during the winter, helped his wife with quilting. If she sewed a square, he sewed a square. If she was busy, he finished the quilt himself. I smiled at the image of a man quilting, but even President Calvin Coolidge, growing up in Vermont, made his own quilt.

I remember when a certain rural pastor lost his wife of many years. Someone remarked he didn’t know how the old preacher was going to make it without her. “They were always together. If he was sawing a log, she was holding the other end.” That is the way teams work: in tandem.

“A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.” ~Andre Maurois

VIABILITY

“Love seems the swiftest but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” ~Mark Twain*

If both husband and wife are Christian, come from the same background, and were in love when they married, there is no excuse for incompatibility or a wandering eye. On the other hand, “encouraging” a couple to stay together merely to rack up anniversaries, as if marriage were an endurance contest, is nothing short of sadistic; and praising couples for making it to their fiftieth or sixtieth anniversary, as if they’ve run the gauntlet, is acquiescing with the worldly view that marriage is painful, or an obstacle course. How unkind! Real marriages last not because couples have toughed it out, but because they’ve enjoyed the journey. “No road is long with good company” (Turkish Proverb).

What about couples who did not make it to their silver or golden anniversary because of the premature death of a spouse? And never will make it to such a point with a subsequent spouse because there isn’t enough time left to remarry and start counting again? How cruel to bless the couples who “survived” while crushing the couples who did not!

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand.
~Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”

One of the biggest hurdle seniors have to make is the empty-nest syndrome. For mothers the children growing up, going to college, marrying, getting jobs, and leaving home can be a liberating experience. But dads often take it hard. They can’t imagine home without the children. This is an opportunity to reconnect, renew, and reemphasize the spousal relationship: to learn to be playmates again.

Another big hurdle, of course, is widowhood. I’ve seen wives transition to widowhood with little outward change; but men almost always remarry, and soon, as if they cannot stand being alone or living without a woman in the house. I’ve also known men to do crazy things like remarry within six months, then still go out to the cemetery every day to visit the predeceased wife, and talk to her. Every widow or widower has his own way of working through grief, but generally after a couple of years the sorrow should pass.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ~Frederick Buechner

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

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* Before he married at age 35, Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”) had already lived his life as a Mississippi Riverboat pilot, had traveled around the world, and had written a book about his adventures, Innocents Abroad. He married a rich man’s daughter, Olivia (“Livy”), an heiress. The couple had a son, Langdon, who died in infancy, then three daughters: Susy, Clara, and Jean. The family was happy for many years, at their large Victorian home in Hartford, Connecticut, while Sam was writing his popular novels, lecturing, and making a name for himself.

Then, suddenly, as in the story of Job, everything went wrong at once. Sam went bankrupt, but salvaged the house and some copyrights by putting them in the wife’s name. Conscientious, he determined to pay back all his creditors, and to do so he went on a world lecture tour—despite suffering daily with the pain of multiple boils or carbuncles. His oldest daughter, Susy, a beauty, the joy of his life, was away at college at the time, and so did not tour with the rest of the family. While Sam, Livy, Clara, and Jean were out of the country, Susy contracted cerebromeningitis, came home, found the house empty, her parents gone, and died alone (1896). Then his wife, Livy, died abroad (1904). He never remarried.

It nearly killed Sam to lose Susy, then Livy. Worse was the agony of thinking of Susy alone in that house, unattended, because he was on a world lecture tour he hated, just because he owed people money. The mental anguish was worse than the physical pain of his boils. In time, he built a new house, because he couldn’t bear to set foot in the old one. One successful daughter, Clara, a concert pianist, lived with her husband in Europe. When the third daughter, Jean, came to live with Sam in his new house, he thought he was getting his family back. The joy was brief. Jean died suddenly and unexpectedly (1909). Four months later Sam himself died (1910), his final years being filled with sorrow and deep remorse.

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