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Monday, October 6, 2014

My marriage vows are all about what I am going to do. 

Since the name of this blog is Journey to Surrender, I figure once in a while I should circle back and talk about surrender in marriage. So what does it mean to have a surrendered marriage?

The first kind of surrender involves giving your marriage, your self and your spouse over to God. This is what I refer to as the vertical surrender in marriage. That's a topic for another post.

Today I want to focus on the horizontal surrender in marriage. In essence, this kind of surrender means the surrender of self. Self-centeredness, self-protection and self-reliance don't fit in a surrendered marriage. Surrender, in this context, means not looking so much to your rights as to your responsibilities and to the good of your relationship. At times it may involve laying aside your personal preferences, sacrificing your self for the sake of your spouse and for the good of your marriage.

Surrender is not necessarily easy, but it is hugely rewarding.

If couples could really get this, I mean really learn to live lives of surrender, each unto the other, it would radically alter the course of their marriage journey for the better. That is a big promise, but I honestly believe that this kind of mutual surrender creates a wide pathway to a strong, passionate and intimate marriage. It's why I do what I do here.

My Wedding Vows Point to Me

Think for a moment about your wedding vows.

We used traditional vows at our wedding. The vows I made to my wife before God and the witnesses gathered there are all about what I promise to do. There were no ifs, ands or buts. There were no escape clauses or convenient outs. I promised to love my wife, for better or worse. I pledged to care for her, whether we be rich for poor. I made a covenant to stick by her side that includes times of sickness and times of health.

Over our 32 years we've seen both ends of the spectrum of good times and tough times. If you are like most couples, you probably have too.  Whether you used a traditional form of vows, as we did, or wrote your own, the promises you made point to the choices YOU vowed to make and the things YOU pledged to do for your spouse. I'm pretty sure you didn't include any ifs, ands or buts in your vows either.

You and I, when we said our vows, we said, in essence, "I'm in this for keeps, no matter what." We believed our love was worth it, and we committed to endure any hardship.

I love how Danny Silk writes about this in his book Keep Your Love On.
A healthy, lasting relationship can only be built between two people who choose one another and take full responsibility for that choice. This choice must be based on who they are, what they want, and what they are committed to doing as individuals. 
Traditional marriage vows express the nature of this choice beautifully. The two people standing at the altar do not say, “You will. You will love me and cherish me in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” And they don’t say, “I will love you as long as you love me. I will be faithful to you as long as you are faithful to me.” Their vows are all about what they are going to do. “I will love you. I will protect you. I will serve you. I will be faithful to you, no matter what.
Every Day is A New Set of Choices

None of us are perfect at this surrendered marriage thing. We are all going to struggle with the many "selfs" that want to creep in. Self-focus is as easy and natural as breathing in and out. But we don't have to live self-absorbed. We have choices.

I'm thankful that every day I have a new set of choices before me when it comes to how I'm going to approach my marriage. God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). So I start each day with a fresh dose of grace to live the marriage I want to have instead of the marriage I used to have. Hold fast to this fabulous truth.

Choose today to focus more on your half of the marriage equation than on your spouse's half. Think of one small action you could take today that would bless your husband or wife? What choice can you make today that would put your relationship ahead of your personal preferences?

Don't worry about how your spouse will respond or if they will respond with a similar kind of selfless surrender. You can only control only your end of the vows. Remember that you pledged "no matter what." It doesn't matter how or even if they notice.

Refuse the bait of offense when your actions go unappreciated or unnoticed. Yield your feelings of offense to God and press on. Tomorrow, you will have another set of similar choices to make.

When you screw it up, and you will, forgive yourself. Give yourself the same grace God gives. And move on.

Today, and every day, ask yourself, "What Am I Going to Do for My Marriage Today?"

Do you have a story to share of how a decision to surrender changed your marriage? Share it in a comment.

image credit: lightwise / 123rf.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pleasure begets passion, which begets more pleasure, which begets more passion...

It's kind of a chicken and egg thing.

Which comes first: passion or pleasure?

The answer: it doesn't matter.

Pleasure and passion go hand in hand; each feeds the other.

Yes, THAT Kind of Pleasure

Having just returned from two weeks in Asia for business, I can tell you that my wife and I both had some pent up passion that spawned some frequent pleasure when I got home - despite the serious jet lag! And the more pleasure we found in each other's arms, the more we kept passion stirred up. That's just how it works.

You see, sexual pleasure isn't like letting the air out of balloon. No, the more you enjoy each other sexually, the more passion grows between you. Frequent enjoyable sexual encounters create an unbreakable bond of intimacy that cements passion in place. This in turn creates a desire to experience more pleasure together.

It's a happy circle. A very happy circle.

I understand the life will cause passion and pleasure to ebb and flow. What if the pleasure cycle is broken and passion seems hard to grasp? You bring back the happy circle one of two ways.
  • Method 1: stir your passions. Read this whole series on building passion (starting here) and do the things that create a passionate atmosphere in your marriage. Stir your sexual passions by reminding yourself of past pleasures. Do whatever it takes to get your head back in the game!
  • Method 2: jump into pleasure. That's right! Remember the chicken and egg. It doesn't matter where you start. Tell your spouse you want to get your sexual connection back, and tell him or her you want to make love. Don't ask, tell. Asking doesn't count. Put yourself out there. If he or she declines, ask when you can make a date for sex. Don't relent in this. You have to start somewhere. Once you do, allow each encounter to stir passion and build intimacy. 
Life's Daily Little Pleasures

As important as sexual pleasure is in marriage, you need more than sex to keep passion alive and well. You should deliberately do something every day that feeds your soul, something in which you can take pleasure and delight. It doesn't have to be a major thing, in fact it shouldn't be. It can be something as simple as listening to music, or enjoying a cup of tea or coffee in a quiet place. It shouldn't be anything on your task list or that accomplishes anything. It should be done for the pure pleasure of it.

I admit I struggle with this. A lot. I'm driven and busy and live by my to do list. I have difficulty taking time just for pleasure.

If you don't have a habit of taking time daily for pleasure, I suggest you start by making a list of "little pleasures."  These should be things you can do in 5-20 minutes, because after all, let's be realistic. If it takes more than that, you are a lot less likely to do it consistently. Life is too busy. Now the trick is to DO them and do them consistently.

It's not easy to take time for pleasure, but it is so important to keep your soul regularly fed.

In addition to doing things specifically for the pleasure of it, it is also import to learn to take pleasure in doing the things you have to do. Again, this is not something I'm always good at. I tend to be very goal oriented. The objective is often to check it off the list. But the Lord reminds me again and again to take delight in the doing and not just in the being done.

Work at it. Remind yourself.

And remind each other.

Help Each Other Find Pleasure

The cool thing about having a life-mate is that you can help each other find pleasure. 

Help each other with pleasure seeking by asking "What did you do for pleasure today?"  "How did you feed your soul?" And of course if they answer in the negative, you can always offer to help them find a little of THAT kind of pleasure later on or (or maybe right now). I wouldn't make a habit of this, however, because your spouse might begin to avoid pleasure for the express purpose of garnering such an offer from you!! And like I said, you need more than sexual pleasure in your life.

This isn't something to nag each other about but to gently encourage each other toward.

Passion Pointers

Alright, let's get practical.  Here are a few ideas for infusing your life with pleasure and helping your spouse do the same.
  • Make a list of "little pleasures" and keep it handy. Little things you can do in 5-20 minutes that feed your soul and make you feel good. 
  • Learn some tasty treats that your spouse enjoys and bring one to him or her once in a while for no reason than to just enjoy.
  • Be deliberate. If you are a list maker, put little pleasures on your list or in your day planner.
  • Make it a goal to have sex at least twice every week. Pleasure makes you want more of it. Plan it if you need to. It still counts.
  • Offer your spouse a back rub, foot rub or "other" rub. Offer the pleasure of both non-sexual and sexual touch.
  • Make a "peaceful place" in your home or in your yard where you can sit comfortably in a nice ambiance.
  • Connect regularly with beauty. I like natural habitats. You might find beauty in paintings or music. Beauty feed your soul. 
Developing a habit of consistent and regular pleasure will go along way toward keeping passion alive in your heart and in your marriage.

What do you do to regularly find pleasure? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

[Wives Only Wednesday]

Learning to express appreciation to your husband will positively impact the passion level between you.

On Monday I told husbands about the power that being intentionally positive has to grow passion. Today I’m addressing wives with a slightly different take on the topic.

Daily Choices

The relationship between positivity and passion may not be all that obvious to you, so let me explain a little further.

As I said in my last post, it’s really about shifting the atmosphere in your marriage. Think about. If what you think on and speak about is mostly the problems and issues in your relationship with your husband, they will tend to be amplified and multiplied. But the same is true when you are able to shift your words and thoughts to the many good things about your man and your marriage.

Whatever you focus on grows. If you want to good stuff to grow, think and speak these things.

It largely comes down to a whole bunch of little daily decisions. You can choose either to amplify the positive or the negative as each issue/opportunity presents itself. You can also learn habits of thankfulness and gratitude.

Idealism or Realism

You might be reading this and thinking that I’m being too idealistic with such talk. You might be saying, “You don’t know my husband or my situations” or “The problems are too in my face to ignore.”

But I’m not saying you can or should ignore problems and hope they go away. No, not at all. What I’m saying is that if those are ALL you focus on, if they preoccupy your thoughts and dominate your conversations, it will poison the atmosphere and leave little space for the good things to see the light of day. Negativity kills passion. Period.

So acknowledge and deal with issues that matter, but don’t let them define your relationship. Your marriage is not defined by the problems you face. Your marriage is defined by the fact that you and your husband are one, even if you don’t feel like it, so you might as well enjoy the fruit of that oneness and let intimacy and passion that results be what defines your marriage. I believe it is possible.

Passion Pointers

Opinions vary, but I’ve heard it said that it takes doing something anywhere from 15-25 times before it becomes a habit. So if you can purposefully choose positivity a couple times a day, it will only take a week or two before you will begin to change your default actions and reactions. Do this, and watch the passion in your marriage begin to grow.

Here are a few ways to be purposefully positive with your husband:
  • Thank your husband for working so hard to support the family (assuming he is the primary bread winner). It’s easy to take this for granted, but it will mean a lot to him when you acknowledge it out loud. Chances are he feels tremendous financial pressure to provide.
  • Pay your husband a compliment about his physical appearance. We tend to think that this is primarily a female need, but your husband does want to know you are attracted to him. Truthfully the best way to communicate your attraction to him is to initiate sex. Words are helpful, but actions in this area matter more.
  • Send your husband a text to say you are thinking about something he did for you recently and specifically thank him for it. Tell him what it meant to you. Gratefulness will definitely cause him to want to do these kinds of things for you more in the future.
  • Is there something your husband does as a matter of routine that you have come to take for granted? It’s easy to do, especially if he’s been doing it all of your married life.  Stop and think, and then occasionally, when he does one of them, tell him you appreciate it. It will count double if you give him a slightly longer than usual kiss to go along with it.
Maybe I haven’t convinced you totally of the power that positivity has to help raise the passion level in your marriage. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.

For the next week or two, really listen to the words you speak and pay attention to the thoughts you think. Choose to turn them toward the many good things about your husband and your marriage. Come back and let us know how it affected the atmosphere between you and your husband.

Monday, September 15, 2014

[Men Only Monday]

Sincere expressions of genuine thanks hold great power to deepen intimacy and increase passion.

Have you ever heard the phrase “You become what you behold?” The idea is that whatever you focus on will tend to grow and intensify. Nowhere is this more true than in your marriage.

Today we continue to delve into ways you can grow the passion level between you and your wife by being a little more positive.

Change the Atmosphere

It’s easy to focus mostly on the areas in your marriage where you feel your wife isn’t meeting your needs. It’s natural to give disproportionate attention to the things she does that annoy you. Even though it’s easy and natural to become preoccupied with the negative stuff in your marriage, it’s also a total passion killer.

On the other hand, if you can learn to focus your mental and emotional energy mostly on the many good things about your wife, it will drastically shift the atmosphere in your marriage. I promise you that when you develop a habit of being grateful, appreciative and positive, your wife will respond by mirroring what she sees you doing, even if it isn't a conscious response.

The Power of Sincere Thanks

Chances are your wife is already well aware of the areas where she disappoints you. When you reinforce those thoughts it simply drives the wedge between you deeper. But when you learn to give grace in the areas where there is lack or weakness on her part and instead express sincere appreciation for her, it builds intimacy and makes it easier for her to draw close to you.

Sincere thanks hold great power to deepen intimacy and enhance passion.

How often do you thank your wife for the things she does routinely for you and the family? Do you compliment her on meals well prepared or do you tend to just stuff the food down and move on? Do you specifically thank her for taking care of the kids or working outside the home and supporting the family in this way or do you just take it for granted? Be watchful and purposeful to express appreciation for all that she does for you and the family.

Passion Pointers

Here are a few specific habits you can work on that will help you become more positive in a way that will help build a more passionate atmosphere in your marriage.
  • Pay your wife a specific compliment on her appearance. Every. Single. Day. Chances are that she is in a significant body image battle , and you are either fighting for her or against her.
  • Several times a week thank your wife for something she’s done as a matter of routine (laundry, dishes, kid’s baths, cooking, working, whatever). Pair your thanks with some physical, non-sexual touch, such as a tender kiss or a firm hug to drive the point home further.
  • Make yourself a list of things you most appreciate about your wife and about your marriage. Keep it handy, on your phone or computer or in your wallet. Once in awhile, take it out and remind  yourself of these things.
  • Next time your wife does something that would normally annoy you (come one, you know what I mean - we all have those pet peeves), pass it off with an attitude of grace instead of smirking, badgering her or getting huffy. Of course, serious offenses need to be dealt with in a healthy and respectful manner so as not to allow resentment to build up.
It's true that focusing on the positive has definite potential to up the passion in your marriage, if you can just learn to shift your thinking.

What other ways do you keep things in your marriage positive?  Share your ideas in a comment.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What do a sports fan, an activist and a health nut have in common with the God of the universe?

I’m continuing today with my series on passion, which started back here.

Next time we will continue looking at more ways to build the passion in your marriage, but for today I want to pause to examine passion from some non-marital perspectives in the hopes of broadening your thinking.

If you’ve been following this series, you could already be catching on that passion in marriage might go beyond what you thought. However, maybe you need some help thinking beyond the romantic and sexual dimensions of passion? If so, read on.

Passion's Many Forms

What is a passionate sports fan? One who is super excited about their team. They probably talk enthusiastically about their team to anyone who will listen, and maybe some who would rather not. They proudly display their team's colors. They get to know their team’s every intimate detail. Are you this passionate about the team you and your spouse make?

Some are passionate for a cause. These are those activists who give lots of their time to it and prioritize it above other things in their life. They give generously to the cause. They believe in the cause and fight for it. They might read about it and study to gain more insight into whatever their cause is. Are you this passionate about the cause of your marriage?

Still others are passionate about health and fitness. They watch over their diet, ensuring only good things go into their bodies. They are intentional about working out regularly, keeping themselves strong and fit. Disinterested observers might label them a health nut. What about you? Are you a marriage-health nut?

The Ultimate Passion

There is one passion that makes all others pale in comparison.

Did you know that God is passionate about you? Do you have any idea how fiery and zealous His love for you is? Do you realize the lengths He will go to in order to have an intimate relationship with you, including sending His Son Jesus to die a cruel death?

God pursues you endlessly. He knows you completely, yet loves you radically.
For I am persuaded beyond doubt (am sure) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, Nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (AMP)
Yes, it is safe to say that God is a passionate lover! Does that notion make you uncomfortable? It shouldn't. The truth is that we are made in His image. If we experience passion, He must also. Of course God's passion has no sexual component, but a direct spiritual parallel that is full is affection and longing for you and me.

Take some time to think about your passions and the passions of those around you. Consider how these other passion perspectives can help to expand your view of the passion you have for your marriage and your spouse. Most of all, study the passion of God and let it inspire you toward a passionate marriage.

Can you think of other examples of passion that might help us understand passion in marriage a little better? Let’s hear you ideas.  Leave a comment.

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