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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
One of the foundational principles of a Surrendered Marriage is selfless giving.
The beauty and power of a Surrendered Marriage is found in what it compels you to give rather than what it permits you to demand.Scripture paints a pretty clear picture of the way husbands and wives how are to love one another:
Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.But as much as I believe that the bridal paradigm calls us to a life of extravagant and selfless love, there are times when you just don’t have anything left to give. There are times when the physical and mental stresses of life will sap every ounce from your being.
Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)
Hard stuff happens. That’s just reality.
This past weekend at the Hope at Home 2011 Conference my lovely wife and I had the pleasure of speaking into the marriages of couples who have adopted. I greatly admire these couples for the selfless love they have expressed by answering the call of God on their lives to adopt. But the reality for many of these couples is that life is really hard and the demands of an adoptive family create some unique stresses that I’m sure I cannot fully appreciate, not having adopted ourselves.
Maybe you are in a season of stress yourself? Let me share with you some of what I shared with them.
When You Have Nothing Left
There will be seasons in your life when it feels like the walls are caving in. In these times you often go into survival mode, and it’s likely that your attention will turn from most things around you, including your marriage and your spouse.
It’s natural to turn inward and self-protective when life smacks you in the face, but I want to encourage you that even when you feel “alone” in your suffering and stress, you and your spouse are one, and anything you encounter in your life is encountered by you both. So while you may not have a lot to give, make every effort to remain present in your marriage and connected to your spouse. Let him or her help hold you up.
Give yourself permission to be in need. Tell your husband or wife where you are mentally, what you’re feeling and how he or she can help you. If you can manage it keep your emotions in check when asking for help. Do so without being critical and demanding.
Whatever it is, face it together.
When Your Spouse Has Nothing Left
If you are the spouse of someone who has nothing left to give and it feels like you are the one left to hold things together, know that you are being Christ to your spouse. God bless you for your faithfulness.
Let me give you a few suggestions to help you deal with the situation:
- Learn what stress looks like on your spouse (most people have characteristic reactions). Do your best not to respond to the emotions (fear, anger, moodiness or whatever stress produces), but to deal with the root cause instead.
- Give practical help to relieve the stress when you can (that’s not always possible).
- Be present and don’t back away. Be sensitive to what is most helpful – sometimes that may mean pursuing if they back away or may mean allowing space when needed.
- Speak truth into their life. You can provide clarity to help separate facts from the truth. Keep point them to God.
- Try loving them “as if.” Realize that what they are expressing is coming from a place of pain and pressure and is not necessarily who they really are. Have an attitude of grace.
- You don’t need to silently endure disrespect or unkindness, but be gentle in pointing out that your spouse needs to watch how they speak to you.
When You Both Have Nothing Left
Our most difficult times are when both Jenni and I are under great stress, when neither of us is able to pick up the slack and do the reaching out. It’s probably true in most marriages.
For starters, let me tell you a hard truth: it is part of a husband’s responsibility to lead in this arena. If one of you has to lay down their life (put aside their own stress), it’s you. I encourage you to step up and carry things when your wife falters. It’s part of your calling from God as a husband, and he will strengthen and equip you to do it.
- Start with spiritual intimacy – look together toward God for help and answers. It puts you immediately together on the same team and acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus and your dependence upon him.
- You both will need to resist your tendency to turn inward. Try to stay present with each other. Stay connected in small ways (a text, a call, a kind word, a hug).
- Neither of you is in a place to do big things for each other, so do the little things you know to do. They make a big difference.
- Try to keep your head in the game. Remember that you are one even when you don’t feel like it, and neither of you walks alone in whatever it is.
- Be real but watch how you communicate. When emotions are running full tilt it’s easy to say things in ways that convey something you don’t intend.
Shout “Grace! Grace!” to the mountain.
When I’m facing a mountain, whatever it may be, I like to remember these verses:
This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by [your] might nor by [your] power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty. "What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone [finish the work he set out to accomplish] to shouts of 'Grace! Grace!' [God bless it! God bless it!]
Zech 4:6 (NKJ) [brackets added]
May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing (through the experience of your faith), that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope.
Romans 15:13 (AMP)
Do you have some other suggestions to offer those who are facing tough times?
Saturday, September 10, 2011
What comes to mind when you think about your marriage? What thoughts are conjured up when you think about your husband or wife? Really! This is not a rhetorical question. Take out a sheet of paper (or make list in your cell phone). Right now. Write down the first five words or phrases that come to mind when you think of your marriage relationship. Now do it again for your spouse. What five words or phrases first come to mind when you think of him or her.
Don’t filter it. Don’t think too hard. Just put down the first thoughts that come to your mind.
Go ahead. Do it. I’ll wait…
Now look at your list, and reflect on a couple of questions:
Is it mostly about you?
Even though the list is supposed to be about your marriage and your spouse, is what you wrote really more about what you feel you aren’t getting? Is it more about what you want or what you feel you deserve? If your thoughts naturally drift toward yourself and your own needs, I encourage you to consider the degree to which your selfishness is affecting your attitude about your marriage.
Is it mostly positive or mostly negative?
Of your ten words or thoughts, how many are negative in nature? Consider how significantly your thoughts and words affect the atmosphere of your marriage. Learn to look for good stuff, learn to think it, and learn to speak it.
Is it full of grace?
Seeing your marriage and spouse through the eyes of grace means sometimes seeing things “as if” they were true. There should be a few items on your list that may not be completely “accurate” in one sense, but still are completely “true” in another. Why is grace important? Because we are commanded to love like Jesus, and that is exactly how he saw people – for what they could be and would be, not necessarily just for what there were in the present.
What you think matters
You might think this a silly little exercise, but the truth is that the way you think about your marriage and your spouse has the power to shape your marriage in significant ways. I often say that right thinking leads to right doing.
You can change your mind
You might be saying, “But I can’t help how I feel!” In one sense that’s true. But what you feel can be hugely impacted by what and how you think. Change your mind and you can change your emotions.
Here are a few tips to help you improve your thinking.
- Practice thankfulness daily. Every day consider at least one thing you are thankful for about your spouse or your marriage. Bonus points if you tell your spouse! Philippians 4:6-7 exhorts us to not be anxious, but to pray with thanksgiving as a means to having the peace of Christ rule our minds and hearts.
- Guard your thoughts. What are you feeding your mind with? Do you let TV, movies and gossip news form the basis of what you believe about marriage? Or are you purposeful in gaining a solid understanding of God’s design for marriage? There’s lots of stuff about that in this blog – explore!
- Watch what you say to your spouse and about your spouse and your marriage. You can shift the atmosphere in your marriage by working to make at least 10 positive, affirming and kind statements for every negative one. Better yet, go for 50-to-1!
- Pray for your spouse and your marriage. Commit to pray daily for your spouse and your marriage. And I don’t mean the “Lord, please make him/her do ______.” I mean pray that they will be strengthened, for their spiritual life, for them to walk in their destiny in Christ and for blessing. If you don’t know what or how to pray, the prayers found in Ephesians 1:17-23, Ephesians 3:16-21 and in Colossians 1:9-12 are fantastic for praying for your spouse.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
I'm a little overdue with my response to the seven links challenge, which several other bloggers have tagged me with. It was a fun and challenging exercise to pick a single post for each of the seven questions, but I did cheat a bit with a few of my answers, as you will see.
So here it is at last...
Your most beautiful post
The Bridal Paradigm - A Quick Reference On Surrendered Marriage
This was an easy pick. The bridal paradigm is sheer beauty in the way it offers us a glimpse into the very heart of God concerning marriage. Amazing insights about marriage flow from our understanding that Jesus is our Bridegroom and we are his bride. I wrote this post as a sort of preface to this blog, and have updated it a few times since. For a more extensive examination of the topic of the bridal paradigm as it relates to the surrendered marriage journey, check out my Notable Series on the sidebar called “What I Believe About Marriage.” It starts here.
Your most popular post
Respect, Submission and Trust
This post had the most individual page loads of any I’ve written, though the one listed below under “most helpful” was a very close second and actually had more unique page loads (sorry for the blogspeak – it basically means more different people actually saw the one below than this one, even though this one was viewed more times). I decided to go ahead and pick this one because I think there is so much confusion and misunderstanding about what these words actually mean in their biblical context. I feel I offered a balanced and informed approach to what can be a very contentious topic, which maybe is why so many kept (and keep) coming back to read it.
Your most controversial post
Love, Respect and Submission
When I started writing a year and a half ago, I expected to get a whole lot more push back than I have. After all, some of the stuff you’ll find in these pages cuts pretty strongly against the prevailing cultural norm. But with a few exceptions, the discourse has been rather civil. With that said, I’d have to say my posts on authority in marriage that focus on headship and submission seem to stir the most emotional responses, one example of which is linked above. As in this case, most of the negative ranting has come from those without a Christian or biblical world view. No surprise there.
Your most helpful post
Intimacy - As Much as You Want
It seems that everyone is looking for more intimacy in their marriage, as demonstrated by the frequent responses to my New Reader Survey (which you can take if you never have using the link at the top left corner of my blog). In this post and the corresponding series on intimacy I challenge couples with the notion that you can have as much intimacy in your marriage as you want. Don’t believe it? Take a look and see if you agree.
A post whose success surprised you
What if My Husband Won't Lead?
Month in, month out, this post consistently gets more Google search hits than any other. This lends some pretty weighty support to my theory that many wives are desperate for their husbands to step up and lead their marriage and family. In an interesting and cautionary side-note, however, the second most popular search engine result page is the one entitled “What if my husband acts like a dictator.” Hence my consistent call for husbands to be both strong and good. One more interesting Google tidbit - I almost never get linked by searches like, "my wife won't submit."
A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
Shame and Intimacy
Shame is one of the biggest killers of intimacy in marriage. I was surprised it didn’t hit home with more readers and garner more discussion and backlinks. I think that might be because shame is a stealth weapon that the enemy uses to keep couples from reaching deeper intimacy. Most people have a lot more shame issues than they even realize. The link above kicks off my series on shame and intimacy.
The post that you are most proud of
The Body Image Battle
I wrote this hard-hitting post to husbands to get them to engage on behalf of their wives in the body image battle that rages against them on a daily basis. This is a topic I feel very strongly about and an area where I feel husbands really need a wake-up call. I recently wrote a companion post to wives called The Body Image Battle Continues.
- - - - - - -
Part of the challenge is for me to tag other bloggers with the challenge, but since I'm so late to the party, I think most everyone has been tagged already.
Friday, September 2, 2011
My short series this week on sexual surrender started here.Thus far I've written separately to husbands and to wives.
Today’s post will make more sense if you read those first, so go back and read them if you haven't yet.
Today I’m concluding this little series with some thoughts for both of you.
I’d like to start with an amendment to my premise that opened this series:
Marriage is meant to be more about your surrender than about your satisfaction.With this important addition:
Mutual sexual surrender is the best path to sexual satisfaction!
A paradigm of surrender in your sexual relationship means that each of you places a higher value on the satisfaction of the other than on satisfaction of self.
Sexual Surrender: What It Is, What It Isn’t
God brings favor and blessing to your marriage bed when you choose to relinquish your rights and choose instead to serve your partner. Choose to focus on what you can give instead of what you receive or expect. In light of the fact that your spouse has the biblical right to your body and to the sexual fulfillment that implies, be deliberate in giving yourself to him or her in a way that brings joyful satisfaction. Remember that the bedroom is the one place where you alone can satisfy your spouse’s needs and desires.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that surrender implies weakness, compromise or giving in. I’m not asking you to give up your sexual self, but to use it to serve and satisfy your spouse instead of solely for selfish gratification.
By sexual surrender, I do not imply that you should end up with what Dr. David Schnarch calls sexual leftovers. By that he means the doldrums that result when your sex life consists solely of what is left after each of you selfishly takes things off the table of your sexual relationship. Sexual surrender is neither about giving up on your own sexual desires nor giving in to the coercion of your spouse’s desires.
The joy of sexual surrender is found when you learn to delight both in giving and receiving pleasure in abundance.
Mutuality is Critical
It is very important to realize that for sexual surrender to work in a marriage, it must be mutual. If there is a lack of mutuality then it will not be sustainable, and it could be unhealthy or worse, dangerous. But when I say it must be mutual, I’m not implying that you should keep score. I’m not suggesting you should attempt to measure your spouse’s degree of surrender or rate their success. What I mean is that you each should have the intent to sexually surrender to the other and the desire to serve the other’s sexual nature and needs toward the goal of increased sexual intimacy.
On a related note, genuine surrender gives without expecting something in return. In bed that can be really difficult to accomplish. But sexual surrender is not a tit-for-tat, give a little, get a little kind of game. Your mindset must not be to give only as much as you get and nothing more. As a wife, don’t climb into bed measuring the degree to which you got your emotional needs fulfilled and then decided whether you’ll have sex with your husband. As a husband, don’t decide to withhold from your wife the things that you know satisfy her need for emotional connection when you don’t feel your are getting enough sex.
It’s not easy, but it requires that you lay down your expectation of a 50-50 compromise relationship and instead go for 100-100, where each of you is fully giving his or her self in order to satisfy the other completely.
A Sexual Barometer
It’s commonly said that sex is like a barometer for your marriage as a whole. Sexual issues often point to broader issues in your marriage. In the same way, a lack of surrender in the bedroom often means there are surrender issues in other areas of your marriage.
Husbands, are you leading your wife with love? Are you cherishing her and making her feel adored in the non-sexual aspects of your relationship on a consistent basis? Are you laying down your life for her, serving her sacrificially?
Wives, are you respecting your husband? Do you work with and through him instead of around and against him? Do you follow his lead and keep yourself submitted to (“arranged under”) his headship.
Truthfully, without a prevailing atmosphere of surrender in your marriage in general, sexual surrender is going to be very hard to achieve. Take a surrender inventory of yourself and your marriage. Ask yourself the hard questions. If you are consistent at trying to live a surrendered marriage, sexual surrender can follow much more naturally.
It’s Simple But Not Easy
Sex is a hugely complex issue. Every couple’s history and issues are different, and the barriers to sexual surrender will be different as well. I don’t mean to imply by what I’ve said here that it is easy. It’s not. But it is good. Very good.
I believe that a paradigm of surrender is what God intends for your sexual relationship, just as it is for the non-sexual parts of your marriage. And as with the rest of your marriage, sexual surrender will ebb and flow. Sometimes it will be easy, sometimes it will feel impossible.
Things like stress, exhaustion, busyness and sickness will all challenge your degree of sexual surrender, causing you to turn inward and become more self-centered. But don’t give up and decide surrender doesn’t work just because it’s hard sometimes or because you don’t always have the intense and passionate sex life you think you should. Have grace toward your spouse when he or she struggles to surrender; have grace to forgive yourself and move on when surrender has been difficult for you.
What do you think of my suggestion that sexual surrender is God's plan for sexual intimacy? Agree? Disagree? Let me know!
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