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Thursday, October 27, 2011
Today I am continuing with another “truth-in-tension” post. You can catch up on the rest of the series starting back here.

If you read here regularly then you know I’m really big on the importance of selflessness in marriage. A Surrendered Marriage is one in which we lay aside our rights-focused, entitlement-minded and self-centered ways that are based mostly on having your own needs met by our spouse. In place of all that, I encourage people to instead embrace a lifestyle of sacrificial love, selfless giving and the surrender of their rights for the sake of their spouse and marriage.

As much as I believe that a strong marriage is built on focusing on the needs of your spouse (and marriage) more than you focus on your own needs, there are some corresponding truths that must be held in tension in order to keep things in proper balance.

You are Not Their Savior

When it comes to meeting your spouse’s needs, you have to keep in mind that you are not solely responsible for meeting every need they have. You are not their be all and end all. That job belongs to God. You are not their God, so don’t try to be. Neither are you their savior. That job belongs to Jesus.

A Surrendered Marriage will only be successful in the degree to which each person is firstly surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is our ultimate source and the one who ultimately fulfills us and meets our needs.

Let Me Help You Love Me

It is perfectly okay, and even necessary, for you to express your needs to your spouse. Of course these aren’t to be expressed as demands or rights but out of a heart that says, “I know you love me. I know you want to love me well. Let me help you love me by telling you how you might do that.” Sometimes your husband or wife really will need some help in knowing what you need.

And don’t take the mindset that it doesn’t count if you had to ask for it. That kind of attitude presumes your spouse doesn’t want to show you love in ways that matter to you.

Sometimes Selfish is Actually Selfless

Sometimes putting your own needs first is necessary.

If you don’t take decent care of yourself, you can’t hope to have anything left to help take care of your spouse, your family or your friends. Ideally husband and wife are helping to look out for each other, each making sure that the other is well taken care of (read more on the “spouse-care” concept in this post),  but if that’s not the case, then you need to look out for your own mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Self-care is not being selfish. In the right balance, it can actually be another form of selflessness.


So I will continue to encourage you here to go after meeting your spouse’s needs in a selfless and sacrificial manner. I actually hope you can move beyond simply meeting their needs in to the realm of learning how to delight them. But as you do, keep in mind that you have to balance that against maintaining your own wellbeing along the way. Hold these truths in tension.

What do you do to make ensure your own mental, physical and spiritual well-being?


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Related Reading:

Lori Lowe at Marriage Gems recently explained in answered the question "Why are Women Less Happy than Men in Marriage?" that it is because women tend to rely too much on their husbands to meet all their needs. Check out the rest of her reasoning by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
In my last post I offered some thoughts on how our spiritual relationship with Jesus offers us insight into how, in a marital relationship, we can similarly become “one” yet still remain as “two” individuals.

Today, as a follow-up, I want to paint another picture of oneness and individuality from an altogether different perspective. Today we’ll look at the one-flesh lessons found in sexual intimacy.

In Ephesians 5, when Paul refers to the “great mystery” of two becoming one, he quotes this famous verse from Genesis:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Genesis 2:24

The obvious allusion here is to sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. Of course there is much more to becoming one than what is attained in a sexual union, but I think we can glean some insights for the broader context by looking more closely at the nature of sexual intimacy.

Sex as a Metaphor

It is sometimes said that what is happening in your bedroom is a microcosm of what is happening in the rest of your relationship. I don’t know that it’s 100% true, but I do believe that sexual issues often point to issues elsewhere in your marriage. It’s also often true that if your relationship is thriving outside the bedroom, then a great sex life is a lot more likely to result.

So, as part of this ongoing series of “truths-in-tension,” it makes sense for us to look at the tension between unity and individuality found in the act of sex.

When a man and woman come together as “one” in a sexual union, it is obvious that they do not somehow leave themselves behind in the act. Rather, they ideally bring their physical bodies to the sexual experience for the mutual pleasure, benefit and satisfaction of their spouse and themselves. It’s actually a great picture of how becoming one works in a much broader marital sense.

Male and female bodies were purposefully designed by God for this beautiful and intimate sexual relationship. In the same way, a husband and wife were hand-crafted by God as unique individuals but that that fit together in a unique, intimate and beautiful way. The beauty and pleasure of two becoming one in sexual intimacy is the same as the beauty and pleasure that grows out of a marriage relationship that embraces the one-flesh paradigm throughout the whole of their marriage.


Naked Without Shame

There’s an extremely important yet often overlooked verse that follows the one quoted above. Here’s the whole thing again in context:
(Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.) And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:24-25
Naked! Without Shame! In sex, yes, of course. But this means much more than sex with the lights on. Being “naked without shame” is also a way to live the entirety of your marriage. It means being willing to bring the fullness of yourself, flaws and all, to your marriage, knowing that unconditional love covers those places you’d rather not be seen by your spouse. It means being real, being vulnerable and being seen for who you really are. It means giving to your spouse the same grace and acceptance you hope to receive from your spouse in the face of your own shortcomings and weaknesses.

It takes time and experience for a couple to find their sexual groove. Over time they grow into sexual maturity by identifying their own sources of pleasure, developing their skills as a lover, and learning the unique landscape of their partner’s body. So too in becoming one in marriage, you come to fully know your partner and become fully known by them. You grow into the fullness of your marriage relationship, not by leaving yourselves behind, but growing more into who you really are.

Known Fully – Loved Completely

Because it is a fitting description of the intimacy that develops in a one-flesh marriage as well as in your sexual relationship, I’ll restate my definition of intimacy:

Deep, genuine intimacy comes from being fully known (naked) and completely loved (without shame).
It’s true that the fullest and most enduring kind of marital intimacy is the kind that involves the entirety of your being: spirit, soul and body. When two people become physically one-flesh in sexual intimacy, they still remain separate bodies. In the same way, when you and your spouse become one-flesh in the rest of your marriage, you are still separate beings.

In the end you will discover how in marriage you are very much interdependent with your spouse, yet your own identity is neither compromised nor diminished. In fact, it is actually enhanced!

The most important lesson from all this is that together you can create something unique and wonderful that is much more enriching and satisfying that either of you alone. True for sex. True for marriage.

Agree?

Friday, October 21, 2011
This is the second in a series of truths in tension. I’m examining marriage truths that must be considered in light of other offsetting marriage truths. For a successful and thriving Surrendered Marriage you have to be willing to hold what you think you believe about marriage up against other truths that may seem to conflict.

Today’s truth in tension topic is closely related to my previous post, “Does Surrender Mean Losing My Self?” The question at hand today is how to balance the truth that marriage is about two becoming one against the contrasting truth that you still need to retain your individuality.

Two Become One

Quoting from Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians on marriage:
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32

Here Paul quotes the verse from Genesis that you hear in almost every Christian marriage ceremony today. More on that in my next post. What I want to focus on here is that our understanding of being one-flesh in marriage can be compared directly to the way in which we are one with Christ.

This “great mystery” that Paul alludes to is God’s wonderful demonstration of a perfect paradigm for marriage: Christ and the church. When I believe in Jesus I become one with him. The Bible says we are “hidden in Christ.” But I don’t stop being me. Though I am a “new creation” I am still the person God created me to be, only more so. My personality doesn’t change, though my disposition may and the manner in which I manage my emotions may. I’m the same height, same eye color. I am still me. In Christ.

What about all those ungodly habits, “fleshly” behaviors and sinful tendencies? I’ll make two important points that relate closely to oneness in marriage.

First, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, when God looks at me he sees me (and you, if you believe) as perfect. All that garbage is covered, erased, gone! This is the message of grace found in the gospel. This is a message for marriage that we must embrace. We need the grace to look past all the stuff we don’t like or that doesn’t meet our expectations and love our spouses anyway. That’s how Jesus loves us.

Second, the process of growing in oneness with Christ is simply a process of surrender. With our past dealt with by the cross, we have uninhibited access to the deepest possible intimacy with Jesus if we will but embrace it and yield ourselves to it. That requires yielding of “self” and “embracing Christ.” But as I said in my previous post, this surrender is not about losing yourself in the sense of pretending to be something you are not, but holding onto your self through the process of transformation, through growing up in Christ. In the same way, growing in marital oneness involved renewing our minds to a different paradigm. If you will but view your marriage from a one-flesh understanding, it has radical power to transform your marriage.


Transformation not Conformation

Just as it is when we are joined with Christ, when a man and woman get marriage they do not then form a third entity as a couple, “the marriage.” It’s wrong to think that they leave themselves behind and become a part of something different in marriage. Rather, each brings the fullness of their being to the marriage, just as they are, but with the understanding that they are now part of something greater than them alone.

The goal in marriage is not to “conform” yourself into the person you think you should be or the person your spouse thinks you should be. The goal is to “transform” your thinking to begin to look beyond yourself, to ask, “How can I bring myself to this marriage in a way that benefits, blesses, honors and delights my spouse?” You may discover along the way that there are parts of your being that need to grow and change along the way, but the motivation is not conformity but love and intimacy. (There’s a very similar mechanism in Christian maturity as well, but I’ll leave you to ponder that for yourself.)

Are We Two or Are We One?

So the answer to the question of how two people become one and still remain individuals is indeed a mystery, but there is transformational power that can radically impact your marriage when you hold these two truths in tension.

What do you think about my description of a one-flesh paradigm that retains the sense of individuality? Love to hear your thoughts!



Next time I will a look at this unity vs. individuality question from a slightly different perspective. Part three in the truth-in-tension series will look at why sex is a great picture of becoming one flesh that has many implications for becoming one outside the bedroom.


 - - - - - - Further Reading - - - - - -  

Check out One Flesh Marriage for some further great insights on this topic:
Thoughts From Kate

Brad’s perspective

My series on One flesh starts here or you can check the whole series on the blog sidebar under notable series entitled On Being One Flesh

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Today I’m starting off a series of posts exploring some truths about Surrendered Marriage in light of offsetting truths.

This is what I call truth in tension. You can read the introduction to the series here.

This first topic in this series comes in response to a recent question I received on my sexual surrender series.
How do I surrender to my spouse without losing myself?

When I talk about surrender in marriage and the accompanying focus on selfless giving and laying down your rights, some wrongly conclude that there is an implied loss of self. While I can see why some jump to that conclusion, it’s not at all the intent of a Surrendered Marriage.

I define Surrendered Marriage as one in which both husband and wife bring the fullness of who they are (spirit, soul and body) to their marriage, applying their true selves in a way that honors, blesses and builds each other up. Intimacy reaches its deepest and most intense level when both of you are willing to be totally naked with each other in every sense (physically, emotionally, spiritually) but without any sense of shame or fear. That’s how God meant it to be. That’s how it was in the Garden
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed
Genesis 2:24-25

It’s not easy. As broken humans we are full of shame and fear when it comes to who we see ourselves to be. Shame and fear make us want to hide from one another. How quick we are to don the fig leaves of pretense and falsehood, as we try to cover over our perceived weakness. But there is no place for fig leaves in a Surrendered Marriage.

Giving Your True Self

When a wife surrenders her self to her husband she is not giving up her self, but rather giving of herself to him; her real self; her full self. Though her surrender takes the form of living in submission to her husband, he receives the gift of her submission not so that he can selfishly change or manipulate her for his own gain, not to extract from her what he wants and not so that he can control her. Rather, he cherishes her for who she is, he loves her as she is, unconditionally. His desire is to see her thrive and reach her fullest potential; to become all God created her to be.

Likewise a husband who surrenders himself to his wife is not giving up himself, but rather giving himself to her; his real self; his full self. His surrender takes the form of servant hearted leadership that does not seek to control or dominate, but rather to lead and love with strength and goodness. She does not take advantage of his goodness and desire to serve her by trying to manipulate or change him or to get him simply to meet all her own needs. Rather, she loves him unconditionally by showing honor and respect for the person he is, weaknesses and all. Her desire is to see him thrive and reach his fullest potential; to become all God created him to be.


What Does Surrender Look Like?

Let’s try to clarify how this aspect of a Surrendered Marriage works with an example scenario involving sexual surrender, since that's the context in which the question was posed.

Michael and Dianne have been married three years. Sex has been a source of increasing struggle in the past year.  Michael is constantly badgering Dianne to have sex, and it makes her feel demeaned, objectified and inadequate. Dianne’s constant refusal, on the other hand, makes Michael feel unloved and leaves him constantly frustrated and discouraged. There seems to be no solution. Who surrenders to whom?

The “loss of self” type of surrender might have Dianne giving in more often with pity or duty sex. But that is only going to make her feel less desire for sex and reinforce her feeling objectified by her husband. Michael could give up on his desire for more sex and just try to grin and bear it. He could see this as “laying down his life” for Dianne by denying his own sexual self. He could “take care of himself” when frustration gets unbearable and try to redirect his sexual energies into other things. It won’t work, of course, and his frustration level, admitted or not, will only grow. The marriage will eventually face peril.

There is no chance for deeper intimacy in either of these “loss of self” scenarios. But let’s look at what a “fullness of self” Surrendered Marriage solution might look like.

Real Surrender

What Michael needs is not to surrender his sexual desires, but to stop making Dianne feel like less of a woman for not being more sexually responsive. Loving her unconditionally means loving her as if she were after him all the time for sex (if that was his wish) and then gently leading her toward becoming more fully aware of her own sexual self. Cherish who and how she is in the present, and nurture her toward discovering the mutual joy of sexual intimacy. He can fully embrace his own sexual desire, but learn to express his desire for her in ways that affirm her as a woman and a wife.

Dianne’s surrender, in this case, has nothing to do with reluctantly having sex with Michael more often or even faking her way through sexual encounters. In response to Michael’s loving affirmation, she can learn to surrender her sexual inhibition, her shame, her fear or whatever it is that is keeping her from embracing her own sexuality and keeping them from enjoying the fruit of deeper sexual intimacy in their marriage. She can accept the fact that as a woman her sexual wiring is always going to be rather different than Michael’s, but she can also learn to delight in delighting her husband and bringing him pleasure while at the same time learning to give voice to her own sexual needs and desires.

Who Won?

You might look at my prescription for Michael and Dianne and protest that it was Dianne who had to do most of the giving and changing. You might even say that Michael “won.” But if you think I’m just describing a scenario in which Michael gets more sex then you’ve totally missed the heart behind the surrender.

The goal for Michael and Dianne, as it is for every marriage, is for their marriage to thrive and for both individuals to thrive. Clearly that was not the case before. God wants every marriage to enjoy the kind of incredible intimacy that only sex can bring. The goal is for Michael to see that sex is more than a biological urge and for Dianne to see it as more than a wifely duty. The goal is for them both to see sex as the glue that holds their marriage together for the long haul, as something that can energize them both as individuals, and for them to realize that sex is an arena where giving your body to your spouse for their pleasure is truly a delightful and unique privilege of married life.

Keeping your self does not mean refusing to grow and change in ways that benefit your marriage, your spouse and your self. Maybe what I’m trying to get at is more accurately described as “holding onto your self” through the process of becoming all you can be.

In answer to the headline question, no, surrender does not mean losing your self. In some cases it may actually mean finding your self.

What do you think of my Surrendered Marriage scenario for Michael and Dianne?


Next up is a closely related truth in tension: how can two people become one and yet maintain their individuality.

Thursday, October 13, 2011
I’ve often said that you have to consider what the Bible says about marriage as a series of truths in tension. Many biblical truths, not just those concerning marriage, when considered in isolation from other truths, can result in a distorted perspective or an unhealthy imbalance. The tension is critically important.

To gain a thorough understanding of Surrendered Marriage you have to keep multiple facets of surrender held in tension. I’m embarking today on a series of “truth in tension” posts about the topic of surrender as it applies to marriage.

Can You Live With Tension?

As a Christ-follower, I have learned to become increasingly okay living with tension (not the headache-inducing-stress kind, but the things-are-not-so-black-and-white kind). The more I discover about God, the more I discover that He is full of mystery. Sometimes I feel like the deeper I go with Him, the more there is to know. Even the foundational Christian belief that God is one but also three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is a marvelously mind-bending and mysterious truth in tension. It’s everywhere.

Yep, life in the Kingdom is a life full of truths in tension. Jesus himself was a walking truth in tension. He was fully God, yet he was also fully man. He possessed all the power of the universe, yet he humbled himself and surrendered himself to be put to death by those who hated him. He was truly all-powerful, yet he was unwaveringly all-good. He was completely holy, but he associated with prostitutes and all kinds of “despised” people.

Surrendered Marriage - Many Mysteries

In order to take your marriage to deepest level, I think you have to be willing to embrace a certain amount of mystery. Yes, mystery can be messy. If you are the kind of person who likes their truth neatly packaged, wrapped up plainly in the clean lines of black and white, let me encourage you to step back and take another look. Peer into the gray. Look for the mystery.

When it comes to growing your marriage, you may have to be willing to temper what you think you know about it with some things you never considered. You may have to hold up your current set of marriage truths against another, polar opposite, seemingly incongruent set of truths.

For example, maybe you believe the biblical notion that a husband is given authority from God to lead his marriage and home. But have you also considered the truth that being a leader has nothing to do with being the boss but has to do with self-sacrifice and laying down your life?

Maybe you believe in the importance of selfless love and sacrificial giving in your marriage. Do you realize it’s okay for you to be selfless yet also have and express your own needs?

The Bible says that in marriage two become one.  But do you also realize that oneness does not mean you give up your identity or that you stop being who you are?

Maybe you understand that the Bible says a wife should live in submission to her husband. But do you know that a biblically submitted wife can still be strong, use her gifts fully and totally thrive in a rightly ordered marriage? Do you know it’s actually the husband’s job to help make that happen?

Stay Tuned, Join In

I’ve got a whole bag full of Surrendered Marriage truths in tension like these to examine more deeply as part of this series.

Part of my purpose is to challenge your assumptions and presumptions when it comes to marriage. I hope to stretch you a little. I hope to make you think.

Embrace the mystery. Jump into the tension.  And I truly hope you’ll jump into the conversation.

Do you have some truth-tension type questions you’d like to see addressed here?

Are there mysteries about marriage that you’d like to see examined more closely?

Are there some things I’ve written in past blog posts that you think need to be counterbalanced by another truth?

Saturday, October 8, 2011
I’m long overdue in bringing to your attention another great marriage blog that I’ve been reading almost since I started blogging. I am speaking of Tom and Debi Walters and their blog The Romantic Vineyard, a “Top Ten 2010 Marriage Blog.”

Jenni and I were blessed to share dinner with Tom and Debi last night. They are in the Atlanta area doing grandparent duty to provide for a getaway opportunity for their daughter and son-in-law. Sadly, we were so busy sharing our stories and hearts that we neglected to capture the event with a photo, so I can only share the photo from their website.

Tom and Debi share a common devotion to encouraging and building marriages from a biblical perspective. Even though Jenni and I haven’t yet hit the completely empty nest or grandparent stage yet, it’s great to observe another couple past the 30 year mark (which we will hit next summer) who still obviously love and care for each other deeply.

I often find myself reading the stuff at The Romantic Vineyard and silently nodding to myself, “They really get it!” Besides being kindred spirits in the Christian marriage blog space, what I find so delightful about The Romantic Vineyard is the sense of absolute genuineness in what they write. They freely share their both their triumphs and foibles, but always in a way that points to truth and hope.

In addition they also provide some great practical help through a few of their regular features. Regular “Happy Hour”  posts point us to other notable marriage blogs, including some Journey to Surrender posts. They often include great romantic and creative date ideas, both some specific “Mark Your Calendar” events in their native Orlando area and many that are more generally applicable. Their “Water into Wine”  series offers insights from the book of Proverbs. There are a bunch of tabs to different vineyard-themed resources on the website too, such as "The Tasting Room," which links to a bunch of marriage related books.  There are also separate tabs for husbands and wives full of great tips. 

I've added The Romantic Vineyard to my blog roll, so you can follow what Debi and Tom are posting about from here, but you’ll definitely want to bookmark, subscribe by email or put The Romantic Vineyard in your RSS feed. You can follow them on twitter at @TheRomanticVine and check out their Facebook page

Thanks to Tom and Debi for a wonderful night of fellowship and food, and, of course, wine.

Thursday, October 6, 2011
As I mentioned in my last post, my wife and I spoke recently at the Hope at Home 2011 Conference for adoptive parents. During the conference, as I sat and listened to my pastor describe the significant power our words have to impact our children, I couldn’t help but consider the parallel truths for marriage.

So with a nod of thanks to our pastor, Greg Haswell, I’m going to shamelessly steal from what he said and apply it to marriage.

Words Have Power

Debi from The Romantic Vineyard left a comment on my previous post “When You Have Nothing Left” about the importance of speaking truth out loud in order to encourage and build up your partner.

Truth gains power when spoken out loud. I don’t really know why that is, but I have certainly found it to be true for me. Prayers spoken out loud seem to increase my faith as compared to prayers thought silently. Reading a verse of scripture out loud allows the truth of it to penetrate more deeply than simply reading. When I sing along to a favorite worship song it lends agreement to the praises being offered, which re-orients my being toward God. Don’t believe me? Try it!

The fact is that what you say out loud has power…
  • To Give Life or cause death – when you speak God’s truth to your spouse, it gives them life. When you speak falsehood or half-truth you speak death.
  • To Direct – what you say creates momentum in one direction or another. Consider before you speak whether what you are about to say will move your marriage forward or backward.
  • To Define – the things you say to your husband or wife will impact the way they see themselves. You want to speak things that are in agreement with who God says they are, understanding that their behavior isn’t always going to line up 100% with that.
  • To Create – When you speak truth into the life of your spouse, you can help to call forth the things which are not yet, but which can be. God created the universe not by thinking or imagining it, but by speaking it into being.
Giving Life with Your Words

Here are a few tips for how to be a life-giver when it comes to how you speak to your spouse:
  • Be Consistent – Do your best not to give mixed messages. Remember that it takes seven positive statements to every negative one just to stay even.
  • Be Constant –. Develop life-word habits. Commit to complimenting your spouse every day, but be genuine. And never get beyond confessing your love out loud to one another.
  • Be Deliberate – You have to be purposeful about speaking truth and life. It’s easy to let your conversations drift only to the functional and mundane.
  • Be An Eavesdropper – Pray for wisdom and revelation of what heaven is saying about your spouse, about your circumstances and about your marriage. Agree with that. Out loud.
  • Be A Treasure Hunter – We generally don’t have to work very hard to find negative stuff, but that isn’t what we want to agree with. Look for the good stuff, and amplify that with your words.

What you say out loud makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of your marriage and your home.

Consider how what you’ve been saying lately has been influencing the atmosphere in your marriage, and think about what you might do to shift your words more toward truth and life.

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