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Friday, December 23, 2011

As husbands, I think one reason we have some trouble with Paul’s command to love our wives “as Christ loved the church,” is that we don’t really fully know how Christ loves the church.

In the Christmas story we have a wonderful portrait of this love right before our eyes.  Consider for a moment a hypothetical conversation in heaven between Jesus and the Father.

A Heavenly Conversation

“Father, I think it’s time,” Jesus said.

“I know, yes, it is. My children are lost in darkness.”

“They need the light. My light. Your light.”

“It’s so hard for me to ask you to leave all this. The beauty. The perfection. The nonstop worship. I’ll miss having you here at my right hand.” The Father’s eyes looked down as the immensity of what was about to happen weighed on his heart.

“Yes, I’ll miss this very much. I’ll miss being here with you. But as painful as it is to leave, it’s more painful to stay when I know I can do something of such eternal value.”

The Father looked at Jesus with compassion. “Do you know what this means for you, my Son?”

“Yes. It means I will have an eternal, beautiful radiant bride. It means your people will have a way to you, free and clear. It means the law of love will replace the law of man, freedom will replace bondage, healing for diseases, it means our Spirit will be able reside right inside of those who look to me.”

“That’s not the part I’m talking about. I’m talking about you having to lay aside your heavenly form and take the form of a human. It means experiencing all the realities of the human condition. There will be those who hate you. They will reject you. They will beat you to the very limits of what your human frame can endure.”

The Father put his hand on the Son’s shoulder as a tear formed in his eye. “They will kill you. Brutally.”

“I know Father. I know,” Jesus said, still half smiling up at his Father. “But how else will they know the extent of my love for them. How else will it be possible to blot away all their misdeeds and wandering? You know there is only one way.”

“Of course you are right, Jesus, but that doesn’t make this easy for me.“

The Father turned to the angel standing nearby. “Gabriel, it’s time to prepare the way for my Son to come to earth. Go now and see to it.”

In an instant the angel Gabriel was gone. Everything was set in motion.

The time for Jesus’ own departure was now upon them. “I know I won’t be here,” Jesus said, “but I’ll talk to you every day. I know you’ll be with me wherever I go.”

“I will do what I can to lead you and to strengthen you for what you must do while you are there. Ultimately, this burden is yours to carry, though.”

The Father and Son embraced one last time.

“It will be worth it, Daddy. No matter what it costs me, I know it will be worth it.”

Love Like That

Of course we have no way of knowing whether such a conversation actually took place, but I’m quite sure the heart of it was something like that.

Jesus willingly set aside his authority and chose to clothe himself in humility. He gave his all for our sake. He valued intimacy with us more that his position.  At the beginning of chapter 5 in the book of Ephesians, as a preface to famous instructions on marriage, Paul explained it this way:
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.
Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)
So husbands, as you enjoy extra time with your wife and family this Christmas season, I encourage you to consider the way the One Who is Love came to earth in the form of a baby all those years ago. Consider ways you might show this same kind of love to your wife. It's the best gift you can possibly give.

Be extravagant. Be humble and generous. Be selfless.

It will be worth it.

- - - - - - Check This Out - - - - - -

J at “Hot, Holy and Humorous” did a beautiful video Christmas card to her readers on her blog. It links scriptures from the Song of Solomon with Christmas. It’s perfectly fitting, because after all, Christmas is really part of the ultimate love story. Click on the picture below to see the video.  Very cool!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I’m a big believer in liberty. I believe that liberty is one of our country’s founding principles. The historical degree of liberty we’ve enjoyed is one of the things that makes our country unique and that has led to our economic livelihood and success. I also see our liberties being slowly (some would say quickly) eroded away by undue government intrusions into way too many areas of our lives.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not turning my blog into a political platform. The reason I bring this topic up is that, as with my last post, liberty and license relate directly to a marriage principle I also believe in strongly.

The “Problem” with Liberty

There is a downside to liberty, which is that some confuse liberty with license. Those who do so will tend to abuse their liberty by acting without appropriate restraint, self-control or consideration of others.

Historian and philosopher Will Durant put it this way, “When liberty becomes license, dictatorship is near.”

What happens when liberty becomes license is that we over-react by introducing often severe restrictions on liberty in the name of fairness. We try to control everyone because of the stupidity of a few. (You can read my last post if you want to see what I think about the appropriateness of fairness as a yardstick for marriage.)

Liberty and License in Marriage

Marriage is to be a place of tremendous liberty but not a place of license.

By liberty I mean that we should not try to force our spouses to conform to our notion of what a husband or wife should be, even if it is biblically based. Don’t approach your marriage with the notion that you can control or change him or her to be what you want. It doesn’t work and will lead to disappointment and frustration all around.

At the same time, neither of you should view the liberty your spouse grants you to “be who you are” as license to behave in any manner you wish, to do whatever you want, or to act without regard to your spouse’s interests or desires.

If you are the husband who sees himself as having the authority to lead his wife and family, taking that kind of license is when liberty edges toward dictatorship, as Durant said. Instead, use the liberty of your authority to love and serve your wife, to ensure that she feels cared for and protected.

A wife who takes license with her liberty, who acts without regard to her husband’s needs and desires, will be seen by her husband as disrespectful, untrusting and ungrateful, and ultimately it will leave him feeling unloved. Instead, use your liberty to act with generosity toward your husband, showing him the respect he desires, the sexual attention he craves and the trust and admiration that makes him feel loved.

When you use the liberty in your marriage to love and serve one another it creates an atmosphere where freedom thrives, where trust grows and where the desire to control and constrain each other dies away.

- - - - Further Reading - - - -

Over at The Generous Husband, Paul Byerly recently wrote about a  national marriage study that showed how important generosity is to sustaining a marriage for the long term.  I strongly recommend you check it out here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As I've been listening to the raging debate here in the U.S. over what to do about our soaring national debt, out-of-control government spending, and tax policy, I can't help thinking about marriage.  No, Really. More on that in a minute.

This debt/spending crisis is a train wreck waiting to happen. Everyone knows it, but few are in agreement about what should be done to avoid it. Meanwhile, the train just keeps barreling down the track, picking up speed.But I digress.

This contentious discussion is infused with words like “fairness,” “equity,” and “entitlement.” I’ll be honest and tell you that these are words that tend to grate on my nerves. Typically when these words are invoked, what they really mean is that someone, somewhere, “owes” something to someone else. Implicit in these statements is the notion that an elite set of individuals gets to decide on what fair and equitable means, who owes what to whom, ultimately determining which things certain groups are entitled to take from other groups.

The problem I have with most of the debate is that so many assume a poverty mentality. What I mean by that is that they assume going in that things like wealth, success and resources are in limited supply and capped by the present reality. To those who think this way it’s a zero sum game. So, rather than looking at how to get another pie, or maybe a whole pie factory, the only way to be fair is to say that everyone is entitled to the exactly the same size piece out of the pie that exists today.

Zero-Sum Marriage Mentality

The reason I’ve wandered into this controversial social, political and economic territory today is that there are strong parallels to the way many see their marriages.

Those who look at their marriage as a zero sum game tend not to concern themselves with how to grow themselves or grow their marriage. Instead, they look at what is and try to figure out how to divide it up fairly. Equality and fairness have too often become the criteria by which marriage success is measured. As I’ve said before (see my post The Myth of Equality) that’s just the wrong yardstick for marriage.

The zero sum mentality is what lands so many at the 50/50 marriage paradigm, which says that everything should be divided right down the middle. Husband and wife are to work, cook, clean, manage finances and raise children exactly by halves, as if running parallel lives that minimally intersect, if at all. To them, fairness can only mean sameness. They would have you measure your spouse’s 50 percent carefully and often, fight for your rights and for what you are owed, and make sure that you get back in a measure equal to whatever you give, (and if you can get a little more than that, so much the better).

But is this the way of a biblical marriage?

50-50 and the Bridal Paradigm

If our model for marriage is Jesus and the church, then the 50-50 marriage model really doesn’t apply.

Jesus gave 100 percent. He gave his own life in order to have us 100 percent. He gave all to us and wants us to give all to him. He showed us the way of perfect love: all in, one hundred percent, nothing held back.

What would your marriage be like if both of you threw out the scorecards? What if you were both one hundred percent in, putting everything you have and everything you are into your marriage? What if instead of equity and fairness as the measure of the quality of your marriage, you used the love of Jesus?

What if you used your degree of surrender as the yardstick? I’ll quote here from an earlier post where I described what a surrendered marriage looks like:
A surrendered marriage calls us to surrender self. It means living selflessly and self-sacrificing instead of living self-centered and self-satisfying. It means living against our human nature, because our natural path is the path of self. Rather than focusing on the question of “what are my rights?” and “what do I get out of this marriage?” we are instead to focus on “what can I give to benefit and bless my spouse?” and “What can I do to strengthen our marriage?”
Being One Changes the Whole Game

There is one other important biblical concept that greatly influences the mathematics of marriage: being one flesh.

When a man and woman are joined together before God and man in holy matrimony, the Bible says they become “one flesh.” They are to see themselves as one in every dimension: sexual, spiritual, emotional, financial – every dimension.

Now let me remind you that being one does NOT mean being the same! That's 50-50 thinking. Being one actually means adding strength to strength and allowing strength to cover for weakness. It means coming together in a way that makes your marriage more than either of you as individuals. You don’t lose your individuality. Rather, you bring your full, genuine self to your relationship for the benefit of your spouse and your marriage.

Here’s the deal with taking a one-flesh view of your marriage: whatever accrues to your spouse also accrues to you. If my spouse wins, then I win too. If I grow, our marriage grows. When he or she is blessed, then so am I, even if I am the one doing the blessing.

Marriage is not a zero sum game. Don’t settle for a 50-50 marriage – go for 100-100!

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Since writing the draft of this post, I came across Sheila Gregoire’s terrific article on her To Love Honor and Vacuum blog  , entitled “The 99% and the 1% With Marriage.”  The article runs in a similar vein, comparing current socio-political events to marriage. Great reading!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are you still stuck for an idea of what to give your spouse for Christmas? Or maybe you’ve already bought a gift (or gifts) but you are looking for an extra special way to bless him or her this year.

The great response to my wife’s post from last week has prompted me to periodically post some more “Romantic Ideas.” For the most part these will be ideas that we’ve actually done. Maybe I’ll even get my wife to post a few of these as well.

The Christmas Countdown

Today’s romantic idea is something I did for her last year. It’s a “Romantic Countdown to Christmas.” Of course as with any romantic idea, you need to adapt it to your spouse’s particular favorite things. Times like this are why I say it is important to be a lifelong student of your spouse and what delights him or her most.

The idea the Christmas countdown is simple. Pick a number of days until Christmas. If you are a traditionalist, you might do the twelve days of Christmas. I did ten. Seven would work too. [edit: to be technically correct, the 12 days of Christmas actually follow after Christmas, which would work just as well.]

Then for each day give him or her a gift representing the number of days remaining until the “big day.” Here’s my list from last year:
  • 10 – ten pretty fingers (gift card for a manicure)
  • 9 – nine tasty treats (Cella chocolate covered cherries-her favorite)
  • 8 – four pairs of Christmas-themed earrings (she loves these things)
  • 7 – Christmas-themed arrangement of seven red roses
  • 6 – Six string serenade (she picked songs I sang for her)
  • 5 – five minute kiss
  • 4 – four pairs of pretty panties
  • 3 – a set of three Woodwick candles
  • 2 – a side-by-side framed picture (us on one side and our daughters on the other)
  • 1 – Christmas lingerie (OK this gift was more for me)
The gifts don’t have to be large or expensive. It really is the thought that counts in this particular romantic endeavor!

An Added Twist

Part of the fun is deciding a fun way to surprise them with the gift each day. I had a small wooden box with a lock on it. Each day the key would appear in an unexpected way. Jenni would unlock the box to find a note that gave a clue as to where to find the day’s present. I wrote a little poem for each.  For example day eight, the four pairs of earrings, which were placed in some teacups she had on display:

What numbers eight, yet comes in twos?
Perhaps I’ll give a few more clues

It is something festive for the season
Given for the best of reasons

‘Tis love that causes me to give
Four gifts that hide where teacups live

If you have no gift for rhyme, do something else that works better for you: Send a text message or email with the clue for the day. Maybe get other family members involved. Leave a note taped to their bathroom mirror. Get creative! Have fun with it!

If you decide to try the Countdown to Christmas, stop back by and let us know how it worked out!

 Don't miss my other Romantic Ideas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
You may have noticed that the title of today’s post is also the tag line of my blog. I’m excited to share with you today a guest post by Lori Lowe, a fellow marriage blogger at Marriage Gems and author of the book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, which comes out tomorrow.

In what follows, Lori shares about a real-life couple from her new book who wholeheartedly embraced a counter-cultural approach to their lives, and consequently to their marriage.

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Guest post by Lori D. Lowe

One of the couples I interviewed for my book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, are people I have known for ten years. In fact, they helped inspire me to write the book, because they are such a strong role model for a loving, sacrificial marriage. While the other couples featured in the book live all across the country, the Johnstons happen to live next door to me and have been married more than 30 years.

I didn’t know some of the deeper aspects of their marriage until I sat down to interview both of them. In my book I share many of the secrets to their marital success. First, they chose a counter-cultural lifestyle, which is to say they don’t let the dominant culture define their values. Their Christian faith is primary in their lives. And their values include not allowing materialism to define or control their lives.

Many of us will say we aren’t materialistic, but we love to shop every weekend. We would love to get new furniture, a nicer car, or a bigger house. Maybe we even save up so we can spend on these big-ticket items as often as we can. When we earn more, we are excited to spend more. The Johnstons, on the other hand, committed early in their marriage to be satisfied with what they had and to earmark extra earnings for charity rather than for increasing their lifestyle level.

One of the reasons they did this is they were involved in mission work in other countries. They met people who were exceedingly happy despite their extreme levels of poverty, and they understood that joy does not come from things. Instead, they find joy from being generous and sacrificial to others.

Over time, they also learned how to take this sacrificial mindset that is modeled by Jesus and be more giving and sacrificial to one another. They learned to give in more, instead of insisting on being right. They make daily efforts to please one another, and work to ensure the other is fulfilled. For example, Phil is a physician but makes time to be in a symphonic choir, and Margaret is a retired teacher who receives fulfillment in the garden and in volunteer work. They encourage others in their faith lives and marriages. They work to improve their communication.

And they have found the more they give of themselves, the more their cups are filled back up. They call this the paradox of giving, the fact that we get more by giving more. Happiness research has shown that volunteering and generosity add to our happiness, so they aren’t the only ones to discover this concept.

The lesson they teach through their personal story is that love is sacrificial, and that we need to create a cycle of giving (inside and outside of our families). Christians understand the ultimate example of sacrifice, but it can be difficult to live counter to our culture, which tells us we should give in order to get. Our culture, particularly in America, tells us that freedom and the pursuit of happiness are the highest ideals. Love is often presented in our culture as a romantic notion where we are expected to be constantly happy. How do you define your own values? How do you choose to live them out?

The good news is that living a life of sacrifice and love is not demeaning or sad. It’s ultimately the most joyful and rewarding of choices. Deep down we all want to love and to be loved. Placing your spouse’s needs above yours can be difficult sometimes, but often that act of love pays you tremendous dividends in your marital happiness.

Of course this blog, Journey to Surrender, is all about this mission, as you know if you are a regular reader. I’m sure Scott’s continued insights will help us learn more about how to keep moving in the right direction.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lori Lowe is a journalist, GenXer, and child of divorce. Her book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be released Dec. 8th on and in various e-book formats at Couples featured in the book experienced many challenges, including infertility, stranger rape, child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, unsupportive families, faith differences, military separation, life-threatening illness, raising a special-needs child, financial crises and much more. You can also connect with Lori at or on Twitter @LoriLowe.

Thursday, December 1, 2011
At last I am delighted to present to you my wife’s very first post here at Journey to Surrender. I am hopeful it won't be her last!

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For years my female friends and family have said that my husband Scott should write a book of ideas on how to romance your wife. Humble man that he is, Scott feels hesitant to announce the wonderful gestures of love he has showered on me over the almost 30 years of our marriage (not to mention our dating years!) Since beginning his blog, those same friends and now some fellow bloggers have encouraged me to write about some of his special surprises and romantic ideas.

Before I share more details, I want to express my own motivation for writing this post. I have wanted for some time to respond to the many women who fear that a submissive wife is somewhat of a slave to her husband, that she loses her “rights,” and that there will be no one to put her needs first. Not everyone is married to a man who loves her unconditionally, lays down his wishes and desires for hers and makes it his goal to cherish her, but I want to share what it looks like in my marriage as I live in submission to my husband, whose love is as Christ like as I have ever seen.

The story of his latest romantic surprise.

To give some background, I had just finished a pretty intense season in ministry, speaking at a conference in August, another in September, traveling to Thailand in October for five days of ministry, ten days later leading another conference plus two weeks of wonderful company. During this time, Scott was also doing more travelling than he’s ever done before.

We put our three girls on a plane to Paris (another great story) late on the Friday night before Thanksgiving. I went to bed exhausted but ready to sleep in and take the next week to get my life (and home) back in order.

Instead, this is what happened:
  • Scott woke me up with a cup of tea in bed and handed me a packing list, but with no hints of where we were going.
  • While I showered and packed Scott made us a yummy eggs and bacon breakfast.
  • At one point in the morning he told me that Westly, our mutt, needed a biscuit. When I opened the cupboard I found some wonderful perfume with a card that announced that we were about to have a sensual, spoiling, refreshing weekend. He said that we had been pouring into many other things for months, and now it was time for us to pour into each other.
  • We hopped in the car with me still unsure of our destination, and Scott announced that we would be answering some questions together periodically throughout our day. He had compiled a list from various books, blogs, and articles. (e.g. “Describe the perfect kiss”)
  • We arrived at a beautiful walking park and even saw some deer! Lots of hand holding and kisses and more questions.
  • Next Scott dropped me off at a nail salon, handed me another card with a gift certificate for a deluxe mani/pedi – a real treat for me!
  • Scott picked me up after my relaxing nail spa experience and we arrived at an Embassy Suites. He asked me to wait in the lobby, handed me a card and told me he would text when I could open it.
  • The card was an invitation to come to our room for an afternoon tea (my favorite pastime and drink of choice) Scott had gone all out with sandwiches, scones, and treats! Delicious!
  • Oh, unusual dress for the tea but very romantic, new black silk robe and lingerie!
  • After relaxing a bit and taking care of a few “have to’s” for our church duties on Sunday morning, Scott announced that it was time to get ready for our dinner reservation. Then he showed me the pretty new dress he had purchased for me!
  • After a happy hour glass of wine and a delicious dinner I was handed a key to unlock a special box filled with little cards with gradually increasing passion ideas, the first of which was, “Kiss like you did when kissing was all you could do - five minutes minimum.”
  • I’m not giving any further details on the cards but the Jacuzzi and champagne were definitely a hit!

And that was just the first day of our three day weekend together. Get the picture? Does this submission-hearted wife feel like a slave?? Only to his love!!!


Not only is this an example of Scott’s selfless love for me, planning all my favorites and spoiling me, but this post is also an example of what my submission looks like. I really balked badly at writing a post. Just did not want to! Scott didn’t demand it, but just hinted would I ever want to, on any subject. I did it because I hoped it would please him, not because I had to, because I want to make him as happy as he makes me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
My last two posts (Marriage: Made for Glory and The Glory in Your Spouse) explained how the glory of God is available to infuse you, your marriage and your spouse with divine blessing and power.

If you came away from those posts thinking, “That sounds just too good to be true,” then you need to understand a little more about grace.

God’s grace is the mechanism by which the glory of God is made available to us. By definition, grace comes to us as a free and undeserved gift from God (free to us because of the costly sacrifice of Jesus!).

It can be difficult to get a grasp on this extravagant grace. We want to think that we have something to do with it. We want our own efforts to count for something. But the truth is that our own human striving means nothing when it comes to filling your life and your marriage with the glory of God.

So what DO we DO?

Filling your marriage with more of God (his power, his peace, his love, etc.) is a fairly simple two-part process.

First, we get to know who God is – his nature, his attributes, his emotions, and his acts. We can look to Jesus to see the Father (2 Cor 4:6-7). We can study the Word. We can talk with Him in prayer. We can ask for revelation by the Holy Spirit Ephesians 1:17-23, Ephesians 3:16-21). We can worship.

As I said before, I think getting to know God is the most important priority in our lifelong spiritual journey. And this knowing is more than just head knowledge. It is a deeply intimate and experiential understanding that goes deeply into our soul.

Then, because we have been given a new nature and are now one with Christ, we can believe that all these things that are found in God are also available to us. We can appropriate God’s glorious power to fill our marriages.

Remember, this glory comes by grace, not by human effort. Our effort is not in doing good or by trying to earn God’s favor with our behavior. Our effort is in getting to know him and in believing what he says about us and about our marriage is absolutely true.

Doing That Comes from Knowing

Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that you don’t do good things for your marriage or your spouse. Of course you do. If you read hear at all, you’ll see I strongly believe in doing things to strengthen and grow your marriage. What I’m talking about is the heart behind the doing.

Many who struggle with grace fear that an overemphasis of grace will encourage people to selfishly do whatever they want. To me, that is grace without glory. That’s why I prefaced this grace post with two about glory.

When you truly experience the glory of God, when you see his infinite and sacrificial love, his blessings and promises, his extravagant goodness toward you, it is life changing. It is radically transformational.

This transformation, this renewing of our minds through the knowledge of God, is our motivation for doing rightly in our marriages. It’s not to earn bonus points with your spouse or God. It’s not giving in order to get something in return. It’s not even doing things because you know they are the “right” things to do.

You do things that bless your spouse and marriage because of grace you have been given. You love your husband or wife because you are filled with God’s nature, and he IS love. You lay your life down for your wife because Jesus laid his life down for you. You honor your husband because in God’s eyes he is worthy of honor.

All of this comes to us by God's grace. Freely. Extravagantly.

It is the free gift of God that gives us whatever we need in order to love, bless and honor our spouse in the way God calls us to do it. It is by God’s grace that his glory can shine forth in your marriage.

Do you believe it?

Friday, November 25, 2011
Last time I focused on the amazing truth that your marriage was made to carry the glory of God. As a believer, you and your marriage have free access to the infinite resources of our infinite God!

Today I want to examine another aspect of glory: seeing the glory in your spouse.

Work In Progress

We are all a work in progress. Those of us on a spiritual journey are seeking to become who God has designed us to be, to reach our full potential, by gaining a deeper understanding of who we are in Christ. This is a journey not of human striving but a work of grace done by the Holy Spirit. Our part is but to learn to look on the face of Jesus and allow Him to transform us into a reflection of His glory (2 Cor 3:18, 1 Cor. 4:6-7). You were made for glory.

As hard as it can sometimes be to see our own life in the context of this journey into glory, it can be even harder to see your spouse in the same way. But I’m convinced that this is how God sees us.

Seeing with the Eyes of Heaven

It’s really easy to look at your spouse and see what’s “missing.”

It’s a lot harder to look at your spouse and see what’s there but has not yet been revealed in fullness. That’s what learning to see with the eyes of heaven is all about. That’s how God sees us, and that’s how we should see each other.

There are several key things we can do to shift our perspective to be more in line with heaven’s.

First, as I explained in my previous post, we have to get to know the glory of God, his nature, his attributes and his promises. Next, believe that as a Christ-follower your spouse is a glory-carrier. They have been given a new nature in Christ and are on a journey toward walking in that new nature. Thirdly, ask God to reveal to you the “real nature” of your spouse – who God created them to be. Also, pray for your spouse, that they will be able to walk in the fullness of their God-given destiny.

Finally, rather than taking the easy way out of criticizing your spouse for what you see as their shortcomings and misdeeds, speak to them of their potential. Tell them of the glorious nature and promises of Christ that we all have access to. Learn to speak to that which you want to see rise up in him or her.

A Few Examples

Let’s say your wife is deeply discouraged over some parenting issues and is acting out of her frustration. Rather than criticizing her for being emotional, remind her of her spiritual authority as a parent. Go together to God in prayer and ask for the wisdom that God promises he will provide if we ask.

Maybe your husband is full of anxiety about your financial future, maybe even with good cause due to your circumstances. Don’t join him in worry, criticize him as a lousy provider, or accuse him for his fearfulness. Instead, remind him of God’s unrelenting faithfulness and speak to him of the perfect love of God that casts out fear.

I’m not saying this kind of thinking is necessarily easy. It goes against our unredeemed human nature to see with spiritual eyes. The good news is that Jesus died to give us a new nature and gave us the Holy Spirit to renew our minds.

Speak into your spouse’s life in a way that encourages them toward glory rather than accuses them with shame. Shame is ultimately a terrible motivator. But glory truly has transformational power.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our church recently hosted a conference called “Glory and Grace.” The entire three day event was focused on exploring and extolling these two extremely important attributes of God’s nature.

I am struck by how significantly both glory and grace also affect marriages. In this post and my next one I will talk about glory. I’ll follow that up with a post about grace.

It may seem awkward to talk about glory as it relates to marriage. But once you understand what glory is, it may not be quite so much so.

You see, God’s glory is simply his very nature. It’s his essence, the “ness” of God: His awesomeness, His loveliness, His powerfulness, His brilliance, His unfailing love and grace.

We are Made for Glory

As Christ followers, we are in essence carriers of His glory. It amazes me that God chose to put this kind of treasure into the likes of you and me, but that’s how it is.
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
1 Cor 4:6-7
We are made for glory. We are made to reflect the Lord’s glory in ever-increasing measure (2 Cor 3:18). This is our inheritance in Jesus.

I led worship at our church last Sunday and closed with the song “We are an Ark.” It proclaims the truth that we are made to be glory-carriers.

If you have a few minutes close your eyes and give a listen. Let the truth of this reality sink deeply into your soul.

Direct YouTube Link

I love how the song ends by switching from "I am and ark" to "We are an ark." This is both a personal and corporate truth. The "we" truth also applies your marriage.

Your Marriage is Made for Glory

By extension, your marriage is also made for glory.

Two believers joined together in the covenant of marriage cannot help but be a mutual “ark” for the glory of God.

God made marriage to be a reflection of his selfless and eternal love for us. The marriage covenant is a direct parallel of the new covenant. God sent his Son, Jesus, to the earth as our Bridegroom, to win us as His bride forever. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now.
People should get saved in response to looking at the beauty (glory) of the marriages in the church.
I believe that’s possible. I believe that’s how it was made to be. Marriages, full to overflowing with God’s glory!

Shame, the Opposite of Glory

So what’s the deal? Why aren’t people seeing the glory of God and getting saved by observing the marriages in the church?

I think it‘s at least partly because many marriages, and the people in them, aren’t walking in the glory for which they were intended. I say that not as condemnation or judgment, but to encourage you with the truth that glory is your right and the right of your marriage. Access to the glory was purchased for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! It’s bought and paid for!

And for those whose marriages are walking in a measure of glory, let me assure you there is always more – much more.

I think a lot of what holds us back from experiencing glory in marriage has to do with shame. Shame is the opposite of glory. Glory brings light and freedom and peace. Shame brings darkness and bondage and strife. I think a lot of marriages are trapped in shame, and the enemy keeps us there by fooling us into thinking that’s all there is. But that’s a lie! (I have a series on shame that digs more deeply into the shame issue than I can in this context.)

Shame is not our inheritance in Jesus, glory is.

Embracing Glory

How do we get out of the trap of shame? The short answer is found in the scripture I quoted above. The knowledge of the glory of God is found in the face of Jesus. To live in the glory, we have to first know the glory. We have an open invitation to passionately and boldly pursue the intimate, experiential knowledge of God’s nature and glory.

The highest goal in our spiritual walk should be to know Him more.

Ask God to show you His glory. If you don’t know where to start, use the prayers of the Apostle Paul found in Ephesians 1:15-23, that the eyes of your heart be opened to who God is, with wisdom and revelation. Or use Ephesians 3:16-21, and ask for a deeper understanding of the immeasurable love of Christ. Worship is also a fantastic way to become more deeply infused with the glory of God.  

As we begin to see and know the glory of God, the next step is to embrace it in your life and your marriage. Here a just a few examples of where you can apply the glory of God to your marriage:
  • Believe that the power that raised Christ from the dead also fills your marriage. God has the power to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. That’s a lot of power!
  • Believe that the peace of Christ that calmed the stormy seas can calm the storms in your marriage.
  • Believe that the same love of Christ that fills us with the fullness of God is available for your marriage.
  • Believe that in Christ, we have freedom from shame and from the lies of the enemy that want to keep us trapped there.
The applications of the glory of God are truly limitless!!  Because God is limitless. There is so much hope and power in this truth. 

What aspects of the glory of God would you like to see applied to your own marriage? Pursue it! Get to know it! Believe it! Go for it! It’s yours!

Monday, November 14, 2011
I noticed last week that it’s time again for Stu Gray’s 2011 version of the “Top Ten Marriage Blog” contest. It got me thinking about marketing and popularity and how it relates to my blogging life.

I’m approaching my second blogging anniversary in a few months, and I’m sometimes still trying to sort out exactly why I am doing this thing. I recall a conversation with Paul and Lori Byerly over dinner a few months back. Paul asked about what got me started blogging. I gave a somewhat long-winded answer that, in the end, came down to, “I felt like God was calling me to do it.” He nodded and said that it seems to be that way with a lot of us in this marriage blogging biz.

And I guess that’s why I continue to write. I still feel like it’s something God wants me to do. He wants me to be a voice for marriage – marriage the way he made it.

But thinking about Stu’s top-ten contest caused me to challenge the genuineness of my own statement.

Gut Check Time

Truthfully, I’ve done very little to market my blog. Yeah, I have a Twitter account, but I know I don’t use it effectively – at least according to the social media “experts.” I don’t even have a Facebook page (yet). So far at least, I only post about my blog on my personal Facebook page so the relatively few friends I have there can see what I’m writing about. I don’t get many hits from it. I comment on other blogs, but only when a topic stirs a response in me, not to drive traffic to my own blog. I enjoy meeting and exchanging ideas with fellow bloggers, but for me it comes out of the joy of engaging with those who share a similar passion, not as a networking strategy.

So, on the surface you wouldn’t think I care a whole lot about marketing and gaining readership or popularity. But reading about the top-ten contest peaked an unexpected initial response in me. It made me realize that I wanted to be “popular.” I wanted to be in the “top ten.” I wanted to be recognized as doing something of value. I wanted validation from others for what I do here.

And I didn’t like that response at all.

Now it’s not that there’s anything wrong with blog marketing, wanting to gain readership or to win a blogging contest. Really, there’s not. That’s not my point. But the thought process made me do a gut-check on my motivation, to revisit my calling, and that IS my point.

Why I Write, Really

God didn’t set me on this endeavor to stroke my ego or make me look good. He didn’t start me blogging to make me popular or to prove to the world what a great writer I am. Truthfully, I don’t think he cares a hoot about any of those things.

This really is about God’s heart for marriage. I’m passionate about it because He is. It’s not my career. It’s not my hobby. It’s my calling, or at least a big part of it.

You see, God made it clear to me some years ago that he has called me to the “bride preparation business.” Everything I do in ministry, whether it be worship leading, writing and teaching about marriage, songwriting or ministering to kids alongside my lovely wife, it all comes down to helping to build and prepare the bride of Christ, the church, for the eternal marriage to her Bridegroom, Jesus. It’s all about a wedding at the end of the age.

And that’s why I write. Really. I’m passionate about marriage because Jesus is passionate about his bride. The only validation I need is from Him.

The Contest

So here’s the deal about the top-ten marriage blog contest for 2011. At first I was going to skip the whole thing. It felt like an unnecessary distraction.

But I think it’s actually a very good thing. It promotes marriage and makes a lot of great resources more available to more couples. And I’m actually all for that! So, if you are so inclined you can nominate my blog or some other marriage blog by clicking on over to Stu’s contest page.

If not, that’s fine too.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep doing this marriage-blogging thing until God tells me to it’s time to stop. I don’t expect that’ll be any time soon, because he cares A LOT about marriage. And so do I.

Thanks for letting me dump out my inner thought process on you. I needed that.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming: God’s heart to see marriages lived out the way he designed it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011
I’m traveling (again) this week and have finally gotten around to reading Dr. David Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage.” I have seen his theories referred too often by others and received endorsements of his work from two family members who are family therapists whose opinions I respect.

So I decided to dive into the book this week. I’ll withhold my final opinion until I have finished the book. It’s pretty heavy stuff and definitely challenges some of the most common intimacy paradigms. Suffice it to say that there are lots of things I agree with and a few things I do not. Most of what I have a problem with so far has to do with the fact that Dr. Schnarch clearly does not share my Christian world view, which brings about some understandable conflicts.

Naked Without Shame

One of the things I find most interesting about the book is that it supports one of my fundamental Surrendered Marriage principles: learning to be “naked without shame,” though he couches it in different terms. This idea comes from the way the Bible describes marriage in the Garden of Eden before sin came along, bringing shame and fear that destroy intimacy (intimacy with God and intimacy in marriage). Genesis 2:25 says of that first marriage “they were naked and they were without shame.” That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Of course Schnarch does not come at this from a biblical perspective but rather a clinical one. Still, he reaches a similar conclusion. And his insights offer some interesting perspectives on the dynamics of enduring relationships. He explains that there is a natural track for marriages that tends to lead to a kind of gridlock. Over time most marriages will naturally settle into a kind of comfort zone where neither spouse wants to face the “risks” that deeper intimacy can bring. Neither wants to “rock the boat.” It’s better to keep things safe and surface-level. The status quo settles in and the gridlock that ensues brings with it boredom, loneliness and disenchantment. Schnarch states:
As you become more dependent on (your spouse’s) validation and acceptance, you become less willing to risk disagreement and rejection… The very fact that you love your partner makes it harder and harder to maintain yourself with him or her.
I’m attempting to simplify here for the sake of clarity, but basically fear and shame (what Schnarch describes as an unwillingness to face yourself) put a cap on real intimacy. Eventually you’ll grow weary of the kind of pretense that maintaining a safe and surface-level relationship requires. Going back to our Eden analogy, the fig leaves you put on to cover over your nakedness (driven by the fear that shame produces) and just aren’t all that comfortable or lasting.

Striving to keep everything stable by shrinking back from who you really are and how you really feel (what Schnarch calls your solid self and what I call who God really made you to be) is not sustainable for the long haul. This lack of genuine intimacy will cause you and your spouse to drift apart over time. Often the growing frustration will eventually surface around some particular issue (sex, in-laws, finances, children…) and an explosion will take place.

Deepen Intimacy Through Differences?

At this point, one of four scenarios can take place over the conflict, three of which are negative. First, you may push your spouse to compromise who they are and accommodate you by backing down. Second, you may compromise who you are by accommodating your spouse. Third, you may separate emotionally and/or physically.

The fourth and final scenario, the most difficult to accomplish, is for you to both be willing to confront and present your true selves, to come together naked and unashamed as it were. This is what genuine intimacy requires.

You see, the kind of surrender that we are called to in marriage is not the same as compromise or backing down. Surrender is not giving in so that you can get something in return or even giving up in order to keep the peace.

Finding intimacy in a Surrendered Marriage requires you to maintain your personal integrity while allowing your spouse to do the same. I haven’t gotten to Dr. Schnarch’s prescriptions for gridlock, but I do agree with him that being able maintain your sense of self while staying in close proximity to your spouse is an important component. This is ability to stay close through your differences does indeed breed deeper intimacy.

Biblical Surrender

While the two of you are standing close together, naked and unashamed, without fear or pretense, is a good time to consider what biblical surrender looks like.

I keep coming back to the same definition for intimacy in surrendered marriage: bringing the fullness of yourself (spirit, soul and body) to your marriage in a way that benefits your spouse and your marriage. Rather than looking for what you can get, we are to look for what we can give. But you can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t fake it for long, so you may need to grow and change.

Rather than selfishly asserting your rights, consider what the right thing to do is in God’s eyes. Pray together and ask for wisdom. Get God’s perspective on the problem or difference. Ask for insight into what is really going on, because in many conflicts, the real issue is something other than the thing that surfaces first. Ask God to show you where you need to grow or change, and ask Him to help you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish that.

These probably aren’t things that Schnarch is going to suggest, though I’m looking forward to seeing what he does offer as solutions to the marital gridlock problem. I’ll come back with some additional thoughts after I’ve finished the book.

Are there issues in your marriage where you’ve made compromise the norm? Are you willing to get naked with your spouse in a way that maintains your personal integrity and theirs? Are you able to seek selfless solutions that benefit your spouse and your marriage, even if it means you have to grow and change?

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Here are a few of my past posts on being naked without shame in your marriage:
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I’ve been traveling lately and swamped with many other things that have prevented me from posting, but I wanted to share with you a post by my blogger friends Brad and Kate at One Flesh Marriage. The post, “One Child in Heaven,”  is a touching story of grievous loss and remarkable recovery as told by their pastors.

I encourage you to click on over and read this incredible story.

Meanwhile, I hope to be back to a regular posting schedule soon.

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.


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?

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