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Friday, April 22, 2016

Grace is ultimately an invitation to intimacy.

Grace and Love. I call these the bookends of marriage. Of all the ingredients that are important for a long-term passionate and intimate marriage, these two are absolutely essential, because they are what hold the whole thing together. 

Coming in at number 5 on my all-time most viewed posts is the first post in my series on grace, which appears below in its entirety. It's a must-read Friday Favorite. Links to the other 3 posts in the series can be found at the bottom of this post.

(Originally posted June, 2012)

Today I’m kicking off a new series on grace in marriage.

I’m taking this deep dive into grace for several reasons.  First of all, though grace is simple in concept, the implications of grace for marriage are enormous. 

Second, even though I’ve touched on this topic in previous posts, I have never given grace the attention it deserves.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, grace is just as critical as love is to strengthening and sustaining your marriage.  Grace and love are like the bookends that keep your marriage together.

What is Grace?

Grace is simply unmerited favor, mercy and kindness. Grace is at the core of the Gospel.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Rom 5:1-2
We know that God’s unbounded grace comes to us through faith in Jesus, and we know that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

Grace is our way to forgiveness for all the wrongs we have done or that we will ever do against God, and thus our way to eternal life. Grace also brings us God’s favor and blessing, even when we don’t deserve it.  

An Invitation to Intimacy

As true as all this is, I believe that grace actually has its deepest roots in intimacy.

God didn’t crush his Son simply to gain our forgiveness and eternal life or just to bless us.  He did it because he desires intimacy with us, both now and for all eternity.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gives us unprecedented face-to-face access to the Father.   

Grace is God’s invitation to intimacy with him, because most of all, God is a zealous lover. He desires to have all of you and all of me for himself, for all time.

As we reflect on grace and marriage in this series, keep in mind that a grace-full marriage is really about a path to deeper intimacy between you and your husband or wife.

The rest of the Grace Series:

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016

    When facing your marriage expectations, it's important to consider where they came from.
    Last time we examined how expectations can be helpful or hurtful to your marriage.

    But how do you identify good, healthy, helpful expectations as opposed to those that are unreasonable and potentially damaging?

    To help you sort out the good, the bad and the ugly, you might just want to look at the sources of your expectations.

    Some Not-So-Healthy Sources

    Generally speaking the sources below almost always lead to unrealistic expectations:
    • TV & Movies - for the most part modern movies convey totally unhelpful depiction of marriage, whether it's mocking the institution itself, denigrating husbands, or promoting promiscuity as harmless and normal. Despite the name, reality TV is not anywhere close to reality, and most of the shows teach us all that love is selfish and about your own personal happiness.
    • Porn - it's not real, folks, in any way shape or form. It's dangerous. Just because a particular act is shown in porn doesn't make it wrong (between husband and wife), but at the same time it also doesn't make it normal or typical. Your sexual expectations need to principally be developed from within your relationship. 
    • Romance Novels - These are not real either. Though they maybe aren't in the same league with pornography, they hold a similar kind of danger. (I'm not talking about novels that contain an element of romance, but the romance novel genre.) The "romances" portrayed tend to be unrealistic, and a wife shouldn't expect her husband to be like the fictionalized and idealized characters found in the pages of trashy novels.
    • Divorced or Struggling Friends and Family - nothing will lower your expectations of your own marriage like hanging around those whose marriage is in rough shape. Not that you should abandon people in tough marriage situations. Just watch that your own expectations are not affected. I know this danger, because it's happened to us.
    • Conventional Wisdom - As with most things in the Kingdom, God's idea of how we should do marriage is mostly upside down from what the world proposes. Examples could fill several posts.

    A Mixed Bag

    These sources can contribute either positively or negatively to your marriage expectations. Tread with caution.
    • Your Church - Churches don't always do a great job of instructing on marriage, especially the sexual aspects. Some churches do an excellent job of supporting and building the marriages in their congregations, but others much less so.  
    • Your Parents - Probably the marriage you observed the most, besides your own, is the one between your parents, seeing both the good and the bad. Determine to emulate the good and avoid the bad, but don't project your parents' negative behaviors onto your spouse. 
    • Marriage Books - Not everyone who gets a publishing contract has the inside track on truth. Of course there are marriage books that are outstanding and extremely helpful. Just consider what you read prayerfully. The one flaw I see in many marriage books is that they advertise quick fixes and simple, universal solutions. The problem with cookie cutter solutions is that there aren't very many cookie cutter marriages.  
    • Marriage Bloggers - Though it pains me to say, I've seen some phenomenally bad marriage advice doled out by well-intentioned marriage bloggers. I've no doubt given some myself. I've also seen lots of really excellent stuff. As with books, weigh what you read carefully and prayerfully. It's also dangerous to take a single post and run with it until you've read enough to understand where a particular writer is coming form. To learn more about me, check out my recent Friday Favorite post, What Is The Journey to Surrender

    Good Sources
    • The Bible - Marriage was God's idea, and His is the best marriage perspective around. Expectations that flow from the Word will always be healthy ones. Of course the passages of Scripture about marriage require interpretation and application, and that's why we need...
    • The Holy Spirit - God is for marriage in general, but also for your marriage in particular. He longs to partner with you as he leads you into all truth through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), including helping you have healthy marriage expectations.  
    • Love and Grace - Any expectations you have for your marriage that are based on what I call the two bookends of marriage, love and grace, will more than likely produce good fruit in your relationship.
    When you stumble across expectation in your marriage or presumptions about your spouse, stop to consider the source. Identifying unhealthy sources just might save you from some painful disappointments in the future.

    What other sources of expectations have you found to be consistently helpful or consistently harmful? Leave a comment.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    Expectations in marriage: help or hindrance?

    Which of these statements do you think is true?
    1. You often get what you expect, so you should have high expectations for your marriage and of your spouse.

    2. Unrealistic expectations in marriage will leave you disappointed, so you need to keep your expectations moderate and reasonable.

    3. When you give of yourself to your spouse with love and kindness, you should do so with no expectation of getting something in return.
    So which is it? High expectations? Moderate expectations? No expectations?

    The answer is all three.

    Truths in Tension

    Expectations have the potential to cause much damage to your marriage.

    Expectations in marriage present us with a complex set of truths that need to be held in tension with each other. What I mean by that is that there are reasons for keeping your expectations high, for controling or limiting expectations, and for expecting nothing. The trick is to balance these three notions together.

    What you'll find below are four different truths about expectations in marriage that come at the subject from different angles.

    Expect the Best. Get the Best. (The Good)

    The way you anticipate something actually changes the way you perceive it. Your reality is shaped by what you expect it to be. There are plenty of scientific studies to prove this truth. Plus, it just makes logical sense.

    So when you expect the best from your spouse, you are more likely to see their behavior in a positive light. For example, if you expect and believe in your spouse's love, you are more likely to perceive their actions toward you as loving. On the contrary, if you doubt your spouse's love, or expect them to behave in an unloving manner toward you, you are more likely to perceive their actions and unloving. It's just the way your brain works.

    So, expect the best from your husband or wife. Look for them to act with love toward you, and you are more likely to see them doing just that.

    (If you are geeky, here's an interesting TEDx talk that explains the way our expectations shape our perceptions. For a slightly less geeky and funnier version, if you don't mind a little language, here's a Penn and Teller bit that shows what happens when you serve people tap water from a garden hose in a fancy bottle presented by a fictitious "water steward." )

    Unrealistic Expectations (The Bad)

    Here is a counterbalancing reality to keeping your expectations high: unreasonably lofty expectations of your mate and for your marriage will ultimately lead to feelings of disappointment and disillusionment. And when your spouse senses your disappointment (and they will),  three negative reactions may occur.

    The first is guilt and shame. They believe they are not good enough, or at least that you think so. They will struggle to separate their actions from their worth. They may strike back with their own judgments of you and your behavior, which may lead to the second set of emotions: anger or resentment. They may perceive your expectations as unreasonable or unfair. They may dismiss out of hand the need you have that is at the root of your expectations. This spins into a downward spiral fairly quickly and may result in the third possible reaction: complete withdrawal.

    We all have expectations. They are unavoidable. Some will be good and reasonable. Some will not be. Some will come from healthy sources, some less so. They are shaped by our experiences, personalities and perspectives.

    How do we manage expectation in marriage in a positive and life-giving way? As a first step let me suggest how you can prevent or at least minimize unmet expectations.

    Unmet Expectations (The Ugly)

    Unmet needs are responsible for much of the conflict in marriage, and when this leads to unmet expectations, it can inflict significant damage on a relationship in the form of disappointment and disillusionment, anger, or withdrawal.

    Everyone has needs and wants in their marriage.  For the most part these are a normal and healthy part of every relationship. And it's somewhat natural for us to expect that our spouse will meet our needs.

    Unfortunately, not everyone does a good job of communicating their needs and wants in helpful ways. In some cases we may not even be able to identify our needs, much less communicate them clearly to our spouse. And if we do communicate our needs, we may not clearly state how we expect those needs to be met.

    If we aren't even aware of our own needs and expectations, or cannot communicate them clearly, how can we possibly expect our partner be aware of them? And if they don't know about them, how can they possibly meet them?

    The best way to head off the disappointment associated with unmet expectations is to voice your needs and wants in a respectful and loving way. It's essential for each of you to take the responsibility to express your needs without demanding or demeaning. When you talk about your needs, it's really important to explain to your spouse what that would look like to you.

    That kind of "what would it look like" conversation is great for identifying and exposing your expectations.

    For example, if I tell my wife that respect is really important to me, but I don't tell her what that looks like to me, then she may struggle to meet that need. However, if I tell her that, to me, respect means her trusting me and my judgment, appreciating my efforts to provide and care for her and the family, that gives her an idea of my expectations. This opens the door to further conversation about it. If she is unclear, she can ask clarifying questions. If I request something that seems unreasonable or unattainable, we can negotiate a path the leaves us both feeling satisfied.

    Unconditional Love (The Ultimate)

    Ultimately the best way to manage expectations and to keep them from becoming a wrecking ball in your marriage is to expect the best of each other and your marriage, and then to love each other unconditionally as you go about working to meet each other's needs and expectations.

    Dare to ask, "How can I best meet your expectations in this area?" Voice your needs and desires clearly in a way that best helps your spouse to love you well, but then have plenty of grace for when they get it wrong, because one of your expectations should be that they will, in fact, get it wrong sometimes.

    How have you managed expectations in your marriage? Where have expectations gotten you into trouble? Leave a comment.

    background image: ostill /

    Friday, April 8, 2016

    What is this thing called the Journey to Surrender?

    A few Fridays a month I'm re-posting some of my most popular posts. Today I'm sharing my recently updated "About" page for all those of you who have been wondering who is this Scott guy and what is this thing called Journey to Surrender.

    If you are new here, or even if you've been around a while, read on to find out about me, about why I write this marriage blog, and explore what I believe about marriage.

    For all my readers, new and old, I encourage you to leave me a comment introducing yourself and letting me know what marriage topics would be most helpful or interesting to you.  Or if you haven't done so yet, just take my One Minute New Reader Survey.

    The Journey to Surrender is about exploring, discovering and attaining the fullest potential in Christian marriage. It is an exciting expedition available to every Christian couple willing to travel the biblical path of God’s design for marriage, a path filled with fiery passion, unmatched intimacy and joyous freedom.

    I believe that having our hearts awakened to the love a relationship with Jesus is the key to a vibrant, passionate, intimate and enduring relationship between husband and wife. God instituted marriage as a living picture of his passionate pursuit of humankind in general and of you and I in particular. The biblical notion that we are the bride of Christ and He is our Bridegroom is what I and others refer to as the Bridal Paradigm. 

    Click for more about the Bridal Paradigm

    Who Am I?

    My name is Scott Means, and I describe myself as a "marriage champion." 

    I have been married to my darling wife, Jenni, in excess of 30 years, but I do not claim to have all the answers or to have a perfect marriage. Marriage is a lifelong journey into ever deeper intimacy.  

    I have studied a lot about what the Bible says on marriage. I've read extensively what others have to say on the topic, Christian as well as secular sources, as I've passionately pursued understanding of God's intent for marriage. I do not claim to have cornered the market on insight or understanding, but I am excited to see marriages in the church strengthened, renewed and restored to their God-given potential.

    I believe we, as believers, have the inside track on marriage, because we have an intimate relationship with the one who created marriage in the first place.

    Let me clearly state that I am NOT a professional marriage counselor, NOT a self proclaimed “relationship expert,” NOT a licensed psychologist, and NOT a trained pastor or theologian. 

    I simply have a message to share that burns on my heart.  It's a message that I believe also burns on the heart of God.

    For more about me see: Who Is Scott

    Read More About My Wife and I in: Our Love Story

    Why I write

    The fact that the failure rate of marriages in the church is not more significantly different than among the population at large saddens me deeply, and I believe God’s heart is equally saddened by the number of failed and struggling marriages, both inside and outside the church. 

    I believe strong, enduring and loving marriages are the key to solving so many of society's long-standing, deeply rooted problems.  

    Sadly, I also believe that in an effort to gain relevance, the church has often co-opted common cultural perspectives on marriage, rather than relying on biblical instruction. The church has, at least to some extent, lost sight of the fact that at its core marriage is a spiritual relationship, full of mystery and wonder and power.

    I write to encourage Christian couples to take a turn off the path of the prevalent cultural marriage paradigm and to take a journey of a different sort - the Journey to Surrender. 

    Join me here as we explore how God designed marriage to be from the very beginning.

    For why I write to Christians see: My Christian Marriage Focus 

    What I believe

    What I believe about marriage is based on my belief that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is true, and that it is the primary way God reveals His truths to us. I’m not a theologian, but what I write here is primarily a result of my ongoing pursuit of what God's Word has to say about marriage. 

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016

    Do what it takes to create a new experience together this year that you'll savor for the rest of your marriage.
    Sixteen years ago my wife and I were in a particularly difficult season of caring for my mother, who suffered with Alzheimer's, in our home. My dear, sweet wife especially bore the burden of this challenging care. We were, quite frankly, exhausted.

    During this time, for our 40th birthdays, we made arrangements for my mom's care and booked a trip to San Francisco. It was a glorious break with many fun and memorable happenings. One of these was a surprise I arranged for Jenni - a night at a quaint English style inn, nestled along the shoreline highway near the beach. We had an amazing stay, some of the details of which I will not be sharing. We did enjoy a wonderful full English breakfast and then spent most of an entire day, just sitting quietly on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Neither of us could remember a time when our souls were rested and fed so deeply.

    We are excited to be headed back to The Pelican Inn next month. It will be fun to revisit the past. It will also be an opportunity to create a new set of memories, since we are in a very different season of life. Our youngest at the time was in preschool. She'll be a college senior next year. Time flies...

    On a smaller scale, a few months ago we celebrated the anniversary of our first date, 38 years prior, by reenacting it with a visit to Pizza Hut. It was a wonderful and fun way to remember those early days of our fabulous journey together.

    Little Things and Big Things

    I share a lot about the tremendous importance of doing small things every day to feed your marriage. Little expressions of love and kindness, done frequently and consistently, will make more of a difference in your marriage than a few big events.

    But big events matter too.

    Creating significant memories together feeds your marriage in different ways than the day-to-day loving actions that keep your marriage on track.

    Here are five reason to be intentional about creating significant memories together.

    1) Experiences Have Staying Power

    When I think back over our marriage, what I remember most are not the items we acquired. Other than a our houses and some of our cars, I can't even remember most of the "stuff" we've purchased in the past 33 years. But I do remember many of the events we've created. The truth is that prioritizing spending on creating memories pays higher dividends than almost anything else you can spend your money on.

    2) Your Brain Will Thank You

    Brain science tells us that new and exciting experiences fill our heads and bodies with the same kinds of chemicals that flooded our beings when we first fell in love (Dopamine, Adrenaline and Serotonin). So get innovative and find something new to do that you've never done before. Your brain will thank you.

    3) Feed Your Soul

    I can still vividly recall the deep sense of well-being my wife and I experienced that day spent staring at the ocean. We learned the importance for us to gaze on beauty together. We now make a point of looking for opportunities to do so, whether it be in the mountains or wherever. When you are designing your significant memories, remember to include activities that feed your souls. Whether it's enjoying a beautiful view, experiencing a new culture, resting deeply or even the thrill of something like skydiving, find something that will touch you deeply.

    4) Shared New Experiences Build Intimacy

    My wife and I have a saying, "Sex is always great when there's a number on the door." There is something about getting away from your daily routine that makes you able to let go, and that's a good thing when it comes to sexual intimacy. A change of venue can be a great opportunity to build other kinds of intimacy as well, including emotional, spiritual and recreational. Make sure you aren't so busy seeing the sights that you miss out on adventures in the bedroom.  And plan time to just be with each other and talk - really talk.

    5) Cultivating Thankfulness

    When my wife and I recall some of our significant shared memories, it always causes us to be thankful for what we have, for the memories we've made and for the love we share.

    What significant memory have you experienced with your spouse? We'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment.

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