A mentor once told us that in life, “There are things that you know, things that you don’t know, and there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know.” Twenty-five years of marriage has proven this adage to be true. When we entered the covenant of marriage we were young, naive, and gullible. Oh yes, we did premarital counseling and talked with older, more experienced married couples. But we were confident our love was potent enough to fill in any gaps that might arise. However, just like seminary can’t fully prepare a pastor for ministry, nothing can fully prepare a couple for the challenges of marriage. There are some things in life that can only be learned through experience.
Marriage is one of the instruments God uses for our sanctification. After reflecting on a quarter century of sanctification through marriage, here are some insights we have learned so far.
3 things we did wrong
Lack of foresight
It might be hard to imagine, but the kids grow up and move out. At the onset of our marriage, we envisioned a family. We dreamed about vacations, ball games, and being called “Mom” and “Dad.” And then God blessed us with twin sons.
Those early years with children were fast and furious. We held on for dear life. In the chaos of diapers and disarray, we desperately wanted to steal time away for just the two of us. And then suddenly, without much warning, it happened. They grew up. And we found ourselves back where we began. We didn’t know that one day we would be asking, “What did we do before children?”
Marriage is a tool of sanctification and an instrument for mission. It’s vital to envision a plan for your second half of marriage before it arrives. As empty nesters, we are learning that we have a unique opportunity to serve the Lord; with more time and disposable income, we have flexibility to use our marriage for something bigger than ourselves. Moreover, in an age where so many marriages end after the children move out, couples that have a vision to serve the Lord in the second half of life provide a striking witness to the power of Christ.
No. That’s our first answer to anything that wants to earn a spot on our calendars now. It takes some convincing to turn that no into a yes. Ungenerous? Perhaps. But that’s because for the first couple of decades of marriage, we tried real hard to squeeze everything in. And that came at a cost: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. If you get heart palpitations when you look at your calendar or fantasize about running away, you understand.
When we started Restoration Church, we valued building relationships and serving the community. These are good things. But we burned ourselves out and harmed some of our most important relationships. Day in and day out we opened up our home to strangers, friends, and neighbors. And when we said yes to them, we had to say no to others. The people we said no to were those dearest to us: spouse, kids, and parents. No, we don’t have time for a date night this week, or month. No, we can’t watch your ball game. And no, we can’t make family dinner this weekend. We have learned that before we say yes, we evaluate, scrutinize, and then schedule.
Let the little things consume us
Along with thinning hair and thickening waistlines, middle age has also ushered in some welcome changes—like more calm and relaxed demeanors. Looking back, we were too uptight over little things. Gas gauges left on empty, mismatched socks, and mystery meatloaf once served as a source of tension in our marriage. But now we have learned to appreciate the humor in it all.
God made the marriage covenant to reflect a multitude of things. And one aspect of marriage that is often missed is the daily joy of laughing with (and sometimes at) each other. Looking back, we wish we had not allowed little annoyances to siphon off our laugher. But maybe that’s part of the vision for the next 25!
3 things we did right
Prepared before the storm
Suffering will come to your marriage—so plan ahead. In the span of 36 months our marriage endured the death of two parents, a staff member who gave himself to sin, and our church plant that was teetering on the verge of financial collapse—all while managing the emotional stress of sending our twin sons off to college. One thing we learned in that season was that you cannot prepare for a storm in the middle of a tempest.
Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” None of us ought to be shocked that troubles will touch our marriage. But the time to prepare for turbulence is in the days of stillness, not on the fly. Make spiritual and emotional investments in your marriage when life is settled and clear. Hold hands and pray, steal away and read Scripture, and celebrate God’s deliverance when your life is quiet. You will need it when chaos comes.
Invested our money
In our years of ministry, we have seen money weaponized as an instrument of vengeance by many. Often couples declare one spouse to be the CFO—the one who controls the checkbook. And when the CFO is offended, there is a strong temptation to shut down all funding. Money can easily become a subtle way to act on unspoken grievances.
On the other hand, money has the potential to become an investment vehicle to strengthen our marriages. We have tried (although imperfectly) to use money to bless one another. An unexpected treat from her favorite coffee shop or a spontaneous gift card to his favorite golf course has helped to reinforce the idea that we want to bless one another. Money has a unique way of revealing the activity of the heart; therefore, we have enjoyed setting some aside to creatively show love to one another.
In a culture that lacks discretion, we have decided to use more of it with how we speak to and about each other publically. We have found ourselves in the midst of peer groups or couples get-togethers that have quickly descended into people airing their frustrations about their spouses. This undermines your spouse while leaving the perception of discontentment in your marriage. Seeking wise counsel about your marital challenges is good and helpful, but we don’t need to publicly air our spouse’s faults at the church picnic. That can open the doors to a multitude of problems and temptations.
It is good to affirm each other publicly because not only does it build up our spouse, it also gives grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29). This has helped reinforce our covenant as well as ward off unwanted admirers.
These are just a few of the lessons learned from the first 25 years. We still don’t know what we don’t know, but we look forward to learning more in the next 25.