For years when asked about books I recommend on marriage, I referred to two that have most impacted Susan and me, Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerich and The Five Love Languages, by Chapman. I now have a third book, the Meaning of Marriage, by Tim Keller. My wife, Susan, suggested I read Keller’s book while we were on vacation awhile back, and like most husbands, I groaned inwardly. I just wanted to veg, not read another marriage book and then have to talk about it on vacation!
But, I read it and loved it! It’s not your typical “how to” book. It’s an honest book about why marriage can be so difficult and at the same time the most rewarding of all human relationships. So, rather than talk about the book further, I’m offering you a few of my favorite quotes in the hopes you’ll get a copy of your own. Enjoy!
“In Dana Ada Shapiro’s interviews of divorce couples, it is clear that self-centeredness was the heart of what led to marital disintegration. Each spouse’s self-centeredness asserted itself (as it always will). But in response, the other spouse got more impatient, resentful, harsh, and cold. In other words, they responded to the self-centeredness of their partner with their own self-centeredness. Why? Self-centeredness by its very character makes you blind to your own, while being hypersensitive, offended, and angered by that of others. The result is always a downward spiral into self-pity, anger, and despair, as the relationship gets eaten away to nothing.
“Whoever wants to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) He is saying, “If you seek happiness more than you seek me, you will have neither; if you seek to serve me more than serve your own immediate happiness, you will have both.
This woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness. And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive after a relatively brief period of time. If left there, the marriage is dead.
The Christian principle that needs to be at work is Spirit-generated selflessness – not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
“Who are we? Lewis Smedes answers that we are largely who we become through making wise promises and keeping them. For vivid confirmation, Smedes looks to the great playwright Robert Bolt, who wrote A Man for All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas Moore, whose daughter Meg pleaded with him to break the oath he had once made and thereby save his life.
MOORE: You want me to swear to the Act of Succession?
MARGARET: “God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth.” Or so you’ve always told me.
MARGARET: Then say the words of the oath and in your heart, think otherwise.
MOORE: But, an oath is more than words we say to God, Meg. When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers – then he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
“Smedes uses himself as a case study: When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed – and each of the five has been me. The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the wedding vow I took. When we slough off the vows we make to God and each other, we can hardly find ourselves again.
In the book, Jane Eyre, the heroin does not look into her heart for strength – there’s nothing there but clamorous conflict. She ignores what her heart says and looks to what God says. The moral laws of God at that very moment made no sense to her heart and mind at all. They did not appear reasonable, and they did not appear fair. But, she says, if she could break them when they appear inconvenient to her, of what would be their worth? If you only obey God’s words when it seems reasonable or profitable to you – well, that isn’t really obedience at all. Obedience means you cede someone an authority over you that is there even when you don’t agree with him. God’s law is for times of temptation, when “body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor.”
“Despite feelings of indifference and even contempt, you can change your heart over the long haul through your actions. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.
The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he “likes” them: The Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.
Your character flaws may only be annoying to others, but they will create major problems for your spouse. But you must realize that it isn’t ultimately your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of your heart – it’s marriage itself. Don’t resist this power that marriage has. Give your spouse the right to talk to you about what is wrong with you.
But the great thing about the model of Christian marriage we are presenting here is that when you are tempted to envision “someone better”, you have the choice to redirect that thought to the future version of the person to whom you are already married. That “someone better” is the spouse you already have. God has indeed given us a desire for the perfect spouse, but you should seek it in the one to whom you’re married. Why discard this partner for someone else only to discover that person’s deep, hidden flaws?
The one person in the whole world who holds your heart in her hand, whose approval and affirmation you most long for and need, is the one who is hurt more deeply by your sins than anyone else on the planet. When we are first sinned against by our spouses in a serious way, we use the power of truth. We tell our spouses what fools, what messes, what selfish pigs they are.
The first few times we do it, however, we may learn to our surprise how shattering our criticism can be. Sometimes we let fly some real harsh, insulting remarks, and the next thing we know there’s nothing left of our spouses but a pair of sneakers with smoke coming out of them. What happened? Because of our spousal power of love and affirmation, when that love is withheld, the statement of the truth doesn’t help – it destroys.
When we see how devastating truth-telling in marriage can be, it can push us into the opposite error. We may then decide that our job is to simply affirm them. We avoid telling our spouses how disappointed we are. We shut up. We stuff and hide what we really think and feel. We exercise the power of love, but not the power of truth.
But then marriage’s enormous potential for spiritual growth is lost. If I come to realize that my spouse is not really being truthful with me, then her loving affirmations become less powerful in my life.”
Wow! I only wish I could write like that. More importantly – that I could both remember and live out these truths in our marriage.
Following Jesus in Real Life