In part two of the Set Apart Relationships series, Leslie continues to share beneficial tips to practically prepare for a marriage that withstands the trials of life and the attacks of the enemy. Sharing candid and funny stories, Leslie reminisces over the early years of her marriage. She shares how God got a hold of her heart in fresh surrender as she realized that marital bliss wasn’t found in a white picket-fenced home, but in entrusting her marriage dreams to Him.
Series: Set Apart Relationships
Part: 02 – Practical Preparation for Marriage
Date: February 13, 2017
Leslie Ludy: Hi everyone, it’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. In our last episode we talked about the best way to prepare for marriage, and today I’d like to share with you two more very important principles that you can cultivate in your life to either help prepare you for a great marriage, or strengthen the one that you already have.
In our modern world we are so focused on getting what we want that we often fail to cultivate the kind of godly character that will lead to a successful relationship. There’s the internet matchmaking, dating apps, books that give you tips on how to flirt — all of these things really at their root cater to satisfying our selfish desires, not making us marriage-ready.
Key No. 1: Cultivate Tensile Strength
Leslie Ludy: So here are two key ways to prepare for marriage in God’s pattern. The first one is learning how to cultivate tensile strength. Now if you’ve never heard that term before, tensile strength refers to the maximum stress that a material can take under tension. So, for example, a rope’s tensile strength is measured by tying weights to the rope and then dropping the rope to see how much weight it can endure without breaking. The greater the ability of the rope to endure weight and combative force, the stronger the tensile rating. The strength of our souls can be measured in a similar way.
If we’ve never built up our tensile strength, then even the smallest weights and stresses will cause us to snap. But if we train like an olympian to build our tensile strength, then our soul will be able to endure stresses and weights without falling apart. So if you think about the heroic Christians throughout history who gave up their lives for Christ, they trained their souls to handle the greatest pressures and stresses that life could throw their way, and they emerged from those situations — or even if they lost their lives all throughout — they were victorious and triumphant. They didn’t fall apart because they had cultivated tensile strength.
How does this relate to marriage? Well, a lot of times when we’re young before we’re married, we envision marriage as being this amazing, beautiful fairy tale where you’re getting along with your spouse twenty-four hours a day, and you’re living in this blissful state of awe, love, and romance. But in reality — though there are many beautiful moments in marriage — as life begins to set in and you go through different challenges and difficulties as a couple, you learn very quickly that marriage is not easy. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s actually a challenge, and there are a lot of stresses that can be put upon a marriage relationship. In addition to that the enemy does not like godly marriage. So when you unite with another Christian he will do everything in his power to get your marriage relationship to crumble. So tensile strength is so key building a strong marriage because if you’ve never cultivated strength of soul — if you’ve never built up fortitude to endure weights, pressures, and stresses — then you really won’t be ready and prepared for the challenges of married life, and this can impact not only your life, but the life of your spouse as well.
I recently read a book about some historical missionaries, and one of the people in the book was a woman who was married to a missionary, and they went overseas to a foreign country, and life in this foreign country was difficult. It was hard to even function in basic, everyday things, and this woman — who had a couple young children — could not seem to handle the weights and the pressures of being in a foreign country and all the challenges that came her way. So even though they had gone overseas for her husband to be a missionary, he ended up spending all of his time the first year tending to household tasks and raising their children because his wife fell apart emotionally. They ended up having to leave the mission field.
We may not be going through anything that extreme in our modern marriage situation, but oftentimes if there’s job stress, health stress, financial stress, or other logistical or relational challenges in your life – you can tend to become critical and tense, the romance can quickly fade, and your marriage can feel like it’s constantly under strain.
So why is tensile strength so important for a strong and healthy marriage? When you enter a Christian marriage covenant, as I said before, you immediately become a target of the enemy’s attack. The enemy will do everything he can to bring tension and discord into your relationship, and often he will hit you with difficult circumstances to try to weaken you and your marriage. If you don’t have tensile strength and you fall apart when trials come, you can’t be a support to your spouse. Instead you’ll be vulnerable to the enemy’s temptation to lash out at your spouse, to blame him for your circumstances, and complain and nag until things finally change. But if you let God build you strong in tensile strength, you’ll be able to turn the table on the enemy’s schemes. Trials, challenges, and stresses can actually bring you closer to your spouse and make you both stronger spiritually, if you respond with joy and faith instead of with fear and despair.
I learned this first hand when my firstborn child, Hudson, came along. He was a very, very difficult and high needs baby. He had acid reflux which made it very difficult for him to sleep for more than about twenty minutes at a time —and this was all day and all night long. So Eric and I went months, and months without really getting a full night’s sleep. We found as we were under so much stress with all of Hudson’s needs and the fact that he wasn’t sleeping well, that our tensile strength was non-existent. We were starting to fall apart emotionally, and we were starting to take our frustration out on each other, getting into arguments and snapping at each other. Until finally one day we woke up to the fact that God may be bringing this challenge into our life to make us stronger — not to break us down — but to make us stronger. And so we both agreed together to begin embracing the challenge instead of complaining about it.
So when Hudson would cry in the middle of the night we would rejoice, we would pray, and we would practice relying on the grace of God to do what we had no strength to do on our own. And it was incredible how much stronger we grew through that season instead of snapping at each other and lashing out at each other. We were actually being drawn closer together, and later in our ministry when we were required to stay up all hours of the night for important meetings or to pray for people who were struggling, we actually had the stamina to do it because we had built up the tensile strength for it during Hudson’s first year of his life.
So I encourage you right now, no matter what you’re going through in life, to look at your current difficulties and to embrace them, and to say, “God, how do you want to cultivate tensile strength through these trials and challenges?” It doesn’t mean that you don’t take practical steps to try to change things in your life, but to really say, “Lord, how can I grow stronger through this?” And if it’s a challenge that’s coming at you in your marriage, to say, “ Instead of letting this challenge drive a wedge between us, how can I use this challenge to actually grow closer to my spouse?”
Tensile Strength is for Every Season
Leslie Ludy: Now you don’t need to wait until you’re married to learn the art of tensile strength. You can allow God to use the difficult circumstances in your daily life right now to teach you this very important quality. Instead of complaining or becoming depressed over less-than-ideal situations that you face, ask God to give you a triumphant, joyful attitude even in the midst of your trials. And learn to lean upon His grace and stand strong in Him even when the winds and the rains beat against your house. In Him you can remain unbending and immovable no matter how fierce the storm is! Every time you embrace an opportunity to grow in tensile strength, you’re actually strengthening your marriage, or your future marriage, as well. That’s an amazing thought!
So cultivating tensile strength right now, no matter where you’re at in life — whether you’re married or single — is a key to building a strong, lasting, successful marriage.
Key No. 2: Entrust Your Marriage Dreams to God
Leslie Ludy: The second principle I want to share with you is entrusting your marriage dreams to God. Most of us grow up with our own set of personal dreams when it comes to marriage. Maybe it’s that cute home with a white picket fence, or a gallant knight in shining armor who sweeps us off our feet every morning, or maybe it’s just a comfortable, predictable life.
But very rarely do God’s plans for us align with our own ideas of what would lead to our greatest happiness. Very often He asks us to lay down our dreams and our desires at His feet so that He can replace them with His own dreams for our lives. And His plans for us are not always easy, but they lead to a deeper fulfillment and joy than anything we could concoct for ourselves.
I learned this firsthand the first few months of my marriage to Eric. I had had all these fairy tale expectations of what those first few months were supposed to look like. A cute little home, a fun little kitchen where I could make wonderful meals and serve them to my husband, and we could take long walks together every night — I had a lot of expectations. But our first home was very, very different from what I had always imagined.
We moved to a very, very small town in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, and it was in the middle of January — and the weather there was absolutely frigid. We were right by a lake and it was the coldest I had ever been in my life! There was snow on the ground that never melted off, the sun never came out, we were miles away from the nearest grocery store, and when Eric left for work every day in the only car that we had, I was stuck in this house.
Now this wasn’t a normal house. This was a bed and breakfast that we had rented for a few months because it was closed down in the winter. It was beautiful in the summer – it was on a gorgeous lake with swans on it and flowers all around. But in the winter the lake was frozen over, the trees were barren, the house was all boarded up – it was more like the setting of a haunted house or a horror movie than a beautiful, romantic first home for a married couple. So the house itself, the weather, and the situation of being miles away from neighbors and even from a grocery store was very hard for me – but things got a lot worse.
I remember waking up every morning, and I had bug bites all over me. Now we were right in the middle of winter in frigid, cold weather and I hadn’t been outside. So I couldn’t figure out where these bug bites were coming from, but they were all over my legs, and I was miserable. Now Eric had a few, but I had tons! So we began thinking, Are there bugs in the mattress? There were about seven bedrooms in this house, so we kept changing beds, and we still kept having bug bites. Finally, I looked down one day, and I saw fleas jumping out of the carpet. The house was absolutely infested with fleas. Which was really strange because we didn’t have any pets, but we found out later what was happening.
It was a few days later I was sitting in the living room, and I heard this ruckus in the fireplace. The fireplace really didn’t have a very good enclosure; it was a board that had been nailed against the fireplace opening. I was hearing all this scratching, and banging against the board, and I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe it was a bear – even though a bear couldn’t have fit into the fireplace — that was my imagination going wild. I was really worried about it, and I sat there with a fire poker poised and ready to attack this animal if it broke into the house. It never did, but finally we realized it was a family of raccoons that had moved into the fireplace, and they were bringing in the fleas. So we tried everything to get them out of living into the fireplace. We tried trapping them and baiting them with food. One of our neighbors came over and tried smoking them out, and nothing worked. Eventually they did leave, but it was quite a few weeks, and we had to share the living room with this noisy family of raccoons. We also had to use chemical bombs in the house to get rid of all the fleas because we couldn’t get rid of them any other way.
Right about that time I got very sick with a bad lung infection. I was in bed coughing and hacking away, and they had these industrial closets filled with tissue, paper towels, and toilet paper for when they were open in the summer. I used up an entire closet full of tissue because I was so sick. And then another thing that happened was that our pipes exploded one morning because of the cold, so Eric woke up one morning and came down into the kitchen and it was flooded with icy water. That was a disaster and it took out our washer and dryer; so now we had no way of cleaning clothes.
So we had piles of Kleenex, piles of dirty clothes, fleas, raccoons, and out in the middle of nowhere in frigid cold weather … and this was definitely not the fairy tale expectation I had for the first few months of marriage! It was really hard for me. I became really depressed and questioning God like, We had this beautiful love story, an amazing wedding – why, God, are you allowing all of these things to happen?
And God began to remind me that I needed to take my marriage dreams and lay them at His feet. That His plans for my life were so much better and more fulfilling than any plans I could come up with for my own life, if only I would entrust my dreams, my hopes, my expectations to Him. So I freshly surrendered my dreams and my marriage expectations to God that day. I said, “Ok, Lord, if you want me to be here for the rest of our married life, in these circumstances I will rejoice, and I will embrace that. I just want Your best for my life. Not my plans or my dreams of how I feel that life should be turning out.”
God was so gracious and through those trials that we went through we actually learned to laugh, and a few months later we were able to move out into a different house and things got a lot better and a lot easier. But I feel like God needed to take me through that to freshly remind me, “Leslie, your hope is not in your circumstances. It’s not in your marriage dreams that you’ve always had, but it’s in Me alone. And when you find your strength and your fulfillment and your hope in Me alone—that’s when I can truly fulfill My plans for your life.”
So whether you’re married or single, evaluate whether you have really entrusted your hopes, plans, and dreams to your faithful Creator, or whether you’re still stubbornly clinging to your own idea of how your life is supposed to turn out. Unless you approach marriage with a surrendered heart, you will miss out on the amazing plans that God has for you because you are desperately clinging to your own.
Many women become controlling and manipulative, making every one around them miserable in an attempt to push forward their own agenda. Proverbs reminds us though, “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish pulls it down with her hands” (Prov. 14:1). In contrast, a woman who has joyfully yielded her will to God will remain peaceful, joyful, and outward-focused even when things turn out differently than what she expected. And that’s because her hope is not in her own dreams, but in Jesus Christ.
Role Models that Exemplify the Surrendered Life
Leslie Ludy: Some of my favorite women in Christian history exemplified that principle so beautifully. Catherine Booth, who, with her husband William, helped co-found the Salvation Army was an incredible example of this. She had eight or nine children, and instead of having a comfortable, settled home life, they were constantly traveling. They were constantly working among the poor, and yet she beautifully handled this with being an amazing wife and mother, and yet embracing the unsettled nature of their life because of the ministry that God had called them to. She made such an impact both on her own family and on the world. When she died there were about 50,000-60,000 people that came to her funeral, and this was back in the days when they didn’t have cars and planes – so that’s really saying a lot. But reading her testimony and reading her biography, there were so many times when she had to just lay down her own expectations and dreams and surrender to God’s will for her life, and then see how God mightily used her as a result.
Sabina Wurmbrand who was one of the founders of The Voice of the Martyrs has a very similar story of having to surrender dreams and expectations of what her life with her husband and child was supposed to look like. Because of their stand for Christ in Romania — and her willingness to let her husband take a strong stand — they were both imprisoned. In fact, they didn’t even see each other for ten years because of the torture, suffering, and imprisonment that they had to go through for their faith. When they were reunited their marriage was actually stronger and more beautiful than it had been before because they surrendered their will to God’s will, and He had a amazing plans for their lives — but very different from what she would have always expected.
Corrie ten Boom has some amazing stories about even laying down her own hopes and dreams for being married, embracing the single life that God had called her to, and the incredible impact that she made on the world as a result.
Elisabeth Elliot’s story of being wiling to allow her husband to go into a very dangerous situation and even end up losing his life for the cause of Christ, and yet God had a plan and a purpose in every one of those scenarios far beyond what any of those women could have imagined for their own lives.
Now God may not call each one of us to these specific scenarios, but He does call each of us to live a surrendered life – continually yielding our own will to His. Jesus clearly set this pattern before us when He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 6:38). And He also said, “…not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). Though we have hopes and dreams, and some of them might become a reality during the course of our lives, we must always remember that this world is not our home. We are merely pilgrims passing through on our way to our eternal residence (1 Pet. 2:11). We are not to let the things of this world consume our thoughts, or capture our hearts, and that includes the white picket fence dreams that maybe we’ve treasured since childhood. Our eyes must be fixed upon a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one.
The ultimate preparation for a beautiful love story is simply to lay everything at the feet of Jesus — your hopes, your dreams, your desires, and your plans — and let Him mold and shape every aspect of your life exactly as He sees fit.
Leslie Ludy: So some final thoughts I want to share with you. When you entrust your life into God’s faithful hands, you will find a greater contentment than any fairy tale you could ever find. Whether you’re married or single, whether you live in the African wilderness or in a beautiful American home with a white picket fence, whether you have only a short season with your husband or a lifetime of memories with him — surrender your dreams and hopes and place them in the hands of the Author of romance, and you will not be disappointed.
Thank you for listening to this episode. For more on this subject, I encourage you to check out our Secrets to an Amazing Love Story online course. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!