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In today’s world, the idea of happily ever after can seem almost ridiculous amid heated divorce hearings, scandalous affairs, and broken homes. And yet, each new bride and groom that walks down the aisle still dares to hope that their love story will be the one in a million that somehow stands the test of time.
As a newly married couple, you may have heard a common piece of advice from friends, counselors or marriage experts. It goes something like this: “Don’t let your expectations for marriage become too high. It is important to have a realistic view of what you are headed into. Don’t expect a fairy tale or you will be disappointed.”
Yet, when we are young and in love, it’s hard not to hope for happily ever after. Despite the divorce epidemic that rages around us, something inside of us longs for more than a mediocre love story.
My husband, Eric, and I believe that fairy tales do exist, and that happily ever after can be preserved for a lifetime. We believe that a successful marriage is not found when you lower your expectations. Rather, we believe that success comes when you exchange your human hopes and dreams for God’s heavenly ones.
"Happily ever after" is impossible without the God of the universe backing you up. But when Jesus Christ remains at the center of your marriage, you can trust that your fairy tale will end even more beautiful than it began.
Probably the most important principle for keeping Christ at the center of your marriage is learning how to grow together spiritually.
While it is certainly important to have your own individual relationships with God, there is now a new dimension to your spiritual life: your relationship with God as a couple. When one spouse moves forward spiritually and the other remains spiritually stagnant, the marriage team is compromised. A figure-skating team cannot be excellent together if one is at the Olympic level and the other is still learning how to skate backwards. The beauty of a fully-functioning marriage team is only experienced when both members pursue spiritual excellence together. This is what the apostle Paul means when he says that Christian marriages should be “equally yoked.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) Together, you can have a far greater spiritual impact for God’s Kingdom than you can apart. But becoming a spiritual team takes focus and effort. Modern Christianity does not always make it easy for couples to grow together spiritually. There are women’s Bible study groups and men’s prayer meetings, men’s rallies and women’s conferences, spiritual-growth books for men and different books for women. And while being strengthened spiritually from a male-only or female-only perspective can be important and healthy, it should never replace being strengthened spiritually as a team.
Here are some practical ways to make sure you are growing together spiritually:
Plan a time in your schedule, whether daily or weekly, that you can sit down together and study God’s Word as a couple. Discuss ahead of time what areas of the Bible you would like to learn more about, and then be sure to obtain all the necessary tools ahead of time that will help you have an effective study session. At first, studying the Bible together may not seem like a very exciting way to spend your time. But as you pursue God’s Word as a team you will discover rich spiritual truths that will greatly enhance your lifestyle and your relationship with God and each other. As you experience God’s Word together, you will naturally become more and more of a unified team, sharing the same vision, passion, convictions, and beliefs. If you develop this habit early in your marriage, you will be amazed at the lifelong benefits it will reap.
If you haven’t already developed the daily habit of praying with your spouse, then begin tonight. Praying together daily for your life and marriage reminds you to keep Christ in the center of your relationship. It helps you realize that you can do nothing in your own strength, and it keeps you dependent upon God as a couple. Eric and I pray together every night before we go to bed – we thank God for the day and lay all of our “burdens” at His feet. Each morning as soon as we wake up, we hold hands and offer ourselves fully and completely to God, yielding to Him afresh and allowing Him to do whatever He desires in and through us that day. Agreeing together in prayer is one of the single greatest ways to establish unity in your marriage relationship. It may feel awkward to pray aloud together if you have never done it before, but if you begin to carve out time for prayer together each day, it will soon become a natural part of your life. Eric and I also love to worship together – to sit at the piano and sing songs of love to our Lord. Focusing on Christ as a couple is a wonderful way to take your eyes off yourself and your circumstances and remember what a huge, amazing God you serve.
Consider taking time to worship with your spouse – whether you plunk out songs on your guitar, listen to a worship CD, or simply read a Psalm out loud. The more you turn your eyes to heavenly things together, the more you will naturally be on the same page through the ups and downs of life.
Eric and I have found that reading spiritual books as a couple – especially historical Christian biographies – greatly inspires us to grow together spiritually. Even before we were married, we read books about heroic Christians and discussed our desire to emulate their examples. Reading stories of great Christians as a couple offers many hours of significant discussion – talking about their lives of sacrifice and wondering if and how God might use us in the same way. Books like these help paint a picture of the amazing adventure God has called us to as a couple – and help remind us never to settle for spiritual mediocrity. Take some time to obtain a few Christian biographies – then read them out loud together and talk about their lives.
Whenever possible, attend conferences or retreats together rather than separately. Christian events are often places where we have “mountaintop experiences” with God – they provide times to get away from the daily routine of life and be spiritually renewed and refreshed. It is difficult to share the depth of your experience with your spouse if they have not been a part of what has taken place. If you return from a Christian event motivated and spiritually charged, and your spouse is in the same place they were before, unable to comprehend what you are so excited about, it can cause a great deal of frustration and even marital friction. But if you experience the mountaintop together, you will be much more able to implement your new understanding of truth into your daily life as a unified team.
This isn’t to say that attending Christian events separately is harmful – sometimes it can be very refreshing to get away on your own and spend time learning more about God’s ways as an individual. But when you do, be sure that you plan a time to sit down with your spouse and allow him or her to share in what you learned and experienced there. Offer plenty of grace if your spouse doesn’t fully appreciate your excitement – remember that your spouse has been plugging away in the typical daily grind while you have been up the mountain and back. No matter what the response, do your best to let your spouse be a part of all that God is doing in your life, rather than hoarding the “treasures” all for yourself.
Even as you grow together spiritually, it is important to maintain your individual relationships with God. Eric has an extremely passionate and active spiritual life, and I had to learn early in our marriage that I could not live my spiritual life vicariously through him. I needed to keep pursuing my own passionate relationship with Christ. We make our own individual quiet times a top priority in our life together. And when God is at work in my heart I share it with Eric. When I feel a specific nudge in a certain direction or I feel convicted about heading down the wrong path, I make sure that I tell Eric what is going on inside. And when I uncover an exciting truth in Scripture or read an incredible testimony of faith in a Christian biography, I share my discoveries with my husband. He does the same for me. We don’t share every little nuance about our individual spiritual lives, but we do make an effort to keep each other aware and involved in what is happening spiritually in our hearts and minds. The more you learn to talk about spiritual things and discuss how God is working in you, the more your individual spiritual lives will flow in the same direction.
Throughout almost twenty years of marriage to Eric, I have found that the times when our relationship flourishes the most is when we are on the same page spiritually – learning together, growing together, praying together, exploring God’s Word together. No amount of marriage advice, books, or romantic getaways can ever compare to the beauty and unity that flows from our marriage when we focus on Jesus Christ together. I whole-heartedly believe that pursuing Christ together truly is the secret for "happily ever after" love stories. So if you want to get your marriage off to a great start, make growing together spiritually your highest priority. You will be amazed at the unity, peace, and romance that flows into your relationship as a result.
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