Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beautifully Imperfect, Amazingly Challenging

"Marriage was never meant to make me happy all the time.
Marriage is a decision to honor God by honoring the one He entrusted to me."
Lysa Terkeurst

My husband and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  On one hand we stare in disbelief, wondering where the time has gone.  On the other hand we have felt the weight of family issues, major life changes, and adopting a child - all things that can make a short amount of time feel a lot longer.  Regardless of how quickly or slowly the years have passed or what has transpired while the clock has been ticking, we have a beautiful and amazing marriage.  

I did not say it is perfect.

I did not say it is easy.   

I can no longer remember what it was about, but several months after Toby was born an argument erupted between Collins and me. Later, after the guns had cooled, we realized that the explosion happened because it had been weeks since we had really talked to each other. And it scared us. In that moment we made a decision - outside of our individual relationships with God, our marriage would be our highest priority. 

"The husband and the wife should be like the hand and the eye. When
the hand hurts, the eyes should be crying, and when the
eyes cry, the hand should wipe away the tears."
John Chrysostom

After praying, reading scripture and receiving some quality counsel from some incredible people, we felt like God was speaking into some key areas of our matrimonial journey.  Yes, there are days when we are tired, ill-tempered, busy or just plain don't want to give our relationship the attention it needs. Most days, though, we get over ourselves and do the work, because we've had a glimpse of what can happen if we don't.

Though we fall woefully short in all of these areas at times, we try daily to honor God and each other in these ways: 
  • Talking and Listening - We make it a priority to talk and listen to each other every single day.  Some days we may only get 10-15 minutes, taking the time to fill each other in on our respective days and get on the same page about a discipline issue with our son. Other days we have the luxury of a lengthy discussion when we share our struggles, dreams, hopes and fears, and work through current conflict or problems we are facing.  
  • Humor - It's not always easy to find humor in life's day-to-day grind, but it is necessary.  If we don't laugh frequently, tension grows until minor incidents become major blow-ups; we don't have the time or desire to clean up messes that never had to be to begin with. 
  • Address Conflict Immediately - Sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn't happen is the worst possible way to deal with conflict, as is expecting the other to instinctively know he/she has caused conflict without being told.  We may take several days or even weeks to come to full resolution of our conflicts, but it only takes us a few minutes or hours to express to the other that a problem exists.  When issues arise, getting them out in the open is more than half the battle.  
  • Physical Affection - We hold hands. We kiss. We hug. And we make sure to do all three in front of our little guy to model for him what normal, healthy affection looks like. We've also learned that daily doses of non-sexual affection make intimate connection easier and more meaningful.   
  • Children Come Second - We love our little man more than anything in the world, but not more than we love each other.  He is the most important person in our lives - outside of each other. If we rearrange God's established order and elevate him to a place he was never intended to be, we are handicapping him as a man and as a future husband and father. We are loving him best when we love God first, then each other.  
Five years in and we are still head-over-heels in love. We firmly believe that is because we are grounded in the hard, sometimes tedious work of investing in each other.  It's the blood, sweat and tears we put into walking through life together that produce our joy. 

"Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children 
and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Ephesians 5:1

The passage of scripture we chose for our wedding, Ephesians 5calls us to submission and sacrifice, love and respect, and ultimately to holiness. We have come to understand that the pursuit of holiness, following God's example as it was lived out in the person of Jesus, is what transforms our imperfect and challenging relationship into a marriage that is both beautiful and amazing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Living in Intentional Community

If you read my last post (#Misery Needs Jesus' Company) you may have walked away thinking that I was saying you should never share your hardships; that you should endure suffering alone, in silence.  To the degree that our whining, complaining, throwing fits, and having pity parties is intended to draw attention to ourselves so that others might make us the center of their sympathies and dote on us, then that's exactly what I'm implying (boy am I in trouble!). Better to be silent and alone than to selfishly seek the indulgences of others, the pursuit of which is designed to put us on a false martyr's pedestal. But that's not to say that we should never bear each other's burdens.

Created For Relationship

From the beginning, even as Adam drew his first breath from the very mouth of God, man was created for relationship - first with God, then with other humans when Eve became Adam's companion and helper.  

Jesus sets the example in the New Testament as he surrounds himself with the disciples whom he loved and into whom he poured himself, entrusting them with the propagation of the gospel. He demonstrates even deeper, more intimate relationship with Peter, James and John; as his most trusted friends the three are often referred to as Jesus' 'inner circle.' 

Further Evidence

In I Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul advocates for relationship as established by God and exemplified by Jesus through an analogy comparing the Church to the human body. Each body part has a distinct and unique function that cannot be performed by any other part. If one part is missing, the body is lacking. The parts must cooperate and work together for the body to operate efficiently and effectively. 

The Bottom Line

Like it or not, we need each other (and being the fiercely independent soul that I am, I will admit that sometimes I don't like it). We were never meant to do life alone.  Now you might say, "But I live in a house with four other people, I work in an office of 25 employees, my church has a membership of 680, I socialize with about 10-15 friends, I have 950 Facebook friends and 322 Twitter followers - how much more life do I need to 'do' with others?"

Well, of the roughly 2000 people you say you interact with on a regular basis:
  • Do you confide in any of them when life is hard and you are struggling?
  • Are any of them in your circle of accountability?
  • How many have been invited to lovingly speak truth to you when your words or deeds cast a poor reflection of Christ?
  • Do you meet with any of them for Bible study and prayer?
  • When is the last time you confessed your sin to one of them?
  • Do you keep their confidences when they share their hearts with you?
  • Are you able to really listen to them without interrupting or daydreaming?
  • Have you taken the risk of calling them out in a loving way for non-Christlike behaviors and attitudes?  

If these questions leave you puzzled, confused and maybe even offended, or if the one answer to all of the questions is 'No,' then it's highly likely you are in proximity, but not in relationship.  You might be around people, but you are not invested in anyone, nor are they in you.

Proximity vs. Relationship

Intentional biblical community cuts through surface level niceties and delves into vulnerabilities. It's that place where we come together with a group of people and rip off all the many layers of masks we wear, lay aside all presumption, pride and arrogance, and reveal to this trusted inner sanctum the reality of who we are. It's here (not social media) that we are meant to share our trials, griefs, heartaches and pains - with people who speak Truth into our lives, reminding us that we are beloved children of God when we lose sight of that fact. They refuse to let us feel sorry for ourselves and will not let us wear our wounds like badges in order to attract the world's attention.  They come alongside us and walk with us in our darkest moments until we are strong enough to stand on our own again. They celebrate our joys and revel in our successes. And we return the favor.

Scary? You bet! 
Risky? Absolutely!
Worth it? Every single time!

Life like this doesn't happen by accident; it is planned and purposeful because it is radically different from what the world offers. Getting involved in each other's lives on this level is intimidating at best, dangerous at worst. Sacrifice is involved. It takes work and is messy. You will get hurt and you will injure others. But you will also experience more joy and contentment than you ever thought possible. Allowing trusted fellow believers to be 'lovingly intrusive' (shout out to Jason Malone at Summit Church for this awesome phrase) in our lives, and doing the same for them, is to function the way God intended.

It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not even about us. It's about Christ-centered community.  It's about living authentic lives and investing in each other's brokenness so that we might reflect to a lost and watching world a God who loves us so much that he actively pursues us, wooing us back to himself, into the purest, most intimate, unbroken relationship we've ever known.  

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 
not giving up meeting together...but encouraging one another..."
Hebrews 10:24-25