By Rick Ezell
A young minister was to perform his first wedding ceremony. Fearing he might forget something, he sought counsel from an older minister. The experienced man told the young minister everything he needed to do and made one final suggestion: “If you ever forget what you are supposed to say, just quote Scripture.”
The ceremony went smoothly until he pronounced the happy couple husband and wife. At that point, his mind went blank. That’s when he remembered the advice of the old preacher to quote Scripture. So he quoted the only verse that came to his mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But we do it anyway, don’t we? We get married. And then reality hits. The person we married behaves differently than the person we dated. Sparks fly. Obstacles ensue. Problems arise. Heartache happens. And, if not corrected, the marriage breaks up.
Too many people change spouses like they change cars. Not me. I have the same wife and I keep my cars a long time. I have learned the secret for both: maintenance.
My daddy put more than 500,000 miles on a Chevy van and more than 350,000 miles on an Oldsmobile. “How did you get that kind of mileage out of your cars?” He was asked. “I change the oil and have them maintained every 3,000 miles.”
Every marriage requires maintenance. When two people occupy the same space, the potential for friction is heightened—like the parts of a car. To keep friction at a minimum, some lubrication is needed. Without proper maintenance, the parts of the relationship begin to squeak and squawk, warmth turns to coldness, intimacy to distance, and laughter to shouts of anger.
Someone said, “Even if marriages are made in Heaven, we are responsible for the maintenance work down here.”
The priority of marriage is reflected in hard work. Jack and Carole Mayhall wrote a book titled, Marriage Takes More Than Love (NavPress, 1996). Truer words were never spoken. Magic doesn’t make a marriage work. Love doesn’t always make a marriage work. Hard work does.
A young woman in her early 30s who had been married for about three months came to me after a church service, saying, “Jeff and I are having trouble. I didn’t know marriage would be so hard. I didn’t know it would require so much work.”
Great marriages take time. Sidney Harris wrote, “Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity; yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage.”
Our problem today is we want instant results. We live in a culture of 30-minute pizza delivery, one-hour cleaners, overnight mail service, and more. We want a fast action cure-all for our rocky, troubled marriage.
The truth is, good marriages don’t just happen. We don’t fall into a great marriage like we fall into love. Great marriages are fined-tuned and developed over the long haul. If we put the effort into our marriages we put into our courtships, we would prevent most problems in marriage. If we worked at our marriages as hard as we worked at our careers and hobbies, our marriages would be much healthier. If we spent as much time with our spouse as we do watching television or surfing the Internet, our relationships would be stronger.
We’re sinners. Like a cowlick, we can’t change the fact. We can work on it, try to cover it up, and put stuff on to hide it, but it keeps popping back up. And, what’s worse, we bring our sinful tendencies into marriage.
For example, some wives nag their husbands, incessantly criticizing, cajoling, and coercing them in order to get what they want. Most husbands resent it. Such wives need to replace their nagging with words of kindness. Solomon wrote, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23, English Standard Version). An apt answer means the perfect amount, while in season means given at the right time. Let me suggest that wives ask three questions before they speak: (1) Can I say it now? (2) Can he hear it now? (3) Can he handle it now? Choosing the right words at the right time and at the right place will go a long way to maintain a healthy marriage.
Some husbands neglect their wives. Things aren’t going well at work, so he wants to quit. Things aren’t going well at home, so he wants to run away. While some husbands may not physically leave their spouse, they wander away emotionally, neglecting their wives. Here are five clues a husband may be neglecting his wife emotionally:
• He responds to heartfelt questions with one-word answers.
• He hides his feelings and gives only the facts.
• He refuses to schedule one-on-one time.
• He hurts his wife, then fails to say “I’m sorry.”
• He receives good news, but doesn’t tell his wife first.
Men need to reverse neglect by singularly focusing on their wives. They need to treat their wives with respect, honor, and understanding. They should not flirt with other women. They should make their marriage their top priority.
Our words have incredible power. They can build up and they can destroy. We should use our words to build up, especially in marriage. One of the best ways to do that is by appreciating your spouse.
William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” We long to hear words of appreciation, especially from our mates.
Appreciation is like sunlight to the human spirit; we cannot grow and flower without it. Mark Twain confessed he could “live for two months on a good compliment.” Twain was just admitting what most of us feel privately—that we need a lift from time to time. And yet we are somehow reluctant to give the warm sunshine of praise and appreciation to the one most dear to us—our spouse.
One characteristic of a healthy marriage is the willingness of husband and wife to testify publicly in each other’s behalf.
Praise each other daily. Don’t take your spouse for granted. If there’s something special you like about your spouse, mention it. Remember the little things: the button sewn on the shirt, the laundry, the garbage taken out, the clean house, the juggling of career and family, sensitivity, and quiet qualities. Be specific with your praise, be truthful, and be generous.
Many marriage ceremonies include an exchange of rings. At this time you’ll often hear a minister say, “The rings are made of lasting materials that will not tarnish or perish,” and “The rings are circles without an end, a symbol of your love for one another.”
When officiating at weddings, I usually add another thought: “Your rings are shiny and smooth, as they should be. But if you look at the rings of couples that have been married for years, you will notice their rings have lost some of their luster. They’re dented and scratched. They’re not as pretty as they once were. Married life may seem to be smooth sailing now, but rough waters will come. Difficulties will arise. Problems will surface. Anger will erupt. Here’s the point. Couples get married out of love, but they stay married out of commitment.”
In Thornton Wilder’s play The Skin of Our Teeth (HarperCollins, 2003), Mrs. Antrobus says to her husband, “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. . . . I married you because you gave me a promise.” She takes off her ring and looks at it. “That promise made up for your faults and the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married, and it was the promise that made the marriage.”
Rick Ezell is a minister and freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.
from Where God Finds You by Anita Higman
(Standard Publishing, 2012)
Every creature that had the breath of life in its nostrils drowned—all that were not on the ark—as the springs of the great deep burst forth and the floodgates of the heavens opened. Even the mountains were buried under the floodwaters. All perished. All land became sea. Our home and all that we had known was replaced with the rising deep and unspeakable terror.
I stirred the stew that bubbled over the open fire. Storm clouds darkened the horizon, and thunder growled from the sky. It rumbled and roared just beyond Ararat, the mountain where our ark had come to rest. The sound and smell of rain sent tremors through me. But no rain came. Instead, arcs of color slowly appeared in the clouds as if God’s own finger had painted the sky. Such splendorous colors, such glorious hues, illuminated by the light of heaven!
Noah called to me from the vineyards in the valley below. I ran to my husband and joined him between the rows of grapes, but my eyes never left the sky for fear the image might disappear.
“My beloved,” he said to me, “this is the sign from God that I have waited for. His covenant to us, to all mankind, that he will never again destroy the earth with a flood.”
“Praise him above all . . . for his promises endure forever,” I said. And I felt the fear within me fade away.
Noah wrapped his arm around me as we gazed at this silent song of color and beauty, this shout of grace and glory, this mighty wonderment from God.
As witnesses of this new covenant and as stewards of this new earth, I pondered over our lives. What might our tasks be, and where would we dwell? How would we live and grow as a people? I knew not. But this I held tightly to—we would place our trust in the One who carried us away from evil, who sustained us on treacherous waters, who landed us without harm against the mountain, and then brought us safely into the new world.
“I now give you everything.” Those were the words God had spoken to my husband. I filled my eyes with the sign in the sky and prayed that we would prove worthy of the task the Lord had given us.
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