Sometimes when I work in the yard (or less often when I’m painting 😊) I listen to podcasts downloaded on my phone. My favorite ones to listen to are Andy Stanley’s sermons delivered to his church at Northpoint Community Church (and then sent by satellite to the other churches) in the US. One of his newest sermon series is on marriage. It is called ‘What Happy Couples Know’. It started me thinking about marriage–my marriage in particular but also marriage in general.
Andy says that we all go into marriage with a ‘box’ filled with our hopes and dreams. The problems begin when my husband hands his ‘box’ to me which over time becomes more like expectations, often expectations I either don’t know what they are or I’m unable to meet them. He goes on to say that when that happens we do one of four things. (1) We leave, taking our box to the next relationship (which could explain multiple marriages). (2) We win–usually this is a relationship in which one has a stronger personality and insists on working out of his/her box. (3) We conform–we become what our partner wants us to be (and in the process lose ourselves). (4) We compromise–this relationship is not happy nor is it necessarily unhappy, it’s contractural–you do your part and I’ll do mine. In order to do work out one of these four types, we either convince, convict, control or coerce. Of course, I am simplifying the sermon, so it’s best to listen yourself. (The series is fantastic and I encourage you to listen or watch it.) Here is the link: northpoint.org/messages/what-happy–couples–know
Doyle and I have been married 51 years. I was only 19 when we married and he, 22. I knew absolutely nothing about marriage except by observing my parents. They didn’t have a happy marriage until much later in their lives and even then it wasn’t ideal. Mama waited on Daddy hand and foot. He was helpless on his own–or at least that’s how I saw it. She would lay out his clothes, comb his hair and do everything else for him. I thought the way to be a good wife was to wait on my husband as well. Now, I’ve never laid out Doyle’s clothes or combed his hair, but I never expected him to help me with the housework or the children. I’m sure in the beginning he would have if I’d asked but I thought it was my place to do it all. Plus, he didn’t have a role model at all, as his dad left when he was 5 years old. As the years rolled on, he was busy restoring our old house and working hard at his career, so I continued to do it.
We had some stormy years. The worst time was when I went back to college in 1983 to get a degree in Home Economics Education. Bart was 16 and Merrigail 12. Doyle was very supportive of my ‘call’ to go back to school and did all he could so I could attend class (my commute was 35 miles each way) and not have to worry about working as well. (Why I decided on this degree instead of nursing, which I started off in, is another musing 😊.) Doyle was sharp and witty, I was naive (I didn’t catch on to jokes, etc very quickly) and felt dumb most of our lives. My sister also was sharp and smart and completed college in the normal stage of life–after high school–even though for most of it she also was married. Doyle was good at everything he undertook, graduating Cum Laude from Valdosta State University, while supporting a family and working at every job he could find. I had never excelled in anything. I went into this experience of college life to prove to myself that I was not dumb. As a result, I poured myself into school; I literally ate, drank and slept school. I was 36 when I began and even had to take inorganic chemistry my very first quarter–I was terrified. I studied hard and worked hard. I suppose as I grew intellectually and in confidence, I was not the same person who began this endeavor. I didn’t realize at the time, nor intend, to neglect my family in any way. Much later when we discussed this difficult period Doyle told me he felt abandoned emotionally. I continued to take care of household things and in my mind, I was doing more than enough. I was pretty much totally focused on school and succeeding that I, in retrospect, ‘left’ him and the children–not physically but emotionally–it was not a conscious thing at all. Toward the end of my schooling, I was also gone a lot physically. He was angry with me all the time and I couldn’t figure out what was going on; it was a horrible time in our lives. It would have been so easy to physically ‘check out’ as well. I was getting a college degree and would be able to support myself; I didn’t have to put up with his moodiness!! But when I married Doyle, we, as new Christians, vowed that divorce would never be an option. I didn’t see the change in myself and how it must have made him feel, but I knew I loved him more than anything and I continued to make the choice to love him through this difficult time. I only got through it with lots of prayer. I know this period of time was difficult for him as well. We made it through those years. I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude in 1985 from Georgia Southern College (it had not yet become a university), but it was earned at a very high price. Bart graduated from high school and I from college just days apart.
We have always had laughter and fun in our home. But, there was also a lot of anger and frustration as we struggled financially and with Doyle’s ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which we didn’t even know about then. He brought a lot of anger and frustration into our marriage stemming from his condition and from his childhood and I didn’t know how to handle it very well. We were both very immature when we entered into our covenant marriage and literally grew up together.
We were very involved in church life, raising our kids in church, making sure we were there every time the doors were open. More often than not, putting church and church people ahead of our own family. I was involved in facilitating many ladies Bible studies over those years. We had a couples Bible study every week as well and Doyle led those, usually in our home. During that time, there were some family issues I was struggling with and my prayers seemed to hit the ceiling and fall back down. I couldn’t see any answers to my prayers, so in discouragement, I decided to stop praying and studying the Bible–it didn’t seem to make any difference anyway. It was about the time we moved to Augusta from South Georgia. We continued to go to church (after we finally found one), but was not involved much at all. We were going our own way and doing our own thing. Thankfully, Jesus wooed me back to Himself through the first Bible study I took at our church, Trinity On The Hill UMC, called ‘Falling in Love with Jesus’. I came back to Him hungry to know His word, to really know Him–not just know about Him– and to live according to His guidance. I realized that my faith had been immature in those early days. I was looking for the gifts, not the Giver of gifts. My faith was dependent on answers to prayer, not faith that God is working even when I don’t see any results–perhaps I won’t even live to see the results, but I am confident now that He is working in the lives of my loved ones.
I took many Bible Studies and spent time lots of time praying and reading. Doyle is not a reader and I became anxious for him to share my passion for Jesus. I have always taken him coffee to wake him up each morning and since we were retired, I asked him if we could read through the Bible together and he agreed–of course I did the reading, but he was very engaged in the hearing. (At this point we’ve read through the Bible in four different versions.) Later, we began to pray together after our reading. It was such a sweet time and God truly knit our hearts together. I believe, if we had done this early in our marriage, we could have avoided many of the conflicts and problems we struggled with. There is just something special about hearing your soul mate’s heart as he talks to God. The old saying that’s been around a long time is true, “The Family that Prays together Stays Together”.
One other thing Andy talks about in his series is always believing the best of your spouse and speaking well of him/her to others. Also, he says we should have a ‘submission competition’ with our spouse–both racing to the end of the line–so to speak, to defer to one another and always want the best for the other. Just that advice alone would save many marriages. In our entire marriage if there was ever extra anything, (money, food), we would each want the other to have it. There has never been any selfishness in our relationship.
As our lives wind down to the end–as Doyle often says ‘ We’re a lot closer to the finish line than the starting line’– there are a lot of regrets. Too often, things and other people were more important to me than my husband and children. There are no excuses, but I know there are many things I would do differently if I were granted a ‘do over’. Sadly, none of us can ‘do over’. We can just ask forgiveness from God and our loved ones and work to make these last years as special as possible.
As I was reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) again this morning, I was reminded that Jesus spoke directly and candidly about marriage, especially unfaithfulness in marriage, even warning about lusting in your heart for someone else. It’s not just the act of adultery that is sin, but also the feelings in your heart for someone outside of your marriage. He also condemned divorce. After all, marriage was His idea–one man and one woman, until death parts them. We all have had divorce in our families and it’s a painful experience. We also are human and make mistakes, but when we are repentant, ‘God is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. I John 1:9 He is the healer; living a life close to Him is the only way to a great marriage and true peace and joy.