How does Jesus’ incarnation relate to your marriage?

'World' photo (c) 2011, Zaheer Mohiuddin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“I feel frustrated about our marriage,” my friend Tomas conceded as he talked about his wife Diane [*]. “It is not easy to communicate with her. I tried to talk to her about my thoughts and my rationales for doing something, and it seems that she couldn’t hear me at all. She’s blind to how I truly feel about things. And Diane just wanted to control everything. So we often end up fighting and arguing. It seems that she’s stuck in her own little world! How can I get her to see beyond it?”

[*] Not their real names.

Tomas had been trying hard to work on their marriage. But he was mostly relying on some techniques and skills that he picked up from marriage seminars and pop psychology publications. While I was struggling for words to respond to Tomas, as soon as the words “own little world” came off of Tomas’ mouth, I sensed one of those “God moments” coming on.

“I can feel your frustration, Tomas,” I said. “And I know you’ve tried very hard, and you’re starting to feel hopeless.” Tomas nodded.

I continued, “But this is just the sort of problem that Jesus came here for. You see, it’s not just that Diane is in her own little world. You, Tomas, is also blind and lost in your own little world. Likewise, I am also trapped in my own little world unable to live a righteous life. When Jesus sees us trapped in our own little world, his solution wasn’t to demand that we figure out a way to come out and know God. Instead of that, Jesus himself became one of us, lived among us, did what we did, felt how we felt. We are unable to see beyond it, but Jesus revealed the fullness of God to us.”

While my general advice to Tomas was to be an understanding husband according to 1 Peter 3:7 (“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way”), instead of emphasizing communication skills, I said, “Here’s the deal. By your own strength, there’s no way for you to break through your frustration and hopelessness and be motivated to be an understanding husband, unless you also experience Jesus’ incarnation in your life. It depends on your relationship with the Savior. To the extent that you can see Jesus breaking through into your own stubborn little world, can you actually have the strength and necessary motivation to reach into Diane’s world and see things from her perspective and be that change-agent for her.”

In one sense, marriage is indeed an exercise in reflecting Jesus’ incarnation into our world. If marriage is to be “two becoming one flesh,” and if especially for husbands, according to Ephesians 5, the charge is to love your wife as your own body, then we first need to have a deep personal experience with how Jesus also reached beyond our resistance and into our world.

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Seasons Of A Marriage

'Marriage' photo (c) 2008, David Joyce - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Happy 2012! One of the first blog articles I read this year concern turning a new year resolution into 10,000 “little resolutions” by Paul David Tripp. What he means is that we will have 10,000 little moments throughout the year to make a choice to act in faith or not, to act in obedience or not, etc. It’s a good read, so please read it.

It also reminds me of the book “What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage” that Tripp wrote on marriage. In the book he kept emphasizing the concept that marriage is not to be worked out in the big decisions/moments in life, but in every day decisions to love and honor your spouse with God’s love. So I want to dedicate my first blog entry in 2012 to my wife Wendy because I wish to love her with 10,000 little moments in 2012.

It also reminds me of something I’ve been wanting to write about. I call it the the “seasons of a Christian marriage” that we might journey through our lives, from immaturity to maturity. Here are the seasons:

Season 0:
I have a lot of love to give, and I’m looking for Mr./Mrs. Right

Season 1:
I love you because you accept me just the way I am, and I accept you just the way you are

Season 2:
You need help to change into a better person, and I will help you to make those changes

Season 3:
We are not perfect, and we both need to change to become better people in order to improve this marriage

Season 4:
I’ve tried very hard but I found that I cannot change you

Season 5:
I cannot change you, only God can change you

Season 6:
I cannot change you, I can only change myself

Season 7:
I have accepted that on this side of heaven, we will remain sinners however hard we try to change

Season 8:
The biggest sinner in this marriage is me

Season 9:
God loves you more than I can love you, and it’s only by God’s grace and power that He will use me as an instrument of His grace toward you in our life together

Debt Cancellation in Marriage

A couple months ago, I had started doing a slide deck on forgiveness in marriage but I never completed it. But after reading Alan Yu’s excellent post on forgiveness from his seminary class notes, I was able to put the concepts together and made the following slide presentation titled “Debt Cancellation in Marriage.” This kinda echoes and extends my recent post on forgiveness. I hope this is helpful and is a means of healing to couples who are struggling in marriage relationships:

(If your browser does not support embedded Flash widgets, you can visit this link to view the slides in HTML5: http://icant.co.uk/slidesharehtml/embed.php?url=http://www.slideshare.net/ahtimsir/debt-cancellation-in-marriage&width=500 )

When Did We Become So Joyless?

Recently I heard of a mother of a toddler who habitually spends so much time at work that she goes to work early, comes home very late, and sometimes even gets up in the wee morning hours to work. I also heard of another working mom of toddlers who likes taking vacation days to do her own things and to get away from the children instead of spending time with her family. It troubled me to hear of these things.

At the same time, even though it’s seemingly unrelated, it bothered me for days after watching that infamous YouTube video in which the groom changed his Facebook relationship status during the wedding ceremony. I was bothered by another infamous YouTube video where the wedding party danced down the aisle. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was.

Fortunately, lately I discovered an article at MereOrthodoxy.com entitled “Marriage and the Sacredness of Joy” that put these separate things in perspective for me. In it, blogger Matthew Lee wrote, concerning the Facebooking wedding stunt:

… the move reveals our inability to experience and properly express joy. The union of two people -– a union sanctified by God -– is a great good. To be downright personal for a moment, the joy I felt in the moment that my wife said “yes” to me was so utterly transcendent that a joke would have been inconceivable … we laugh at the stunt, but with the sort of shocked, uncomfortable reservation of people who are witnessing something we intuitively grasp as inappropriate -– even if we can’t articulate how or why.

I agree with Lee that we’ve somehow lost the ability to feel and express joy. The joy of the union between a man and a woman should be so great and so pure that the manufacturing of humor with an out-of-place incident would be deemed unnecessary. Along the same lines, I think many parents fail to appreciate the simple joy that our children bring. Somehow we seem to lose the joy in such things, and we tend to have the need for substitutes.

This reminds me of one of my most favorite clips from the movie “American Beauty,” in which the husband asked the wife an important question: “When did you become so joyless?” (starting around 2:15 in the clip below):

Christians are not immune to the loss of joy. I think we especially need to examine whether we’re losing the pure and simple joy of our salvation, and pray the same prayer that King David prayed:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation…” (Psalm 51:12a)

I have a suspicion that sometimes all our struggles with life, our struggles with burnouts, and our struggles with sin, might stem from our inability to completely experience and live out the joy of our salvation.

John MacArthur, in “Joy and Godliness,” listed 14 reasons we might be joyless, and I think that you and I should take heed and reflect on these:

  1. False salvation
  2. Satan and demons
  3. An inadequate understanding of God’s sovereignty
  4. Prayerlessness
  5. Spiritual lows after spiritual highs
  6. A focus on circumstances
  7. Ingratitude
  8. Forgetfulness
  9. Dissatisfaction
  10. Fear of the future
  11. Uncontrolled feelings
  12. Morbid self-analysis
  13. Self-centeredness
  14. Unwillingness to accept forgiveness

Merry Christmas, and may we be reminded that Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ, but also how God reminds us to rejoice in Him. May this Christmas be a time that our joy in the Lord can be revived and restored:

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Related:
Mark Galli: How To Have A “Merry” Christmas

Pre-Engagement Counseling

[This post was prompted by a recent conversation with a friend who’s considering engagement/marriage…]

Pastor Tam, the pastor who officiated our wedding, used to say that although couples came to him for premarital counseling, they had already set the wedding date, booked the restaurant for the banquet, even got professional pictures taken with them dressed in wedding garments; during the premarital counseling, even if he found serious issues between the couple, his attempts to ask the couple to reconsider or postpone their marriage often fall on deaf ears. It is understandable, because after many couples get engaged, all their energies are focused on creating that perfect wedding day. I think some couples wouldn’t even voluntarily choose to go through premarital counseling if they didn’t belong to a church that requires couples to do so.

Not only do I believe that counseling is essential, but I think it is most effective before the marriage proposal. I’m talking about pre-engagement counseling. Some people might say that counseling before proposal is awkward. However, if you date someone with any seriousness and purpose, your goal should be marriage, and it’s a goal that you two should not feel awkward to talk about.

Actually, Wendy and I went through both pre-engagement counseling and premarital counseling. I had a wise mentor in Texas, so after going there for a couple days of sightseeing, we spent a few days with him, doing nothing else except talking about marriage and relationship. It was a casual yet intense time (if that makes any sense…). He listened to us, provided great insights, asked probing questions, and he engaged us in deep sharing about our relationship and our future. He answered our fears and concerns, he corrected our expectations about marriage, and he pointed out our misconceptions. We used some light discussion material, but mostly it was the deep conversations that mattered much more. Today, I actually don’t remember any specific thing that we talked about during that time, but I know that this pre-engagement counseling experience had been a very important time for the formation of our marriage and our lives.

In contrast, our premarital counseling sessions were a bit more formal and less personalized, because the pastor used a standard set of materials on all couples. But the advantage was that we were able to cover more comprehensive topics concerning marriage and family that we needed to discuss.

Both pre-engagement and premarital counseling had their different roles, and I think all dating couples should pursue the opportunities to go through both of them!

Related:
She Worships >> Pre-engagement Counseling: Wise or Weird?

Our Tenth Wedding Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that today is the 10th wedding anniversary for Wendy and I… 10 years together in matrimony! I just found out that it’s called a “Tin anniversary” or an “Aluminum anniversary.”

For some reason, my first thoughts about our anniversary have to do with some very discouraging articles I recently read, especially in the aftermath of the Jon & Kate Gosselin‘s marriage fiasco. When Jon & Kate Gosselin started going through marriage troubles, I started reading articles where people say that “traditional lifelong marriage” does not work. (for example: read “Jon and Kate Plus 8 prove traditional lifelong marriage is dead” in the San Francisco Examiner). And then I read an article in “The Atlantic” that seeks to debase the value of a “traditional lifelong marriage”, and it contains many quotes that distress me. Among those distressing quotes that the author wrote include:

“Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”

“Some of us stay married because …… the two-parent marriage is another impressive — and rare — attainment to bestow on our fragile, gifted children. Some of us stay married because — what else is there? A lonely apartment and a hot plate?”

“Why don’t we accept marriage as a splitting-the-mortgage arrangement? …… rekindling the romance is, for many of us, biologically unnatural, particularly after the kids come.”

Sadly, we are frequently bombarded with irresponsible messages like these that reduce marriage to just a legal contract, or a flimsy description of “when two people love each other very much, and they want everyone to know, then they get married.” No wonder it is obsolete. But what’s really obsolete is not “marriage” itself, but those false understandings of so-called “marriage”.

However, I would agree with one thing: it is not easy to be married. But that is also why marriage is so precious. Nothing that’s easy to attain would be valued as highly as something that takes pains to get.

Also, our struggles in our earthly marriages is perhaps a lesson for us who are believers in God. Christ’s second coming is described as the bridegroom (Christ) meeting the bride (the church), and it is a joyous event because of “the readiness of the bride”: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). I believe that some of the lessons I learn from my marriage not only help me become a better person, but also help me understand how I can be ready and be pure (2 Corinthians 11:2) in anticipation of Christ’s return.

So as Wendy and I celebrate 10 years of marriage, my thought should not be: “Whew! Made it to 10 years!” Instead, I hope my attitude would be: “We’ve only just begun! There’s so much more to learn!” In every marriage, there are eternal rewards waiting for us to discover.

Text Of Our Sharing At Church On June 7

Wendy and I had a short 5-minute sharing during the Sunday worship service on June 7. The main purpose was to encourage brothers and sisters to sign up for a marriage enrichment camp this July. But I think the sharing might have wider appeal, so I’m posting it here since it might be interesting to you:


My name is Tim and this is my wife Wendy. We have two children, Chase, 3 years old, and River, 7 months old. We’ve been married 9 years and 10 months, and we’re about to celebrate our 10 year anniversary next month. We’re happy to share about the upcoming marriage enrichment camp.

Over the past 10 years of marriage we went through a lot of things, including some tough times when the two of us came very close to separating. About 7 years ago, Wendy started telling me weird things, like “I wish I was single” or “If I start over, I would not get married.” At that time, I did not think much of it. But now I realize that it’s something very much true with husbands and wives. Even while the wife is suffering silently inside battling her disappointments with the martial relationship, the husband would think everything is just fine; and that was how I was at the time.

At that time both of us were heavily involved in both church ministries and parachurch ministries. But we neglected to spending time to building up our relationship in the home. We should not just be Christians when we “serve” or “go to church.” First and foremost, Christ’s command for us to love one another needs to be lived out in the home. Someone once said, “我們正常生活的中心就是我們屬靈生活的中心“, and this certainly applies to living out our faith in our workplaces and in our homes and in our marriages. And if being busy at church interferes with that, we really should re-examine our priorities.

The Bible says that wives should submit to the husband, and the husband should love his wife as himself. But this is all very unnatural to us humans. Would any of you wives wake up in the morning and just choose to be gladly submissive to your husband? Or would any of you husbands wake up in the morning and just choose to care for your wife’s needs just as importantly as your own? We are all inherently selfish people, we prefer too much to hide from conflict instead of dealing with issues, and we tend to hide our feelings instead of having open communication. This is why we need help to learn and improve in our marriage relationships.

So here’s a challenge for you: Tonight, ask your spouse to rate, on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied he/she is in this marriage. And if you feel more daring, ask, “If you could do it over again, would you have married me?” If the answer is not satisfactory, it may not be a bad thing; it’s just a signal that something needs to be worked on in the marriage. The upcoming marriage enrichment camp is an opportunity for you to discuss the issues you can work on, and there are other couples who can offer support. We hope you’ll all consider going to this camp.