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Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

16 Jan

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy more that to Make us Happy? By Gary Thomas

Dear God, I am speaking to a home church this weekend and as I prayed to you and talked to you about what you would have me discuss, this book that I read nearly 20 years ago kept coming to mind. It is the best marriage book I’ve ever read, and its lessons have stuck with me through the years. However, as I’ve sat down a few times over the last few days to try to collect my thoughts and synthesize the message of this book into a lesson, I’ve struggled. There’s so much here. I could almost do a lesson on each chapter. Ultimately, I decided that the best thing to do was to sit down and just talk with you about what it was about this book that meant so much to me 20 years ago.

I think it starts with me being a very needy husband for the first 10-ish years of our marriage. I have two dogs right now, and one of them is very needy. She’s always looking for attention from anyone who will love her. She annoys the heck out of me. I think this is how I was when I got married. I came into marriage very insecure. I grew up witnessing a fairly tumultuous marriage, and I didn’t want to give my wife (and ultimately, my children after they were born) any excuse to not love me or like me. To add to that, I needed that love affirmed all of the time.

My best example is my wife’s first Mother’s Day after our son was born. I did everything for her that day. He was about 10 months old, and I took care of him all day. I made her breakfast in bed. I did everything around the house. I did it all! Later, she told me that all she could think about was how she could never live up to what I had done when Father’s Day came a month later. I wasn’t giving freely out of love for her, and she could tell. I was being needy and giving so that I could receive. That kind of love was very oppressive to her.

One of the first lessons I had to learn was to give her the freedom to feel about me any way that she wished. It was her right to like me or not. I order to do that, I had to find my peace in something else. Yeah, I guess peace is the best word. What is it that we are looking for when we are being needy? When our hearts are unsettled and in search of something? The answer: Peace. When I look for my peace in anything but you (money, sex, wife, fun, job, etc.) that object or activity becomes my idol. Thank you that I ultimately didn’t have to do with my marriage what you almost made Abraham do with his idol, Isaac.

So now that my wife had the freedom from me to like/love me at her own discretion, I needed a new paradigm for my marriage. Providentially, Thomas’s thoughts on marriage came to me just at the right time. If the book came out in 2000, then we probably went to the marriage conference he did in Waco in maybe 2000 or 2001. Just after I started doing the regular prayer journals to you in April 2000.

So what are some of the concepts in this book? Well, the subtitle alone is practically all you need: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? It starts by exposing the lie that undergirds the prosperity gospel message that I deserve to be happy. He’s careful to say that holiness and happiness are not mutually exclusive concepts, but if you pursue happiness through your marriage then you have the wrong frame of mind. “You wont find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness.” (Page 12) Here’s another quote: “Just as celibates use abstinence and religious hermits use isolation, so we can use marriage for the same purpose–to grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.” (Page 12)

These two quotes, taken to their logical conclusions, give you these chapter titles:

  1. The Greatest Challenge in the World: A Call to Holiness more than Happiness

  2. Romanticism’s Ruse: How Marriage Points us to True Fulfillment

  3. Finding God in Marriage: Marital Analogies Teach Us Truths about God

  4. Learning to Love: How Marriage Teaches Us to Love

  5. Holy Honor: Marriage Teaches Us to Respect Others

  6. The Soul’s Embrace: Good Marriage Can Foster Good Prayer

  7. The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes our Sin

  8. Sacred History: Building the Spiritual Discipline of Perseverance

  9. Sacred Struggle: Embracing Difficulty in Order to Build Character

  10. Falling Forward: Marriage Teaches Us to Forgive

  11. Make Me a Servant: Marriage Can Build in Us a Servant’s Heart

  12. Sexual Saints: Marital Sexuality Can Provide Spiritual Insights and Character Development

  13. Sacred Presence: How Marriage Can Make us more Aware of God’s Presence

  14. Sacred Mission: Marriage Can Develop our Spiritual Calling, Mission, and Purpose

  15. Epilogue: The Holy Couple

It’s ween a while since I read some of these chapters. Nearly 20 years. But each chapter title alone is enough to spark my thoughts. When I was in high school, I asked my dad one time what benefit any parent gets from parenting. Why would someone want to do it. His answer was interesting. Paraphrasing, “The adults I know with no children tend to be some of the most selfish, self-centered people I know because they never had to learn to put someone else’s needs above their own.” Thinking about that concept, I think marriage is supposed to be a building block towards selfLESSness too.

I’ve known my wife for over 30 years, and we are coming up on 28 years of marriage. It’s unbelievable when I look back on how you have used her and our relationship to shape me. You did the same with our children. And you’ve done the same with jobs, friends, church experiences, extended family, etc. But my ability to grow beyond serving my wife out of need and into serving her in love transformed me into being less needy in the other areas of my life too. I am a less needy employee. I am a less needy father. Now I’m not perfect, and there are still times when self-pity comes crashing in on me and I feel the pain of rejection. But I don’t think I would even be able to recognize those failures in myself if I didn’t start by turning loose of my neediness in marriage.

Thankfully, Thomas’ theory worked in my case. His theory is that if both spouses are committed to this selfLESS pursuit of God through marriage then each will find that you are meeting a lot of their needs through the other. Since my wife has embraced this same attitude in our marriage then a terrific balance is created. I honestly don’t know what it would be like to live in a marriage where only one spouse lived this way and the other didn’t. I suppose I could ask my wife because I think she was closer to it those first few years of marriage than I was. But, ultimately, the spouse that pursues you and holiness through their marriage will even be able to be at peace in an unbalanced marriage. To be clear, there are unhealthy situations such as physical or emotional abuse that should not be tolerated, but a simple shift of focus off of myself and onto serving my wife through my pursuit of you in an incredibly liberating thing.

One last thing–the idea of the pursuit of happiness (and I’m still learning to truly live what I’m about to say). I reject the idea that my life and your purpose for my life must be about my happiness. There are some happinesses in life that are denied to me. That’s okay. There were generations of Israelites that were born into slavery, lived in slavery and died in slavery. One result of that is that you built a nation through those years in Egypt. The widow Jesus saw put two coins in the offering went home and likely died as poor as she was when she woke up that morning, but she likely never knew that I would know about her and use her as an example 2,000 years later. Some people do everything right with their children and it still goes wrong. Some people are excellent employees/workers and still go broke. And some are in one-way marriages. The idea that any of these people are not living their best lives because they are experiencing pain is foolish. I don’t know why some of this stuff happens, but mine is not to know why. Mine is to love and worship you, and to do my best with those people and responsibilities you have given to me. The results of all of that are not mine, they are yours. Of course, now that I’ve said those thoughtful, deep things, Father, I pray that you help men to truly live it.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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