[Earlier this year, BG and I preached a sermon together for the first time. We called it Four Lessons in Four Years.]
David: Please turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 4. Let’s read from verse 7.
1 Peter 4
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Lesson 1: Marriage is not about you.
What is God’s place in your marriage BG
Marriage is not just about you and it’s not just for you. Like most Kenyan girls, I was brought up to aspire towards marriage. In fact, I had a grand life plan – go to school, get a degree, get married by 26, get a masters, then a couple of babies all by the time I was 30! Marriage was basically part of all the accomplishments I wanted to achieve in my life. I remember when I was younger, my grandma would say, just focus on your books and go as far as you can with your studies. Go ahead and get a PhD even! I think she had taken it for granted that marriage would happen somewhere along the way of pursuing my studies. Then when I was doing my Masters, she started saying, “you know education is not everything. You need to also think about a family so you don’t end up a lonely educated woman.” Our society assumes that marriage is a given for everyone. I think one of the most scandalous things you could tell your family is that you don’t want to get married!
Anyhow, my grand plan didn’t really come to pass. Instead of being married at 26, I was breaking up with my first boyfriend and was single for a very long time after that. In that season of singlehood I really prayed for a spouse. I knew exactly what I wanted in a husband because I had made a very long and precise list. The desire for marriage basically became an idol in my life because for a long time that’s all I prayed about. It got so bad that God eventually asked me to tear my list and never refer to it again in my prayers. That was one of the hardest things to do because I felt like I needed to remind God exactly what to give me in case He didn’t get the memo and sent me some weird guy. Another difficult thing I had to do was ask myself, “what if I don’t end up getting married? What does that mean for my identity as a woman? Or as a Christian?” Because marriage had become such an idol for me, God wanted to teach me how to trust Him and allow Him to lead me in that area. Of course I continued to pray for a spouse but I learned to pray that God’s will would be done above my desires.
The interesting thing is that when God was asking me to tear my list, David and I were already friends. But if I had stuck to that list, I would never have considered the possibility of the two of us being married. So anyway, we finally got married! The day after our wedding I was praying and thanking God for answering my prayers and basically rewarding my faith with a spouse. Then God stopped me short and said, “marriage is not about you. It’s not an achievement or a reward for being a good Christian – there are more faithful Christians who are still waiting for spouses. So don’t think of marriage as something you worked hard for, had enough faith for and finally God has granted it to you as a gift. Marriage is a gift yes, but it has to do more with My purpose for both your lives than just you. Your marriage is about both your destinies and my purpose for both your lives. You are part of the fulfilment of My purpose in David’s life, and he is part of yours.” Whoa! I was stunned into silence for a long time. I know that sounds super spiritual but in all honesty, over the past four years I have been able to see how God is using each of us to further the other’s ministry. God has allowed that our individual gifts really complement the other person’s gifts and weaknesses and we do our ministries better together than we did when we were not married.
So if you’re desiring marriage or are already married but have never really thought about a bigger purpose for your marriage besides being with the person you love, I encourage you to begin to pray about it.
David: As BG said, marriage is not about you. Marriage is ultimately about God and his purpose for your lives. If I were to simplify God’s purpose for man it would be this: God has put us here to love him and to love others. Marriage should therefore not be just about the two of you but also reflecting Christ to those around you by serving them.
Even as you make sure that your marriage is strong and well-guarded, you must also make sure that your relationship is inclusive and focused on helping others. As Christians, we can no longer just live our lives for ourselves, and for our own comfort. This is requires a careful balance – making sure your marriage is doing well internally, and also reaching externally.
Marriage is one of the greatest ways that we have to impact the world and serve others. I can tell you some of the married couples who have been a part of my life and have mentored and supported me. They have had a huge impact on my life, and continue to do so. Being married can help you minister to other people in different ways: helping you to see a new perspective, having someone to encourage and support you in your service, and allowing you to serve as a team.
Verse 9 in our passage says we must offer hospitality to others without grumbling. Hospitality is one huge way of ministering to other people, and being a part of their lives. Hospitality can be a means of mentoring, discipleship, and encouragement. It can make sure that you have people in your life, and a community surrounding you.
I have had some friends who got married, and I never saw them again. Other friends got married, but still found ways to include me in their new marriage life, in a healthy way. They still remain my friends today. That is the choice that you have today, as to what kind of marriage you would like to have. I would encourage you to select your friends carefully, don’t keep friends who are negative in your marriage, but be sure to keep some friends and build a community together.
BG and I have sought to build a marriage that is strong and also inclusive of others. We seek to have a date night once a week, and also work to host or visit someone once a week. That requires time and commitment, but it has made our marriage much deeper and stronger because we have other people in our lives. Once a marriage becomes isolated it has a potential to become misdirected and ultimately unhealthy, losing a larger significance and purpose.
And why do we do this, why do we seek to serve others? Verse 11 tells us that it is so that in all things God can be praised through Jesus Christ. God is worthy of honor and glory, and all that we do should lead to His glory and praise. Our marriages should be something that inspires those around us. People who do not know God should look at our marriage and say, that is something healthy and powerful, that is something I would desire to have in my life.
Let me also note that what this passage in 1 Peter talks about applies to all of us, not just those who are married. All of us are called to have appropriate boundaries in our lives, and to reach out to serve others through hospitality and the gifts that we have. And that way God will be praised through all of us.
BG – Lesson 2: Learn to harness each other’s strengths rather than magnify each other’s weaknesses.
They say that opposites attract. It’s interesting though how quickly that attraction turns into attack in a marriage. Say you’re a very quiet, laid back person and your spouse is loud, exuberant and outgoing. When you were dating, you probably enjoyed how easily the mingled with people, their loud laugh etc. If someone had asked you, you would have said that they complimented you perfectly. But then somewhere down the line you started getting annoyed that they always wanted to go out. Or that there were always people in your house. You started to find their exuberance and loud laugh irritating.
Or perhaps you’re the ambitious, go-getter type and your spouse is more a background person. When you first met them, you admired how loyal they were, you were amazed to learn that they had worked at the same company for 7 years. You liked how grounded they seemed, how content with their life they appeared. Then you got married and that changed. You began wishing that they were more aggressive like you. You started desiring that they would be more ambitious, seek more opportunities, put themselves out there. And you can’t understand why they are so happy to just stay in the same place. We are hardwired to be egocentric and when you fight about things you would like your spouse to change, you’re probably seeking to meet a personal need for yourself and not really concerned about the other person.
Another lesson we’ve learned from our own experience and from some of our friends is that if you compare what you see as your own strength to what you think is your spouse’s weakness, they will always lose. Rather than fight about the things that make you different, it’s better to harness each person’s strength for the good of the other and ultimately, the marriage.
BG: David enjoys working on our budget. He has spread sheets and will spend hours sometimes working out percentages and margins, making adjustments and comparisons etc. When we first got married he would try to get me to sit down with him so that we could go through the budget together and discuss all the implications and it just wasn’t something that I enjoy doing. So at first we would fight about it because he wanted me to do it with him. Now, it’s not that I am careless with money and I do know what our budget is, I just don’t get the same satisfaction as he does from doing all the math. So eventually we agreed that since that was his strength and something he enjoyed doing, then I didn’t really need to get involved in the process. We agree on our budget categories and how much money to allocate to each but I just leave the details and execution to him.
David: I’ve found that BG is very good at sorting out issues when I tend to worry and get stuck. For example, when we were trying to decide what approach to take to help in Kuwinda, I talked to BG a lot to determine the way forward. We talk quite a bit about Karen issues and strategy, and I have found her insights very helpful. Making those decisions often come naturally to her, when for me I can agonize over what to do, think through all the possible options, and then at times I have a lot of trouble moving forward. She could easily put me down for my tendency to worry over stuff but she’s learned to step in with her ability to think on her feet and help me solve problems faster than I would on my own.
When confronted with your spouse’s weakness, especially if it’s in an area of strength for you, our tendency is to wish that the other person was more like you. But the truth is that they aren’t, and no amount of complaining or criticism will change that. So rather than see your differences as a challenge, you can turn them into opportunities to serve the other person and build your marriage using your own strength.
Lesson 3: Learn to speak each other’s language of love – BG
How many of us are familiar with the concept of love languages? How many know their love languages? For those who haven’t heard the term before, a language of love is simply an action that best communicates love best to an individual. The third lesson we’ve learned is the importance of speaking your spouse’s language of love.
David: For those that are not familiar with love languages, Gary Chapman has written a book on it and has identified five languages:
Words of Affirmation
If this is your love language, then you feel loved the most when your partner says something positive and verbalizes their appreciation to you. If your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, it means that you have to be a keen observer to find “even the slightest opportunity to offer affirming words.” You could affirm their looks, or a particular ability or just something they do on a regular basis. A husband could say to their wife for example, “I really admire how good you are at managing our finances” Or a wife could say, “I really appreciate how good you are with the kids.” It could be something big or something small as long as your partner can tell that you’re being sincere.
This is a little self-explanatory: if this is your primary love language it means that you feel loved the most when you partner gives you a gift. I know a lot of guys (and some ladies too) struggle with buying gifts for their partners because they feel like they don’t know what to get. But the thing about this language of love is that the gift doesn’t have to be something you bought. It doesn’t even have to be fancy. It could be something you made at home, or something silly that reminded you of your partner so you got it for them. It could be something practical that your spouse needs to make their work easier, or something whimsical that they just want to have. One way to discover what kind of gifts your spouse would appreciate is to listen to the desires they express. You could be walking around junction and your husband says, “I think I’ll need to buy new work shoes soon.” Right there is a clue! If you buy present the shoes to him as a gift, it will speak volumes because it will mean that not only have you met a need, but that you were paying attention to them when they spoke.
David: Acts of Service
For some people, the phrase, “actions speak louder than words” is very true. These people feel loved when you do something to serve them. Again, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it could be a small and meaningful act. It could be bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in bed when they wake up because you know they don’t function well without coffee. It could be helping your partner pick out clothes for an interview and laying them out the night before so that they are not delayed the next day. It could be bringing a glass of water to your spouse because you heard them say their throat was dry. Sometimes it might mean taking over some of their chores and responsibilities to give them a break. So if your spouse typically clears the dishes after dinner, you could do that for them. It might even mean doing things for your spouse that they have to do but don’t necessarily enjoy doing like filling in their tax form. One way to find out what would mean a lot to your spouse is to pay attention to the things they complain about and then make a point of doing those things for them so that they don’t have to.
BG: Quality Time
People with this love language value being with their loved ones. But it’s more than just being in the same space with you, it’s about them having your undivided attention. They appreciate doing activities together, taking a walk, watching TV together, or having an in-depth discussion at the end of the day. Quality time is also different for each person – some are fine just reading next to other, being in the same room, and they feel a connection and love through that. Other people require focus, conversation without anything else happening in order to consider that genuine quality time.
For us, my primary love language is words of affirmation and David’s is quality time. The others are also meaningful for us, but these are the major ones. This is an on-going conversation for us because we’ve learned that the best way to love your spouse is in the way that they understand love best. It’s kinda like regular languages….people understand you best when you speak in the language that’s most comfortable to them, otherwise a lot gets lost in translation.
If you’re not familiar with this concept, you can look it up online and find tests to determine your love language. Then you can think about how you can learn to speak your partner’s love language.
Lesson 4: Marriage requires commitment.
David: This might sounds basic but it is a truth that cannot be over-emphasized. Getting married is one of the most life changing decisions I’ve ever made, and I believe it will be the same for you. This person will now be with you for the rest of your life. Not only have you chosen each other, you have also chosen to forsake all others. That is a serious commitment.
The passage we read earlier reminds us the time we have left in this life is short – we don’t know how much time we have. The end of all things is near, so we must use our time well. It is worth doing marriage well. It is worth building your marriage intentionally, setting aside time to invest in a strong, healthy, and balanced marriage. That requires effort and planning. It is demanding but well worth it.
Verse 8 tells us that when we love each other deeply, this love can cover a multitude of sins. Let me promise you that living with someone else will bring a multitude of sin into your life! One of the things I have learned being marriage is how selfish I really am. Before I got married, I did know I could be somewhat selfish, but marriage has made that much clearer for me. Many of your shortcomings become very clear when you are married, and you will also become aware of the shortcomings of your spouse. It goes both ways.
What does loving each other deeply actually mean? It means knowing each other first of all. It means spending time together, talking together, and sharing all of you. It means confessing your failures together. It means forgiving each other whenever you hurt each other or mess up. It means committing to resolve your differences and disagreements.
I believe that a healthy marriage is ultimately about balancing two key objectives. One is to safeguard your relationship, and to put up strong walls around your marriage. The other is to reach out and serve people outside of your marriage. Let me begin with the first one.
One of the most powerful things about marriage I have learned came from a book I read about a couple that was very intentional about their marriage. They built up what they called a shining barrier. This shining barrier was an impenetrable defense around their marriage. They would only share their deepest secrets with each other, and they would never have any aspect of their life that their spouse wasn’t aware of. They would share all of their dreams and goals together, and spend as much of their quality time together as possible.
Something they decided to do was if only one of them enjoyed something, whether an activity or a particular friend, they would both participate in it – because if one of them liked something, there must be value in whatever it is. So if one of you loves watching football, or hiking, or baking, the other person would try it out to find out why their spouse likes it. The goal is to understand each other as deeply and as completely as possible, and to share everything with each other. If one of you has this friend, and you’re like, enyewe that guy, can’t stand him, do your best to figure out what your partner sees in that friend.
But after doing that, sometimes you will realise that some activities don’t work for both of you. Maybe one of you loves to climb mountains, and the other just doesn’t enjoy it. Maybe one of you loves to attend concerts or plays, and the other doesn’t find that relaxing. You have a choice. You can choose to continue these activities with someone else, but you run a risk of bonding more with that person that your spouse. I would recommend that as much as possible, you do your leisure activities together, and that may require reducing or losing some things. When I got married, some of my friendships really changed. It was sad in some ways but marriage does require change.
One of the biggest areas is in your emotional life. Always make your spouse the first person you confide in, the person you vent to, and the one you can unload everything that you are thinking and worried about. As soon as someone else takes that role, your shining barrier has a huge crack, and is likely to come down.
We have too many broken families today, and the main reasons for that are that these relationships are not built on the right foundation, and they are not built with strong, impenetrable barriers.
But this doesn’t mean that you have no life at all outside of your spouse, and that the two of you only exist in a bubble of yourselves. Marriage is meant for much more than that, as we have already seen.
Commitment to personal growth BG
One of the first things you will realize when you get married is just how flawed and sinful you are. Just before or soon after that, you will discover that your partner is not as wonderful as you thought he/she was. It’s possible to get stuck in that realization and become disillusioned either with yourself or with your spouse.
The first commitment we needed to make was acknowledging that we are not perfect, and pursuing personal growth. It’s easy to focus on the other person’s weaknesses but the only person you have the power to change is yourself. Committing to grow as a person means that you have to be willing to receive correction and hear negative feedback about yourself. We have had to learn to not take offense when the other person points out something that needs work.
BG – We’ve learned other lessons as well, but these are the four that really came to mind as we reflected on the last four years. Can anyone say all four lessons?
Lesson 1: Marriage is not about you.
Lesson 2: Learn to harness each other’s strengths rather than magnify each other’s weaknesses.
Lesson 3: Learn to speak each other’s language of love.
Lesson 4: Marriage requires commitment.