Freedom is God’s gift to every believer that tears down walls so we can live the life we were created to live. We need Jesus to set us free from the enemy’s lies, heal our hearts, and help us walk in truth. As Jesus heals us and set us free, we experience true fulfillment in Him and we can then help others experience the freedom that Jesus offers. This is where leading our family, or even our marriage, starts – with freedom, with our own heart.
There are a few passage in the Bible that are often quoted when we talk about marriage. You can probably name them! Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 tell us all about the roles and responsibilities within marriage, and 1 Corinthians 13 is quoted at most every wedding because it is the “love chapter.” But did you know that there is a tenor in Scripture that supports but also expands on these passages?
From creation, men and woman were created to complement each other, to work together, and reflect the nature of God.
The marital relationship is set up differently than every other relationship that a person has, including the relationship with children.
In Genesis we see that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, so God gave Adam the gift of Eve, to complement and help him. Their initial command was to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth….” Whether it’s Proverbs, Song of Solomon, or any of the examples listed earlier, we see that the main characteristics of marriage are love and respect, but there are also elements of enjoyment, multiplication, and oneness.
Understanding this, we can turn our attention towards the parent-child relationship. While it is different than that of the marital relationship, it is also a special relationship. There are several familiar Biblical passages about parenting too: Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 6, and Proverbs 22 just to name a few!
When we look at all of these passages, it is interesting to see there are similar themes: training and obedience. The job of the parent is to prepare their child to no longer be a child. They are to help them grow up and know the Lord. The child’s response is to obey and honor their parents. It’s very interesting that God has set these incredibly key relationship in our lives up so differently!
All of this brings us to a familiar idea we see first developed in Genesis 2, the idea of leaving and cleaving. Think about this for just a minute.
How many married adults do you know who are currently living with their parents, following their rules, and submitting to their authority in everyday life?
Hopefully not many! As parents, do you want to be in your twilight years continuing to parent your children just like when they were 6, 10, or 16 years old? Again, hopefully not!
At almost every wedding I have been to, there are a few minutes given to the idea of leaving and cleaving. This is a very important practice in our marriages, but it also helps us recognize that we are to prepare our children to be ready for their own independence at some point. We are to prepare them to leave us and cling to one other person, their spouse! This simple idea reinforces the marital relationship is to be different than every other relationship that we have – inside our family or out.
You were designed to have a special relationship with your spouse that nothing else can fill, not your job, not your hobbies, no other person on the face of the planet, not even your children.
In our marriages, there is much at stake. Your spouse is a gift from God to help and complement you. They should be your main earthly relationship, your priority. When we have our priorities out of place, we are giving the enemy an avenue to attack.
One of the primary ways the enemy attacks our marriage is by keeping us unaware of the spiritual battle. We don’t recognize the way the enemy works in our own life, our spouse’s life and our marriage. And because we don’t recognize the spiritual battle, we don’t engage in the battle through prayer. We give the enemy ground in our lives and marriage – inch by inch until it feels that our problems are too great, or the pain and bitterness have taken root or we’ve built walls in our hearts and in our marriage. It becomes easy to place our energy into our children as a means of avoiding our marriage relationship.
What is the solution?
Ask God to open our eyes to the battle. Bring our hearts to God and ask Him to forgive us, heal us and set us free. Ask the Spirit to lead us into truth and empower us to fight for our hearts, our spouse’s heart and our marriage.
To strengthen our marriages, there are 2 key things that we need to understand:
- Problems start small
- We are all prone to traps
PROBLEMS START SMALL
If you took a snapshot of your life today, what problems could you identify in your marriage? If you are like most couples, there would be a few things that immediately jump out. Maybe for you it’s communication or not spending enough time together. Maybe you are easily angered or the smallest thing can really hurt your feelings. Whatever the problems in your marriage are, it is probably safe to say that they didn’t just show up one day with full force. That’s the thing with problems, they don’t start out in really obvious ways.
Problems start out as thoughts, simple comments, unchecked emotions, or even beliefs that we buy into.
For illustrative purposes, think about an affair for a moment. This would be a MAJOR problem in a marriage, but the problem doesn’t start when there is an inappropriate relationship. The problem most likely starts with a simple thought. It grows when there is lack of communication about needs, wants, or desires. Fuel is thrown on the fire when there is tension building up and distance occurring in the marital relationship, and then, probably along with many more small steps, there is finally an opportunity to take a step into what we would call an affair.
It would be relatively easy for most married men to say no to a random woman who showed up at their office and said, “Hey, want to have an affair?” However, after months, or oftentimes years, of small things building and building, it is much easier to fall into an affair.
Problems start small, especially within our marriages.
A significant part of living in freedom is sharing our story. Jesus sets us free and uses us to lead others to freedom. Our story is a powerful way God works in our lives and the lives of those who hear our story. So, part of our (Susan and Terry) story as a couple are the battles that we sometimes face in the kitchen! Take a look at the Stronghold Cycle and you can see how the enemy uses past pain to assault our marriages – even in the kitchen.
As a child, I (Susan) grew up in a very broken home. Home was not a safe place. I experienced severe trauma and wounding. God healed many of the wounds but some of them still impact me and my marriage today.
When Terry (my husband) and I were married, I “transferred” some beliefs about men over to him. My father was critical of me, so I believed a lie that Terry is critical of me.
So, when Terry would come into the kitchen while I was cooking and “stir the beans” or whatever I was cooking it made me angry. I would withdraw (passive aggressive anger) and our evening would be ruined. Was it because he stirred the beans? No. I became angry because I was deeply wounded. The enemy told me that when Terry stirred the beans, he thought I was a bad cook, that I didn’t know how to cook, that I wasn’t doing a good job or that I was a failure. Of course, I didn’t recognize those as lies from the enemy because they 1) felt accurate 2) I had placed a judgment over Terry, which is sin and opens the door to the enemy.
The Event – Stirring Beans
The Lies – Terry is critical, Terry thinks I’m not good enough, I’m a failure, etc.
False Fulfillment – Pride and performance – I will prove to Terry that I can cook and I won’t let him help me.
Walls – Isolation – I need to protect myself from Terry because like my father, he is not safe.
God opened our eyes to the spiritual battle. I asked Jesus to forgive me for the judgments I made over Terry, to heal me from the pain of being criticized by my father and heal me of very deep wounding. Today, my incredibly loving and servant-hearted husband is welcome to “stir the beans” (most of the time!).
IDENTIFY THE TRAPS
Being able to understand that there are places we all tend to go off the rails can help us better understand our spouse, as well as guard ourselves from these traps that can harm our marriages. It’s important to note that most people struggle with all these traps and more! However, there are generally 1 or 2 that can cause you problems over and over and over again. The root of all of these traps, just like the root of sin in our lives, is pride. Pride tells us that we don’t need anyone else. Pride tells us that we deserve better. Pride is a lie from the enemy.
Here are 7 common traps that many people struggle with:
- Not being thankful
- Keeping a record of wrongs
- Prayerlessness for our spouse
- Unmet needs over extended time
- Too many commitments
- Not having a full tank, pouring out too much
- Operating on auto-pilot
Traps aren’t pits that are impossible to recover from. They are areas you identify as a struggle. If verbalizing your thankfulness for something small your spouse has done isn’t a natural thing for you, guess what? You can work on that! What’s even better is that you can go to your spouse and say, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about our marriage, and I don’t say ‘thank-you’ enough for all the things that you do for me and our family.” This opens the door for communication, shows that you care, and gives you a head-start on being thankful. You can do simple things like this for every trap on that list!
Identifying the traps is the first step, but what is even more helpful is when we learn how to avoid the traps altogether.
There are 3 ways to avoid the traps in our marriages.
Rome wasn’t built in a day! You may want to buy a lavish gift, delivered by a string quartet, while you’re on the way to your surprise getaway in the Cayman Islands, and while that would definitely be a crazy awesome gesture, it will also take a long time to prepare, plan, and save for. Your marriage needs your attention TODAY!
It’s kind of like starting a savings account. It isn’t realistic to put thousands of dollars in Day One. You need to make small investments over time. You start with a $20 this week, and add another $50 at payday. Before you know it, years have gone by and you actually have some capital sitting in the bank.
What can you do today to show your spouse that you think about them and love them?
Try this! Put a post-it note on the bathroom mirror. It could say, “I love you”, “I’m thinking about you”, “I’ll be praying for you today”, or anything that would be meaningful for your spouse. It doesn’t really matter what the words say, the message will be I love you, I am thinking about you, and I took time to do something to show you that today.
Make a Plan
You have to know your calendar. If you know you are going to have a stressful week, you should communicate that ahead of time. You’ll also have to learn to say “No” to things that aren’t essential and that get in the way of keeping your marriage the priority. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
You can’t prioritize your marriage if you never make a plan to do so.
Why do our jobs, hobbies, weekends away with friends, baseball practice, and the band recital make it on our calendar and date night with our spouse does not? Communication and planning are essential to prioritizing our time together.
Forgiveness and Mercy
You marriage desperately needs to start with a clean slate. Are there hurts you are holding on to that your spouse may not know about? Are there areas that you began to deal with months or years ago and then didn’t follow through? No one can avoid a trap that you’re already stuck in. Sadly, we all bring some kind of baggage with us into our marriages and then quickly start to add to that baggage once married.
It is irresponsible to ask anyone to “forgive and forget” hurts that may go back years. However, if we want to move forward, we must be willing to forgive and work toward restoration.
Sometimes there is a need for professional help to get past some of these wounds. Other times a sincerely apology and a humble heart can break the ice in a much needed way.
Are there things in your marriage for which you need to ask (or offer) forgiveness and mercy?
We framed this breakout through the lens of a “child-centric” world intentionally. The biggest drain on your time, energy, resources, mental capital, etc. is generally your children – no matter what stage of life you are in. Understanding this, how can we be sure that the most important earthly relationship we have continues to be the priority?
If you’ll remember, our job as parents is to prepare the children for adulthood, to grow up and know the Lord. One of the best ways for us to teach and train our children is to model a healthy marriage in front of them. We need to let them see us prioritize each other. They need to see us love, cherish, respect, and enjoy each other – even if, at times, it comes at their expense.
Here are a few ideas to help your kids understand that your marriage is the priority!
Let your children help plan a date for you to go on – and they don’t get to come!
This helps your children see that you’re being intentional with each other. It will also help them understand that there are times that you need with just each other.
Serve your spouse before anyone else gets their food at dinner
This reinforces the priority that your spouse and children have. While subtle, it helps keep the focus in the right place. You’ll also get bonus points for being a servant!
Schedule time together
It doesn’t have to be every week, but it needs to be scheduled and consistent. If time together is the priority, don’t leave it up to chance! This needs to be on the family calendar, the digital calendar, and every other place that keeps it in front of you and your kids.
And, remember walking in freedom is a journey! Keep asking God to work in your heart, heal you of past wounds and set you free so that you can truly love your spouse!
By Susan Sowell and Eric Conley