I’ve been married for 11 years today. Looking back on those early years of marriage there are a lot of things I wish someone had told me plainly. There are a lot of things I wish I had known from the beginning. These are things I would tell her? For the young woman, newly-wed woman and new mom … this is what I would tell her and what I want to share with you.
It was spring of 2004 during a Sunday night prayer meeting. I saw my ‘boss’ and Pastor standing at the back of the church needling Matthew in the ribs and having a ‘talk’. TERROR GRIPPED ME! I could tell it was serious… I knew it was about me. We had both been given the gentle push. It wasn’t an arranged relationship so much as a, ‘when are you two going to do something about the fact that you like each other?’
The terror that seized me in that moment was that I did not want to be wrong again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be pushed or nudged but I could not interrupt the exchange I saw happening across the room because I was on stage leading worship. Yes, I was a total control freak and, being the perfectionist that I was at the time, I wanted everything figured out, neat and tidy, I so wanted to do our relationship well that I was killing it before it even got started. I made it horribly confusing for my poor future husband and the pastors I worked with everyday were constantly telling me to ‘lighten up.’ Fast forward through months of many talks, mixed signals and mixed emotions to the late summer, things were official, things were exciting and, following a secret trip down to ask my Dad’s blessing, Boxing Day of 2004 we were engaged.
The months that followed were a whirlwind of planning. I was teaching two courses at the School of Worship, which was part of our church’s ministry at the time, on top of my ‘day job’ as a church administrator and Matthew was working 2 jobs to make money while working in various church ministries. We went to pre-marital class with Pastor Dan and read stacks of books on marriage. Yes, we’ve got this marriage thing figured out! How could this possibly go wrong?
May 27 of 2005 was the big day. It was hot in Kamloops that day but the day was beautiful and meaningful… I was sure we would never fight. How could we, when we were so happy?
But like all marriages, the days were not ALL joyous. We had to learn to fight. We had to learn that some things were never up for grabs during a disagreement. We had to learn to compromise, to let go of control. Looking back, many of the books were perhaps not the simple advice I needed to hear.
Eleven years of marriage and 5 children later, what would I say to a young 22 year old women? What would I tell her?
- Don’t forget to forget to have fun. Like… be ‘fun to be with’. We women can get so bogged down in stress and problems. Troubles come and troubles go and each day has enough trouble of it’s own without straining to do things perfectly. Don’t let some of the stresses of young married life and starting out as parents keep you from the fun you used to have together. Find some things you like to do together and make time for them always. Sure go on ‘dates’ but don’t put date nights on a pedestal. Simply make time for each other. Sometimes you will dress up … but quality time is the point.
- You cannot change him … but you can change yourself and how you respond to him will have a lot to do with whether or not he reaches his potential and whether or not you walk in your calling together as a couple. God is the one initiating and leading the process of transformation in you and your husbands’ lives. He certainly can use you but in order for that to happen you will have to open your ears to listen to what God is saying, close your mouth in public and open your mouth in prayer in private.
- Love Covers – You will be tempted to keep secrets and your husband most likely will keep secrets from you. You may not think so now because your relationship is so open and honest in the beginning, but time and failures, shame and fear have a way of tricking us into covering up. In my years of kitchen table counselling my own friends, almost ALL of the have come in tears at one time in another devastated over secrets and sins that their husbands were dealing with. It’s hard on your heart, I understand! But he came to you and that took a lot of courage. Prepare your heart to respond with grace and be a safe place when your husband comes to you with secret sins. It started in the garden, it continues today. One day you will need to go to him in the same way. Covenant not to cover up and lying by omission counts here. What other women, that you may look up to, do and what they choose to hide from their husbands is NOT your standard. Where things are hidden, fear and shame will grow and, where there is fear, love is driven out because in the same way love drives our fear, fear will drive out the love in your marriage.
- Sometimes the smallest things can be the biggest threats. In the Song of Songs there is a verse where the lovers say to the friends ‘Catch for us the foxes that spoil the vineyard.’ It’s the small things that can wreck a marriage, slowly. Some of our biggest fights have been over incredibly small things but just because they are small does not mean they will not do damage. It’s the small words of criticism or the constant nagging about socks on the floor or disagreements about money. Those foxes will destroy your vineyard if you do not catch them and put them out.
- Choose intimate friends that guard your heart and enhance your marriage. I do not make close friends with anyone that I cannot rely on to give me a stiff smack upside the head. In earlier years I had a few friends that were quick to join me in my frustration towards my husband rather then mirroring back to me my own part in the problem. Find the friends that catch the foxes in your vineyard. Find those friends and keep them close.
- “Call the Fire Department!” Decide Beforehand who you will go to when you get in trouble. Don’t let your marriage turn in on it self and become an island. Don’t be afraid of a bad spell. They will come along with stress, through seasons of pregnancy, babies, job loss, moves, and sin. In the same way that you covenant to not ‘uncover’ promise each other to reach out for help when things are getting heating up in your home. Don’t let your house burn down because you are too afraid to admit that you set it on fire. CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! Pick a couple you trust. Pick them together and pick them beforehand. Your Christian parents may seem like the obvious choice but in the midst of a fight that involves their child it may be difficult to be impartial. One night we went to Care Group at our friends’ house down the street. Walking in, the atmosphere was tense. Something was off. There was a hole in the wall. Sitting down for Bible Study, the story was spilled of an argument that had gotten out of hand. The hole in the wall involved a disagreement about the kids, some escalating anger, a chair and, well…drywall isn’t that hard to break. They had called their ‘fire department’ an hour before Care Group to help work out the problem and things were heading on a path to healthier communication. On the way home that night we looked at each other with the same thought in our minds. ‘When we get in trouble, we are going to drive down the road to couple with a hole in their wall.’ For us we wanted our ‘Fire Department’ to be a couple that understood struggles like ours, that we knew wouldn’t judge us but would give is the cold hard truth that comes from having been through their own hard knocks. Don’t let your mind wander towards separation and divorce when you are emotional…it really will be alright.
- Nurturing is POWERFUL! I have read many books on ‘Biblical Womanhood’ and ‘Christian Marriage’… enough to know that there is a lot of pressure out there to be ‘June Cleaver’ in your home. The advice goes something like – your marriage will be perfect (they call it ‘Godly’) if you are perfectly submissive all the time, the meals are cooked, laundry folded, all while wearing a dress and apron with high heels. This ideal has shades of truth but it has twisted submission and the powerful role of woman in the home into something that it was never intended to be. I stopped reading those books. I just did because the standard was impossible to live up to and when I looked solely in scripture I found that Jesus left so much more work for women to do than cooking, cleaning, Sunday school teaching and potluck planning; and I say that without diminishing the importance of any of those roles. Rather, the Holy Spirit taught me to simply love and nurture my kids and husband where the goal is simply love rather than being the ‘perfect wife and mother’. I learned to nurture in my own way and to be myself. I am not a cake decorator and I do not throw themed birthday parties but I do cuddle, bake cakes, read stories, and make pancakes on random mornings. I also sing worship songs in the living room while they fall asleep, I prophecy over them, I tell them the Holy Spirit lives inside of them and that the power of God is in them. I tell them that they will do greater works then what Jesus did and that they can pray for people to be healed and share the love of God. Being their wife and mother is enough… it just is. You are enough for your family.
- Refuse to Compare. This starts in your mind and works itself out from there. Do NOT compare or measure these things against other families or married couples: your house, your cooking, your organization, your family size, your method of birth control, the date nights you go on, your vacations, your vehicles, the gifts you buy each other, your body, your body during pregnancy, your body post pregnancy, how your child performs in extra curricular activities like dance and sports, your discipline styles… I mean the list here is endless. Comparison can be your biggest enemy. It will distract you from your calling and stifle your true gifting. Our generation of young women has a host of ways that the ‘spirit of comparison’ enters. The gateways to comparison can be ‘good things’ on their own, but they can become comparison traps. Even tools like Facebook and Pinterest can leave us feeling inadequate. Do NOT get stuck in the trap of using comparison as a motivator for yourself, your husband or your kids or a way to give yourself a pat on the back. Your friends’ kids are not your kids. Your friends’ husband is not your husband. Your son that is great at sports is a different kid than the one that likes to plunk on the piano. Comparison is NOT the way we push people to do what we want them to do. You are strong and you can find your strength in a better place than cutting down another person or family. Practicing gratitude and giving thanks is the biggest comparison killer. Build traditions into your family’s daily life, conversation, and holidays that cultivate gratitude and service.
- Do Not Shrink Back. Do not let anyone’s theory or theology about women’s role in the home or the church EVER stop you from being yourself. Do not use the seasons of life as excuses to retreat entirely from the call of God on your life. Your daughters need to see from you how to rise up and take their place in the church without being bulldozers and feminists that cut men down or are threatened by male leadership. They need to see how to use their words to speak boldly to encourage and build up rather than tear down. They need to see you on your platform, whatever that platform is, doing what you were created to do. Your sons need to know that Mom’s role in the home is powerful so that they will one-day love their wives, as Christ loved the church. They need to know that, while Mom is there to nurture, she is not there to allow them to become entitled spoiled brats that think a women’s role is to do everything for them. Mom is not a chef, or maid she is a person with a powerful role. Her nurturing spirit that chooses to cook, clean, serve is her gift to give and not their ‘right’ that they are entitled to. They need to see that if husbands are to love as Christ loved the church, that Christ is the one that gets involved in the church. He serves the church and empowers the church so teach your sons to serve, help, contribute and empower their siblings in the home so that they one day will do the same for their wife. Your husband married you while you were doing what you were called to do. He wanted to do those things WITH you so do not lay them down unless you are sure you are supposed to and, even then, know that it is just for a season because the gifts and callings of God are irrovocable. Marriage and motherhood was meant to enhance your calling them not stifle it. The ‘platform’ may change. I lead worship now more for myself with throngs of toddlers crying at my feet. I preach on the internet, rather than in a pulpit and my husband preaches to me. But who we are should not change. We are still kingdom people.
- Don’t Give up on the Church…Don’t Give Up on the Community of Faith. Just like in a marriage, the church may hurt you. You may get wounded but, let me tell you, Christ is married to her, the church, and He IS coming back for her. Do not let your household, the next generation, or your children become disconnected from the gathering together of believers. I believe the church’s best days are still ahead of her and I will not abandon her or cut her down. Do marriage and parenthood within the community of faith. Find your ‘home’ and commit to it. Let the Holy Spirit show you what church is and commit to it. For us, when we moved to a new city and were looking for a church community, we floundered a bit at first. We loved the people here, the worship here, the programs there, but then no one talked to us in the weeks we went there, they don’t have a kids program over here… and after a year of that the Lord clearly said to me. ‘What do you say My church is?” Now I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here there is ONLY the answer the Lord reveals when He asks you a question much like when He asked Peter, ‘Who do you say that I am?” And without hesitation I said, “I believe Your house is the house of freedom. When I bring my kids to Your house I want them to experience what Your presence feels like and I want that feeling and memory of your presence to mark them, to haunt and hunt them down. I want your presence to be the place they love and always return to.” And in that confession, a decision was solidified in both of our hearts of where we should be. God LOVES the church and it is there for your good and His glory. If there is no church where you are, create one. You do not need a degree in Pastoral Ministry to be the community of faith and there is strength in that community and family. Just… be the church. Be in the church because I don’t know how to do marriage and family without Jesus and the support of family within the church.