Two little guys were sitting in a wedding, watching what was going on, when one asked the other, “So, how many marriages can you have?”
His friend whispered, “16, I think.”
“I think so.”
“How do you know?”
“I added it up one time. Every time I come to a wedding the pastor says ‘Four better, four worse, four richer, four poorer.’”
Of course, we’re all hoping for the better and richer ones…
When I do a wedding, just before I hand the rings to the bride and groom, I mention three things about them. (1) They’re round, which means they have no end. That’s the nature of marriage. (2) Because they’re round, they are made to be equally strong at all points. And (3) they’re costly; all marriages start with a sacrifice and are sustained by sacrifices. Then I ask them to say their vows, which always end with, “As long as we both shall live.”
We’re learning these days about how to fireproof our relationships, and I want to talk to you this morning about how to fireproof your most important relationship of all: your marriage. Now if you’re not married, I hope you’ll still take careful notes in this message, because what you’re going to learn will make a huge difference in any future marriage, or in the marriages of your family and friends when they need your wisdom.
In the movie, Fireproof, Caleb and Catherine are starting down the road to divorce. Caleb explains to his friend, Michael that the marriage is probably through. To which Michael responds, “I’ve seen you run into a burning building to save people you don’t even know, but you’re going to let your own marriage burn to the ground.”
Watch this clip with me. (Play the Session Three)
In Matthew 19 that you heard read to open the service, Jesus was asked about marriage. Here’s how he concluded his thoughts - “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” That’s the warning I hear given by every pastor at the conclusion of every wedding. By this point, the couple is beaming. They’re about to turn and face their parents and friends, as husband and wife, for the very first time. In just a minute, the music will swell, the people will clap, they’ll descend the stairs and live… happily ever after.
It’s at that moment I’m most tempted to say, “Wait, wait! Let me tell you what’s most likely to happen from here! Because reality is, while you married for better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, there’s going to be a lot more of the for worse, poorer, and sickness than you hope for. Yes, you’ll have better and richer and health, but not all the time.”
What I want to say to every married couple is that ALL MARRIAGES GO THROUGH SEASONS. Nobody gets a cakewalk. That’s just not how life works. Like the rotation of the earth, relationships move through stages that are predictable. Most experts agree that there are four stages, one following the next.
Here’s how it works: Two people meet and fall in love. Unlike the rest of the world, they have a picture-perfect relationship. While in this first season, they know that they have something special between them. Theirs is a rare love, not like the common stuff their parents’ experienced. More like Anthony and Cleopatra or Romeo and Juliet.
There’s a surrealistic aura between them.
She calls it, “A match made in heaven.”
He says “She’s a keeper.”
It’s magic every time they’re together, and misery every moment they’re apart. There’s such a strong chemistry that passes between them that you’d almost be tempted to call it a chemical addiction. And some people do.
Experts have astutely labeled this early stage of 1. Romance Ever heard of it? It’s the first season of a marriage: The Romance Stage.
During romance, all is right with the world. Women lose weight and men lose money. She’d rather spend time thinking about him than eating; he’d rather spend money on her than pay the rent.
Romance is the season that songs are written about.
Years ago, Lewis Wright wrote a song about this stage, and Michael Bolton updated it in the 1990’s. Anybody know the title of that song? -When a man loves a woman.
“When a man loves a woman, he can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else.”
“He’d trade the world for the good thing he has found.” Now that’s romantic, isn’t it?
M. Scott Peck says that this phase of love is a prank played on us by our otherwise rational minds to trick us into doing things that we would normally never consider.
For most people, this romantic stage lasts right up to somewhere between the “I now pronounce you man and wife,” and the first time he leaves the toilet seat up or the first time she says, “I was too tired to cook anything so I only made a salad.” Or better yet, romance often lasts until that first fight about money.
At this point, one or both parties look in the mirror and quietly say, “I guess the honeymoon is over.”
For those of you interested in facts, psychologists tell us that romantic feelings of infatuation wear off, on average, about 2 ½ years into any relationship.
And then you know what you’re left with? REALITY. That’s the second season of a marriage.
Reality is what sets in when romance wears off.
Suddenly, one or both parties realizes that the object of their pursuit, the person of their dreams, the individual they feared they could never attain… is now someone they can never get rid of. They begin to think, “Now that I have this relationship, what do I do with it?” It’s like the dog that’s been chasing cars for years and one day he catches one. “Now what do I do?” he barks.
Some say marriage is a romance in which the hero and heroine die in the first chapter.
“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away.”
Being in love is what romance is all about.
Psychologists estimate that, on average, the chemicals responsible for the euphoric feelings of romance wear off in 2 ½ years. That leaves two who were once in love to discover how to choose to love for a lifetime.
Choosing to love is what reality is all about.
In the reality stage, he sees her without make-up on. She hears his bodily noises.
There’s a clash of family values, as the two become one flesh. How to handle holidays, different views of parenting, where to go on vacation – people have a lot to sort through.
In the midst of all this struggle, as the Novocain of romance wears off, both parties begin to feel a growing pain from the flipside of character traits they once thought were so appealing.
He says, “When we first started dating, I saw her as such a neat person—never a hair out of place, never a wrinkle in her blouse. Now I’m seeing that she’s compulsive. We can never go anywhere on a whim, because she’s got to get ready first. She’s so meticulous, she even irons my underwear!
She says, “While we were dating, he was always the life of the party. He would do outrageous things and light up the room. I was so proud to be with him. Now I’m seeing how impulsive he is. He never thinks before acting. Sometimes he does things that are so outrageous they make me embarrassed to be with him.”
Reality clarifies what romance conceals, and all the while that each member of the couple is seeing more clearly the other person in the relationship, there’s a realization about their own feelings creeping slowly up their neck.
Two weeks after that realization reaches the brain, each party puts a name to it: RESENTMENT. Resentment is the third season of every marriage. Every marriage. Every marriage goes through each of these seasons, friends.
She says, “Something happened to me when I wasn’t looking. Who switched husbands on me? I went to bed with George Clooney and woke up with Bozo the Clown.
He says, “I thought I was marrying Julia Roberts, now I wish she really was the runaway bride.”
During the resentment phase, the one who was once the object of our affection now becomes the target of our frustration.
Now it’s easy to blame the spouse for all the evils in the world, even if they are only remotely connected to the problem. If there are financial stresses, it’s her fault because she spends too much. Or his fault, because he makes too little. If there is friction, he started it, or she was too sensitive. If there’s blame to be cast, well, go look in the mirror pal, because it’s certainly not my fault. Or, as Caleb said in the movie, “I am not a perfect person, but better than most. And if my marriage is failing, it is not all my fault.”
It’s during this resentment phase when character is tested and the need for love comes into play, really for the first time. It’s because of this kind of feeling that the Apostle Paul wrote,
…CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH COMPASSION, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, GENTLENESS AND PATIENCE. BEAR WITH EACH OTHER AND FORGIVE EACH OTHER WHATEVER GRIEVANCES YOU MAY HAVE AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. FORGIVE AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU. AND OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE, WHICH BINDS THEM ALL TOGETHER IN PERFECT UNITY. – COLOSSIANS 3:12-14.
If that kind of love gets practiced, the kind of love we learned about last weekend, God’s kind of love, that focuses on you and your needs, not me and mine, then the relationship can enter the fourth season of marriage. It’s called the season of REBUILDING.
If that kind of love doesn’t get practiced, then the marriage never makes it through all the seasons. It either gets stuck in a perpetual wintertime of resentment, or it dies and is buried in a ceremony we call, “Divorce.”
This is the glasses-off truth about marriage. All marriages have romance and reality and resentment on their calendars. Some get to experience the springtime of rebuilding.
To play the marriage game during the season of rebuilding, both members of the marriage must practice three great skills:
THE THREE GREAT SKILLS OF LIFE-TIME LOVERS:
One of the critical skills in building or rebuilding a marriage, is REMEMBERING THAT WE’RE DIFFERENT, AND ADAPTING ACCORDINGLY.
Author Jim Smith says there are four areas in which men and women have trouble communicating with each other. While these aren’t all always true of men or women, they’re generally true and good to be aware of:
DIFFERENCES IN COMMUNICATION:
(1) MEN TALK IN GENERALITIES; WOMEN TALK IN SPECIFICS.
You see this early on when mom wants to know how Junior’s day at school was. “Fine,” he says. And the conversation is over. Mom wants more specifics, Junior wants to play Mario Cart.
(2) MEN TEND TO BE IN TOUCH WITH THEIR THOUGHTS FIRST AND THEN THEIR FEELINGS; WOMEN TEND TO BE IN TOUCH WITH THEIR FEELINGS FIRST AND THEN THEIR THOUGHTS.
Ask a man how he feels about something and he’ll tell you what he thinks about it. Ask a woman what she thinks about someone, and she’ll tell you how she feels about them.
(3) MEN AND WOMEN HAVE VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS ON HOW EVENINGS SHOULD BE SPENT
Men think they’ve earned the right to come home to their castle, draw up the drawbridge, and let the alligators swim in the moat…. Women… even with careers, like to take time to share from their day’s work, to get emotionally close to their husbands. But men hear their wives’ plea for conversation as an added demand, and often they withdraw further into silence, leaving their wives feeling isolated and unappreciated.
(4) MEN AND WOMEN APPRECIATE SEX FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
Men tend to be physically oriented, while women tend to be relationally oriented. So after a fight, he thinks that having sex could be a great way to make up, while she wants to make up before they have sex.
These differences are heightened in the reality and rebuilding stages. So, if you’re going to successfully rebuild your marriage, you’re going to have to remember that you and your spouse are different and compensate accordingly.
Another critical skill in rebuilding a marriage or even a long-term friendship is ASKING AND GRANTING FORGIVENESS.
Note that this action isn’t really a skill. It doesn’t take any skill to say the words, “I’m sorry, or please forgive me.” What it takes is character. It takes being humble enough to admit you’re not perfect.
The Bible says:
BE KIND AND COMPASSIONATE TO ONE ANOTHER, FORGIVING EACH OTHER, JUST AS IN CHRIST, GOD FORGIVE YOU. – EPHESIANS 4:32
A third skill, and maybe the most important one for lifetime love, is DECIDING TO LOVE AND KEEP ON LOVING.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about marriage in our day is that people think marriage is based on love, and that love is a feeling. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s an action. It’s a way of acting, a thing you do. The Bible’s most famous passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13, says that love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily-angered. It says that it doesn’t keep score, doesn’t secretly like it when someone has something bad happen to truth, protects, trusts, hopes, and hangs in there. That’s God’s description of love. What part of that is based on emotions?
None of it. It’s all based on decision. To love is a decision. To hang in, even when happily ever after isn’t happening, that’s love.
Kenny Chesney sings a song called “Don’t Blink,” that goes like this:
I turned on the evening news
Saw an old man being interviewed
Turning a hundred and two today
Asked him what's the secret to life
He looked up from his old pipe
Laughed and said "All I can say is."
Just like that you're six years old and you take a nap and you
Wake up and you're twenty-five and your high school sweetheart becomes your wife
You just might miss your babies growing like mine did
Turning into moms and dads next thing you know your better half
Of fifty years is there in bed
And you're praying God takes you instead
Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think
So don't blink
The older I get, the more aware I am that I only have one life. So my choice is, instead of trading in difficult relationships for new relationships and starting the whole process over again, I want to keep and deepen my marriage, my friendships and my memories of those I’m in relationship with.
In ancient times, when a city was destroyed by an earthquake or a fire or a flood, the survivors would rebuild on top of the ruins of the old city. But I don’t want to build on top of ruin or collapse. I want to live one life, one time, for 60 or 80 or 100 years. I don’t want to repeat the same life and the same mistakes with a different person every 10 or 15 years. When I’m old, I want to be able to say to my wife, “Remember our first Christmas together? Remember when we brought our children home from the hospital? Remember those vacations…, those tough times we weathered?
I don’t want short bursts of life repeated over and over again. I want one life, where I learn in successively deeper levels how to love and build up one woman for one lifetime.
Friends, all marriages go through seasons. For most people, rebuilding is a normal state. After the first round of Romance and Reality and Resentment, most marriages come back to rebuilding in one area or another of their relationship, because there is always something we’d like to change about another person and always something that needs improving about ourselves.
If we work the rebuilding stage sincerely, we can come back around to romance. It might not be as sizzling hot the second time around or the third time around or the fourth time around, but just like spring follows winter and summer follows spring, marriage passes from one season to another to another, over and over again. – If we’ll master the skills of communication, forgiveness, and deciding to work through our differences.
And if we do…? At the end of it all, we will say, “We lived mostly happily ever after.” And others will say, “Those two had a really good marriage.”
LOVE DARE CHALLENGE:
SOMETIME THIS WEEK, RENEW YOUR VOWS TO EACH OTHER.
If you don’t have a copy of them, or remember what they are, we’ve supplied a sample you can use. After renewing your vows together, spend a few minutes praying together about your marriage.
PICK OUT A SKILL TO WORK ON:
1. AFFIRMING DIFFERENCES IN MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX
2. FORGIVING (We’ll have a chance to go deeper with this in two weeks.)
3. DECIDING TO LOVE AND KEEP ON LOVING A CLOSE FRIEND.
Will you take this challenge?
Let’s pray. (Pray for marriages in each of the seasons, for courage to rebuild, character to keep loving, courage to forgive, and creativity in honoring the differences between men and women.)
I, _________, take you __________ to be my wife/husband.
To have and to hold from this day forward,
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health.
To love and cherish as long as we both shall live.
After renewing your vows together, spend a few minutes praying together about your marriage.
Resource for this sermon developed by: www.halseed.com