Marriage--a story begun!

Israëls-A Jewish Wedding-1903
A few days ago, a blog friend of mine asked me to write about marriage and advice about how to tell young women why not to have an affair. Please let me say that this is in no way complete--but I am coming from the perspective of having counseled many, many families on this issue as well as bringing our own experience into mind. To begin with, I have to say, God's grace and life-giving redemption is something I have seen work in miraculous ways to bring restoration to broken people because of the destruction of marriages. But, I was asked to write about the ideals and ways of keeping marriage together. Of course there are many ways to approach this subject, but I always try to start out with what God had in mind. 
Starting out with a proper vision helps determine the success or failure of any great venture. Long after the sparkle and expectations of the romance of marriage is worn off, the vision of marriage will be the glue that will holds a marriage together. The older I get, the more grateful  I am that the vision of my marriage kept us faithful, because now it is so fulfilling to see the fruit of our loyal love to each other--that in spite of our many immature days, our very different personalities, our years of stress, baggage and habits we both brought into marriage,we have a legacy of loyalty, commitment, unconditional forgiveness and love--because we made a vow before God that we would live this way--and we took our vow seriously. The fruit has been born in the lives of our older children who have a basis of seeing the work and cost of loyal love daily displayed at home. Their appreciation for the legacy they have been given has meant so much to me now. 
Neither of us (Clay, me)  could have known what our marriage would cost us in effort, time, love, work, long-suffering. No marriage is easy and all marriages require us to become less selfish, more sacrificial, patient, enduring, and everything else. Yet, it is the training grounds of God--the place in which he sanctifies us--disciplines us and rubs off our rough edges so that we may become more like Jesus--to learn how to reflect his character--from the heart surgery he does on us through the moments and days of practicing loyal love. My children, who know how many people we have counseled in marriage, and were watching several marriages that "seemed good on the surface--but was falling apart in reality"  said, "Does anyone we know have a good marriage?" I think what they were really asking was, "Is anyone really happy in marriage?"
Marriage was created to be a foundation to all of life. God created Adam and Eve, together, to be the unit through which all of life would find its meaning. The family was the structure through which purpose would be given (rule over and subdue the earth), comfort in companionship experienced--(Adam was alone--I will make a helper suitable to him--corresponding to him--his own type), life celebrated and traditions kept and comfort given and love and mutual respect would be felt. It was also the place where righteousness would be passed down from generation to generation. As the family goes, so goes the culture, the nation. What a person does to build her marriage and family will be the greatest long-lasting work of her life.
1820 Country Wedding John Lewis Krimmel
A wedding marks the beginning of a story. When a man and woman get married, they are beginning a new story of their heritage--the way they love each other, the way the live faithfully before God, the children they have, the heritage they build, the impact they have on history, the stand they take for God and his kingdom. The marriage day is a beginning of a potential epic. As in the picture above, there are children, aunts, uncles, cousins--all that goes into the unique heritage and strength of a family name. Many, many people are affected by the goodness of  a marriage and the choices the husband and wife make. 
Children and grandchildren will for many years to come recount the stories of their family. Remember when Mama used to always......? Remember the fun we always had when..... Your grandmother was always joyful or lots of fun or served people or always had a hospitable home--or took me to serve at the homeless shelter or had the most interesting stories or made the Bible come alive, or, or, or. (Dad had his first affair when, or mom broke the marriage when she met _____ or they always yelled and that's when I developed my first stomach aches---and so on.)
Children, then, are an accountability factor in staying faithful. We have to choose to not give children a legacy of compromise, disloyalty, brokenness. Children always feel somewhere deep inside that it is their fault when parents are not loyal to each other.  The way a husband and wife treat each other has a direct correlation on how a child builds his internal sense of his own being deep inside.   It is very difficult to teach your children to follow the ten commandments (You shall not steal--even though I did by robbing someone else of their purity--you shall not lie--even though I did by deceiving my husband---honor God--even though I didn't when I broke my vows before Him. --very difficult to teach your children to have integrity if you choose not to have integrity in the very place that is to be the foundational grounds of where they see truth lived out.) 
It is so important to understand, that once a man and woman commit to marriage before God, that becomes God's will in their lives.  That marriage becomes the place they will live out their faith and faithfulness, regardless of how foolish a match it was to begin with--it becomes a place for grace. God wants us to take vows  and commitments seriously. This is not my opinion--it is scripture Matthew 5:33, Leviticus 27 (I am not talking about a marriage in which a woman or children are in physical danger. I will not deal with exceptions here.)
To be a good wife calls upon all the best that I can possibly be--my spirituality, my intellect, my wisdom, relational skills, creativity, artistry, perseverance, character, beauty. 
It seems that in this narcissistic time, when people are self-centered and self-absorbed, all of life focuses on the selfish needs of the person concerned. Is my husband gratifying me? Does his love fill me up? Could I have found someone better? But, marriage, as all issues of life, is about pleasing God--not my will but His be done. Most of us were not trained to be unselfish and so having to do so in marriage is a shock and surprise to our immature characters. And of course media has not prepared us for reality--bills, illness, less than perfect spouses, differences of values and personalities and commitments. Cinderella is a story, not a promise. The key to the success of a marriage is the way a woman faces the disillusionments of marriage--it is where love, grace, beauty and wisdom has a place to flourish.
I think that so many well-intentioned ministries and speakers focus on the behavior of marriage (Are you being submissive to your husband?) which indeed is one part of scripture. But I think the better place to start is not on the behavior--have you kept the law of marriage--but on the heart of marriage. What is your heart toward marriage, your husband, the legacy you will leave to your children?
"She does him good, not evil all the days of her life."
What does it mean to do my husband good--not evil? I think that the Lord wants my heart to be soft towards my husband. What are his weaknesses? Strengths? How can I be a friend and companion to him--to enjoy him? to encourage him? To honor him?  What is my attitude toward God, in light of how you behave in your marriage? Somewhere after the sparkle and ideals of marriage begin to wear off, a woman must settle in her heart that pleasing her husband and loving and respecting him is not about her own personal fulfillment, but about her heart to please God in everything. It also becomes a place of integrity before her children when they watch her loyal, gracious love given to a deserving or undeserving spouse. When I approach every attitude, act of love of respect as a means of worshiping God by showing His reality in my marriage, then every act has meaning--regardless of how my spouse behaves. There will also be conflict in every marriage and sometimes our convictions will rub on our husbands, but God will use us in their lives and them in our lives. Learning how to stand on convictions and wise ways without nagging is an art to be learned. My husband values that I am highly convicted, but I have had to learn how to not be a blind-pharisee and to see that I have huge blind spots. But we are as iron sharpening iron when we live with the tension of friendship and love and are both so much better for the commitment to our ideals.
God is a God of redemption and thankfully He can restore and heal and refresh the wounds that come from anger, harshness and ill-treatment and unfaithfulness in marriage. I have also seen that when one spouse is mature and behaves honorably before children, even in bad marriages, the children, when they become old enough, can be healthy and strong and led to emotional maturity and health--because they have seen grace in the face of foul play--love given in the midst of harsh anger--gentleness and servitude in the face of selfishness.  I was reading an article the other day with overwhelming statistics that even when parents argue and have a lot of stress in marriage, that if they stay married, children come out being strong if the parents stay together--somehow the glue that keeps them going gives children a sense of loyal love--even in very bad marriages. Yet, I have also observed that many single moms have been able to pass on a legacy of graciousness and forgiveness when they have taught, modeled and helped their children in the pathways of grace. This is a long process and I would in no way care to diminish the pain, suffering and heart-break that so many have born in their own lives. But the hope we have in Jesus and his ability to answer prayer and to redeem is beyond our comprehension. But, in a culture that compromises as a way of life, the ideal of being faithful and loyal in marriage, as God's designed mandate, must be upheld and taught as His plan. 
This blog post is in danger of becoming a book, so I will leave off here. Perhaps I will write just a bit more about it later this week. But I will indeed pray grace for all who will read it and hope that you will find strength, right where you are, to build on the calling and vision of your own family and foundations for marriage. May our wonderful Lord give grace.