Jim Burns is the President of Homeword and Executive Director of the Homeword Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University.
The Eternal Perspective
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17
The older we get the more it seems we think about eternity with God. Whenever we thought about dying when we were younger it seemed to be a much more morbid thought. We focused on what we would miss, rather than what we would experience in heaven with God. Now that we are older, we want to live life to the fullest here on earth, but we also realize that life on this planet is finite and that one-day we will experience something far greater in eternity.
Actually, the eternal perspective has helped our marriage become stronger. In the end it’s mostly relationships that really matter. We seem to fuss and fret over things that will have little bearing on the most important priorities. People who study death and dying say that as a person approaches their last days on earth their focus becomes much stronger on just two aspects of their life; a right relationship with God and a right relationship with their loved ones.
Dr. Billy Graham was recently invited to a luncheon in his honor in North Carolina. Because Dr. Graham suffers from Parkinson’s disease, he initially hesitated to accept the invitation. His family and friends promised he would not have to give a major address and he could just come and let them honor him. He finally agreed to come.
After wonderful things were said about him, Billy Graham stepped up to the podium, looked at the crowd and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who was recently honored by Time Magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor was coming down the aisle punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, he couldn’t find his ticket. The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. Don’t worry about ticket.” As the conductor continued toward the next car on the train he turned around and watched Einstein on his hands and knees still looking for the ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein don’t worry, I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.” Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”
Having said that, Billy Graham continued, “See this suit I am wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My family is telling me that I have gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am…I also know where I’m going.”
As Christians we also know who we are and where we are going. With this thought in mind about eternity, it draws us to back to the “momentary troubles” we have in our marriage, family, and life and reminds us that those issues don’t compare to eternity. Do you have enough of an eternal perspective to focus on the most important relationships instead of becoming bogged down on the lesser? We like how the New Living Translation paraphrases Paul’s philosophy of life in today’s verse, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever.” Now that’s the eternal perspective.
A Step Closer: At Your Funeral
With today’s message in mind, what do you want to be known for after you die? Take some time to focus on three traits you hope will be brought up at your funeral. Then answer what you can be doing right now to insure those traits are even stronger in your life. When you are finished, answer how these traits can affect your marriage relationship. Since we are talking about eternity, is there anything else you would like to be said or done at your funeral?
Longevity in Your Marriage with A.W.E.
“Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God's gift.” Ecclesiastes 9:9 (The Message)
We recently saw a news clip on television about the five Estes sisters and their two brothers. Collectively they have been married for 391 years. In an age where nearly half of the new marriages end in divorce, the seven surviving children of C.M. and Minnie Estes have all been wed 50 years or more. The Estes siblings ages 69 to 84, attribute their marital success in large part to the moral example set by their late parents, who were married 58 years themselves. As we watched the newscast with great inspiration, we summed up the answers they gave to their secrets to successful marriages with three words, Affection, Warmth, and Encouragement. We call it “A.W.E.”
When these couples were interviewed, they all were holding hands. No matter what the age, affection is a very important ingredient in a relationship. Does nagging and negativity ever really work in drawing you closer as a couple? We don’t think so either. However, showering your spouse with loving affection does make a difference. A meaningful hug, an extended kiss, flowers, kindness, and those simple words “I love you” do bring affection to the forefront of a relationship.
Warmth: One of the constants with these marvelous couples was that it seemed they were willing to keep away from allowing bitterness, anger, and constant fighting to be a part of their relationships. One of the husbands said, “One of the important things for a successful marriage is having a bad memory.” And then they looked at each other and just laughed. In essence a couple who brings warmth to their relationship has the strength to overlook things that would cause other people to break up. Being intentional about setting an atmosphere of warmth is a discipline. There are times to bring up tension and times not to do it. In good marriage relationships, couples have a sense of self-control. There is a filter with their words and actions. We loved what another couple shared in that interview. “You’ve got to let love grow. You both must pitch in, in order for it to work. You have to work at it every day.”
The philosopher, William James, said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” We think most couples would say they feel under-appreciated and under-encouraged. Too many people were raised on shame-based parenting growing up, and when their marriage relationship gets tough they move back into what their parents tried to do which is bring up what’s wrong instead of focusing on affirmation. Sure in every relationship there is a time to take withdrawals but relationships need deposits too. And encouragement is always a deposit. We think many of the marriage issues couples fight over would fade away if we just offered our spouse more encouragement. A daily dose of encouragement does wonders for a difficult relationship.
As we watched the interviews with those Estes family couples, we realized they didn’t have anything more in their relationship arsenal than anyone else. Many of these couples did not have easy lives or trouble free families. What they did possess was a strong commitment to stay together through thick and thin. They saw their marriage as teamwork and we think they would agree one of the saving ingredients was they lived their lives with A.W.E.
A Step Closer:A Marriage of A.W.E.
Take a moment to read each word from A.W.E. and write out what you would like to see from your spouse in each area and then what you could do to place into their life as well.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23 NLT
We often ask ourselves three questions. We want to put them in front of you today. The way you answer these questions will usually help you figure out how your relationship with God and your spouse is doing at the time. What’s fascinating is if you look at how you are doing emotionally, spiritually and even physically, at any given time you can usually know direction your marriage relationship is headed too.
Here are the questions:
Do I like the person I am becoming?
Is my heart for God shrinking or growing?
Am I giving Cathy and my children only my emotional scraps?
Do I like the person I am becoming?
If you like the human being you am becoming it is often because you are in a good place with God, spouse, and even my own self. So much of that question has to do with discipline. Paul once wrote to Timothy and said, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness.” If we are spending regular time reading God’s word and praying, spending healthy doses of time with our spouse, and keeping your body in relatively healthy shape, life seems to go better you’re your personal life and marriage. On the other hand, if we are living an undisciplined life with confused priorities nothing seems to fit in place.
Is my heart for God shrinking or growing?
Far too often through either neglect or poor decisions, when we examine our heart we find that it isn’t in a growing mode. Sometimes it’s that we are too busy; other times it’s because we aren’t disciplined in spending time with God. Some people just choose poor habits and that make their heart shrink for God. For us, it’s probably more about living with “attractive distractions.” We both tend to bite off more than we can handle and when the pressures come, we lose the joy of growing in our relationship with God or each other. We love the way Eugene Petersonparaphrases Romans 9:32 in the Message version of the Bible as it describes the people of Israel, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling.” Are there attractive distractions in your life that are getting in the way of your heart growing for God?
Am I giving my spouse and my children only my emotional scraps
Why is it that we sometimes give our best to others and then don’t have anything left to give to the ones we love the most? If we are not emotionally present in a relationship, the relationship will grow stale. In a marriage with a lot of tension there is often at least low-level anger and resentment. When the tension, anger, and resentment aren’t harnessed, it often leads to a lack of emotional intimacy. On a diet of little or no emotional intimacy, a marriage can get in trouble very quickly. Being “dangerously tired” will also cause us to give our loved ones only the emotional scraps and that makes for tired relationships as well.
A Step Closer:
Plan a time together to this week to work on one of the questions above. What are you going to do and when? Once you have done this, discuss how it went.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. Exodus 31:17 (NKJV)
A number of years ago we were on a family vacation in Palm Desert, California. It was a friend's second home and we made this trip a regular part of our family vacations. One of the events our girls loved the most was in the early evening sitting in the spa. They loved the hot water and the jets moving against their backs. We must admit it was just as enjoyable for us. Jim was always the first to get into the spa because he seemed to have less to worry about with his swimsuit. This particular day, Jim noticed that the spa was incredibly dirty. The weather had been windy and there was just a lot of debris in the water. Jim had two choices. He could either clean out the spa or just turn the jets on before anyone else came out to see it. Of course when the jets were turned on the debris would get so stirred up no one would notice all the junk in the water. Jim took the easy way out and just turned on the jets! As the family was sitting in the spa enjoying our time, Jim was the only one who actually knew we all were sitting in a filthy spa with garbage in the water. That is until the spa stopped and we remained in the water only then to see the dirt in the spa.
Many couples live out their lives a lot like our spa story. Because of the busyness and pace of daily life we overlook the “junk” building up in our lives. If we stopped long enough to think about it, of course we would notice the debris. But as long as we are busy, we just don’t have time to deal with it. A friend of ours once told us, “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy.” The unbalanced life will not be kind to the areas we neglect. If we neglect doing the work it takes to deal with the junk in our lives, then relationships will begin to break down. We know a man who works an 80 hours a week and is active in his church as well. We also know that his busyness is hiding a poor marriage and pain wedged deep inside his soul.
So what’s the answer?
Are you are living your life in crisis mode and the jets of your life just keep moving at a faster pace? Are you afraid that if you stop and slow down things will crash all around you? If so, then you are already in need of some life surgery. We suggest that you and your spouse immediately talk about cutting back and slowing the process down. When we live our lives at too fast of a pace to find solitude and rest, we will never figure out how to live a healthy lifestyle and draw closer in your marriage. Crazy busy lifestyles usually mean we are running from some dirt. The answer is to slow it down enough to do the work to clean out the jets of our life and in doing so you will create a better life for yourself, your spouse and your family.
A Step Closer:A Forced Sabbatical
Decide when is the soonest time, as a couple, you can take a short sabbatical (Sabbath literally means to rest) for reflection, rest, refreshment, restoration, and recreation. A good sabbatical should be at least 24 hours and it would be best if you included most of the elements above. Go ahead pull out the calendar and plan it.
Conflict Can Bring You Closer Together
(Or Farther Apart)
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26
We saw this sign in flower shop in Florida, “Two secrets to keep your marriage brimming. 1. Whenever you are wrong, admit it, 2. Whenever you are right, shut up. Actually, that’s not bad advice. Conflict in a relationship is inevitable and furthermore, it doesn’t need to break you apart. This may sound crazy, but conflict can bring you closer together and can actually sometimes be good for your relationship. Plus, making up isn’t half bad either. The issue with most couples isn’t if you have conflict; it’s how you deal with conflict. No one and we mean no one can agree on every issue. The only people we know who made us feel guilty when we were younger because they told us Christians should never argue later got a divorce.
Just like sports have rules to play by, couples should have some rules in order to have a healthy conflict. Here are three:
Choose your battles wisely. Don’t make everything a fight. If you are going to enter in to conflict, prepare to speak the truth in love and go for it. But everything isn’t worth fighting over. Does it really matter if the house is kept perfect? If it does, go for it. But if it doesn’t, keep silent about it. It’s impossible to have a fun-loving relationship if you are managing too many battlefronts at one time. Sometimes a compromise is a very good decision. Your relationship is a lot like your bank account. It will take more deposits than withdrawals to get a good report.
Keep anger under control. When a sinner marries another sinner and you add “sinnerlings” to the mix, there are bound to be times that you will get angry with your spouse. Anger isn’t the issue; it’s keeping it in control and handling it with maturity and grace. We find that people who harbor a lot of anger usually have other issues going on inside their life. Put limits on your anger so it doesn’t turn to bitterness and resentment. Anger that is held on the inside is often more detrimental than expressed anger. If you hold grudges or keep the flames of anger burning for too long, then you are going against the scriptural mandates: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” In other words, we can be angry, but not sin. This takes some strong self-control, but the self-discipline will draw you closer.
Practice forgiveness. Conflict is inevitable but you have a choice to choose forgiveness. Words like “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” and “I love you and forgive you” will draw you closer to each other. God practices a severe mercy and grace. Grace literally means unmerited favor. If God bestows grace on you, then wouldn’t it seem a bit arrogant to not bestow grace on your spouse? Conflicts are inevitable but how you deal with your conflicts will play a determining factor in the strength of your relationship.
A Step Closer:The Forgiveness Factor
Choose a time when you can be in a quiet place and may need some time to talk. Then walk through some of your past conflicts and offenses with your spouse and ask for forgiveness. Close this session by praying with each other. (We have found that this can be a very powerful time. Do not hesitate to seek the help of a counselor or pastor if your issues are bigger than you can handle.)