(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.” Martin Luther
Years ago, there was a young boy who was captivated by another classmate’s beauty. His day would be going along just fine until he saw her walk by. It was like she was the only thing that existed in that moment, and he would try his best not to stare. This kid even exhausted himself every day in P.E. class to win that year’s endurance race just because he wanted her to notice him. No matter how hard he tried to impress her with his achievements, she never paid any attention to him. The young boy finally gave up after a few years and accepted that a beautiful popular girl like her would never be interested in a poor nobody like him.
Fast forward to their senior year of high school. She was still popular and beautiful as ever. The boy, well . . . he was still nerdy minus the brains. He did have one thing going for him though that he would later thank God for: his ability to play instruments and soccer. Luckily for this poor guy, the sweet brown-haired girl liked going to the school’s soccer games. That year he was selected as team captain. This made him stand out, for once, and the girl he had been trying to get to notice him all this time was now watching. But he didn’t know that and had already given up trying. But thankfully things were not dependent on his timing.
When the pretty brown-haired girl came up to him after church, he tried to play it cool and act like it was nothing that she wanted to talk. The real truth is he didn’t know how to act in the presence of such beauty, and he couldn’t believe she would come talk to him. After more talking they had their first date at a Christmas party, and it ended with a six-hour conversation just between the two of them. After that talk, he had no doubt that he wanted to be with her the rest of his life. They continued dating for a year and a half, were engaged for a year and a half after that, and then got married when they were in their early twenties.
Their love story is my favorite one to tell because it is our own. That young beautiful girl who rendered me speechless and put me under a trance with her beauty still has the same effect on me. I still can’t believe that she is mine.
But As Time Goes On . . .
Oh, how quickly we can transition from passion for one another to settling in to the mundane routine of life, and the romance between lovers can slowly dwindle away. It’s like moving to the mountains. At first you are taken away by their beauty, but after a while they go unnoticed in the background. There was a time when pursuing our spouse’s heart was the main objective, but now that our girlfriend has become our wife it’s like the mission to woo them is over. As soon as we have this mindset and perspective we lose our “fire” and passion to aim for winning their hearts.
I like to grill. I like building the fire, smelling it and, of course, getting to eat the end results with friends and loved ones. If the fire was previously hot and going strong but now is gone, there are usually hot coals that you can fan into flame. Romance and intimacy in our marriages are the same way. It takes work. You can’t expect to build a fire and it just keep burning forever; we must add fuel to the fire and fan the flame.
Marriage: The Foundation of the Home
This is a parenting book, right? Why a chapter on marriage? Because we parents can focus on our kids so much that we slowly start to neglect our spouses. We will have our kids only for a short time but our spouses for a lifetime, Lord willing. If you have never heard anyone say this please hear me now: “Putting your kids ahead of your marriage is a tragic mistake.”
Let’s make sure that truth sinks into our hearts. That advice was given to me, and I still think it’s the best advice for all parents. How many marriages do you know that fail or start to fall apart after the kids leave the house? Healthy and happy families are built on a happy and healthy marriage. That’s why marriage comes before kids; the foundation must be laid before the house is built.
What Do Our Marriages Teach?
We want our kids to grow up knowing how to love people. The example they will have in front of them all the time is how you love your spouse. We want them to be kind and share with their friends. Mom and dad, how are we modeling that in front of them?
For example, your kids know your favorite snack. Dad, do they see you giving it up for mom? They need to know how to say sorry when they do wrong. Have they ever seen us apologize to each other? Our kids desperately need an example of how to handle conflict. What kind of responses are we teaching them when they are watching the two people they should look up to?
Why else is our marriage the greatest example we can give our children? Because our marriage mirrors the gospel. The gospel is like a huge and beautiful mysterious mountain (a beauty we grow accustomed to as well). Our marriage is but a shadow of that colossal beauty. We find this truth in Ephesians 5:32. Paul is talking about marriage between one man and one women and he says, “This mystery [marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
When we make sacrifices for our wives, we are painting a tiny picture of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for his bride, the church. With each sacrifice and act of love towards our spouse we are adding to the gospel canvas for others to see. Our marriage models so many things to our children, and the greatest is the gospel.
We are to model for our kids a healthy marriage. We want our sons to look for and be attracted to women who are like their mom, and our girls to look for a man who treats them like their dad treats their mom.
Hearts Drifted Apart: Lack of Romance and Intimacy
I am in no way trying to fit the entire subject of marriage into one chapter. That is impossible, so I want us to focus on one thing, and that is to continue to aim for our spouse’s heart.
Again the gospel is our help in this. What I mean by that is the truth of what happened and was accomplished on the cross is infinitely deep, and the further we dig into how that empowers and applies to us, the deeper and richer our lives and marriages become.
One author has noted that our marriages go only as deep as our understanding of Christ’s work on the cross. For those of you reading this chapter who have a happy marriage centered on God, I want to encourage you with the fact that it can get even better, it can go even deeper.
I’ll never forget the moment I was confronted with the fact that my romancing was not as it once was. I knew my wife liked little notes and letters written to her when we were dating, but I stopped doing it once we were married. Seven years into our marriage my wife made the subtle remark that I don’t write her letters anymore. Her words came out gently, but they hit my heart like a heavy blow.
What happened to me? Why did I stop? So the next week I wrote a letter to her, right? Nope, I wish I did. It took me a while, and I’m still working on that and many other things to be closer to her and aim for her heart.
Six Reasons Hearts Drift Apart
What you are about to read has encouraged me in my efforts to romance and love my wife better. So let’s look at six reasons we might be lacking in the intimacy or spark we once had and how the gospel and God can restore that passion and joy for each other.
First Reason: Expectations
Everyone enters marriage with expectations. Just like you enter a doctor’s office or school and expect certain services and experiences. It’s natural for us. The problem is many people go into marriage with unrealistic expectations, which soon leads to disappointment.
Some believe getting married will complete them and solve their problem with loneliness, but lonely and insecure people will still battle those things after they get married. Men who struggle with lust and transparency will continue to struggle after they say, “I do.” God can and does use marriage to grow and change us, but marriage in itself won’t fix our problems.
Maybe you expected nice things in your marriage but haven’t received that house or car yet. Maybe you expected to be respected and treated a certain way, but that’s not happening anymore. Often we can see our spouse as the source of the problem. We see them as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and not ourselves. What I mean is we have come to a place that we are good at seeing their faults and not our own. And they might be doing the same with us.
Most couples think the reason they don’t have the same feelings for their spouses anymore is that something changed. Some will say, “He use to be so funny, now he’s stressed all the time,” or “She use to care about her appearance, but now she is letting herself go after having kids.”
Some can even blame their spouse’s fading health as the reason their love has lost its “spark”. Like one author boldly put it, “The gospel says, ‘How you feel about your spouse is irrelevant.’” What did he mean by that? Feelings are important, right? Often we hear this excuse: “I can’t help that I don’t feel in love anymore.”
The reason the gospel says our feelings are irrelevant to how we treat and love each other is that while we were unlovable, while we were rebels against the very Creator that gave us life (sounds a lot worse than “hearts that have drifted apart” right?), God sent his son to die for us. We were “dead in our sins” and not even seeking after God. Yet he paid the infinite price to bring us back into a right relationship with him. So our own feelings (or lack there of) should not hinder the determination we have to love our spouses unconditionally. Love is much more than a feeling.
If we have a false view of the gospel and believe God loves us based on our performance, then we will unknowingly love our spouse based on their performance. Meaning if they serve us enough or do things just right, we will have a special love and care for them. That is a marriage focused on self, and a marriage focused on itself only brings about disappointment.
Second Reason: Stopped Doing Little Things for Each Other
I remember the hardest class I had in high school was physics. But there was a day of hope. The teacher announced a way to make an “A” that didn’t involve any test, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! He said we could take on a project, and if we completed it we would receive an “A” in his course. This made me excited and I started listening to him very closely.
He said it was a month-long project. I was still good with that. He said the first day we had to bring one grain of rice to school, the second day 2 grains, the third day four, each day we had to double the amount. My buddies and I anxiously got our calculators out because we thought this was too good to be true. Turns out it was. After some math, we realized it was trick. I don’t mind counting some rice, but I didn’t want to count 536,870,912 grains of rice, nor did I want to try and carry it to school.
The point is that little things can add up fast. Some people expect great marriages, romance, and intimacy without putting any work into their relationships. We are called to care for and do the little things for our spouses. Instead of buying that new stereo system, buy the pots and pans your wife has hinted at. Instead of sitting down and watching TV, we should get up and help our wives after the meal. Instead of complaining about something, compliment your man and tell him how thankful you are for him.
“In humility count others more significant than yourselves”, Philippians 2:3 says. “Others” here includes our spouses. Maybe your wife wants a veggie pizza, but you have been craving steak and potatoes all day. In humility you should go out and joyfully pick up a veggie pizza for your wife. The problem is pride and selfishness will so often cause us to cling to our own ideas and desires making us say something like, “Love, I think vegetable pizza would be good for tonight because . . . ”
You and I will be given these opportunities for either humility or pride countless times in our marriages. The sad and scary truth about pride is it is blind to itself. And there is great irony between pride and humility: “The proud person thinks they are humble, but the humble person thinks they are proud.” No one is free from pride. That is why we need the gospel and to preach it to ourselves daily.
A proud spouse will be impatient with their significant other, criticize them, see their spouse’s shortcomings and not their own, and not offer thanks to them. A humble spouse will think of their mate more than they think of themselves, and they will welcome correction because they know they need to grow as a person. The proud believe they have arrived. When both are humble, what a joyful marriage and picture of Christ’s love for the church!
Third Reason: Stopped Being Friends
This is another reason why marriages lack intimacy, laughter, and joy. Since we stopped doing little things for each other we stopped acting like friends do. Have you ever heard the advice, “Marry your best friend”? It’s good advice. Let me take it a step further, “Keep the one you married your best friend.”
Do whatever it takes to not only maintain your friendship but also make sure that it flourishes. Do things with your partner they love to do whether or not you enjoy it as much as them. For example, last night my wife was cooking. It was one of those meals she works hard on, and the kids and I enjoy getting to praise her as we stuff our faces. My wife loves to cook. I love that she loves to cook. I’m not a cook, but I can join her and encourage her in it.
Friends also notice each other’s likes and dislikes. Perhaps, like me, your memory isn’t the greatest. So it’s good for us to jot notes down somewhere about our findings and remember to act on them. I’m not a coffee guy, so trying to figure out what kind of coffee my wife likes took effort. Ask questions and figure out those things, but don’t just leave the knowledge in your head, bring home a coffee for your wife and let her know you were thinking of her and delight in making her happy. Spouses are our closest friends, make them feel like it.
Fourth Reason: Not Reading the Word Together
Our marriages will be better if we focus on God and not on our marriages. The Bible commands husbands to “wash” their wives in the Word (Ephesians. 5:26). Which means husbands are responsible to lead in reading God’s Word with their wives. You don’t have to prepare a lesson. Just read and discuss the text. Watch how it will transform your marriage because God works on our hearts through His Word.
You rarely will find a marriage that is weak and unhappy when the couple is praying, studying the Bible, and worshiping together. Reading the Word with your spouse doesn’t take long. The best times are 15 minutes before the day starts or the last fifteen minutes before going to bed. There are times I find myself in our marriage neglecting this important duty to my spouse. Not just for duty’s sake, but for the sake of our joy in God and in each other. While the husband often focuses on being close to his wife physically, the wife leans towards the desire to feel close emotionally. Both can easily forget the importance of growing together spiritually.
Maybe you have seen or heard this illustration before. It’s a clear and easy-to-remember diagram that shows when we grow closer to God (starting with reading God’s Word), we will naturally draw closer to each other. We are to be like David: “a man after God’s own heart”, and that will cause us to grow closer to our wife’s heart as well.
Fifth Reason: Lack of Sexual Intimacy
I can remember several instances of running out to 7/11 and buying (the elephant brand) super glue. It’s strong and very useful in bonding two things together. We have been blessed with another tool in our marriages that bonds spouses together. Here an author equates sex to super glue, “Sex has many purposes in marriage, but its most important might be its bonding power. It is God’s relational Super Glue. It binds husband and wife socially, emotionally, and physically.”
That is why people who have sex outside of marriage feel like they had their hearts ripped out of their chest when they break up. Have you ever gotten super glue on your hands? It’s painful.
Sex is a healthy and good expression of intimate union. As one author put it, Christians have the tendency to focus on the perverse sexual activity outside of marriage while ignoring the problem of sexual inactivity within marriages. There are things outside of our control and things within our control that will cause sex with our spouse to flourish or die off. Yes, there are illnesses, pains, and other ailments that are outside our control, but often what dampens our romance is within our control. Maybe a lack of effort, a lack of care, or maybe it’s pornography or choosing other things instead of spending time with our spouses.
One reason sex is so good within marriage is that it is “sex under grace”. We don’t have to perform a certain way, we can do some embarrassing things and laugh together about it. Our relationship is not hinging on how well we do.
On the other hand, sex outside of marriage is “sex under law”. Meaning that a couple is trying to gain approval, striving to be good enough for the relationship to continue and last. They are anxious because there isn’t any commitment or covenant holding them together, so their time together is like they are constantly on trial being judged. If the other one doesn’t like it any more or gets bored he/she will move on.
Whether one has sex “under grace” or sex “under law” the results can not only be life-changing but life-giving. The fruit of sex is offspring, this is obvious, but what is amazing is how God designed two people to come together, and along with the work of God, an eternal being comes into existence! God created us to worship him, and he created us to create other worshipers. Other mammals procreate to have offspring as well, but no other mammal has regular sex for enjoyment of the bond it brings. This bonding gift is unique to humans.
Sadly this gift is often neglected because one or both partners have wrong expectations or baggage they bring with them to the bedroom. Culture and sinful nature are to blame. Here, listen to this teaching from a marriage seminar, “Our culture has sent us on a wild goose chase after the perfect sex life: hot, heavy, pornographic . . . And if that’s not the way our sex is, there must be a problem. Consigned to what we think must be boring, ordinary sex, we grow frustrated with ourselves and our spouses, and we are tempted to turn elsewhere. Either to the ease of pornography and masturbation, or to the unreality of romance fiction, or to other lovers . . . But the good news is that our culture has sex wrong.”
I think William Farley said it best, “Good sex does not make the marriage. Good sex is the fruit of a good marriage.” Some think that good sex will make a marriage good (that is why people think they should sleep together before they get married to see if they are a “perfect fit” and if it’s going to “work”), but in reality a good marriage makes for good sex. Sex is the fruit, if you will, of marriage. Sex was given for marriages, not marriages given for sex.
Conference speakers said that sex is like a thermometer. It isn’t used to fix problems in a marriage but rather gauges where the two lovers are. Hear for yourselves what was taught at the conference: “Too often, couples want to use sex to overcome a lack of intimacy or conflict in communication. But the fact is, your sex is only going to display what’s already there. If your union is characterized by gentleness and respect, by understanding and intimacy, then that will come out in your sex life. But if your union is marred by roughness, selfishness, miscommunication and distance, then it should be no surprise if your sex feels like that too.” Intimate times with our spouse are like glue that bonds us together, a mirror that reflects our dynamic union, and a thermometer that gauges where we are in our relationships with our spouses.
Sixth Reason: We Stopped Dating
Should married couples date? If so, how is your dating life? Do you regularly go out with just your spouse and spend time together? I know that can be harder for some depending on if they have family or friends around to help watch the kids while they are gone.
The reason dating is so important to intimacy in marriage is that the lack of spending time together is sure to stunt the growth between lovers. Maybe you thought, as I once did, that dating is for finding your spouse, and once you found her then dating is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My fear of writing a parenting book focused on aiming for the children’s heart was that we would neglect our spouse’s. That is why I’m ending with this chapter to remind us not to forget our spouses. May God help us to grow in our marriages for his glory and for the good of our families.
I want to end this book with one last illustration. In my high school soccer days my coach taught me something that has always stuck with me. Before each game he would tell us to “leave it all on the field”. He meant for us to give everything we had, so no matter what happened at the end we could get on the bus and go home knowing we did our best. We were there to support each other and represent our school.
In the same way, our life is short and temporary. God has given us our families as teammates, and we are called to represent him. May we “leave it all on the field” by God’s grace, so we can look back from our eternal home and know we gave it all we had for our loved ones and for the God who loves us.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org