Couples Are Wasting Their Marriages
Imagine you have friends who are headed to Paris for a holiday. After they return you are excited to hear about their trip so you make plans to meet for a coffee. They are buzzing with delight. Immediately, they tell you how they stayed in the most wonderful Travelodge right in the middle of the city. They describe in detail how the lodge had a beautiful Parisian breakfast buffet, croissants and all. There was an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. The rooms even had free Netflix and Wifi. Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, they finish by saying that the Travelodge was so much fun they never felt the need to go anywhere else. They spent the whole two weeks bouncing between the buffet, pool, and the latest editions on Netflix.
What would you be thinking as you listened to this? You would have no doubts that they had a great time and came back exceedingly satisfied. However, silently you would be wringing their necks, shouting inwardly, ‘You just wasted your trip. Anyone who goes to Paris – even if they stay at the Ritz – has a moral obligation to sit in at least one street side café, to visit the Louvre, and to walk through the angelic corridors of Notre Dame. You might have had fun, but you just missed the potential of your trip!’
This story illustrates a truth about most Christian marriages. There are a lot of Christian couples who enjoy their marriages, who feel satisfied with their relationships, but who nonetheless miss the potential of their marriages. The reason for this is that they don’t know what their marriage is ultimately for, and consequently they sit complacently watching Netflix when they could be drinking coffee at Café de la Paix.
The Importance of Determining a Destination
I hope that if you are reading this you are doing so because you do not want to waste your marriage. If that is the case, your first need is to define a destination for your relationship. Most married couples are like pooh sticks in a river, gliding along, not knowing where they are going. This is unfortunate because God has given us rational faculties so that we can take responsibility for ourselves and make decisions about the future.
Now when it comes to Christian marriages, there are three destinations to consider: marriages of pleasure, marriages of the good life, and spiritual friendships. Marriages of pleasure occur when couples unite because they believe they can enjoy life more together than alone. Here is a typical example. Jennifer likes to play golf, eat Sushi and hill walk. Steve enjoys the same activities. Jennifer and Steve get married because they believe they can have more fun doing these activities together than independently.
A second type of marriage is a marriage of the good life. This type of marriage happens when a couple comes together because they share a vision of happiness. Here is an instance: Mike imagines a future with kids playing football in the back garden, of summer holidays at the beach, of enjoying grandchildren in old age. Heather share the same vision. Therefore, Mike and Heather get married because they love each other and because they both want the same things in life.
Third there is spiritual friendship. Spiritual friendship is defined by a higher intention than companionship or happiness – the intention to know and serve God. A marriage is a spiritual friendship when bride and groom come together because they share a conviction that they can know God more intimately, and serve God more faithfully, as a married couple than alone. This is the highest form of marriage. To say this is not to condemn companionship or a shared vision of the good life. These three types of marriages are not mutually exclusive. When viewed properly, they are like rungs of a ladder, each rung leading to another, higher one: shared interest demonstrates compatibility, a shared vision indicates calling, and spiritual friendship leads to union with God which is the consummation of human relationships.
The Importance of Mapping the Journey
Once the destination is determined, the next question is how to get there. This is true for spiritual friendship as it is of any other journey. Now the peculiarity of spiritual friendship is that the journey is inward, not outward. Spiritual friendship is a journey of developing the requisite character that enables spiritual fellowship to occur. Here it is useful to change the metaphor from one of travel to one of gardening. In Scotland, one cannot grow tomatoes outdoors without a greenhouse. The reason is that tomatoes require certain weather conditions that Scotland does not have, namely dryness and warmth. Without these conditions, a tomato plant will not mature and produce ripe fruit. The same is true for a marriage of spiritual friendship. Certain conditions are required for a spiritual friendship to come into being. These conditions are character traits within the individual partners that make up the relationship.
A book could be written about the character that produces spiritual friendship. A list of essential qualities would include right intention, loyalty, patience, discretion, and humility. However as a summary of the point one can repeat a basic spiritual principle: the degree of one’s holiness determines the degree of one’s happiness. When applied to marriage the principle works as follows: the more each partner becomes like the living God – the one who enjoys the best of relationships as Father, Son and Spirit – the more there will be a communion of human persons that leads to a higher joy, fellowship with God. Holiness (the gospel kind, not the counterfeit model found in so many churches) is the road to spiritual friendship.
The Importance of Staying Motivated
If you define the destination of your marriage to be spiritual friendship, and if you outline the journey to be the road of holiness, the final step toward spiritual friendship is staying motivated. Every long and difficult journey requires motivation, and so it is with spiritual friendship. Now, for a marriage of spiritual friendship, motivation comes from keeping one’s eyes on three fundamental truths.
The first is that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of spiritual friendship. In heaven, there is no sin, and since there is no sin there is no need to hide oneself, to be duplicitous, or to feel shame. Instead, all relationships are an outworking of honesty, of openness, of love, and of fidelity. Seen in this light, marriage is an opportunity now to practice the life we will enjoy eternally in the kingdom of God. This opportunity ought to inspire a Christian.
A second source of motivation is the truth that our King, Jesus, is the ultimate spiritual friend. Jesus is the one who laid down his life so that we might be redeemed and share his eternal inheritance. For those who love Jesus, marriage is an opportunity to reflect to another person the love we have received, and are receiving, from our hero, lord, and saviour, Jesus.
Finally, a third source of motivation is the missional power of a spiritual friendship. Increasingly, we live in a world that hungers for the love of God without having a clue where to find it. A marriage that takes on the golden leaves of spiritual friendship becomes a sign to searching hearts of a divine love available on earth through the life of Christ. This is a marvellous thought – that through our marriages lost souls can come to see, even experience, the captivating love of the living God.