This spring, Pastor John and I recorded five episodes live and in the flesh in Nashville. A number of you joined us for that recording session. At one point we talked about marriage. Here’s the interchange.
We got a hundred questions from the folks in attendance. Most of those had to do with marriage. When life gets busy, pastoring gets busy, you’ve got young kids, how did you find over the years ways to invest in your wife and make your marriage a priority — especially in those busy years of pastoring and with young kids? What do you remember from those days about how you built into Noël during those years?
I think the biggest investment that a wife or a husband can make in their spouse is the investment they make in their own souls. Here’s what I mean: If you do get married, all’s rosy and great. You love each other. And time goes by, and you read all kinds of books and you hear a question like that — “How are you investing in your wife?” Investing in my wife? What does that even mean?
“The biggest investment that a wife or a husband can make in their spouse is the investment they make in their own souls.”
I think it is very easy to abstract that from your own soul transformation, so that it becomes a project: “Marriage is a project. Got to read another book. Got to go to another seminar. Got to learn the right love language.” That can be good, but far more important is: Do I go to the Lord and invest in him and say, “God, make me a new person”? That’s not just what you pray at the beginning of your Christian life. Those of us who have lived long enough know we’re sinners today. And I’ve got soul-work to do so that when I open my mouth with my wife, I’m not only investing in her, but I’m a new person who loves better than I did yesterday.
Fight for Your Own Holiness
So, at 73 I’m fighting for my marriage every day by fighting for my holiness. I’m going to the Bible and asking not to be unkind, not to be critical. I’m asking for love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control. That’s a happy marriage. And the main battle is here, inside me. Even if there’s conflict, that’s where the main battle is.
A text that is just massively important I think is Colossians 3:13: “bearing with one another . . . forgiving each other.” You could translate “bearing with” as endure. Now in the old King James, the words are forbear and forgive. But endure is really quite an unromantic word. And it’s good, right? It’s good.
Forgiveness is an awesome and wonderful thing. Every spouse needs to make a vocation out of asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness. It has to happen almost daily, I would say. But here’s the rub that I learned really quick. She doesn’t think what bothers me is a sin. She’s got nothing to repent of. And therefore, I’ve got nothing to forgive. And I’m ticked off. Now what? I mean it sounds funny, but that’s serious.
Pitch It to the Compost Pile
So the Bible — this is a great book. This is a really good book. This is a great marriage book, the best marriage book there is. It says, “Endure one another.” Now let’s put flesh on that. What does that mean? And I wrote a book on marriage. Probably the most important thing in that book is the compost pile illustration. Every marriage needs a compost pile.
Do you have any idea what a compost pile is? It means you’ve got a really nice green backyard. It’s wonderful. It’s a great place to hang out. And the relationship has pukey, dirty, lousy, no-good stuff in it that neither of you considers to be sin. And you could be wrong on that. You build a compost pile way off in the corner, and you throw that habit of your spouse in the compost pile.
“Every spouse needs to make a vocation out of asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness.”
Now, you can camp out by a compost pile and smell the stinky stuff all night long. Or you can pull a curtain around it and have a picnic at the picnic table on the green grass with the woman you married. While all your junk and all her junk is in the compost pile, you both know they’re there, but the smell is bracketed — it’s just cut off. And you both are looking in each other’s eyes and you know very honestly there’s a compost pile back there. “We’re not going to talk about it right now. We’re going to enjoy these grandkids, and we’re going to do this barbecue.”
Come to Terms with Your Own Sin
Behaviors are late things. Early things are soul things: attitudes, feelings, angers, joys. And that’s where the battle is fought — with Jesus, over your Bible — so that when you get up in the morning and go down to the breakfast table after a half an hour with Jesus, coming to terms with your own sin, confessing, you’re able to speak upbuilding things.
This is my wife’s favorite verse, I think, when it comes to relationships: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). And that’s what she faults me with all the time: “You should do that better.”