What I Tell Engaged Couples Ahead Of Their Wedding Day

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As a pastor I have the privilege of being asked to officiate weddings. When asked to officiate a husband-to-be and a wife-to-be, I sit down with the engaged couple 4-5 times to do some pre-marital counseling with the hopes of preparing them for the greatest human-to-human relationship available from God. 

My main goal in counseling the couple is to get them excited about a marriage more than they are excited about a wedding. 

Here are the 5 things I make sure they understand heading into their adventure of marriage: 

(1) The Biggest Threat To Your Marriage Is Unresolved Conflict 

Marital psychologists share that the path to divorce starts with disappointment. In fact, if disappointment in the marriage isn’t dealt with in a God-honoring, unified manner, it will take the marriage down in 2-3 years. The pathway to divorce looks like this: 

Disappointment – Discouragement – Distance – Disconnect – Discord – Divorce. 

The church has done a disservice to couples yelling at them to not get divorced and then walking away hoping the marriage stays together. Rather, if the church came alongside couples and helped them realize that way before divorce there’s disappointment, and then how to resolve that disappointment, divorce wouldn’t even be a thought. 

Marriages don’t fall apart because of conflict, they fall apart because of unresolved conflict. 

At the wedding altar, instead of pledging to be there for the other for better, for worse, I think the couple should flat out admit, Hey! I’m different than you. This means we’re going to disagree a lot. But even in the disagreements and the disappointment, I’m committed to you and committed to God’s Spirit at work within you. 

Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are angry.” 

I make sure the couple will make a commitment to resolving conflict. 

(2) Your Wedding Day Should Be The Day You Love Each Other The Least 

What happens too often when a Christian gives their life and sin to Christ and becomes saved as a child of God, that is the day they love Jesus the most. After conversion for many Christians, there’s lackluster worship, discipline and spiritual growth.

What needs to happen for new Christians is that the day they got saved is the day they loved Jesus the least.  

Ephesians 3:19 says that we will never be able to understand the depths of God’s love for us which means each day is an opportunity to grow in a love for Jesus. 

Instead of pursuing Jesus daily we are using our time for others things (which, those other things like family, work and leisure are good gifts from God, but pursuing Jesus needs to be happening). 

When it comes to the wedding day with all of the obsessive plans and dreams of what the ceremony and reception will be like, even though it’s a signifiant day, that should be the day the couple loves each other the least. 

After the wedding they should still study each other and date each other and still pursue each other. There should be daily encouragement and forgiveness and laughter and prayer.  

For too many couples the mountaintop experience of their relationship is the wedding day. This happens when during the engagement instead of prayerfully putting into place routines and commitments to grow closer together and to allow God to lead them, they instead use their time to plan an event. 

(3) Choose To Pray For Each Other and Pray With Each Other Daily

It’s very difficult to be angry at someone and pray for them at the same time. Love heals deep wounds and an intimate step many thriving couples choose to take each day is praying for each other and with each other. 

Spouses need to be encouraging each other daily (Hebrews 3:13) and through a disciplined prayer life to thank God for blessings, to ask God for forgiveness and wisdom, to place Him as the leader of the marriage all can breath such life into the relationship. 

(4) In Grieving, Choose To Lament Together

Sometimes the pain a couple experiences is caused by one or both sides. But sometimes the deep trauma experienced in a marriage is circumstantial and out of their control. 

There might be death of parents and loved ones. There might be miscarriages. There might be seasons of unemployment. There might be a cancer diagnosis. There might be health or behavioral concerns with children. 

In these seasons of confusion and hurt, since the couple already resolves conflict with each other (there’s trust and grace), since they pursue one another relationally (their love for each other deepens) and since they pray for and with each other, grieving is a safe and unified space to mourn. 

The author of the book Lamentations in the Bible is grieving deeply. In the midst of his emotional struggle he rightly recognizes that God is the Giver of great hope (Lamentations 3:22-24). Regardless of the circumstantial pain, he clearly confesses his ongoing need for God in his life.

We cannot go a day forgetting the mercy of God in our lives. A married couple needs to be grateful for the grace of God and His comfort and presence in the absence of answers and clarity. 

A married couple cannot separate relationally during seasons of pain because distance leads to disconnect.

(5) Recognize That The Best Day Of Your Marriage Happened 2,000 Years Ago

Christians believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and the sins of humanity. They are grateful that forgiveness is found freely at the cross through belief and confession. 

Just as there is mercy found at the cross, there is power and hope found at the empty tomb of Jesus when He rose from death 2,000 years ago. 

The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in the history of the world. It’s more important than a spouse’s wedding day, or the birth of their child or any answered prayer they experience. It’s more important than the church, more important than the Bible and even more important than the crucifixion of Jesus. 

If Jesus didn’t rise from death then His claim to be God wouldn’t be true and His prophecy that He would rise from death would be a fraud. And someone who isn’t God and is a fraud can’t forgive sin, provide sacred Scripture or start a movement of love (the church). 

For marriage, yes the couple is so grateful for Jesus’ death (to the point where, since Jesus died for them, they can die to their selfishness and pride towards each other), but b/c He lives (He lives!), the couple can receive the power and the hope that sustains, revives and propels a marriage to places of unimaginable joy, unity and peace. 

Whether someone remains single or pursues marriage, life is broken and can be harsh at times. When forced to go through the trials of pain and suffering, every person needs the reality that Jesus is alive, that He is for us and that He is with us. 

Thanks for reading! You are loved. 

Z

The Three Types of Marriages

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When a romantic relationship is starting out, what gets things going are fun dates and making memories combined with butterflies of infatuation. 

If the dating relationship leads to an eventual marriage, fun dates and making memories take a back seat to working a job, stressing over bills, running errands daily, tending to kids constantly and trying to not be taken down by the constant piles of laundry

The norm of many marriages is that dating fades away when marriage begins. 

I’m under the conviction that dating can become evenbetter after marriage begins. 

(To clarify, I’m not talking about dating like a fancy night out with your spouse. Dating is pursuing the love of your life each day, getting to know them, learning to serve them).

As a Christian I’m also under the firm conviction that God is the one who infuses a marriage to be the amazing relationship it’s intended to be. 

God can make your heart full of joy even when there is disappoint in the marriage. 

God can give you discernment even when there is confusion in the marriage. 

God can give you a grateful heart that finds something in the marriage to be thankful for when there is complaining and arguing. 

Our culture is full of people whose lives seem plentiful when in reality there is so much lacking.

They have money, possessions, basic needs more than met, trips, hobbies and countless friends on social media. 

What they are lacking is a quality relationship of love, unity and peace – a relationship best found in Jesus first and a spouse second. 

Each spouse should examine where they are at in one of the three types of marriages: 

(1) A Shoulder-to-Shoulder Marriage

In a shoulder-to-shoulder marriage, the couple looks together. In fact, they accomplish much (individually). They have an outlook on the world that is ambitious and they get a lot done. 

The problem is, while they are getting a lot done (at work, with the kids, with a hobby, serving in the church), they aren’t soulmates living life together. They’re roommates living life apart. 

A shoulder-to-shoulder relationship shows the person you’re with that you care more about where your day is headed personally than where your relationship is headed together. 

This type of relationship is selfish. 

(2) A Back-to-Back Marriage

This is when the marriage reaches a dry season of either arguing frequently over a deep-seated issue or even more serious where there is little hope going forward. 

Instead of dealing with the issue face-on together and admitting fault humbly with a strong will and accountable plan to improve, the main issue neglects to get dealt with. 

A back-to-back relationship shows the person you’re with that the best version they fell in love with was the person you were while dating before marriage as you regress in character and commitment when it comes to improving the relationship. 

This type of relationship has settled. 

(3) A Face-to-Face Marriage

These people can’t get enough of their spouse when they stop to think about how grateful they should be. They are consistently pouring encouragement and question-asking into the person they promised their vows to. 

A face-to-face couple prioritizes date nights (no matter how old they are or how old the kids are). 

A face-to-face couple intentionally thinks, How can I thank them for making me a better person and what areas can I help assist them become a better person? 

This type of relationship is sacrificial. 

This type of ideal marriage doesn’t just appreciate the other with eyes of hearts since the euphoric feelings of romance are perpetual. But, even in times of disagreement and let down,  a face-to-face marriage doesn’t ignore each other in life, nor do they combat each other when there’s an argument. Instead, they remain face-to-face (not yelling), but continuing to work on the marriage to the point of love, unity and peace. 

Here are three pieces of advice to have a face-to-face marriage if you find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back. 

STEP ONE: Learn to enjoy being with one another more than you enjoy what you are doing apart from one another 

Choose the relationship over personal goals, work/task responsibilities and interests. Be aware of what you prioritize in your heart, schedule, excitement and dreams. 

STEP TWO: Learn how to quickly and gently put water on a relational fire (rather than gas). 

Choose humility, pray for patience, pursue forgiveness rather than grudge holding and anger. 

STEP THREE: Work intentionally at what cultural values you both want in the marriage while seeking the guidance of other godly married couples. 

Think about how Hollywood shows a couple sleeping in the same bed together. Those who sleep back-to-back are assumed to be arguing. Those who sleep shoulder-to-shoulder on their backs look fine when there could be so much more of an intimate, qualitative relationship. 

When we see a couple sleeping face-to-face, holding each other, that’s what people yearn for when it comes to the closest human relationship one can have (I’m not saying you should sleep face-to-face with your spouse, I’m saying how it looks on the big screen is a close and intimate and that’s how it should look daily while awake with your spouse). 

In your marriage, what is the issue you have been ignoring as you allow yourself to be distracted by your day (where are you shoulder-to-shoulder)? 

In your marriage, what is the issue you have been continually arguing over that needs to be dealt with, killed and buried (where are you back-to-back)? 

Finally, what married couples you know who have a face-to-face marriage and what can they teach you? Who are the couple with faith and joy and grace and abundant support and energy for the other? 

And by the way, where are you with Jesus? Are you mad at Him (back-to-back), disinterested in Him and very interested in you (shoulder-to-shoulder) or are you pursuing Jesus as earnestly as you can (face-to-face). 

Because we are His bride, He pursues (dates) us every day, and one day soon we will see Him face-to-face. 

Thanks for reading, you are so loved!

Z

The Secret to Happiness (Part 1 of 2)

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Every single day we are inundated  with images and marketing and videos telling us how to attain happiness. 

Marketers are throwing ads at us through our phone, on Facebook, on billboards, on banners, on TV, at the bottom of every article we read – and what all of these ads are telling is in an underling message is that your life is miserable unless you have this product or this experience that they are promoting.

We fall for this all of the time. 

Some people buy a car thinking it will make us happy and it doesn’t anymore. 

Some people get a boat hoping it will make them happy and it’s too much work. 

Some people get a pool hoping it brings fulfillment and it has brought fun times but there’s still searching for what could satisfy. 

Some of you bought an ab roller back in the day, or a shake weight to improve your life and that didn’t make you happy, it made you feel less-than. 

We buy new clothes, new equipment, new technology.

Many think the next job change will satisfy.

All of us have fallen prey to the brilliant, shrewd marketing that is thrown at us saying that we need what they offer to be happy and we get it and it’s happy for a moment and then shortly after we’re not happy anymore. 

Instead of trying to buy our contentment, let’s go with this principle: 

Happiness Is More About a Who Than a What.

Happiness is found more in people than it is found in possessions.

We learn this at a young age. We come down the stairs as a child and we’re headed outside and mom asks us, Where are you going? What are you doing? – and we said, I don’t know, I’m just going to be with my friends. Because it didn’t matter what you were doing as long as you were with the people you wanted to be around. 

We took our youngest child to her pre-school open house one evening and she didn’t care about her new teachers, about the schedule, about the classroom. None of it mattered to her. She wanted to know if some of her friends from last year’s class were in her new class. 

She wanted to know if she had any friends who were going to walk this tour of duty she’s got to put in for the next 9 months. To her it’s about who is with her, not what are they going to do.

And it doesn’t really leave us as we get older – every junior higher, high schooler, college student, new career worker, new home owner, new family and on up – we want to know who is going to do life with us, not what about we going to do. 

If happiness were a what, we would’ve found it by now and would’ve bought 10 of them to be happy forever. 

When happiness becomes a what in our mind,
happy what turns into happy what’s next.

Happy what easily turns into happy what else is there that I can try?

Many of us and our friends are investing in what I’ll call Caffeine Happiness – happiness just for a while and then it’s on to the next thing we can grab to get us through the day.

At the end of our lives if God gives us a long life on this side of heaven – when we are old and tired – the regrets that we will have will have nothing to do with possessions. The only regret someone has when they are near death are relational regrets. 

I’m going to regret the people I didn’t spend enough intentional time with. I’m going to regret the relationships that were separated by sin that I didn’t try to restore but instead gave up on.

I was talking with a husband who was thinking about calling a divorce lawyer. He’s a father two two kids, both preteens, and I go, What’s going on? Why do you want out of this marriage? 

His response was: She just doesn’t “get”me. 

He went on to say, She doesn’t understand that I like my hobbies. I like spending time the way I like. I like my golf buddies, I like my cars, I like my business. She just doesn’t get it. 

And I went there, I said, Okay, let’s say you’re dying a slow death and you’re bedridden. Who is going to be there, your wife, or your cars?

I really have never met someone who, when about to die, ask, Can someone please bring me my golf clubs? I just want to hold my Scotty Cameron putter one more time.

What makes us happy – NO-THING (nothing).
There’s not a possession that can make you happy.
Happiness is a who. It’s not a thing, not a what.

The truly happy people in your life have this one thing (and I don’t mean happy people who are paid to be happy like those who work at Chick-Fit-A or any other guest services), but genuinely satisfied and encouraging and kind people all have this one quality: 

P E A C E

The happiest people I know have peace. They have peace in multiple areas of they relationships. 

And in the second of two blogs on this subject, we’ll discuss the three people we need to have peace with in order to have permanent happiness in our daily lives. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z