Being married: lessons learned so far

WH Fall Garden Tour

Yesterday marked four months of marriage for Carolyn and me. We had a conversation the other day about what we say when people ask us how things have been. Because, on the one hand, we don’t want or need to air the ins and outs of everything we’re going through; but, on the other hand, we don’t want or need to over-extol the joys or present an untrue picture of married life.

So … here are a few things I’ve learned in the last 124 days:

Some things are awesome. 

  1. I get to spend almost every day with the person I love the most.
  2. I get to share daily goings-on, little and large, with my best friend.
  3. I have someone who loves football as much as I do and will understand when a Seahawks loss makes me irritable.
  4. One of the things that drew me to Carolyn was that I wanted to see how God would continue to be at work in her life, and I get a front row seat to that — I get to experience the times of revelation and growth, and that is tremendously exciting to witness.

Some things are challenging.

  1. I have to spend almost every day with the person who knows me the best. I’m learning that I’m not as gracious or patient as I thought I was, not as good a communicator, not as unselfish as I hoped I was, and that there’s far more that God needs to do in me than I would like!
  2. When two people, who’ve been single for almost 60 years (combined), with two separate lives, two sets of friend groups, two very distinctive and different backgrounds, upbringings, educations, experiences, and schedules, come together, there’s a lot of give and take. It’s easy to have the presumption (or even the unconscious, unspoken expectation or hope) that being married will simply mean the addition of a best friend to your pre-existing schedule, but I can attest that that isn’t the case — and that’s been a teachable moment!
  3. Being someone who’s married rather than someone who’s single means learning a new way of understanding other relationships and communicating and being intentional in hanging out or catching up — with friends, with our church community, with family. Part of this means redefining expectations (on all sides) — and as my counselor has taught me: “Change = Loss = Grief.” But when one or both sides aren’t aware that there’s something to be grieved, we can be surprised by how we react (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).
  4. Learning how to prioritize growth over winning is refining in itself. There’s a strong desire toward self-preservation, which can express itself in putting self first. In disagreements, my inclination is to try to win, to articulate my points, to make sure that I’m understood. But trying to understand more than I’m understood, trying to properly listen to and hear what the other person’s saying, trying to seek her good and the good of our relationship — this is something I’ve tried to do throughout my life, but in a marriage it’s that much more magnified.

Of course, just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s bad — indeed, many of these challenges are part of the growing and maturing process, and for that I’m glad. So grateful to be figuring all this out in community — I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to have folks we can text to be praying for us or to talk through the hard times or to celebrate the joys of life.

 

Married: 17 days

Three weeks since my last post, and they’ve flown by. Here’s what’s happened:

1. I got married. It was pretty awesome. (More pics to come.) Wedding rawr 2. After the wedding, we couldn’t get into our honeymoon suite for a half hour. At one point, Carolyn looks up at me and says, “Is this real life?” “Yup.” IMG_7699 3. We went on our honeymoon to the Riviera Maya in Mexico. We stayed at a phenomenal, small resort called Blue Diamond — they’re wonderful folks and you should check them out if you’re heading that way. We also threw in a couple adventure days to Chichen Itza and swimming with whale sharks … and a couple upset stomachs for good measure (because no honeymoon is complete without that)!

IMG_77704. We were both back at work last week, and so glad to be home and settling into life together.

One lessons I’ve learned so far: one of us has, over a number of years, formed the habit of sleeping diagonally across a bed. Said habit is taking more than two weeks to break. We’re working on it.

Slowly.

Pray for us.

Closing thoughts of an almost-no-longer-single pastor

C&J

4 days.

Four more days of singleness.

It’s a strange thing to consider — almost 32 years behind me as a single guy, with musings about relationships and romantic interests and sermons on singleness; a lifetime ahead of me as a married man, with a whole host of new joys and challenges.

My counselor told me once:

Change = Loss = Grief

In other words, any change involves a loss of some kind — whether of good things or bad things — and there is a grief that accompanies that. Even if the change is a positive one, a step in the right direction, things are lost that may never be regained.

In the quiet moments with God that I’ve been able to snatch amidst the busyness of wedding preparations, I’ve been excited for what’s to come — getting to spend the rest of my life and the adventure that’ll continue unfolding with Carolyn; I’ve been grateful for the faithfulness of God throughout this chapter — during the times when I was striving and impatient and frustrated as much as the times when I was content and at peace (the latter were far less frequent!); but I’ve also had time to grieve the end of this part of my life.

I like to say — and only part-jokingly — that it took me 29 years to fully comprehend the gift that singleness is. And then I met Carolyn.

But seriously … there are things that I learned to appreciate as a single person, ways in which God grew me, for which I’ll forever be grateful:

  • being present and available and stable for friends as they went through some difficult times;
  • having the time and freedom to see and hang out with as many people as my schedule and boundaries allowed;
  • getting to experience singleness for most of my twenties and into my thirties, and thus being able to empathize with and minister to those who have been — and some who remain — single for longer than they’d like;
  • discovering and pursuing God’s call to holiness and God’s design for us to be in relationship (whether in a romantic relationship or in relationships of family and community) and God’s value of us far beyond our relationship status.

From Friday, I’ll no longer be “the single pastor.” It’s strange to think that that’s been part of my identity, part of the way I’ve labeled myself, but that’s the way it’s been for the last four years — and in a church that’s almost three-quarters single, that’s been a unique point of connection. I don’t know how things will change when I’m married, how relationships will change, how ways of relating will change.

And so in this, just as with any step into the unknown, looking back with gratitude and grief, and looking forward with hope and excitement and eager anticipation, I place my life into the hands of a great, big, loving God, and see what happens. I know that some things will be different and some things will remain the same — I’m not sure exactly what just yet nor all of the details, but I’m stoked that I get to figure it out with two of my favorite people.

Here we go … see you on the other side.

For old times’ sake, here’s the blog series taken from last summer’s “Being Single” sermon:

  1. An Apology
  2. Not a Waiting Room
  3. Not a Terminal Disease
  4. Sex
  5. A Gift

Being Single, Part 2: Not a Waiting Room

[Adapted from this past Sunday’s message at The District Church, “Being Single.”]

Have you ever been told any of the following?

  • “Singleness is a time God gives you to focus on him.”
  • “If you are in the right place with God, it will happen.”
  • “You’ll meet the one when you give it up to God.”

These are things that people say—and I’ve certainly been on the receiving end—because they want to make you feel better, to encourage you that there’s a purpose for what you’re experiencing or something bigger going on, and it’s true that there probably is a purpose and there is something bigger going on.

But:

  • Isn’t everyone supposed to focus on God, not just singles?
  • Doesn’t everyone—single or married—have things that God is teaching them, things that they need to work on, sinful habits and addictions that God wants to break?
  • Do married people or people who are dating get a pass because they’ve met someone special?
  • Is a relationship some kind of reward for achieving a higher level of consciousness, like you’ve jumped through all the hoops and now you get the prize at the end?
  • Is God someone to be negotiated with, a slot-machine God who just wants you to at least want to give up idolizing or idealizing relationships, and then he’ll give you “the desires of your heart”?

Let me be clear about this, contrary to the narrative of Hollywood romantic comedies and a lot of shows we see on TV and even to the narrative of church culture:

Marriage, or even a romantic partner, is not the ultimate goal of life.

That is not the only thing you were created for; that is not where your story ends.

  • When Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, his response is not, “Get married,” but rather: “Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got and everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • When the prophet Micah says to the people of Israel (6:8), “God has told you what is good and what he requires of you,” it isn’t, “Find fulfillment in a man—or a woman,” but rather: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Singleness is not a waiting room for the ultimate destination of marriage. The ultimate destination is a new heaven and a new earth, it’s fully transformed hearts and lives and bodies, it’s when God’s rule and God’s kingdom are fully realized on earth as it is in heaven. The waiting room is this present age, where we groan with all creation for our restoration to be complete. And the journey is one of becoming more like Jesus, learning to live and love more like Jesus, inviting others into this life-giving relationship that we’ve found with Jesus, while we wait–and we do wait!–for him to come back.

Singleness is not a waiting room, and on a purely practical level, let me say this: the issues that you face as a single person are not magically going to go away if and when you meet what my mom likes to refer to as “a special friend,” if you like it and you do put a ring on it.

  • If you’re insecure as a single person and think that getting married will solve that problem, you’re simply projecting onto your future partner the requirement that they feed your insecurity and bolster your sense of self-worth, and that’s not the foundation of a healthy relationship.
  • If you’re all about yourself now and think that you’ll change when you meet the right person, God have mercy on your spouse.

Singleness is not a waiting room; let God work on you right now.

The biblical doctrine of headship

John GoldingayOld Testament professor and living legend, John Goldingay combines wit and exegesis to deliver a biblical understanding of headship:

The passage [Ephesians 5:21-33] makes it absolutely clear that a biblical doctrine of headship exists, and it makes it clear what that doctrine is. Men have the unquestionable right and responsibility to let themselves be crucified for women, and women must submit to them in the sense of letting them do that.

It is typical that Scripture should take a worldly assumption and let the cross turn it upside down. The world says, “Men have authority over women.” The Bible says, “Yes, they have the authority Christ showed on the cross.” Biblical headship is not about men deciding how to bring up the children or where the family should live. It is about letting yourself be walked on. That is the Bible’s pattern for relations between the sexes. Marriage gives you many chances to live that way; single people are called to make that their criterion for their relationships too. In our relationships, the other person comes first.

Walk On: Life, Loss, Trust, and Other Realities, 152-153