Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marriage Is For Grownups

“When Amber and I got married the wedding invitations featured a cute little boy with a tuxedo and top hat, and a sweet little girl all dressed up in a formal wedding gown.  They seemed so happy, and why not?  After all it was their wedding day!   We look at pictures like that with a sigh and think “how cute.”   We know that it is merely a picture meant to be used for illustration and decoration.  No one believes that children, barely above toddler age, are really getting married.   Yet pictures like this, in some way do represent far too many weddings.  Too many children are getting married!  No not literally, but emotionally and developmentally.  Many people, regardless of their age, are too immature to get married.  They are children, and they act like it. 

Marriage is not for babies.  It requires a great deal of maturity. As we move forward, please do not confuse maturity with age.  They are not the same thing.  One can be well into their adult years and still be very immature.   Maturity encompasses the idea of full development.  In our context it means full development emotionally.   Those who are emotionally mature maintain and put to use wisdom and foresight.  They consider the future consequence of their decisions and actions.  In this sense, even those who are young can be quite mature.  Solomon wrote these words to encourage  those who are  young to be wise.  
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes;
But know that for all these
God will bring you into judgment.
 Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
And put away evil from your flesh,
For childhood and youth are vanity (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10)
There is no wiser decision that can be made than to follow in the ways of the Lord, even from a young age!  Yet, we also  take another point from this text.  Solomon gives the encouragement for the young man to put away sorrow and evil.  Doing this, especially at a young age, is indeed a mark of maturity. 

Solomon clearly dispels the myth that young people somehow should not hold as much culpability for their actions simply because they are young and immature.   Youth and immaturity are not valid excuses! Make no mistake; you will have to deal with the consequences of choices that are made.   The consequences of those choices could be characterized by happiness, joy, and satisfaction, or by sadness, regret, and lack of fulfillment, the difference between the outcomes is the application of wisdom and maturity.   The apostle Paul noted those points in his letter to the Galatians.  He penned: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life”  (Galatians 6:7-8).   We know by observing the natural order of the world that the seed that is planted produces after its own kind.   Apple seeds produce apples; orange seeds produce oranges, and so forth.  The same is true in the spiritual realm, if we make choices to fulfill every desire of the flesh (a clear mark of immaturity), then we will reap the consequences of fulfilling every desire of the flesh.  It could be anything from a negative credit reporting, to STDs, to divorce, or even death.  Ultimately the result of poor spiritual choices will result in eternal punishment.  A mark of maturity is to consider the outcome of the choices you make.  It is to weigh the consequences, to take wise counsel, and to implement the best choice. 

Our culture glorifies a fairy tale view of marriage.  You know how it goes.  The bride and groom are two kids who are too young, from different sides of the track, with feuding families, and no money.  They have different ideologies, different religions, and different values.  Yet somehow love conquers all, and against all odds, they get married.  The story ends with them riding off into the sunset to “live happily ever after.” 
 Have you ever wondered what happens the next day, when they awake to the reality of marriage?    How will they deal with their lack of money?  How will they deal with their differing beliefs?  How will they deal with their feuding families?  Each of these is a major source of stress and contention in marriage relationships.  Applying wisdom, and approaching these things maturely prior to entering into the marriage covenant will go a long way in actually producing a marriage that is characterized as living “happily ever after.”

One of the major attributes of maturity is seeking wise counsel.  Solomon wrote “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).    Elsewhere in Proverbs he penned, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction,
That you may be wise in your latter days
” (Proverbs 19:20).    This principle rings true with most endeavors, but certainly regarding marriage.   The advice of parents, grandparents, elders, and other faithful Christians, should definitely be considered.  These people have a vested interested in your well being.  They also possess the ability to offer an outside prospective. In other words, they are not looking through the lens of infatuation. They can spot rifts and potential problems in the relationship that we tend to overlook because we are “in love.”    Older people can often time offer advice rooted in personal experience.  Faithful Christians can offer advice rooted in biblical truth.  Those who offer wise counsel should be part of the decision making process of those who are godly. Do not discount their legitimate concerns as merely “they just don’t like him or her.” Be honest enough to hear their concerns objectively (do not automatically view them as merely being critical), and consider them intently. 

In addition, those who are godly and wise, will seek counsel from the scriptures.   Peter notes that “… [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue”   Did you notice what Peter pointed out?  God, in His inspired word, has given us all things that “pertain to life and godliness.”   We would do well to consult God’s word. 

Another mark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification.   In our society, we want things right now.   Have you ever watched toddlers play together?   Inevitably during the course of their play you will hear one or more of them loudly proclaim “mine!”  Many people get stuck in this phase.  No, we do not generally get into altercations with those around us, but we have to have what we want, when we want, and that is right now.     When making decisions with long term implications, mature people consider the present costs, as well as the long term costs.   Our choices have consequences.  If we make bad choices without counting the cost, then the results could be devastating.  Bad choices could affect our credit and the ability to purchase things down the road.  Bad choices could affect our relationship, and may even cause it to end in divorce.   Jesus, speaking of one who did not count the cost, said

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost,
whether he has enough to finish it—lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able
 to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying this man began to build and was
not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).

A marriage made by people who demand and expect instant gratification is destined for failure.  There are many occasions in the marital relationship that require giving up on what we want now in view of what we need.  Also, there may be times when you must give up what you want in order that your spouse may get what they want.  

Along those lines, mature people can ascertain the difference between infatuation, lust, and love.   Are you a person who “falls in love” too quickly?     If every relationship you have had quickly moved to the point where the “L” word is used, you may want to step back and reexamine your life and future plans.   The biblical concept of love is not a romantic, dough eyed, tingly feeling.  It is not infatuation.  Rather, the Bible describes love in terms of action.   Paul discussed the concept of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  In verses 4-8, the inspired apostle describes love, not as a feeling, but in terms of the action that love does or does not take.  If you “fall in love”   with every person you’ve ever dated, how can you be sure that you truly “love” this one?  If we do what is the best for them, even when it inconveniences us in that we demonstrate love.    The key is to understand that our love is manifested in the things that we do, not the feelings we feel.  There is nothing wrong with those feelings. They are good in their proper place, but that are not a basis for a long-term relationship.  Many people have had short-lived marriages because they did not understand this simple truth. 

Akin to this is the matter of lust it too is often confused with love.    If you are involved in fornication or unclean behavior, then those acts can cloud your clear judgment.    Mature people are able to control themselves with respect to God’s commands concerning purity.

The concept of financial maturity is one of the more difficult points for me to discuss.  As a young man, I made some very poor financial decisions some of the consequences of which, Amber and I still deal with today.   I would have done well to consider the biblical principles that describe financial responsibility.   The bottom line is, if you have trouble covering your monthly recurring expenses, if you are in great debt, and cannot go month to month without the use of credit, you need to consider your level of maturity and readiness for marriage.   If both marriage partners are in similar financial positions, then you bring two separate sets of problems in to the marital relationship, and compound the problem.   It is no secret that one of the major stresses in any marriage is the issue of finances.  Mature people recognize early on that they are the stewards of God’s blessings.  Paul noted, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).  We will go a great distance in making wise financial decisions when we understand that we are the managers of what God has provided for us.

Honesty is needed in any relationship, but especially in marriage.  No relationship can long endure if it is built upon the foundation of dishonesty and lies.  If we enter into a marriage covenant harboring secrets, or on the basis of untruths, then we are setting up the marriage for failure.  Honesty means that we tell all.  Part of the growth in a relationship is the ability to have trust in your partner.  If there is no trust, then the marriage stalls and digresses.  

There is a tendency within us to hide our past mistakes.  We do not like the feeling of vulnerability, so we bottle things up inside.  We attempt to hide our mistakes, bad choices, and sins. This is not productive.     At the end of every worship period of the Woodland Hills Church of Christ, we offer an invitation for those who need to make a  public confession of sin.  The purpose is to rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ to give us strength and encouragement.  It is to help us remain pure and free from sin.  This is God’s plan, James writes “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).  We confess our sins, and then as a family of Christians we go to the Father in prayer.  This helps us to move along in the process of healing.     Our marriage partner should be  the one who is closest to us on this earth.  They should be the one in whom we can safely trust. If we are hiding secrets, harboring guilt, and are not willing to open ourselves up to them, it will be difficult to provide a solid foundation  for the marriage relationship. 

Within the marriage relationship, many situations will arise that will test your maturity.  Before you enter the covenant of marriage,  take an honest look at yourself and your relationship.  Consider the wise counsel of those who are seeking your best interest.  If you look at yourself and realize that maybe you aren’t mature enough to get married, then step back for a while.   Work on the issues that face your life, and seek to develop maturity in those areas that are lacking.  It is possible to have a marriage that is “happily ever after", but it takes diligent effort by mature partners.   Are you grown up enough for marriage?