The verse quoted above is an example of something in the Bible that isn’t true. It isn’t true that if you persist in going your own way you’ll be fine. Moses is quoting selfish Israelites and what they will say in their hearts to destroy their lives. It is true that people, not just ancient Israelites, say these things to themselves. We say things like this all the time. You may be saying it to yourself right now. Well, good for you. But that doesn’t make it true! You can tell yourself what you want whenever you want to, but just because you tell yourself something doesn’t make it true. Go ahead. Delude yourself.
Say to yourself, I can divorce my spouse and since I am happy, the kids will know I didn’t settle and they will learn not to settle either (i.e. keep their promises) and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can look at this porn stuff and think about thousands of other breasts and butts (or worse) all day and night and it won’t negatively affect me at all or my loved ones or my career or my character and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can play video games or interactive games online till all hours of the night or party hardy with the best of them or drink myself into a stupor or Facebook all my friends day in and day out and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can ignore speaking to my spouse and live in another part of the house and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I don’t have to sleep with my spouse for whatever reason and our marriage will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can work all day and into the night and all weekend, week in and week out and never spend time alone with my spouse and children and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can borrow all this money and borrow away my future and pay it back someday (nothing bad will ever happen to me so I’ll be able to pay it back) and be a slave to my lenders and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can say mean things to my husband and put him down regularly and make may point clear in no uncertain terms and point out to him how and in particular what he does to irritate me and bother me, and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I just don’t want to fight so I won’t respond to her when she says these things and just stare off into space and leave the room and tell yourself you don’t want to fight and she’s just a crazy woman, but at least I’ll be fine. It won’t be my fault.
Say to yourself, I can go on strike and test my spouse and see how long it takes him to get a clue and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can ignore affectionate and sexual connection with my spouse and everything will be fine.
Say to yourself, I can ignore marrying my girlfriend or boyfriend and we can live together and/or be sexual without paying any consequences. Everything will be fine. In fact if we got married, everything would be worse!
Let’s be clear about this. Marriage doesn’t make you whole. It is not the gospel. There certainly are terrible marriages out there. But let’s also understand that marriage in and of itself, as an institution, isn’t bad; it’s the people in them. God instituted marriage prior to Adam and Eve’s rebellion against Him. God knew full well we’d rebel against Him. Nevertheless, He said, for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall be come one flesh. In a world filled with sin and selfishness and death, marriage would act as a protection for children, women and men. Children would grow up knowing both their biological parents (i.e. a female wife and a male husband) and having the marvelous complimentary of the genders: male and female. And God said, Behold it is very good.
Very good indeed.
But when sin reigns in the human heart, marriage itself can be perceived as the demon that caused the pain.
Maybe you grew up in a home where mom and dad were hurtful to each other: mean things being said, anger expressed by terror or violence, to you, your siblings, your mom, fidelity being scourged, pornography rampant with lurid stares from dad or worse, bankruptcy, gambling and horrid financial problems, evictions, affairs by mom or dad or both, perhaps you were abused by another family member, male or female right in what was supposed to be the safety of your own home.
There’s no end to the evils that can be done within the home. But that doesn’t make marriage in and of itself a bad institution. Even in an imperfect home, marriage has an amazing capacity to enlarge the human heart over time. Many people figure out, some early in their marriage, some later in their marriages, some altogether too late, that the only way marriage works is if both parties are servants and practice the Golden Rule. You don’t even have to go to church to learn this.
Marriage is a crucible to teach you how to grow up, to expand your heart, to enlarge your capacity for love and tenderness.
How can you not love your beautiful young bride who makes so many sacrifices for you?
How can you not reach back to the husband who works so hard to make your life pleasant and enjoyable?
How can you lay there on the couch week after week, year after year, while your spouse scurries around and picks up after you?
If your heart has any goodness in it at all, over time, you’d think for most of us our consciences would kick in and we’d see we’re being selfish and pick up the ball and learn to harness our own propensity to be totally self absorbed.
How can you observe the birth of your son or daughter and hold him or her in your arms moments after your child’s birth and your heart just be cold and you could care less? The Bible says that after Enoch’s son was born, Enoch walked with God for 300 years and then God took him. He and Elijah were the only two persons to never die because both were taken away by God to Heaven before that occurred, and the reason God took Enoch away was because after the birth of his son, a little light bulb went off in Enoch’s head and he walked with God the rest of his life. There are marriages all over the world, where just the wonder of marriage and childbirth and child rearing and growing old together and sharing finances and dreams and hopes and aspirations and sexual wonder and joy and friendship and camaraderie and mutually shared goals and moments of tenderness and private jokes and secret nods and names and laughter beyond imagination and mutual regard and admiration create, over time, people with bigger hearts, some big enough that even God finds a path to their spirits. They learn, some by trial and error, that if they are nice to their spouses, their spouses are nice back. Well I’ll be. Dang. There are folk out there who learned solely by mistake that if they are sacrificial to their spouses, their spouses relax and are more giving and fun to be around. Well, imagine that.
And, of course, there are people who do not learn from anything even though marriage is a club over their heads and they deny, deny, deny the silent witness of the Spirit in their lives, gently prodding them that selfishness is not the way to go and they continually act selfishly and refuse to serve and demand to be served, and nag and yell and scream or shut down and stare off into space (You know, of course, if you do this that you are communicating very well that your spouse is a complete idiot? You know this, right?) and throw things including their fists, even, sometimes, to get their points across or they abuse their children instead of teach them the way of the Lord and they mock the God who put them in charge of their families to protect them and instead become a scourge to their loved ones.
But this isn’t marriage’s fault. Marriage as an institution wasn’t the shortcoming here. It was the selfish human in the marriage that was the problem.
Divorce really isn’t the answer to a bad marriage, either. We’re exchanging one group of problems for another. Divorce introduces another whole set of problems and animosities too numerous to count. Divorce freezes your emotional maturity and except for the grace of God, for most of us, it locks our resentments in our spirits and sets the ceiling for the rest of our lives, beyond a point for which we cannot grow. This can happen to you whether you were the one who sought the divorce or your spouse dumped you and spit you out or disappeared unknowingly and never returned. Unless you seek some serious healing from the God of Heaven, the bar will be set as to how far you can mature. Divorced people are amazing unable to learn from their mistakes. How do I know this? Well, I’ve talked to thousands of them for one. The bitterness in many of their spirits is pretty scary. For most divorce sure didn’t make their hearts larger. For another, second marriages break up at higher rates than first marriages and third marriages break up at higher rates than second or first marriages. So where is all the lesson learning here? Maybe you did? Well, good for you, because most people are too busy being hurt and nursing their wounds and, particularly if children or monthly checks are involved, will find plenty to be resentful about for the rest of their lives. Every week, sometimes more than once a week, you’ll have the opportunity to hate your spouses all over again when he or she comes by and takes your kids away for the night or the weekend or for Christmas or Thanksgiving. How are you supposed to be generous in spirit to someone who takes your children away? And then he or she remarried and that spouse hates your kids? AHHHHH! Or your stupid X never pays his child support on time or maybe not at all? Resentments, in case you haven’t figured this out, are not the stuff that makes folk fun to be around and it’ll make your heart smaller and smaller and your heart is connected to your face and your face broadcasts your spirit for all to see and you will be less and less the kind of person anyone will want to be around. Throw in some stepchildren who hate your guts and watch you lose your dignity altogether. And make sure you blame everyone else for all of your problems.
There’s only one program for personal expansion of your life in a situation like that and that is to humble yourself before God, to find a way to be an example of a servant, to forgive seventy times seven and to treat everyone else in the family like you want to be treated (Ahhh…that would be like, you know, the Golden Rule.). This isn’t easy. For all of us it is unobtainable without the movement of God in our hearts. The morsels of resentment and bitterness taste very sweet, even though they turn putrid in out stomachs.
A better way is to let marriage teach you the lessons your stubborn heart has been too proud to learn. A better way is to learn to forgive and to reach out even when your partner can’t or won’t reach out to you. Someone has to warm up the room. If both of you have cold hearts the room’s gonna stay pretty cold. One is better than none. If you are nice to your spouse and reach out to your spouse and love your spouse sooner or later, more than likely, your spouse will “get it” that your spouse is being selfish and start reaching out to you in return. And even if your spouse doesn’t get it, always remember, on Judgment Day God isn’t going to ask you if your spouse was everything to you your spouse needed to be. No, He’s going to ask you if you were the spouse you could be. Everyone will die for his own sins. Your laundry list of complaints will look pretty shallow then. I don’t even think it will occur to you to bring it out. Cool it with the lectures and explanations of your “feelings.” Quit worrying about if he or she loves you and start love-ing. You have control of that. You have no control over whether or not your spouse reaches out to you.
And for Heaven’s Sake, reach out to your spouse beyond Valentine’s Day. Make love on other days beyond Valentine’s Day. Give gifts and tenderness and affection beyond Valentine’s Day. Make it a habit. You are going to have habits no matter what.
Your habits may as well be good ones while you are at it.