You Can Become a Better and More Loving Spouse

My husband and I had our first fight in the grocery store. I am a list-shopper, and he is a browser. Stopping for nothing, I steer the shopping cart around corners on two wheels, while he lingers over a cheese display, comparing relative merits and flavors at long leisure. I was raised in a home with a bare refrigerator and minimal resources for kitchen creativity. He came from a fully stocked spice cupboard and a philosophy of abundance and celebration around food.  To him, our shopping cart looked like a barren waste land of deprivation, while I was becoming convinced that from now on we would be spending 75% of our net worth on food.

By some miracle of grace, we weathered that difference and after nearly thirty years of marriage, we just like each other a whole lot. Since conflict has been minor and transient, I’m fairly unmotivated about reading marriage books, especially when there are so many other areas of life where I really DO need serious work.

However, Making Marriage Beautiful by Dorothy Littell Greco manages to offer hope and sound counsel for those whose marriages are in serious trouble while also sharing practical insights and exercises for  helping a pretty-darn-good marriage to become even better and more satisfying.

Two Becoming One

As soon as the words “I do” leave our lips, the process of radical transformation begins for both spouses. The way we handle our vows, the way we manage our egocentric selves in the life- on-life process of living as “heirs together of the grace of life” shapes us either for good or for ill. If I am committed to having my own way no matter what, I will become more and more of “myself” to the detriment of becoming one flesh.

Dorothy Greco brings the clarifying gift of story to her readers through interviews with eight couples from various ethnic backgrounds. Their real life challenges and their commitment to live their way toward healthy relationship practices is both inspiring and instructive. Too, the Grecos themselves know what it is to weather marriage turbulence, also around kitchen and food practices and extending to conversational style and the appropriate place and intensity of emotions in the room.

Viewing their own marriage as a continual work in progress, the Grecos speak with authenticity about the challenges of living transparently within a marriage. Along the way, both Dorothy and Christopher make spot-on observations and analyses of cultural and historical trends that have impacted marriage as we understand it today. Astute biblical insights on human nature and the comprehensive rescue Jesus offers make the book a valuable resource for couples or for groups to work through slowly, sitting with the Questions for Going Deeper that round out the wisdom of each chapter. For example:

“Are you aware of how your sins and limitations affect your spouse? If not, ask your spouse. (But don’t ask until you are able to listen without getting defensive or angry.”

“How important is it for you to be right rather than make sure the relationship is right? Ask your spouse if he or she agrees with your assessment.”

Expectations and Disappointment

Without advocating gender fluidity or neutrality, Greco urges readers to evaluate seriously the validity of pink and blue job descriptions in the home. Influenced by family and by American culture with its extra-biblical gender expectations, couples may either shoe horn one another into tasks that don’t fit or suffer silently from disappointment.

“Disordered attachments” are desires, hopes, or expectations that become more important to us than the relationship, competing with God and his pattern for our marriages and our lives. Ranging wildly from petty preferences to full-on addictions, disordered attachments lead to disappointment and even anger with our spouses.

Marriage and spiritual formation go hand in hand:

“This movement toward Christ and holiness is meant to influence every component of our lives and of our marriages. As we become more like Jesus, we willingly and continuously sacrifice for our spouses rather than protect our self-interests. We extend grace and mercy rather than judgment or retribution. We love lavishly rather than withhold in self-protection and fear.” (306)

God will stop at nothing to conform his much-loved children to the image of his Son. The movement toward health in our relationships is part of that process, and as our marriages become ever more beautiful, the power of God to break into brokenness with healing and hope is put on display.

The costly sacrifice that says, “My life for yours” is rooted in the gospel, and it mirrors the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride, the Church. By grace, we learn to receive God’s perfect love, to return it in spite of all our imperfections, and to let it spill over into a growing marriage that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.


 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Making Marriage Beautiful simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

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Timeless Words About Love for Your Valentine’s Day

The snow is flying sideways like rice at a wedding, and I’m reading Lore Wilbert’s blog post about marriage. She writes:

“‘We don’t treat our home like it’s the place where we can ‘be real,’ as though every other relationship in our lives deserves the fruit of the Spirit, but at home we can drop the facade and level all the pent up frustration of the day at one another.’ I said, ‘[My husband] should get my best self, the best of the Spirit’s fruit in my life and heart, not the worst self.'”

Having said that, Lore acknowledged that that this kind of marriage talk usually elicits a few eye rolls from the jaded cynics among her readers.  “Just wait,” they say.

My patient husband and I experienced some of that in our early married life as well. “This won’t last,” jeered the nay-sayers.

Even so, thirty years later, we still refuse to submit to the “Just wait” narrative about our marriage, and are persevering in our commitment to live as “heirs together of the grace of life”–which includes loving each other by being grace-givers–“our best selves”–here on this country hill

After all, as believers, we want the people who know us best to love us most. That’s counter-cultural, I know, in this world of picture-perfect posts and curated images offered up for virtual strangers to “like.”

If our everyday lives  are where the fruit of the Spirit is most visible, Truth becomes more important than sentiment. We need a durable love that will sustain us through home improvement projects, sick kids, and tired middle-aged bodies and souls.

Since it seems that all the important words about love have already been written, and written well, I have been paying attention to them. This curated collection from some of my favorite writers and thinkers is offered to anchor our thoughts in a biblical understanding of love–with one cautionary message to parents from a source that might surprise you.

As we plow our way into February and join the world in celebrating the holiday of hearts (in which love is most discussed but perhaps least understood) let’s bring with us the understanding that love, romantic or otherwise, is a 365-day-per-year laying down of our lives for the beloved.

 

John, the Beloved Disciple

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18)

C.S. Lewis

“Is it easy to love God?” asks an old author.
“It is easy,” he replies, “to those who do it.”  (From The Four Loves, 288)

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”  (From Joyful Christian, 140)

Elisabeth Elliot

“Love is willing to be inconvenienced.”  (From Mark of a Man, 118)

Thomas Merton

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (From No Man is an Island)

Karen Swallow Prior

“Charity–godly love–cannot be separated from truth. Not just lofty transcendent truths, but the truth about the here and now and all the reality it entails–including our mortality. Truth is true and love is loving only in its application.” (From On Reading Well, 151)

Wendell Berry

“Love in this world doesn’t come out of thin air. It is not something thought up. Like ourselves, it grows out of the ground. It has a body and a place.” (Hannah Coulter, 88)

“You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering.” (Hannah Coulter, 171)

Luci Shaw

“The risk of love
is that of being unreturned.

For if I love too deep,
too hard, too long
and you love little
or you love
me not at all
then is my treasure given,
gone,
flown away lonely.

But if you give me back
passion for passion,
return my burning,
add your own
dark fire to flame my heart
then is love perfect
hot, round, augmented,
whole, endless, infinite,
and it is fear
that flies.”   (Polishing the Petosky Stone, 75)

Eugene Peterson

Love is one of the slipperiest words in the language. There is no other word in our society more messed up, misunderstood, perverted, and misused as the word love. Complicating things even further, it is a word terribly vulnerable to cliché, more often than not flattened into nonmeaning by chatter and gossip. The most relational word in our vocabulary ends up being all me directed, all self.”  (As Kingfishers Catch Fire, 37)

Bruce Springsteen

“Those whose love we wanted but didn’t get, we emulate them and that’s the only way we have, in our power, to get the closeness and love that we needed and desired.” (Comment about his parents from On Broadway)

Madeleine L’Engle

“Love isn’t how you feel; it’s what you do.” (The Wind in the Door)

Jesus

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)


As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s abide in love, but let’s not lose sight of it’s true meaning amidst all the red tissue paper and glitter.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (Jesus from John 15:9)

With love,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers. You can look for me this week at Purposeful Faith#TellHisStoryLet’s Have CoffeeFaith on FireFaith ‘n Friends and Grace & Truth.

 

Activate the Love Filter: 5 Principles to Safeguard Your Marriage

Somewhere within the first decade of our marriage, my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend:  marriages dissolving all around us.  In the church we attended at that time, three couples went their separate ways in a single year.  They were active, visible members — regular attenders.  We looked at each other, both deer in the headlights and knew, deep in our bones:  This could happen to us, too.

Shauna Shanks writes about marriage from the trenches, and A Fierce Love is a manual for marriage preservation in the wake of unfaithfulness, betrayal, and emotional abandonment, for Shauna has invited readers to witness the anguish of the days, weeks, and months that followed her husband Micah’s announcement that he wanted a divorce.  The book is a record of her resolve to fight for her marriage, even though Micah gave her absolutely no hope for reconciliation.

The Love Filter

” . . . this man with whom I had built a life, made promises to, and shared our children, opened his mouth and declared, “I do not love you. . . I am not attracted to you . . . I shouldn’t have married you. . . I have wasted ten years of my life with you, and I don’t want to waste any more of my time.  I feel nothing for you.”

And yet:
God directed Shauna’s thoughts to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and she made a decision that her love would not be based on mere feelings.  Rather than reading Paul’s words as lovely sentiment or tired poetry, for Shauna, they became a call to a fierce love — a battle cry based on the truth and a posture of grace and restraint.

Instead of remorse over his sin, Micah communicated only rejection. If the marriage was to be saved, the ball was entirely in Shauna’s court, so she employed the truths of I Corinthians 13 as her Love Filter.  Responding in kindness, patience, and hope while rejecting rudeness, pride, and jealousy, she was free to persevere because I Corinthians 13 love never fails.

A Specific Calling

Shauna is very quick to say that not everyone will be called to fight as she did, and not every marriage on a broken planet is salvageable.  However, her specific calling was to hang in there, to speak only to a few very close friends about her plight, and to expend all her energy in the direction of preserving that relationship.

“Second Marriage”

So completely was the Shanks’s marriage transformed, Shauna speaks of their first ten years pre-crisis as their “first marriage” (even though there was no legal breach) and the time since the reconciliation as the “second marriage.” The challenge facing you and me today, then, is to reject a “first marriage” mindset and to fight each day for that “second-marriage”-level of commitment to self-giving as a rescue for a failing marriage — or as a safe guard to an already stable and healthy marriage.

In reading Shauna’s courageous account of warrior-level faith, I gleaned five principles that seemed to be sign posts on her journey of fierce love:

1.  Beware “blatant indifference.”

The roots of Micah’s cold detachment from a ten-year marriage can be traced to his troubled childhood coupled with the distraction of a competing love, but even so, Shauna admits she, too, had been practicing some behaviors that could also be considered “blatant indifference.” Binge-watching Netflix series, failing to prioritize time with Micah, and viewing the marriage as a utilitarian childcare arrangement also set the stage for weakened ties.  Of course this does not excuse Micah’s infidelity but Shauna laments, “My sin may have looked different than Micah’s, but it was still sin.”

2.  Find “Aaron and Hur” caliber support.

God provided two friends for Shauna who upheld her through the darkest days.  So strong was her resolve to fight and so clear was her understanding that God was directing her toward reconciliation that she did not want to risk telling her family about their rift in order to keep them from turning against Micah.  (She and Micah continued to live in the same house so to the outside observer, nothing had changed in the Shanks household.)

Shauna was not being abused or endangered, so she does not intend for her practice to be prescriptive for those who are in an abusive relationships. This is an important distinction given the tendency of abuse victims to hide unhealthy relationships out of shame or fear. With that firmly established, in a culture in which husband-bashing has become acceptable even in Christian circles, there’s a place for respectful silence about our spouse’s shortcomings as well as an honoring curtain of privacy sheltering a marriage relationship.

3.  Refuse to receive the damaging effects of a wayward spouse’s rejection.

Shauna clung to the truth that God had already set a high value upon her, and this guarded her heart from dwelling on negative thoughts and helped to pull her out of depression and despair.

“The Bible instructs us to take our thoughts captive.  We act as though we have no control over our thoughts . . . as if once they pop into our heads, we have to let them live there.
Take them captive.  They will kill you.”

4.  Chase after God.

If two people are determined to seek God faithfully, their marriage relationship will be impacted as well.  Before working on her marriage, Shauna focused on her relationship with God and, mercifully, Micah’s heart for Shauna changed after his heart warmed once again to his Lord.

5.  Take grace.

There’s a prideful rising up of the spirit that is death to relationships because it rejects the gracious offering of forgiveness.  Shauna found that one of the obstacles to reconciliation was that, although she was willing to extend grace to Micah in a supernatural way — he had to become willing to receive it.

From a dark and oppressive place, Shauna trusted for grace, and God met her there.  No matter what the state of your marriage (or even if you are single) there is merit in being reminded that when God becomes involved in the process of restoration, He does not merely patch us up or send us backward into a former thing.  God’s work of redemption restores forward into a brand new and beautiful thing that only He can accomplish.

//

This book was provided by Zondervan through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

  • Jamie Ivey interviewed Shauna on Episode #153 of The Happy Hour Podcast.  Together, they talk about life and Shauna’s book — and the house the Shanks family is building together out of shipping containers.  Click here to listen.
  • My friend Crystal Storms blogs about marriage and recently shared A Prayer for the Wife Feeling Abandoned.  She has experienced the heartbreak of a husband pulling away, and describes the distance between them in that season as “a wall of insurmountable heights.”  Click here for encouragement from Crystal’s heart.

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The Meeting Places

Some mornings the new mercy arrives at 4 a.m., looking like a slice of lemon yellow sunrise behind ragged lavender clouds.  My early morning drive to the hospital sent me due east.  Not knowing what I would find there, I thanked God for the mercy of ambulances and strong men who lift gently and answer questions with thorough patience.  When I arrived, I thanked Him for a thoughtful son who showed up unexpectedly and stood in a cramped, curtained room waiting for inconclusive test results.  There were no windows in this meeting place to announce daylight’s arrival, but this one thing I know:  by the time the coastal mist had burned off and blue sky had chosen the morning, Mum was already in heaven.

That afternoon, three generations gathered around spaghetti and salad and pictures from my mother’s albums.  Remembering and wondering and making ten thousand phone calls filled in the spaces of that whole day, but this is a homeschooling family, so the following sunrise was succeeded quickly by breakfast as usual — and trigonometry.  My graduating senior will tell you that trig has a language all its own, but what I see in these days of comings and goings is a charming branch of mathematics that assures me that there is a relationship among all the parts. If I know the measure of an angle and the length of a couple of sides, I can figure out the whole triangle.  This is oddly comforting on the morning after an abrupt departure that followed a mere three hours in the emergency room — a flight that somehow connects the vast horizon of heaven to the granite outcroppings and furrowed garden soil that comprise my everyday world.

Momentous Milestones

Poet Luci Shaw compares the death of a parent to standing on the top rung of a ladder.  Suddenly there you are, at the top, hands grasping at nothing, “no one above you to compass the wideness of space.”  Mum had long ago ceded the role of family matriarch to me, her older daughter, but even so, the generational ladder is filling up behind me and every milestone feels momentous.  For example, this year marks a perpendicular line that perfectly bisects the span of my days.  At the age of 27, I married an unreasonably patient man, and this month marks our 27th anniversary.  Finally, I have been married for as many years as I was single, my life folding over onto itself with a neat center crease like a greeting card — or a church bulletin.

This intersection of halves has set me to wondering:  would the single me even recognize her married counterpart, all settled into gardening and homeschooling, and happy to spend any amount of time alone with a book and a pen?  At the same time, my married self looks back with astonishment at all the energy and emotion that was spent like water in those early decades.  Surely there’s some way to capture and recycle it?

Of course, all this comparing and contrasting of the two halves is one more evidence that I “see in a mirror dimly.”  So, as I grab my cuff and vigorously wipe away as much of the fog as I can, the clearing surface reveals an aging faith along with this aging face.  The girl who loved theology — but was pretty sure she wasn’t smart enough to declare it as a major —  would be astonished at all the reading and re-reading of sacred words, the taking of notes and the building of outlines that goes on in this graying head.

The Truer Meeting Place

Paul writes about this kind of growth in a letter to the Ephesians that emphasizes wholeness and a maturing process that is endless, for today it is incomprehensible that I could be “like Christ in everything . . . so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (MSG)  Meeting myself in the middle and saying goodbye to my mother allows all that is past to strike a sympathetic chord with the future.  I’m encouraged to move forward, mindful of my weaknesses and stubborn sin tendencies — but not defined by them.

Madeleine L’Engle once said in her later years, “I am still every age that I have been.”  She may have worked that out through her career as an author, but with my mother’s departure, I’m seeing it happen in real life.  Already the past ten years of cantankerous demands and stubbornness are being swallowed up in memories of better days when she laughed at her own jokes and answered the phone with a high pitched “hallooo” (that my sister and I always made fun of).  Her older grandsons remember stale Oreos and boxed macaroni and cheese served with joy while they watched Teletubbies on her t.v.

Perhaps this miracle of memory foreshadows a truer meeting place that will become reality once faith has become sight; when the energy of the twenties; the ambition of the thirties; the settled contentment of the forties; and the ripening wisdom of the fifties and beyond all meet, join hands, and dance in a full-hearted, completely mended consummation of a life, “fully mature . . ., fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13 MSG)

//

Mum, my curly haired baby sister, and me — probably in 1965.

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Your Marriage: From Disappointing to Delightful

Wood stoves do not render their comforting warmth without regular tending. Fires must be coaxed along with frequent ministrations, and I never give this much thought — unless my good husband is away, for he miraculously tends to this important detail, and our house stays cozy and warm.  Similarly, since the beginning of our marriage, he has changed the oil in our vehicles, paid our bills, balanced the checkbook, and locked the doors every night, leaving me with the delightful sense of being safe, cared for:  cherished.

Gary Thomas writes that this variety of practical love is reassuring to me because it demonstrates that our life together is a priority that is worthy of my good husband’s time and effort.  Now, with his one-word title, Cherish,  he challenges readers to go beyond merely loving our spouses and to live our way into a “marriage that feels more precious, more connected, and more satisfying.”

Many marriage vows include a promise to “cherish,” but do we understand what that looks like from the perspective of our spouse, the cherished one?  Gary unpacks the concept in terms of learned behaviors that can change everything in a marriage:

Cherishing means learning to hold someone dear.

The Message to the Cherished:  “You don’t have to be anyone other than who you are.”

When we allow our spouse to define “beauty” (or “handsome-ness”) in our minds, we have begun to rewind history to Eden when each was the “only one” in the world to the other.  Choosing anew every day the one you chose on your wedding day is the antidote to disappointment, discontentment, and critical comparing.

 Cherishing means learning to showcase your spouse.

The Message to the Cherished:  “How can I support you today?  How can I make your day better?”

For the believer, this includes enhancing one another’s ministry opportunities. We want our beloved to shine!  It is based upon the assumption that we have ended the love affair with ourselves.  Gary uses the vivid example of a male ballet dancer rejoicing in the standing ovation a ballerina receives because he has “supported, tossed, caught, turned, and showcased” her.  It’s all about helping your spouse to realize his/her potential in the world.

Cherishing means noticing and honoring each other.

The Message to the Cherished:  “I will put your needs above everything else.”

Here’s the truth in a nutshell:  “You can honor someone without cherishing them, but you can’t cherish someone without honoring them.”  Wives will feel noticed if their words are taken seriously; husbands are looking for physical affection.  For either gender, we honor our spouses when we take an active interest in what interests them.

Cherishing is about protecting each other and killing contempt.

The Message to the Cherished:  “When I scan you, I will be looking for something to praise – not to criticize.”

Gary traces the tragic journey from newlywed infatuation through disappointment, frustration, and bitterness to contempt, which is the single biggest threat to a marriage’s survival and happiness.  Practicing fierce gratitude is the antidote to contempt.

Cherishing teaches us to indulge our spouses and, thus, to help heal their spiritual wounds.

The Message to the Cherished:  “I am committed to your healing and wholeness.”

When we nurture our spouse, we provide a picture of God’s cherishing heart.  We make our spouse’s needs a priority and work to discover what actions we can take to help them address their weaknesses and to breathe life into them every day.

Cherishing teaches us to carefully and deliberately use our ears and our words to express our affection.

The Message to the Cherished:  “I will be deliberate and specific in verbal affirmation and mirror God’s acceptance and affirmation in my words and in my tone.”

This may not come naturally, but developing (and maintaining) a curiosity toward our spouse’s words and activities communicates value.  Deitrich Bonhoeffer sums this up beautifully:

“Just as love to God began with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Even unintentional verbal slights can be devastating to a marriage.

Cherishing is about treating our spouse as a unique individual.

The Message to the Cherished:  “I will help you complete your one-of-a-kind story.”

It’s time to cast aside generalizations and stereotypical assumptions about what “all men” or “all women” do.  Understanding bypasses judgment and empathizes while genuinely investing the effort to understand and to accept.

Cherishing means being patient with your spouse’s sins.

The Message to the Cherished:  “We both stumble in many ways.  I will thank God for you, and, together, we will grow in holiness.”

Gary offers six words that can save the day:  “This is how your spouse stumbles.”  Accepting that your spouse will never be perfect makes allowance for imperfection without diminishing our appreciation.  Apart from this, it is impossible to maintain “a cherishing attitude.”  Furthermore, it is counterproductive to think, “I could cherish them if only they wouldn’t do x, y, or z.”  “Half of holiness centers around being patient with other peoples’ sins.”

As he did in Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas has melded practical theology and behavioral principles to encourage believers along in a life that goes beyond the mere fulfillment of marriage vows.  Just as my wood stove responds to regular tending by yielding comfort and warmth to my home, a cherishing mindset that is deeply rooted in the Gospel truth that we are continually cherished by God will result in a marriage that radiates a lifetime of warmth and love.

//

This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gary Thomas has written a blog post that applies the principles set forth in Cherish.  Click here to read and learn more!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

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Together through the Doorway of Marriage

For Martin Luther’s fifty-seventh birthday, his wife designed, commissioned, and then presented to him a carved doorway for their home.  It’s elegance incorporated numerous features that demonstrated Katharina’s knowledge of and devotion to her husband; however, there is no way that she could have realized how completely appropriate her gift would be.  Michelle DeRusha’s biography demonstrates that the radical marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther was itself a threshold into a new way of understanding marriage, and it opened the way toward a more biblical expression of the life of two-shall-become-one.

By the time Martin and Katharina began their unlikely life together, Martin’s theological shot heard ’round the world had already set off the Reformation in Western Europe, and both the bride and the groom had already logged decades of life in cloistered communities.  For Martin, this had been by choice and against the wishes of his family, while Katharina had been placed in a convent by her father at the age of six.

Leaving the monastery was controversial for Martin, but there was no question that his gifts and background would pave his way into a well-defined role within his new freedom.  Things were not so simple for a 16th-century woman. In addition to the fact that single women were not even recognized as citizens in Germany, Katharina was, by birth, a member of the landed-gentry and, therefore, ineligible to pursue employment of any kind.  Her only option for survival was marriage — at the ripe old age of twenty six.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but Katie von Bora showed no signs of of caving to desperation, and she made it abundantly clear that she had no intention of marrying just anyone.  At one point she even boldly suggested that she would consider marrying Luther . . . if she were asked.  Why she considered a forty-two year old man (who, at any moment, could be found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake) to be a good catch is anyone’s guess.

From the groom’s perspective, Luther’s decision to tie the knot with Katharina was as reasoned and deeply theological as his basis for untying the knot with the Catholic church.  While he cited pleasing his father and antagonizing the pope as desirable outcomes of marriage, it seems that, primarily, he chose marriage out of love for Christ and a desire to model “the redeemed Christian’s relationship to God.”  With such an unusual beginning, it is not surprising that the Luther’s marriage paved new ground.

From Martin’s Perspective

Marriage ousted Martin from his ivory tower.  Michelle DeRusha records many of the idealistic or cavalier statements from his single days, and they were clearly made by a curmudgeonly man with no idea how to manage life on this planet. He waxed eloquent (and inaccurate) on topics ranging from the role of women in the home to something he called “bridal love,” but when married life began in earnest, there was no sign at all that he could actually live by his own tenets.

From the outset, Katharina dealt with all things practical including the management of and the procurement of supplies for the abandoned monastery the Luthers called home and which functioned more like a bed and breakfast than a family dwelling.  Martin trusted Katharina with the delivery of his manuscripts to the printer, and he left most of the business side of his work in her capable hands.

Marriage tested and clarified Martin’s theology, for this marriage of convenience actually grew into a relationship based on love and mutual respect, showing him “again and again that a love for others, as much as a love for God, was at the core of his beliefs.  The Protestant Reformation would have happened without the marriage of Luther and Katharina.  But Luther would not have been the same Reformer without Katharina.” 

From Katharina’s Perspective

Katharina’s escape at age twenty-four from the convent where she had lived since the age of six gives us a clue as to the mettle of this woman for whom,up to this point, every single life decision had been delivered to her as a fait accompli.  While marriage to Martin Luther handed Katharina the key to citizenship and an established role in society, it was her own determination by which she walked through the open door of their home and immediately set things in order.

The new Mrs. Luther took some getting used to in Martin’s circle of friends and colleagues, and, while she spoke with respect to her husband, she would not be bullied into becoming a shadow in her own home.  Her curious and lively mind found its way into participation in the theological discussions that were standard fare around her table — while she prepared and served what must have been huge quantities of food.

Martin and Katharina were a parenting team, and the death of their oldest daughter nearly undid them both.  Michelle DeRusha shares numerous clarifications about life in early modern times, but the most poignant is the harsh reality that 16th-century parents formed bonds with their children that were every bit as deep as those of 21st-century parents — even though their children died at an alarming rate.

It is revealing of attitudes of that day that only eight of Katharina’s letters were saved — none of which were addressed to Martin, but which, sadly, document the hard path of her widowhood as she wrote to friends and acquaintances to “call in favors” or to remind people of their responsibility for her and her children after Martin’s death in 1546.  Katharina’s final years must have been haunted by a sinking sensation of deja vu, for the very same traditions and expectations that had made her life as a young single woman so perilous were still in place to make her life as a widow untenable.  The era’s idealized model of a meek and silent widow assumes that someone would have already made practical provision for her.  Unfortunately, Martin failed to do that, so it was up to Katharina to make her own way, and she did — but it wasn’t easy, and the stress and privation likely led to her demise at the age of fifty-three.

It is timely to consider this biography of a marriage in the year that marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, for the truth from Romans 1:17 that fueled the up-ending of Martin Luther’s theology continues to leave its mark on the way we view marriage within the context of the Gospel to this very day.  When Martin and Katharina, “his rib,” walked together through the doorway of marriage, Martin wrote that they had embarked upon “a chancy thing” for “marriage does not always run smoothly.”  Five hundred years later, that’s still true.  And it is also true that there is grace for this — and that the righteousness which is “of God, by faith” is available in Christ for those who commit their lives (and their marriages) to Him — by grace alone.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Intrigued by the author?

This is Michelle DeRusha’s third book, and came about as a result of a chapter devoted to Katharina Luther in 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.  I’ve reviewed the book here, and you can get further information about Michelle’s faith journey and writing life through listening in to this podcast episode of Living a Redeemed Life in which my friend, Holly Barrett, interviews Michelle.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.