God’s Love and My Flawed Marriage

My friend Harold called me about a month ago, asking, “Can you come speak on marriage at our church retreat? We have so many couples in crisis!”

Hummmm, I thought. I enjoy public speaking. The date is open. I can promote my latest book. It’s a great opportunity to share God’s love. Everything checked out perfectly. But even while my mouth formed a “Yes,” my stomach churned a “No!” in the fearful defiance of a child being forced to shake hands with a stranger.

I do marriage counseling. I must be somewhat effective, or the referrals wouldn’t keep rolling in. But something about teaching marriage seminars unnerves me. It must be the vulnerability factor. You see, counseling focuses on the client. The clients could really care less about my personal life. I could be on my seventh divorce, and as long as I helped them, they’d pay it no mind.

But when one teaches, one goes on display. Even the most private public speaker (How’s that for an oxymoron?), just by virtue of addressing a subject as a kind of expert, submits herself to the question: Does it work for her? Marriage seminar presenters could very well live in a glass case on wheels with the placard “Exhibit A” attached to the front. Roll them in, they talk, you watch and see if the water in the fishbowl ever gets frothy with conflict, cold with apathy, or murky with negativity. If so, forget everything they said and go on to the next seminar.

Now that I’ve made you wonder if Michael and I hate each other, I’ll assure you that we don’t. In fact, we love each other more with each passing day. Most of the time we live in sweet peace and harmony. We share many passions, including organic gardening, camping, winning souls to Jesus, and our beautiful daughters. We pray together twice a day, almost without fail. Most of all, our shared history (33 years and counting) flows between us, a powerful, surging river, sometimes shooting up in sparkly moments of reminiscence: “Remember how Alison used to call shampoo ‘bubbles-a-rubbit?’” “I wonder where Marsha and Daniel are now.” “Man, you were so good-looking, why did you fall for me?”*

Okay, enough beating around the bush. My husband and I have struggles. Significant conflicts. Philosophical differences. Without giving you the deets, let me say that, ideologically speaking, it sometimes feels like Obama and Romney under one roof. And those differences have pretty much parked themselves in our living room like a dissembled car that no one knows how to fix. Because neither of us handle differences with perfect love, emotions flare at times and feelings get hurt. Sometimes we go on vacation from each other, not talking much for a few days. Humanly speaking, some consider us a complete mismatch. These realities have kept me from wanting to speak publicly on marriage. We love each other, but we’re not always camera-ready.

But one thing makes me willing to pack my bags next Friday and jet off to Dayton, Ohio to stand in front of people and talk about something I haven’t mastered. It’s that I myself don’t want to hear about an ideal marriage. I don’t want to hear from someone who has never cried herself to sleep or lost his temper and thrown something. It’s not that those in ideal marriages are bad people—in fact they may be really, really good people. And quite possibly their marriages really are better than mine. But I need to hear how God’s love can flow into and around and through even a flawed marriage. As a counselor I’ve watched people wheedle away at a problem only to make it worse by their “fixing.” But once they started to love one another in Christ in spite of the problem, once they accepted their partner as they were,* the problem shrunk like a tumor, into the perspective of agape, which never fails.

I believe we should do all we can to ensure compatibility before we marry and harmony within marriage. But when inevitable differences arise, and when the flow of human love exhausts itself in the heat of the battle, are we to assume that God has withdrawn His blessing? If I know my God, He’s just pulling back one blessing to make room for a better one. And that better one is the love of Jesus, flowing into us and our relationships in fuller and fuller streams until He comes again.

*Jen talking to Mike. Don’t take the past tense to mean he’s not still gorgeous.

*Abuse and infidelity shouldn’t be accepted, ever.

Jen’s gigs this month:

Sept 7-8- Dayton, Ohio area church retreat
Sept 13-21- Teaching at VIDA International in Suyutal, Honduras
Sept 15- Sermon and concert at Iglesia Rio Grande in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Sept 22- Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, praise and worship
Sept 28-30- Seattle, WA area women’s retreat
Oct 5-6- Generation of Youth for Christ Atlantic, Halifax, PA

Praise God, folks! Alison Brook met her Kickstarter goal and is on the way to CD number two. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your help!

13 thoughts on “God’s Love and My Flawed Marriage

  1. Nicole Parker

    Great points! Only saints have perfect marriages. We sinners haven’t gotten this thing down yet. 🙂

    I just finished reading a fantastic marriage book this morning, btw. “If You Don’t Die To Self, I May Have To Kill You!” Loved it. Hilarious and so accurate.

  2. Nancy

    My favorite authors and speakers are the one who are the most honest about themselves i.e.Phillip Yancey.They tell you of their struggles and how they have learned from them and point you to Christ. I think your approach will make your listeners really want to hear your message,

  3. Nancy

    PS I love the ragged heart…

    You are so busy.. I will be praying for you…esp. in Honduras.

  4. Tommy Lane

    Jennifer, your honesty, candor and the ability to discuss tough subjects in a comfortable way. No one can expect you to be any less human than the rest of us. Nothing is perfect but lessons can be learned from imperfection. Just tell it like it is, as you usually do and you will do fine.

  5. Tommy Lane

    Jennifer, it’s your honesty, candor and the ability to discuss tough subjects in a comfortable way that shine. No one can expect you to be any less human than the rest of us. Nothing is perfect but lessons can be learned from imperfection. Just tell it like it is, as you usually do and you will do fine.

    edited.

  6. Jane

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments. We make a commitment to marriage and it’s not about love, companionship or any of the human wants. It is about God’s love and experiencing it in all our relationships, but especially marriage, no matter what comes our way. This is one of your best posts. I appreciate the post.

  7. Judy

    I have learned to love my husbands differences; It reminds me of the grace we are granted to “cover a multitude of sins”–his, for mine as well!! My eyes were opened to “the secret” of harmony, by reading Gottmans 7 principles…especially regarding Repair Attempts. Since then, I made a new rule for our marriage…”Anyone who leaves the other one in the doghouse for more than a minute, has to get in the doghouse too.” It’s just too lonely to let differences fester and interfere with creating a new moment of sweetness… I have also been blessed by the research of Sue Johnson. Both of these people really understand how individuals emotions get fused with our “beliefs” I think…

  8. Peggy

    I like your style!!!
    So very true!
    Remember those Review articles years ago about perfect marriages, mother’s who stayed home, etc. etc. Made us all feel guilty because ours weren’t perfect and because we worked for the church I had to work also.

    Well here we are all these years later and we survived 59 years of marriage, parenting etc. etc.

    I remember hearing stories of people who never spoke a cross word to each other. Our’s wan’t like that. We had strong feelings and opinions and differences.

    I think the difference was we didn’t give up. Or at least not both at the same time. Sometimes one may feel like giving up, but as long as one hangs in, we survived, lived well, and now that he is at rest, I have the memories. Not perfect memories but we lived life and had committment!

  9. Dona

    Thank you for not being perfect. I can listen to what you have to say now.

  10. Paula

    I just read your email about the invitation from your friend to speak about marriage. You should do it. You never know how God can use the experiences and information you will share to help others.

    As I read your email, a thought dawn on me about this idea of an ‘ideal marriage’ or ‘flawless marriage’. What is an ‘ideal marriage’? What does it look and feel like? Then a thought pop in my head. I thought since God instituted marriage then the only ‘ideal marriage’ is the one He himself did for Adam and Eve. But after they sin it became what it is today. Then if the marriage before they sinned was ideal or perfect, what made it so? I think is like you said the love of God in each partner working in their hearts. I mean love like in Corinthians 13: 4-8. But the problem is that to love in such away one has to really seek God and allow Him control of everything not just the external mattera but most important the internal conflicts deep in inside each human being.

    I will pray for you so that God gives you strength and wisdom to talk about marriage in public. I have faith God will use you in a powerful way to help those marriages in crisis.

  11. Rachel

    That was masterful, poetic and real all at once. And I quite enjoyed the insight into
    your personal life. Not as one would a celebrity, but as one would who is familiar
    with a person on the outside that has contributed meaning to their life, but is
    little known beneath the surface. It helps to know who you are as a person and
    what makes you who you are.

    Gleaning tidbits here and there from your book and website help, but it’s nice to hear
    it straight from the horses mouth so to speak.

    I quite appreciated one statement in particular.

    1)I need to hear how God’s love can flow into and around and through even a flawed marriage. As a counselor I’ve watched people wheedle away at a problem only to make it worse by their “fixing.” But once they started to love one another in Christ in spite of the problem, once they accepted their partner as they were,* the problem shrunk like a tumor, into the perspective of agape, which never fails.

    For this I give an emphatic “AMEN”!

  12. Jenn Vazquez

    Elequent, classy, honest, and sincere as usual! Thank you for being so open and willing to share your personal life with others. We are truely blessed by your ministry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *