Had I had my way today my wife and I would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the date of our engagement. My thought then was simple and – in my opinion – romantic: If I proposed on a date that I could easily remember, then we would be more likley to celebrate it in the future.
But, I didn’t have my way. Carolyn knew that I had purchased her ring and that the jeweler had finished sizing it to fit her finger. She was impatient. And for some reason she didn’t seem to share my sentiment that April 1 could be redeemed to be a romantic day for a proposal… So she got her ring a few days earlier – on some long-forgotten date at the end of March.
Since that time I have wised up. No, I still think that April 1 would have been a fine day for the proposal. I have wised up about how much work marriage is. I know the benefits of working on marriage far exceed the efforts. But through 20 years of marriage (come August) and the scores of pre-marital and marital counseling sessions I’ve conducted as a pastor I have seen conclusively that there is no substitute for working at a good marriage.
The primary reason work is necessary is our sin. Sin messes up everything. Sin distorts our perspective. Sin prompts us to self-centeredness & selfishness. Sin rises up in pride & self-righteousness. And sin makes us unwilling to forgive. Any of these traits put a damper on a relationship. When any of these come coupled, or more, it does damage to a relationship that takes a lot of work to restore.
Most counseling seems to focus on pointing out these pitfalls and/or developing the skills to cope and overcome them. These are valuable. But they don’t get to the root of the problem. If we are going to work wisely and effectively in our marriages, we need to apply the Gospel, which includes addressing our condition of sin and how in each of our lives our sin expresses itself. Sucgh awareness is able to get to the heart of the matter, and gives much more potency to relational skills.
For that reason I have been pleased and challenged by a book by Dave Harvey titled: When Sinners Say “I Do”.
In an excerpt that introduces the book Harvey writes:
Marriage is a union of two people who arrive at the altar toting some surprisingly large luggage. Often it gets opened right there on the honeymoon, sometimes it waits for the week after. But the suitcases are always there, sometimes tripping their owners, sometimes popping open unexpectedly and disgorging forgotten contents. The Bible calls it sin and understanding its influence can make all the difference for a man and woman who are building a life together.
This is not a discouragng book. It’s just real. And Harvey wonderfully allows the truth of the Gospel to shine in practical and penetrating ways.
I like the way Paul Tripp describes it in the Foreword of the book:
This book grasps the core drama of every married couple. This drama is no respecter of race, ethnic origin, location, or period of history. It is the one thing that explains the doom and hope of every human relationship…
Working through this book has led me to remember: I am my biggest marital problem. And whether you are the husband or the wife; whether you have been married 20+ years or if you are still in the stages of preparing for your wedding; that truth is still the same. It is the same for all of us.
But by wrestling with this problem, and applying the Word of God to those common issues that can plague any marriage, Harvey helps us understand:
When the sin we bring to marriage becomes real to us, then the gospel becomes vital and marriage becomes sweet.
When sin becomes bitter, marriage becomes sweet…