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Hints for a Successful Marriage

Dear friends,                                                                                                  August 2012

            A couple of weeks ago, Claire and I were in Aurora, Nebraska for a most joyous occasion – the marriage of Paul Aylward and Carrie Heiser.  (Paul is Claire’s nephew, the second son of her brother Tim and his wife, Gaylene.)  The wedding was one of the most relaxed and pleasant we have ever attended and it was wonderful to meet Carrie’s family and, something that is always fun and meaningful, to spend time with Claire’s 6 siblings, their spouses, the nieces and nephews, etc.  With the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner at Nita’s Bed & Breakfast, the wedding itself, a reception at the fairgrounds, and then a 2nd reception in Lincoln, it was a full but very enjoyable weekend.

            I was honored to officiate at the wedding and the brief sermon I presented was a new version of my Top Ten Hints for a Successful Marriage.  I first developed that Top Ten for a “Vital Signs Weekend” radio program sometime back in the 90’s. Since then I’ve presented it a to a few live audiences and I once used it as the primary subject of a LifeSharer letter.  Driving home from Aurora, Claire suggested I do it again and her argument was pretty persuasive.  She said, “Look, in nearly 30 years of writing monthly letters, you’ve repeated a LifeSharer what, maybe once or twice? And this is certainly as  timely as ever and the Top Ten Hints you share are insightful and very really helpful.  The response the sermon just received shows that.  Besides all that, there are great applications even for those who are unmarried.  So, go ahead.”           

            She convinced me.  But before I get to that, I think I should mention a few other things of interest to friends of Vital Signs Ministries.  1) Our new signs are being well used in our prayer and sidewalk-counseling ministry in front of Planned Parenthood.      2) The latest volume of “When Swing Was King” debuted earlier this week and will play the usual 10 places this month.  The response continues to be fantastic and we are also getting opportunities to deal with some of the spiritual needs of the friends we’re making. 3) Vital Signs Blog, the VSM web site and VSM Resources (our Russian-language web pages) continue to have a impact with hundreds of hits every day.  4) A generous donation from Herman Community Church was extremely helpful to us.  We’re still far from being financially level right now but this was a huge help – as is every donation we receive.  Thank you!  5) September 2nd will find me beginning both a new sermon series and a new adult Sunday School class at Faith Bible Church.  The sermons will end up finding a home on the VSM web page and, in their Russian versions, on VSM Resources.

           On another matter, Claire and I are not going to Colorado Springs for a Focus on the Family interview after all.  Last week we received an e-mail cancelling the taping altogether – not rescheduling as they had done twice previously.  There wasn’t much of an explanation besides “Due to a change in direction for our programming needs airing in the near future, we’re going to have to cancel this radio broadcast taping.” This was quite a disappointment to us and it sure knocked our planning out of whack including our hopes to combine the Focus interview with a few days in Colorado to visit family and friends.  We’ve dropped that now. However, every closed door means an open door somewhere else.  So, we immediately started filling the days with other tasks. And, among other things, it will give us more time to work on the return of the famous Vital Signs Pie Social on Monday evening, September 17th.

            Okay, that brings us up to date (at least a bit) with some of what is keeping Claire and me busy.  So let’s now move on to marriage.  Here is the 2012 version of the Top Ten Hints for a Successful Marriage. 

10) Take Nothing for Granted.

         Routine can be comfortable but it can also wreck spontaneity, passion, gratitude, and fun.  So be careful.  Cultivate a spirit of appreciation for one another.  Understand that true love isn’t mere sentiment.  It is action and thus requires time, effort and dedication.  My friends in Belarus have a saying that fits here: “A wife isn’t a guitar.  You can’t play with her awhile and then hang her on the wall!”

9) Build Up Your Marriage Partner.

         Discover the compliments that are especially meaningful to your spouse and use them often.  Expressions of gratitude, affection and praise should be business as usual between the two of you...including in public. Billy Sunday, the major league infielder turned evangelist once advised husbands, “Try praising your wife...even if it does frighten her at first.” Convince one another that you are their best friend and their biggest fan.  Don’t worry about their ego getting too big - life will take care of that.  For your part, you can’t be too much of a cheerleader for your spouse.

8) Hang Out with Godly People. 

         The company you keep is a far more important factor in a successful marriage than most people realize.  Don’t underestimate it. Develop friendships as a couple with people who take seriously the things of God.  Such friendships will be of immeasurable help in providing accountability, inspiration, assistance and, as the Scriptures put it, the “stimulation to love and good deeds.”

7) Keep the TV in its Proper Place. 

         Don’t be fooled.  People do become what they watch and listen to.  And modern television presents an awful lot that is contrary to the spiritual values you’ll need to keep your conscience clean, your adventure with Christ active, and your romance pure and strong.  Furthermore, don’t let the TV steal time that could be better spent in other ways.  TV can be an innocent friend but it can be a powerful distraction too - even a tyrant.  So beware the power of the tube. (This warning, of course, applies to the computer too.)

6) Never Criticize Your Spouse in Public. 

And I mean, never.  Anger, mockery, sarcasm, embarrassment -- these shouldn’t be part of your relationship, period. But when these things occur in front of an audience, it can create a lot of hurt, a lot of resentment and it can really damage the trust, respect and intimacy that every strong marriage needs.

5) Pray. 

         Become comfortable in praying together...not just in crises or during church services or with the kids at bedtime.  Rather, pray together throughout the week as an expression of your union as a couple with God.  And pray with a willingness to take the actions God directs you to.  Also, developing a pattern of praying together will be a tremendous help to the next item in the list.

4) Fight Fair. 

         Conflicts and confrontations will occur.  That’s natural and it’s no big deal if you observe some basic rules - rules that are simply applications of the vows you’re going to take today.  Examples? No rage, no threats, no leaving the house, no name-calling, no whining, no comparison to others, no unfair exaggerations (as in “You always” or “You have never, ever”), no dredging up the past, no bringing in your spouse’s family, and so on. The purpose of the argument should always be kept in view and that is seeking a unified, mature, spiritually sound solution to the problem – not creating wounds, getting your way, or getting even.

3) Serve God as a Team.

         You don’t always need to be involved in the same things or always be under each other’s feet, but you should always have a lot going on between you, including activities that require teamwork.  Foremost in this area, of course, will be parenting.  If and when that ministry comes along, both of you must embrace it.  But there are also household chores, the budget, social interaction, Christian ministry, avocations, and so on. Make sure you are in fellowship and growing together, not apart.

2) Forgive.

         Forgive frequently and genuinely.  Forgive before being asked to.  Forgive not only for love’s sake and for your own peace of mind but forgive over and over because Jesus Christ, as evidenced by the ongoing effects of the Cross, forgives you over and over.  One of the most important ways to express your appreciation of the Life Jesus gave to pay the penalty of your sins is to lean completely into His grace and thereby be able to forgive others, especially the one He has blessed you with as a life partner.

1) Keep Falling In Love.

         You mustn’t be content with your album of wedding photos.  Make your marriage an existential, active, even a celebratory relationship.  And that comes not only from spending time together but from your personal spiritual growth.  Robert Browning, one of Western civilization’s most romantic poets, nevertheless took a pretty practical view of what’s most essential in marriage.  “Success in marriage,” he wrote,  “is more than finding the right person, it is being the right person.”  Dedicate yourselves to developing your relationship with Christ as individuals and you develop your love relationship with one another at the same time.

         Until next month, please say a quick prayer for us whenever the Lord brings us to mind.  Thank you. And more on that Vital Signs pie social very soon.