Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

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If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity? 

Distracted Devotion: The Divided Attentions of Marriage

A month ago I messaged our pastor after his first sermon in a series of three on marriage and said, "Really great sermon. Will there be one on the value and need of singleness?" He replied quickly it was in the line-up and yesterday it was delivered. It was the sermon I had wished to hear in my years of singleness at The Village and it was a sermon I was grateful my counterparts were hearing (both married and un-married). Matt read me the draft before he preached it, deferring to the challenges I gave him, and I know from several others he did the same with them. One of the reasons I love being back here is because we have a pastor who listens to his people and doesn't need to be the final arbiter on anything. The result, for this sermon and any other, really, was it was staunchly Biblical, full of encouragement, and humble in delivery. 

I wanted to walk away full of renewed hope for my unmarried sisters and brothers, and hope for my married friends too, that we would all walk forward energized, excited, and truly commissioned for work together. But only a few minutes into the sermon, Matt read from I Corinthians 7:32-35, and I felt sick inside. I know this Scripture. I know it backwards and forwards. I committed my life to knowing it and living it and embodying it in my singleness. I was anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please him in body and spirit. I was determined to be undistracted by the things of this world. Determined to serve the Church and my church fully. Determined to be wholly committed to this gift of singleness. I had good days and bad ones, but I can honestly say as I faced my groom on our wedding day, I had tried to be obedient and faithful and had no regrets. 

But since marriage? Friend. It has been two years of piling regrets, piling shame, and piling guilt. I have not known how to receive this gift of marriage as a gift. I have not known how to draw my eyes in from my previous breadth of ministry to the current depth of it. To "care for the concerns of my home," seems to be the antithesis of all I spent my life on before. To "be anxious about the things of this world," seems to be the opposite of the call I tried to fill. To "please a husband," seems to shout of everything I tried not to do in my singleness—craft myself into a man-pleasing woman. 

I have known this tearing of my ontological self to be happening, but I have tried and tried to somehow make both true. I have tried to make the aim to be anxious about the Lord and the world, how to please the Lord and please my husband, and the tearing feels so incomplete still.

I have said before that marriage is not the most sanctifying thing and that for some singleness may be their most sanctifying thing. I have also said the sanctification that happens in marriage is different than the kind that happens in singleness, and this verse in I Corinthians, so often my aim in my singleness, describes the different better than I could. I used to judge married folks for being so worldly minded, more concerned about their homes and husbands and kid's schedules than the Wide World Out There. But yesterday in church, I felt the pit of conviction grow large in my innards. It isn't disobedience to be concerned with the things of this world. It's different, but not disobedience. 

Maybe some of you long married folks are shaking your heads at me, rolling your eyes, and maybe you unmarried folks are desperate for the trade, but as for me, I'm wondering how long oh Lord? How long, I asked Nate in the car on the way home yesterday, will this process be painful for me? It has truly felt like I'm being ripped apart inside as I learn to turn my gaze inward, focus on pleasing my husband and working in our home, seeking to honor the Lord in a different context.

How long will it hurt? How long will it feel like a loss? I asked Nate. 

I don't think he answered, not directly at least, he rarely does. My husband is a question asker to my questions, leading me to the water of life and washing me in it. It will hurt as long as we live in this world and call ourselves Jesus-followers, I think. Since creation we've been turning our gaze from what is best and setting it on the things of this world. It's not all wrong, though, and I saw that yesterday in I Corinthians 7. 

My favorite poem, one I've quoted here so often I hope you all know it as well as I do now, is called Love Calls Us to the Things of this World, and it is about laundry, billowing, blowing, and clear dances done in the sight of heaven. I weep every time I read it because it reminds me of how much work it is to love, truly love. The real substance of love is not only the being, but the doing. The being loved is dependent on the other, but the doing of love is on me, with the Spirit's help. And right now, as long as I am married, God, who is love, has called me to the things of this world, how I may please my husband. It is a different call, and one I am not quite comfortable in, and may never be, but it is my call. And it is good. 

I think perhaps we all have grass is greener moments. I know there were plenty of times in my singleness when I wanted the breadth of my life to be shrinked to a singular depth—to a man, and thought it would be better than what I had. And I know there are some who wish to be free of the constraints of marriage and children (and laundry if we're honest). And maybe there are some of you who are so comfortably settled in this day and gift in which you live that you never dream of the other. I don't know where you are today, but I do know it is the gift you've been given for today. As our dear old Elisabeth said, "God still holds tomorrow." 

Making New Friends, Keeping Old Ones // Challenges for the newly married

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This is part of a series I'm doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I'd get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, "My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?" My answer was always along the lines of, "If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she's knit herself to for life, doesn't fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon." I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that's a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It's impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn't meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don't book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don't spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying "Yes" to my husband and home and "No" to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn't change the value of what was had before though, and if you're still single or newly married, I'd encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I've experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don't have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There's nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you'd like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it's common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn't have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone's part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don't want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray "Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend's]" every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don't feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I'm afraid we'll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn't promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.

Pastors, Keep Your Door Open

If you don't know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women's ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups. If you're a pastor and you don't think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I'd beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson's words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”

Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can't agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does "one big good deed" as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.

It's easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, "The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her." The problem is the circumstances haven't really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn't be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, "Equality and Distinctiveness." We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal "air-time" to women in the church. When we don't, or when we outsource our women's events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they're a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It's easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here's a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.

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Practically, if you're scratching your head thinking you've done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:

1. Many young women put off seminary because they don't have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman's seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.

2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I've seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves "counselors" who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they're counseling. A certification doesn't mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.

3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don't expect her to be the women's minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don't mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.

4. Don't thumb your nose at women passionate about "women's ministry." It's gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you're staffed to do.

5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don't skimp.

6. Ask women what they're reading or who they're listening to and then do your homework. Don't dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don't utilize them as your women's ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.

One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,

“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.” 

You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don't make them fit into little molds of children's ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.

A Beautiful Design

Being a covenant member at The Village Church for five years was a means of grace in my life for that season, a true gift. But even more, learning from the pastors, teachers, elders, and ministers there has been transformative forevermore. The men and women there invested deeply in the empty well of my heart, mind, emotions, and spirit—and continue to do so from afar. I sometimes fear being the girl who always longs for what she had and can never invest in what she now has, and that fear has kept me from talking much about how grateful I am for my years there. But it is with full faith I can say I am who I am today because of every season of my life—and that particular season was rich and overflowing. I long for my friends and family there daily, but I know God has called us to this day, in this place for His purposes, even if they're difficult to see today.

All this to preface this:

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One of the most transformative lessons of my time at The Village was sitting under the teaching of Matt regarding equality and complementarity, diversity and distinction. We humans worked it out on the ground at a flawed way for sure, but from the pulpit there was a high regard for the diversity of all people and the equality of every image bearer of God. It was better than any understanding of complementarian, egalitarian, patriarchal, or feminist theology I'd come to understand. It was not a "This way or the highway" view, but a "Come up higher, see how beautiful God is that He would create so intricately and that we would still only understand so partially." I loved this view of equality and distinction, particularly between genders, because it was never about saying one was better than another or more capable, but about celebrating the differences and the similarities.

A Beautiful Design was the series Matt spent a significant amount of time teasing out these ideas within the framework of the Bible and I'm so grateful Lifeway has put together a study packet on the series. Regardless of your position on gender roles, I think this series presents a level-headed, compelling, rich with the Bible, and beautiful presentation of what it means to be made in the image of God. Matt is imperfect and no Bible study series can communicate all the richness of God's design perfectly. And I can tell you for sure we stumbled over this all the time on the ground at The Village, but I'm forever grateful it was communicated with beauty and an attempt to come up from the muck of the world's culture and evangelicalism's culture and see what the Bible actually said about men, women, their hurdles, their design, and how we need both in full measure within the local church.

If your small group is interested in tackling this nine week study, you can purchase the contents here at Lifeway Christian Resources.*

*I'm not getting paid for this review.