I have read all of the previous books written by Timothy Keller and really enjoyed each of them. I have some objections to certain points of his theology, and to how he sees them played out. But, overall, he is a great author, loves the Lord passionately and is very easy to read. I have been convicted by many of his books. The Lord used them each in turn to help me see the amazingness of His grace in sinful humans' lives.
In November, he and his wife published a book on marriage entitled The Meaning of Marriage. My local library had it available so I dug right in. Ignoring a number of other books I was supposed to be reading. But, it was a quick and easy read.
The Lord has slowly taken me on a journey of coming to see how my role as a wife and mother fits into His overall plan for the world. But lately I'd found myself struggling with it again. And God graciously brought this book into my life to remind me of His overall design and plan through marriage.
The main point of the book is that marriage is a system from God that was designed to reflect to the world the Gospel message, and specifically to help the couple become more Christ-like. It also has societal and moral roles to play in any and all cultures. 'So, what do you need to make marriage work? You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. it will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on. There, then, is the message of this book-that through marriage, 'the mystery of the gospel is unveiled.' Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel's remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.'
THAT is the message of this book, and they expound on the topic in more detail, giving a lot of historical background information as well as a lot of personal experiences and information.
The chapters are:
1. The Secret of Marriage
2. The Power of Marriage
3. The Essence of Marriage
4. The Mission of Marriage
5. Loving the Stranger
6. Embracing the Other
7. Singleness and Marriage
8. Sex and Marriage
And here are some quotes that struck me as worth chewing over some more.
'After trying all kinds of other things, Christians have learned that the worship of God with the whole heart in the assurance of his love through the work of Jesus Christ is the thing their souls were meant to 'run on.' This is what gets all the heart's cylinders to fire. If this is not understood, then we will not have the resources to be good spouses. If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility.' 'Without the help of the Spirit, without a continual refilling of your soul's tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. I call this 'love economics'. You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love 'in the bank' to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.' I struggled with this so much the first 5 or so years of our marriage. It wasn't until I finally came to see who I was in Christ, that I was able to get 'filled up' with Him, so I could stop needing that from my marriage. Phew, what a relief for poor Drew!
'If 2 spouses are spending a day together, the question of who gets each's pleasure and who gives in can present itself every few minutes. And when it does, there are 3 possibilities: You can offer to serve the other with joy, you can make the offer with coldness or resentment, or you can selfishly insist on your own way. Only when both partners are regularly responding to one another in the first way can the marriage thrive. But how hard that is!' I definitely tend toward #2 on that list. But, he addressed that in more depth with: 'I wanted to serve, yes, because that made me feel in control. Then I would always have the high moral ground. But that kind of 'service' isn't service at all, only manipulation. But by not giving Kathy an opportunity to serve me, I had failed to serve her. And the reason underneath it all was my pride.' Ouch, that is me for sure.
'When dating or living together, you have to prove your value daily by impressing and enticing. You have to show that the chemistry is there and the relationship is fun and fulfilling or it will be over. We are still basically in a consumer relationship, and that means constant promotion and marketing. The legal bond of marriage, however, creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves. We can be vulnerable, no longer having to keep up facades. We don't have to keep selling ourselves. We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.'
He talks about how people who live together before they are married have a much higher rate of divorce. But, I found this statement heartening, and true for us: 'Studies reveal that two-thirds of unhappy marriages will become happy within five years if people stay married and do not get divorced. What keeps people together during the rough patches? The vows.'
'When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don't really. You can't know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your IDEA of the person-and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken.' How well put! It's true. The beauty of marriage is that a person truly knows you AND loves you. Just like God truly knows us, but still loved us enough to send his Son to die for us. How freeing and amazing. And scary and disturbing. Being on both ends of that is tough! 'To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loves is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.'
'Only if you maintain your love for someone when it is not thrilling can you be said to be actually loving a person. The aesthete does not really love the person; he or she loves the feelings, thrills, ego rush, and experiences that the other person bring.' When the honeymoon is over, the real work, and love, begins.
'When people are looking for a spouse, they are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble. Not so you can create the kind of person you want, but rather because you see what kind of person Jesus is making.... each must be able to look inside the other and see what God is doing and be excited about being part of the process of liberating the emerging 'new you'. I see all your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, dependencies. But underneath them all I see growing the person God wants you to be.''
They describe how you will have a friend of the opposite sex, with whom you will share anything and get good advice, etc. But yet, when looking for a mate, you dismiss that person because you don't feel an 'attraction' to them. And how that does not lead to the kind of marriage a Christian wants. I can identify. I was blessed though, to actually marry my best friend after realizing the folly of my mind-set.
'If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won't matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength. However, if your marriage is weak, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are marked by success and strength, it won't matter. You will move out into the world in weakness.'
'When you see the problems in each other, do you just want to run away, or do you find a desire to work on them together?' Umm... Yeah, well, after 10+ years of marriage, I still tend to want to run away. I hope to outgrow that someday!
'Give each other the right to hold one another accountable. Hebrews 3:13.'
'Because marriage merges two lives and brings you into the closest possible contact, a positive assessment by your spouse has ultimate credibility. If, over the years, you have grown to love and admire your spouse more and more, then his or her praise will get more and more strengthening and healing. To be highly esteemed by someone you highly esteem is the greatest thing in the world.
This principle explains why, ultimately, to know that the Lord of the universe loves you is the strongest foundation that any human being can have. A growing awareness of God's love in Christ is the greatest reward.'
'And there's the Great Problem of marriage. The one person in the whole world who holds your heart in her hand, whose approval and affirmation you most long for and need, is the one who is hurt more deeply by your sins than anyone else on the planet. When we are first sinned against by our spouses in a serious way, we use the power of truth. We tell our spouses what fools, what messes, what selfish pigs they are. The first few times we do it, however, we may learn to our surprise how shattering our criticism can be. Sometimes we let fly some real harsh, insulting remarks, and the next thing we know there's nothing left of our spouse but a pair of sneakers with smoke coming out of them. What happened? Because of our spousal power of love and affirmation, when that love is withheld, the statement of the truth doesn't help-it destroys. When we see how devastating truth-telling in marriage can be, it can push us into the opposite error. We may then decide that our job is to just affirm. We avoid telling our spouses how disappointed we are. We shut up. We stuff and hide what we really think and feel. We exercise the power of love, but not the power of truth. But then marriage's enormous potential for spiritual growth is lost. The point is this-truth and love need to be kept together.' I feel this is where God is working on me right now. I have let Drew 'have it', shaking my finger and yelling in his face-and he ran away, although generally only mentally and emotionally. But I'm learning, slowly.
He talks about the necessity of forgiving our spouse before confronting them, in love, with their sin. 'One of the most basic skills in marriage is the ability to tell the straight, unvarnished truth about what your spouse has done-and then, completely, un-self-righteously, and joyously express forgiveness without a shred of superiority, without making the other person feel small.
As long as you feel superior to someone, feel like you are a much better kind of person, you will find it very hard if not impossible to forgive. If you stay superior and disdainful of the person, truth will eat up love.' Again, speaking directly to me! I am a 'good girl' and do what I think is best, after lots of study. So then I tend to get prideful and self righteous. But that is just as bad as any sin I may confront in Drew. I am so thankful that God has allowed us to stay together while our sharp edges are slowly being whittled down. Ok, mostly I have the sharp edges in the marriage...
Kathy, naturally, was the one to write the chapter on submission: 'I discovered here that my submission in marriage was a gift I offered, not a duty coerced from me.' That sort of takes the sting out of submission, eh? :) It was definitely something that helped me to embrace my role as submissive wife. We are all equal in God's eyes, but His will is for the wives to submit to their husbands (and only their husbands-not men in general).
This is pretty random, I realize. But some really good bites of wisdom to chew on. And hopefully it will lead others to pick up the book from themselves and get the 'big picture'. I hope and pray that the Lord uses this book to help young people who are struggling with marriage (and singleness), to accept their roles as blessings to and from the Lord.