Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The biggest threat to marriage is not same-sex legislation, or income-withering taxes, or the frenetic pace of life. It’s not the insidiousness of the internet. It’s not the secularity of the culture.
It’s us. It’s our flesh. It’s the idol of self. It’s the little god me. Each of us is the “I” of the storm.
All marriages fail, at root, because one spouse, or both, fails to die to self, daily. Such thinking is not in vogue. It is not promoted or celebrated – or even acknowledged, other than by ridicule – in a culture of narcissism. It sits at odds with the dominant values of our age. It whispers, almost inaudible, in the din of our times.
But dying to self is the deep wisdom, ancient and ever new. It is a rule of life basic to the flourishing and longevity of your marriage.
So get this straight: it’s not about you.
Believe that, live that, practice that, and almost everything will fall into place. Doubt that, defy that, ignore that, and prepare for a bleak marriage, if it survives at all.
The Bible is filled with holy paradox: the first shall be last, the last first. The least of these are the most honoured. The poor and the hungry and the persecuted of the earth are the most blessed, and the big winners in the end. And this: those who daily wake to a fresh dying are most fully alive. Those who choose the way of servanthood and sacrifice, who follow the example of Christ in the Spirit of Christ, are the ones who find deepest courage, taste greatest joy, walk in richest love.
And have the best marriages.
What can you do today to value your spouse above yourself? To put him or her before yourself? To look to their interests, not just your own? This is not an invitation to some false act of self-effacement. It’s not asking you for some gaudy noisy martyrdom. It’s about dying to whatever in you is just plain selfish and vain. And then choosing humility. And then finding simple tangible heartfelt ways to honour the other.
Don’t make today about yourself. Make it about your significant other. Devise ways to make their joy complete.
But don’t be surprised at how glad it makes you feel, too.
Bunk Mates in Heaven
A pastor friend of mine quipped the other day: “There are some people I couldn’t warm up to even if I was cremated with them.”
I laughed, and then didn’t.
I know exactly what he means. There are people who, no matter how hard I try, I just don’t like. They grate on me. They get under my skin. Their laugh, their voice, their manner, their habits, their prevailing attitude or tone or bent – something about them irks or irritates me, and just their showing up forces me to practice Lamaze breathing.
I know this confession outs me for the spiritual pygmy I am. But there it is.
Jesus commanded us, in no uncertain terms, to love each other. But then gets meddlesome, and goes on to define the scope of “each other”: friends, enemies, the least of these, the worst of these, the brother who sins against us again and again and again. It’s a big list. He virtually leaves no one out.
Fine and well. Alright, I’ll do it. I love them. There. You happy?
But you never said I had to like ‘em, right?
Ah, but I’m a pastor. I have, on top of the general command to obey everything Jesus says, one large extra burden: I will be judged more severely if I get it wrong. I cannot become an accuser of the brethren. I cannot choose which sheep I feed or protect, and which I leave in the gulch or to the wolves. I don’t have the luxury of contempt or neglect.
So over the nearly quarter century I’ve been a pastor, I’ve learned and practiced, failed at and started over with, several disciplines that help me love – and even like – those I’d rather avoid. Here are four (of many):
- Remember the state I was in before Christ found me. Jesus wasn’t drawn to me because of my winsome ways or attractive personality. I was a wretch. I was a starving ragged stinking prodigal, still dripping with piggish muck, when he ran to kiss me. It was my desperate condition that awakened his compassion. He welcomed me and rescued me, not because of who I am, but because of who he is. He calls us to love like that.
- Tap the power that is in me through the risen Christ. Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5) that Christ’s loves compels us, because we are convinced his death and resurrection are for everyone. And so, he says, we no longer look at anyone from a worldly point of view. Christ not only gives us a heart transplant: he gives us an eye transplant. The more we steep in his love and grace, the more we see people – everyone – from a “heavenly point of view.” Christ gives us his very own eyes to see people with. Use them.
- Value others above myself. Paul commands this in Philippians 2. It’s one of the most convicting verses in Scripture, because it’s not limited only to people we like. Paul is talking, for instance, to Euodia and Syntyche, two women who want to rip each other’s faces off (see Phil. 4). It is a sobering and humbling exercise to actually, tangibly do this for someone you don’t like – to value them above yourself, and then act on that value. Try it.
- Remember where this all ends. I have a theory: the person we least like on earth will be assigned our bunk mate in heaven. I don’t think God will do this as a prank, though. I think he’ll do it so we can laugh with that person for a few thousand years about how petty and small-minded and self-centered we were, and rejoice with them for all eternity at how great is the love of God that he lavishes on us, that we should be called his children, and made one another’s brothers and sisters.
There may be people you couldn’t warm up to if you were cremated with them. But could you if you knew you were to spend eternity with them?
When I practice these things, and more besides, God changes me, slow but sure. My LQ – Love Quotient, Like Quotient – goes up.
How’s that going for you?
My plane out of Fort Meyers, Florida got delayed almost 5 hours. That meant I
missed my connection from Houston to Seattle to Victoria, and had to be re-routed through Calgary, with a 4-hour layover. I arrived home 7 hours later than scheduled.
It was awesome.
I mean that. My son Adam lives in Calgary. When I realized I’d be in his town long enough to have dinner with him, I contacted him and asked if he could meet me at the airport. He was able to get off of work early, and arrived exactly as I cleared customs. We spend a glorious 2 hours together.
It was the best part of the entire trip, a gift and bonus on top of everything.
The upside of a delay like that is obvious. It’s lying right on the surface. But I think every disruption and detour in our lives has grace hidden in its folds. Some of this grace we’ll never know – maybe the 5 minute delay you had in a construction zone spared you a horrific accident further down the road. Some we have to sleuth out – maybe the 5 hour delay at the airport was exactly the time you needed to finish some work. Or maybe it gave you that half-day with God your soul ached for.
It’s surprising how often in Scripture God’s purposes break out from disruption or delay. Because Paul couldn’t get into Asia Minor, he ended up in Macedonia. Because of a series of disruptions in Macedonia, many people’s lives were transformed: a rich woman, an enslaved demon-afflicted girl, a grim prison guard, a prison house of hard-bitten criminals.
And – though not even Paul knew this at the time – that little stopover in Macedonia opened up the entire missionary enterprise into Europe. The gospel that finally reached you came through the door of a re-routed schedule.
None of this would have happened if Paul had carried on according to his own well-laid plans. God stalled him and then re-directed him. The results changed lives. The results changed history.
Not a bad thing to ponder next time your flight’s delayed.