FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH PRAYER
Some close friends recently shared a sincere question which their 22 year old daughter and a girlfriend had asked about marriage: How can you commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life when there are so many unknowns, especially the unknown of whether or not you’ll still be in love with this person ten years down the track?
What a good question! How helpful to seek answers for such questions. Some of us may not have even contemplated asking this question before we walked down the aisle. At that moment, our thoughts were almost totally focused on the wedding plus all the exciting prospects of a married life to follow.
However, though we may have started off with starry eyes, with wonderful dreams and plans, our eyes were soon opened to the tough, everyday realities and the sheer hard work of building a harmonious and enduring marriage relationship.
Good questions such as the above need honest, real answers.
Those of us who have journeyed together for some distance beyond the marriage altar (for my wife and I the “distance” has been almost 44 years), know the other side of the coin – the situations and experiences in married life that have the serious potential to unsettle and even unravel the relationship of a husband and wife who began their marriage journey as the most “in-love” pair of love birds: i.e. ego-related conflicts, hidden idiosyncrasies and “strange” habits, the stresses of managing adjustment, inevitable disappointments, sudden, out-of-the-blue heartaches or tragedies, to mention just a few!
But if that’s all we have to say in response to people like our friends’ daughter and her friend, then it’s almost a given that many of our young people will feel very afraid and hesitant about making that life-long commitment. What else can we say? Is there a distinctly Christian response we can give and should be giving? Can we offer them hope when there seems to be so much that leads to despair? And if so, what is it? Or, where do we go to find it?
I’m about to give one response among many that could be given. But you must not read my response as if this is the “magical formula” for a happy, harmonious marriage.
My answer is that those who put their hope and trust in God to help them face and cope with the issues of their lives, including the issues of married life, soon discover solutions that are not available to anyone else. And I’m here speaking about a trust in God that is genuinely Christian: a trust that begins with making the choice to place one’s life and future into the hands of the One whom God sent into the world so that He could offer us genuine answers for the root issue that lies behind our “ego problems”, our human failures and weaknesses, et al. His name? Jesus, the Son of God.
But this trust isn’t just a one-off step or choice. It’s a daily choice God calls us to make to live by our faith, not just to call ourselves “Christians” or believers. Jesus called people like Peter and John to follow Him, not simply to “make a decision for Christ,” and then to keep living just as they’ve always lived.
In truth those husbands and wives who are genuine followers of Jesus will listen to His voice as He guides them, comforts them, encourages them in the face of marriage hiccups. They will step out trusting in Him as He leads them into each new arena of life. They will trust in Him for wisdom for facing the tensions and conflicts of married life in such a way that their relationship will grow rather than disintegrate.
If this is really true and I know it is from years of experience, then it means that we more than any other people have the most awesome help (Helper!) for transforming our marriage negatives into marriage positives.
Now comes the crunch issue: How do we put our faith into practice in the nitty-gritty situations of married life? What can we Christians do that will make all the difference? Again the answer isn’t complicated or difficult to understand. The real question is: How do we as individuals and also as believing couples daily put our trust in God and in His Son, Jesus?
We pray. Prayer is a sure sign that we are people of true faith. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I’m not talking about couples going through some daily prayer ritual or “saying their prayers.” I’m rather speaking about couples who recognise themselves to be weak and prone to make choices that have grave potential for creating havoc and heartache to themselves and others. And then they turn to God in prayer, expressing with openness and trust in Him all the burdens and needs of their lives including in their marriage and family.
This means also that whenever we hit the bumps and potholes in our married life (no matter how deep or shallow), but try to handle them in our own strength, without seeking and trusting in God’s help, we are acting as “unbelievers”. And that is far more serious – even what may at first have been just a small pothole along the way will sooner or later grow into a deeper pothole that can even bring our relationship down into a grave.
None of us want to go down that track, especially when we see some of the ruined relationships and lives around us. Instead, PRAY! God has opened the door into His presence for all of us. He invites us to cry out to Him with any and every need. He wants to help us. He delights to help us. He is able to help us no matter how seemingly far-gone our present predicament may be.
And when we do pray as individuals and as couples, we will quickly experience the faithfulness of God to bring about significant outcomes. I am not saying that through trusting in and praying to God that He will wave a magic wand that blows every dark cloud in our marriages out to sea. What I do know is that God is the one and only true Helper in whom we may put our trust with absolute certainty.
And when we seek His help through calling out to Him in prayer – entrusting to His sovereign care and overruling whatever issue or detail of our lives and marriage that is troubling us, calling upon Him to change hearts and attitudes (beginning with our own), also circumstances – God works wonders. He always does! Sometimes at first the wonders may appear small and almost insignificant, but as we follow Him down whichever route He is leading, the wonders just snowball.
You might be thinking: it all sounds so straightforward – trusting in God, praying to God – then how can it be that so many couples including Christian couples fail to make the distance? Perhaps the reason why these two young Christian people asked their question to our friends is because they’ve already seen too many broken lives because of broken marriage relationships.
Wouldn’t you think it would be the most natural thing for Jesus’ followers, now living together as husbands and wives, to pray together, to trust their heavenly Father together whether for their daily bread, or for His intervention and deliverance from devil’s tempting though spiritually destructive alternative ways? But when I ask Christian couples about praying together, sadly too often I get blank stares or a feeble attempt to justify their slackness. Perhaps many of them don’t pray together because they don’t pray, period.
That’s the obvious starting point – each believer learning to live as a true believer in their own personal lives. Both before they get married as well as throughout their marriage.
But I also know that some Christians who practise personal prayer might feel reticent to pray with someone else. Including their life’s partner. So what needs to take place if they are to cross this bridge? Someone needs to take the first step, to suggest and initiate a habit of praying together.
At times this can be the wife. I am thankful whenever Frieda, my wife, encourages us to pray about some issue. But following the biblical teaching, that exhorts husbands to serve as spiritual leaders with their family circles, then it is most appropriate, also for other good reasons, best when we husbands take that initiative and lead initiate times of prayer with our wives.
Husbands, don’t hide from this responsibility of spiritual leadership via prayer, or see yourself as spiritually inferior (or superior) to your wife. It’s not a matter of levels of spirituality, or even styles of prayer. Rather it’s all about obeying the Word of our Lord to pray as “twos and threes” (see Matthew 18:19-20) so that God can open the windows of heaven and pour out into our lives blessing upon blessing, instead of sorrow upon sorrow.
Early in marriage settling into such a pattern of daily prayer together produces some amazing results in the marriage relationship. Prayer strengthens our relationships as husbands and wives, also sharpens our lines of communication with each other (it’s very hard to talk to God together about something if we are closed to talk it over with each other!), and opens the door of our home to our gracious and great God to work His wonders just as He desires to do.
Yes, marriage is “fragile” – it needs to be handled with prayer! But when through constant prayer we make our relationship with God the top priority of our marriage relationship, what at first appears to people like our friends’ daughter to be a dangerously fragile relationship will grow into a beautiful and enduring relationship, rich in mutual enjoyment and delight. I dare to add – I know so from decades of personal experience, by the grace and kindness of God.
Graham M. Roberts
Equip & Encourage International, Hornsby, NSW, Australia
April 17, 2007