Friday, 27 August 2010

Are You an Apple Nailer?

Paul Tripp, one of my favorite lecturers and authors, relates the following story about “Apple Nailing”:

Imagine that you have an apple tree in the backyard. Now this particular tree produces horrible apples year after year. So I say to my wife, “I think I can fix our apple tree.” So I go out with a big ladder and cut off all the old apples. Then I nail delicious red apples all over the tree. I stand back, and from 50 feet it now looks like a good apple tree. But we all know what’s going to happen, don’t we?  Those apples are going to rot, too, because if the tree is consistently producing bad apples, then there’s something wrong with the system, right down to its roots. We all realize that we won’t solve the problem by nailing apples onto the tree.

It appears that in the church we have become very good at apple nailing. A place where we should be able to be genuine and transparent is often where we are most phony. If half of Christian couples are getting divorced you can rest assured that another twenty-five percent are unhappy. When you look around on a Sunday morning does three quarters of your congregation look miserable? - Probably not.

This is a sad commentary for many reasons. First of all this is not what God intended when He created marriage. Marriage is supposed to bring us joy and Him glory. This charade is also sad because by the time most couples reach out it is too late. It is not that God can’t make it better it’s just that the relationship has deteriorated to the point of no return. The couple is polarized, unwilling to do what God would have them do to restore their marriage.

As for resources, I’ve cited some exceptional books and DVDs on this blog site. But here is the kicker, for counseling or books or anything else to be helpful, the couple has to agree to the following:
• Divorce is not an option. Be determined that they will make their marriage work.
• Be willing to go to the Lord and repent, citing specifically how they have wounded their husband/wife.
• Be willing to go to their husband/wife and ask for forgiveness.
• Be willing to begin praying together.
• Agree that each partner has responsibility to change themselves, to become the husband/wife that God has called them to be.
• Begin by spending 5 minutes per day / 3 days a week in God’s Word with the intention of increasing the amount of time spent to 15 minutes per day / 5 times a week.

These are small specific steps you can take that will eventually lead to a harvest of beautiful fruit.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Highest Priority

Apparently the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists addressed the question, “Why do long-term marriages end?” Without oversimplifying their answer it boiled down to the following:
• Divorce does not carry near the stigma it used to.
• We are living longer, healthier lives.
• We may out-grow our partners psychologically.

While I believe there are other factors, I can’t disagree with the AAMFT’s theory. Sadly enough it would seem that our behaviors are shaped by culturally accepted norms. And so much for “until death do us part – as a sixty year old single male who can put two sentences together and not drool, you’re now a hot commodity”. I love the third reason which basically says when I married you I was a caterpillar but I have emerged into this beautiful butterfly and you my dear spouse are still a caterpillar.

The AAMFT then offered three suggestions that might enable a couple to grow together:
1. Continue your courtship after you are married.
2. Share goals that keep you looking forward to new things.
3. Marriage should take the highest priority.

Again, I think this is a very good list. However what IF God were your highest priority and His Word was the ultimate authority? Divorce would not be tolerable. We would be ecstatic to live an additional twenty years with the husband/wife that we adore, particularly if we are both in better physical and mental health. Since husbands would love their wives as much as they love themselves, continued courtship would come naturally. And because wives would respect (reverence, notice, regard, honor, prefer, venerate, and esteem) their husbands he would be nuts (that’s a psychological term) to ever think of leaving her.

Love must become a verb and we must each be willing to step out of that claustrophobic kingdom of me and “in humility consider others better than ourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Monday, 23 August 2010

You Want Me to Do What?

I have a number of quirks. Many years ago I came to the realization that I psychologically resisted doing something my wife would ask me to do, such as clean the garage, even though she was asking me, not telling me. I was aware that while I was doing the chore, I would do it begrudgingly. I also realized that if it was my idea to do the same chore, I did it willingly and cheerfully. What’s that all about? pride, ego, or a need to control?

I suspect that most of us don’t like to feel as though we are being told to do something, even if it is for our own good. Maybe it is the rebellious child that seems to reside in most of us.

Being asked to clean the garage seems rather innocuous. Just think of my reaction if the stakes were raised and my wife would ask me to change something about myself – perfect though I may be. The same psychological block that causes me to resist doing a chore is elevated to a new level - it is personal. Now let’s add the coup de grace – the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Assume that my wife and I are not on the best of terms. How well do you think her “suggestions” of how I might improve would be received? Exactly!

Here in at least from a male perspective, which is all I can offer, is the problem. Clearly God must think that above all else the husband needs to feel the respect of his wife. Because of all the instructions God could have given wives, Ephesians 5:33 says, “Wives respect your husband.” So is it possible that when a wife conveys in some way that she is unhappy with her husband that he in turn feels disrespected? Put aside whether or not the criticism is valid.

Is there a way out of this dilemma?-perhaps. Remember if it was my idea to clean the garage I would do it cheerfully. If I come to the realization that I am falling short as a husband I would be willing to change. My wife can therefore become the catalyst by changing what she can change, i.e. herself. Conventional wisdom suggests that if she were to demonstrate greater respect I would respond by showing her more love.

What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if the husband would begin to love his wife as much as he loves himself (yes, Ephesians 5:33) would she not begin to respect him more?

The fact is we can only change ourselves and most often our attempts at changing the other person are met with resistance.