We spend years studying. Some subjects we will never use — at least in some practical way. Others will be of benefit to some phase of our life in significant ways. But how much study have we devoted to marriage – a really, really important part of the lives of us who commit to this sacred covenant relationship. Of course we learn a lot about marriage but unfortunately it is primarily by experience and often through very painful experience. I’m reminded of the old saying that experience is a hard teacher — it gives the test first and the lesson later. How much better when we have the wisdom to learn from others. Through the years and through painful experience I’ve come to realize that I should pay close heed to what others can teach me about marriage. There is much wisdom out there to be mined. Of course the most important source is the Bible. But there are other wonderful sources. The following is a brief article, originally in two parts, which I ran across last week. I really appreciated the author’s writing style and It made me think about marriage difficulties and muddles in a way that I hadn’t previously. It will become a part of my thought process in the future when I encounter couples struggling with their marriages. The articles appeared at: The Curmudgeonly Librarian as: Smack Dab in the Muddle. The author of the articles goes by CSL standing for (I believe) Curmudgeonly Sesquipedalian Librarian. CSL describes himself as:
“Born again”? Check.
All the makings of one holy pain-in-the-, er, neck? Check
Plays well with others? Not so much, according to wife!
Yeah, but I’ve been there and I’ve paid my dues….
Oh, I forgot – I am also sesquipedalian. CSL
I believe you’ll appreciate CSL’s article and believe you would enjoy his blog. So, why not check it out. Again, it is: The Curmudgeonly Librarian RMF
Smack Dab in the Muddle
by The Curmudgeonly Librarian
Many of the authors and bloggers I read make it a point to emphasize generosity and good-will. Two of my favorite bloggers are Paul and Lori Byerly, authors of the Generous Husband and Generous Wife blogs (I read them every morning, without fail.) Another example would be Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect, who peppers his writings with statements on how most spouses are not evil jerks and witches, but truly do have good-will for their mates (a statement with which I agree, by the way).
In the second chapter of L&R, Eggerichs sets up the premise for his book (the problem of gender-based miscommunication) by telling the story of one couple’s disastrous anniversary dinner. He tells us that the couple in this parable are “good-willed”, and then proceeded to explain what this means.
[What do I mean by “good-willed people”? Simply that both of these people love each other a great deal. They do not mean real harm; they do not intend real evil toward one another. They are hurt and angry, but they still care deeply for one another. That is why they spent their anniversary evening in separate rooms, miserable, wondering how this whole stupid thing could have happened. (And the reason neither will never figure it out is that each blames the other for the whole sordid affair.)]
As I said, I was very impressed by the insights of L&R and by the writing ministry of the Byerlys, but as regular readers of this blog know, I am more than adept at winkling at the edges of topics, and wondering about contrary questions. And in this case, I’m wondering if there isn’t a fly in the ointment; what point do we have to reach before good-will or generosity can no longer be assumed? It seems to me that automatic assumption of generosity and good-will can be problematic.
I think that it is safe to assume that there are marriages out there in which one might find that either one or both partners no longer have good-will, but instead harbor true bad-will for the other. It might be anger, contempt, disappointment, or a whole slew of other reasons. And given that the topic of toxic marriage is a ‘thing’ (over 70 million hits on Bing), I don’t think that there can be any gainsaying that statement.
In The Arms of Sweet Indifference
Given that I don’t believe that anyone stands at the altar and says in their heart, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”, I have to assume that there is a progression from generosity and good-will to selfishness and bad-will. And I think that there is a space, a wide space, in between the two where many marriage go. Now, I don’t believe that all marriages make the whole journey to toxic, but I think it quite likely that many make it to this halfway station, becoming bogged down in what I call the Indifferent Muddle.
There was a popular song when I was a new Christian that had a catchy chorus, and like any self-respecting music lover, I will catch an earworm and start singing tunes that I can’t get out of my head. And so it was one day that I was shelving books in my library and was humming In The Arms Of Sweet Deliverance. ** I have an unfortunate propensity for wordplay that can kick in unbidden, at a moment’s notice, and so I surprised myself by singing “In the arms of sweet indifference….” Sweet Indifference???
And this mental skipping of a groove that I experienced created the perfect description of the climate of a marriage bogged down in the Indifferent Muddle. Does any of this sound familiar?
“We’re good friends.”
“We never talk about anything other than work, kids or finance.”
“Sex? Infrequent (Never?) and meh when we do.”
“He/She/We never have energy to do anything anymore.”
“We get along fine.”
“We don’t have time for each other because the kids’ activities keep us busy.”
If you can find yourself agreeing with these and/or many more tepid statements about your marriage, I’ve got a newsflash for you—you’re in the middle of a marriage muddle. There’s a saying that familiarity breeds contempt, but I’m pretty sure that before contempt is reached, familiarity breeds indifference.
To go from generous to contempt, I think you have to pass through the arms of sweet indifference.
(In part 2, I hope to present help for climbing out of the Muddle.)
** For those of you who are curious, here is a link to one version of In The Arms of Sweet Deliverance, sung by a quartet I’ve never heard of before (Evidence Quartet RMF). The song is a product of that great gospel songwriter, Mosie Lister, and is a bouncy little ditty that is a good example of his oeuvre.
In my last post, I wrote about the state that many marriages find themselves in, that of the Indifferent Muddle. In this condition, husband and wife plod through their married life with a growing indifference in how they live in their marriages, since the marriage is carried on by rote. Oh, if asked, each will say, “I love my husband/wife!”, but maybe, if pressed about desire and attraction for their spouse, they will agree with the old Amish saying, “Cooking lasts.” Passion, however? E-e-eh, not so much.
This might go on for years, but a time may come when a husband or wife lifts a head and looks around. Taking stock of what the marriage has become, s/he realizes that the marriage has drifted into the murky fog that is the Indifferent Muddle. So, what to do?
Without adding to the multitudes of “5 Ways to Perk Up Your Marriage” genre, I believe that there are a few things that need to be done in attempting to leave the Muddle.
“Lift Up Your Eyes”
The fourth chapter of John’s gospel records an odd exchange between Jesus and His disciples. The elephant in the room is that when the disciples returned from the nearby village, they found Jesus, their rabbi, talking to a woman. A foreign woman! No self-respecting, Jewish rabbi would be caught dead doing such a thing!
Instead, they ignore the thing that is on everyone’s mind, and open with, “Let’s eat.” But Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook; instead, He immediately goes THERE – “The old saying is ‘four months to harvest’, but look around you,” He says, “the field is already ripe for harvesting!” Jesus brushes aside the disciples’ how-‘bout-dem-Bears attempt at diversion and addresses the bigger need, the fact that people need saving.
I’m going to tell you the same thing: Lift up your eyes to your marriage; look beyond this week’s appointment calendar, the new sales campaign at work, or coming up with a savings schedule for Junior’s college fund. Those are all well and good, but if you are in the middle of a meh marriage, you need to take stock of your situation.
And do it NOW. Note in John 4, Jesus mentions how workers would say, “four months from now”; instead of kicking the can down the road, Jesus is saying that the important issue is at hand, not something that can be corrected when time permits. So, “lift up your eyes”, TODAY.
“Do What You Did At First”
The church was doing a great job. The members of the church were known for their good works throughout the community, and unlike many modern churches which compromise truth for “relevance”, the teaching in this church was biblically sound, upholding the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There was no compromise in this congregation.
And yet, something was off. Most pastors would have given their right arms for the success that that church had achieved, but at the core of this church, something was missing. This something was so important that Jesus had John the Revelator send them a personal message. After noting their praise-worthy accomplishments as a church, He says to them:
But I have this against you: You have abandoned your first love. (Rev. 2.4)
“Ephesus, you’re doing great work, But remember Me? I’m why you even have church.” Ephesus had a zeal for truth, had a zeal for people, had a zeal for their mission. But in all this zeal, they forgot one thing. The main thing, as it turned out. Like Mary and Joseph, they left without Jesus! The fact that religious organizations keep going long after God has done an Ichabod on them (Ezek. 10:18) doesn’t surprise us. But we should also realize that marriages can continue long after love has departed.
But here’s the good news: this love can be restored. Jesus Himself, in speaking to the Ephesian church, gives the remedy:
… remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; (Rev. 2.5)
While it may seem trite, John’s message was a simple one: remember what you did in the beginning, when you truly loved the Lord? Go back and start doing those things again.
DO—Some of the biggest words in the English language are extremely small, and in Rev. 2:5, the two-letter word do is extremely important. Jesus’ message to Ephesus wasn’t to try to feel like you’re in love again, but to DO the things that you did before when you were in love.
Twelve years ago, when Wife and I felt the need to find a new church, we were confronted by a word that we had never before heard applied to the Christian faith: Intentionality. “Well, of course, we’re intentional,” we reasoned, “we received Christ and lived like Christians should, reading the Bible, praying, going to church.” You know, the whole Christian bit.
But this church challenged us with a new thought, that of being intentional about our Christian growth and maturity. After all, the pastor reasoned, if you truly want something, you plan for it, whether it is saving for a vacation or taking classes to improve your job skills, or even exercising to lose weight or get fit. “You don’t just wait for these things to happen,” he told us, “you figure out what you need do to achieve your goal, create a plan, and start working your plan.”
He applied this truism to our faith, our Christian lives. If we know that there are certain activities that will help us grow, spiritually, make plans to engage in those activities to be intentional in drawing nearer to God.
Well, what if our goal is a good marriage, a caring, generous relationship with our spouses? Shouldn’t we be intentional in that area, as well? In His message to the Ephesian church, Jesus seemed to be saying that they should be intentional in returning to their first love; maybe we should, too.
The Way Out of the Muddle?
Story time – There’s an old story about a man and wife driving in their car, back in the day of the bench front seats. At a stop light, the woman looks at the car ahead of them and notices, through the rear window, that the girl is snuggled up to the guy, her head on his shoulder and his arm around her. She says to her husband, “Look at that! That used to be us 30 years ago!” The man looked at the steering wheel in his hands and then said to his wife, “I haven’t moved.”
Getting into the Indifferent Muddle is easy–all you have to do is drift. Getting out sounds simple, even trite:
Remember what you were like
Purpose to return to that love
Be intentional in doing the things that build that love.
Simple, yes. But easy? No. You can’t drift out of the Muddle, you have to be intentional.