How Can We Be Content IN Jesus Regardless Of Martial Status.

A few months ago I wrote a post about the idea that if you desire marriage and don’t feel called to Celibacy for the Kingdom that you don’t need to be content with your singleness.

In that previous post I shared where I think this idea comes from: 1. People thinking that if you aren’t looking for someone that’s when you find the one (spiritual platitude reasoning) and 2. Well meaning people who are misinterpreting what Paul says in Philippians 4.

I suggested that Paul never tells anyone to be content with their current status, but instead calls them to be content in Jesus regardless of their status.  Paul is speaking against anxiousness, desperation and striving; not for laziness, feigning feelings or lack of growth in life.

The overall point was that it’s ok not to be content with where you life is.

But today, what I want to talk about is the other part.  If we are discontent with where we are, perhaps single and wanting marriage, how do we be content in Jesus.  How do we not be anxious, desperate and striving.  How do we find joy and peace that surpasses understanding when we don’t like our current status or context.

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The Marriage Is Hard Movement

The other day over lunch a young friend said, “I think it’s the trendy thing in the Christian world to make sure that everyone knows that marriage is hard.”  Haha – Amen.  For sure in the hipster Christian world it is.  In fact it’s so trendy that if your marriage isn’t “hard” then you aren’t cool, must not get it, and are probably heading for disaster.  Man we have over thought this thing.

To begin with it seems sort of counter productive to keep telling this to a group of people (those aged 18-29) that aren’t getting married.  Only 20% of them are married.  So if the goal is to warn people – well then – good job!  Seems to be working.  No one is rushing into marriage.  In fact they are rushing away from it.

As the divorce rate rose in the late 20th century, the Church rightly reacted to re-estabish marriage as a covenant and not just a contract.  They wanted people to make sure they knew it was permanent and that even when it’s hard you hang in there – because less and less people were.  All good so far.

But I believe as an unintended consequence we’ve now got a Christian culture that has made an agreement with the enemy by accident.  They’ve made marriage out to be harder than singleness.  The words Marriage and Hard are now interchangeable in Christian culture.

It doesn’t help that a lot of this generation’s pastors bringing this message are generally kind of joyless to begin with. (For free – one thing the New-Calvinists and Emergent Church leaders have in common – They’re both mad).  These people want to make sure that everyone gets the seriousness of marriage, which is great.  But if we let that steal the joy of marriage then both the married and unmarried are screwed.

On top of this our generation whines a lot.  I’m a part of it.  Think about it.  My job is hard, my school is hard, singleness is hard, times are hard.  Everything seems to be hard and everyone wants to make sure you know that they are suffering just as much as you. Hardness is a badge of honor.  Joy isn’t even on the radar.  I’m dead serious.  There’s a spirit of complaining that is rampant in our world. Can you picture your grandparents sitting around talking about how hard any of those things are?

We spend more time complaining than doing something about it.  How many men’s “accountability” groups are really “share your problems” groups.  “Yeah Bro, that’s tough.” is about as much help as we offer each other.  We’re all about empathy and understanding, which are important.  But at some point, it’s time to actually deal with your stuff, not just have a great premium beer while talking about it.

Marriage is hard because dealing with our sin and woundedness is hard – and marriage forces the issue more than any other relationship.  But marriage isn’t the problem.  We are.  We don’t need to be afraid of marriage – we need to deal with our crap.

Over the years I’ve walked with a lot of people in tough marital situations.  What usually happens is this.  I listen to a guy for about half an hour pour out all that is wrong with his wife.  Then I ask a couple of questions.  And the next thing you know I’m saying something to the effect of, “This is really about you.  You need to deal with . . . ”

Now sometimes a guy has been sinned against or his wife is really going through something horrible and I’m not negating that type of thing.  But about 90% of the time when a guy says to me that marriage is hard what he really means is, “I don’t want to –  face this wound, deal with this sin, make this change or grow up in this way.”

The truth is that in the long run, marriage is not “harder” than singleness.  All research I’ve ever seen (almost all secular) says that married people are happier, have more and better sex, make more money, live longer and impact society more.  It’s a societal foundation. That’s not to say that being single is “wrong”.  Some are called to celibacy and some are single for other reasons.  My point is that a whole lot of this trendy “marriage is hard” stuff is more about sounding deep than actually dealing with deep stuff.

Maybe most importantly, we need to realize that hard and bad are not synonyms – even if our comfort culture tells us they are.  In the kingdom, hardness and joy are not opposites.  That fact is part of our witness.  But we lose our witness if we leave out the joy part.  Read that again.

As singles looking to be married we need to walk a line here.  We need to realize that marriage is not sex and romance on demand and it certainly won’t solve all of our problems. But we need to not give into the lie that it’s so hard that we probably can’t do it.  Don’t resign to it being bad.  It also would be good to start dealing with our sin and woundedness now.

I’d encourage married folks to think about what you mean when you say it’s hard.  What’s the point you’re really making?  Why are you making it?  As a warning?  As an excuse? Are you dealing with what is specifically making it hard right now?

What If Marriage Was Fun?

I’ve always liked weddings. People are mostly happy and they’re fun.  I’ve also officiated several weddings.  To me it is literally the best seat in the house.  You get to stand with two people (who you already love) as they say their vows and make a covenant with the Lord.  It’s awesome!  Sometimes they are nervous or stumble over words.  Sometimes they are focussed.  But always they are happy.

Happiness you see, is good.  Seriously, it really is.  It’s ok to want to be happy.

One of the things I’ve seen more and more of the last decade is this tendency in Christianity to try to walk back the fun.  It’s as if people seem to think that if the ceremony is more solemn that the people getting married will be less likely to get divorced. Really?!

Now I get it, I really do.  We want people to understand how big of deal it really is. It’s the second covenant of your life.   And it is just that – a covenant not a contract.  But that is good news not bad.  If it were just a contract, it wouldn’t be worth the celebration.

We also often want the people in the audience to get it.  And I get that too.  It’s great to charge the people to stand with this couple, a great reminder to those that are married, and good thoughts for those that aren’t as they consider whether or not they want to be. But here in lies the part that bothers me.

Where is the Joy?

Joy is a good thing and it is a part of marriage.  You are supposed to be excited.  What really is the point of trying to temper that?  “Let’s make sure everyone knows how somber this is so that later when it’s hard you’ll remember.”  Really?!

Marriage was created before there was sin not as a response to it, so we shouldn’t look for it to solve all of our problems. But that also means it’s a stand alone good thing. If our message is constantly, “Marriage is really tough”, “Make really, really, really sure you want to get married”, “Once you go down this path, there’s no turning back – and it’s a long road”, etc., then we can end up pushing a group of people (everyone under 35) who already aren’t getting married, further away from marriage.

I’m not suggesting that we stop telling people the truth.  In other words I’m not saying that we in the Church should soft sell marriage.  But I think we need to understand that when we say all of this stuff to the general public (be it sermon, wedding message, book, or blog) that most of the people we are talking to are already scared crapless of marriage.  They are not rushing into marriage, they are rushing away from it.

We need to stop reacting to a problem from 20 years ago and start reacting to the one we have now.  People are not getting married.

We need to share that marriage is indeed hard, but we also need to share that it is worth it. We need to realize that no one can actually understand a lot of it until they are married anyway and we are not doing singles a favor by scaring them or turning them into some sort of solemn, unfeeling, drone dater.

Dating, marriage, all of it should be fun.  It’s not just fun.  But if it’s not fun at all, then you know you’re in trouble.  (Bonus – This could be said about community, mission, worship, and on and on).

One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy and if marriage comes from the Spirit, well then. . .

It’s even in the Bible –

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love all the days of this meaningless life God has given you under the sun”

Proverbs 5:18 – “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

Song of Solomon – Well there is just a whole lot of joy going on here!

Marriage can be work, even hard work.  But it doesn’t have to be joyless work.  God created it when He saw that Adam wasn’t enjoying being alone.  Adam had it perfect right?  Perfect relationship with God.  Perfect relationship with nature.  But it wasn’t right yet.  There was a piece of his joy that was not complete.  God didn’t look down and say, “Well Adam’s got it pretty good, let’s make it harder”.  No, God wanted to make it even better.  

I bring all of this up because I think as those of us who don’t feel called to celibacy struggle to wait, pursue, try, quit, breakup, date, try to get a date and so on, we need to not be afraid of marriage.  We need to not feel like it’s all serious, all of the time.  It’s not the end of fun – it’s the beginning of a deeper fun.  Joy should be a big part of it.  In fact, I’d submit that its one of the main ways that you’ll know if you find it.