Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Can I Save My Marriage?
For those who seek answers to their questions in Tweets of 140 characters or less, let me be brief. The answer to the title question is: No.
But for those of you who may think the subject is important enough to spend more than 10 seconds of your time, you may find something of value here, if you would read a bit further.
The speaker to our small Tuesday morning men’s group today was the deacon who presided over our opening Communion Service. He also is the local high school football coach, and his talk today was about the important things and moments in our life, and not surprisingly he based his talk on the lessons he tried to teach his young football players.
The coach said he emphasizes to his team that in every game there are three or four plays which decide the game’s outcome. If those plays didn’t happen as they did, the outcome would be different. He told us how his team had a particular rival school which, more than any other, they wanted to beat. And in the last three years in row, they did beat this rival --- by a total of seven points. In each of those last three games, it was only ONE key play made the difference in the outcome. He said he emphasizes this fact to his players often, and the key point which must be remembered: you don’t know which play that will be a crucial one, and so you must play each down in the game as if it were the most important.
He gave us an example where his team was leading near the end of the game, when suddenly things seemed to turn around. Up by only two points, the opposing team marched right down the field. His team was very tired and didn’t seem to have the energy left to stop them. With less than a minute to go, the other team was on the two yard line. Even if they were to stop them on the next play, that team would almost certainly kick a field goal to win the game --- almost certainly. But then ….. the opposing team fumbled the handoff, and the smallest man on his team’s defensive squad, who hadn’t tackled anyone the whole game, snuck under the pile and recovered the fumble. His team got the ball back and ran out the clock to win the game. Smiling the coach told us how that day when he reminded the team in the locker room after the victory how “in every game there are three or four plays which decide the game’s outcome” and they can never give up, they REALLY understood it.
The importance of giving our all each minute applies to more than a football game, the deacon in him told us; it applies to our lives. He told us of a survey which discovered that 99.6% of marriages where the couple pray together daily, DO NOT end in divorce. Nothing in this life is certain, but … 99.6%? That sure sounds like a certain thing. But then the coach in him began speaking: no, even that is not a sure thing. He pointed out that prayer is not really an event, like it rained yesterday, but many of us want to treat prayer that way. We want to relate to God in an event-by-event fashion. “Okay, God, I’ll pull the weeds in the garden, and then you make it rain.” Or, “I won’t comment on how late dinner is tonight, and you make my wife stop nagging me.” We may pray for things or events --- and at some time or another, we all do --- but prayer is not really an event driving action, like turning the key in the ignition and having the car start. Prayer is a conversation with God, a two-way conversation, which implies a relationship, something that is built over time.
The coach gave the example of his boys working out in the weight room. Coming into the room for the first time, some 98-pound weakling may set a target of lifting 500 pounds. That might be a reasonable goal for him, but almost certainly he will not achieve it that first day --- even with prayer. Building muscle occurs over time. It takes patience and persistence, and a strong desire for the outcome. And even if you have these things, perhaps it still might not be possible ---- achieving 100% of YOUR goal. But the thing is, the coach pointed out, that along the way to what you may perceive as a failure, there may be many good things happening. Getting stronger, you may be able to run faster, and in a football game you might now be able to run down that opponent with the ball before he scores. Getting more endurance, it might be you who best that lineman from the other team at the game’s end, tackling their quarterback and saving the game. These are game-changing plays, one of only three or four in a game, which now you can accomplish because of your efforts in the weight room --- even if you didn’t meet the goals you set. In the weight room, or in prayer, it is persistence that matters, and a strength we did not know we needed may be there when we need it most. And we can change the outcome in the game of our life.
The deacon said it is only in the movies that people say “That’s the day we fell in love.” Real love grows, and perhaps a truer statement might be: “That’s the day we realized we were in love.” Regarding marriage, if you want a truly successful marriage, one which will last a lifetime, surveys say you can achieve that 99.6% of the time, if you pray together every day. It’s not an event promise with the Lord: “We’ll pray together each day --- that’s our part, Lord, and then YOU make our marriage work.” There is no I and you with the Lord; prayer is a relationship. It is a “WE.” Even with daily prayer, I don’t make my marriage work; it works when we cooperate with the Lord. When we give, through prayer, the Lord permission to enter our marriage, to be part of the marriage; that is what strengthens the marriage. And it doesn’t happen in an instant. Like the weight room training, good results come through patience, persistence, and a strong desire for the good outcome.
The deacon commented on the prayers our little group had said before his talk. He was impressed. Among those we prayed for was the granddaughter of one of our group who, two years ago, we had helped send to teach orphans in Ghana, Africa. After a year there she came back to Michigan and entered college for two years, but the yearning for her family there was strong, and so she went back this summer to see how they were doing. The small school she had started before she left the first time had grown significantly (Ghana has no public school system), and in the short time there, she now had formed a non-profit organization to support it --- with an amazing cast of volunteers who emerged to serve on its board, to ensure the school’s success. The deacon was pleased how we had taken up a collection, we had prayed, and how we, with this young woman and God, were cooperating to make a huge difference in many lives. (You can read about Kathleen on her blog at: www.ghanawithlove.blogspot.com) An opportunity had occurred for each of us, a “game-changer,” that rarely comes in a life, and we had played the game --- and prayed the game --- with persistence. It’s what a life well-lived is about, making a difference, cooperating with God.
Coach told us how this year the seniors on his team will do a “different” half time show during one game. During the halftime break, the seniors will give witness to “the big plays” of their lives. They hope to show how they, in their young lives, have made a difference in this world, because they wanted to, they prayed, they persisted and they cooperated with God. And by their witness, they hope to be a “game-changer” to even one life in the stands. They truly have recognized the importance of each moment.
“Can I Save My Marriage?” was the title question to this blog posting, and I answered: No. Marriage is a process and it is a cooperation, with your spouse and with God. You alone can’t save it. For marriages in trouble, there are marriage renewal weekends and marriage support groups and marriage counselors --- some very good ones who can make a huge difference, if you and your spouse attend and work with them. But a good marriage isn’t just about two people; it includes a relationship with God. Praying every day together has been shown to make marriages work, but the work itself will take time and persistence. And you might be surprised what happens along the way.
Even if you have to get up early each morning and pray alone --- in the beginning, great progress can be made if you are but willing to start this relationship with God in your marriage --- and not expect answers in 140 characters or less.I have it on good authority: the pope may, but God doesn’t Tweet.