Advent reminds you to expect great things in your marriage, but also to look for your spouse and for God to deliver in unexpected ways.
Contrary to the popular notion and the fact that stores have had their halls decked with red and green since October, we are not currently in the season of Christmas. Technically, until December 25th, we are in the season of Advent. The church calendar observed by many Christians tells us that Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas.
Advent comes from a Latin word that means arrival. The season of Advent is all about expectancy and preparing to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on Christmas.
Advent helps us pause amidst all the shopping and decorating and cookie making to remember what Christmas is really all about: Jesus. In Advent, we stir up our longing for Jesus and remember that he is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.
Longing, Waiting Yet Completely Missing It
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had been waiting more than 400 hundred years for the arrival of the Messiah. Yet because they had preconceived notions of the way in which he would come and how he would go about establishing his kingdom, they completely missed the fact that he was standing right before their eyes. Not only did they miss him, they went against him and killed the very one for whom they had been waiting.
Although Jesus came to Earth as a baby, his ultimate goal was to claim for himself an eternal bride. As is so often the case, there is a clear parallel between the spiritual and the marital as we think about Advent.
What are you longing and waiting for more of in your marriage? What preconceived ideas do you have of what that should look like when it comes?
I’ve written before about how expectations in marriage affect what we perceive (See my post Expectations: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). Expectancy bias can cause you not to see something that’s right in front of you because you aren’t expecting it or are expecting it in a different form.
- Do you miss your spouse’s expressions of love because you are looking for them to express love the same way you do?
- Do you miss your spouse’s sexual initiatives because they aren’t as overt as you would like?
- Do you miss your spouse’s small acts of kindness because you expect them to be grander? Or worse, because you don’t expect him or her to be kind at all?
- Do you miss small incremental changes in your spouse for the better because you have given up hoping for change or because you want bigger changes?
- Do you discount efforts your spouse makes to help out with chores or errands because they don’t do it exactly how you would?
I’m not saying you should settle. I’m saying you should look for and be thankful for every step in the right direction. Thankfulness, appreciation, and recognition of the good things in your spouse and marriage will not only encourage your spouse in their efforts but will actually help you see them more easily.
Robyn of Up With Marriage has a great quote in her post this week “Desire to Please”
Whether you think positive or negative about your husband, either way you are right.
God Shows Up In Unexpected Ways
Advent and Christmas remind us of the lavish love, generosity, and goodness of God toward us. It also reminds us that sometimes God shows up in ways we don’t expect.
God is for you and for your marriage. But if he answers your prayers in ways you don’t expect, will you miss it?
- Maybe instead of changing your spouse, he may want to change you?
- Maybe instead of improving your spouse’s behavior to line up with your expectations, he may want you to grow in showing grace first?
- Maybe instead of instead of getting your wife to submit, he may want you to get better at selfless love?
- Maybe instead of causing your husband to lead in the way you think he should, he may want you to acknowledge your husband as head and to honor and respect him just as he is today?
- Maybe instead of getting your spouse to apologize, he may want you to be the one to reach across the gap between you that was created by your last argument?
One thing Jesus clearly showed us is that the Kingdom of God is often upside down and backward from conventional or popular thinking (be the greatest by being a servant, the last shall be first, foolish things confound the wise, love your enemies, etc.). So when it comes to your marriage, you might just need to be open to some unconventional and even counter-cultural answers from the Lord.
In fact, I’d expect it.
These last days of Advent, consider where you might need to adjust your expectations of your spouse and marriage in ways to allow you to celebrate all that is good in your relationship.
And as we wait to celebrate God showing up on Christmas, remember that God may also show up in your marriage in ways you don’t expect.
The best sex happens when you both start looking at sex as a wonderful, beautiful, powerful privilege just for the two of you.
The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.1 Cor 7:3-4 NLT
Have you ever heard anyone preach a sermon on this scripture? I would guess not. Continue reading
When life’s challenges press in on your spouse, you can be haven they need.
I would rather spend time with my darling wife, Jenni, than anyone else on the planet. When life gets crazy, difficult, stressful or frustrating, she is a haven for me.
What does it mean to be a haven for your spouse? Dictionary.com describes a haven as a place of shelter, safety, refuge, or asylum. A haven is also a safe harbor for a ship in distress.
Wouldn’t you like to be a haven for your spouse when life gets challenging for him or her? You can be.
Here the ways in which my wife has been a haven for me recently through a stressful and difficult season.
Refuse to Withdraw
A natural response to a spouse whose stress comes out as what my wife calls “prickly” would be to withdraw. But Jenni has learned over the years that I actually need her during these times, despite my sometimes gruff disposition. She’s gotten pretty good at hanging in there and maintaining connection, even when it isn’t necessarily easy.
Although I may not act like it, I actually want affection from Jenni, even when I’m in a bad mood. Admittedly that can be difficult for her, because my prickliness is not at all attractive. Plus, I may not respond immediately to her attempts to show affection through kindness, concern, empathy and even physical affection. But when she shows me love and grace, it has a big impact on my mental and emotional state.
Jenni will often remind me of who I am, what my strengths are and what God’s calling on my life is. She helps me defeat the lies of the enemy by reminding me of the greater truth, despite what may be true in my current circumstances. She also is good at reminding me who God is, even when i can’t necessarily see it for myself. She is great at calling me to “higher ground” when I might otherwise stay in the pit.
In addition to the things above, which I also try to do for her, I asked Jenni to describe other ways in which I provide a haven for her when she is having a hard time. These are the things she came up with.
Jenni described my efforts to guard and protect her from over-extending herself as “extreme watchfulness.” Because she is naturally a tremendously giving person, she can have a tendency to pour herself out to the point of exhaustion. I try to make sure she doesn’t get to that point by proactively helping her leave some margin in her life. And when she gets overwhelmed, I willingly step in to help her out in practical ways.
In addition to helping her not over-extend herself, I also make an effort to see that she prioritizes the things in her life that feed her soul. The most recent example is that I suggested she skip a church meeting that would have meant a late night when she has to get up before 5 am. It would also have meant driving in the dark, which she doesn’t enjoy. But I encouraged her to go see Amahl and the Night Visitors, an operetta that delights her every Christmas. (Google it and find one in your area this year!)
Make a Refuge
Jenni reminded me of time I created a sitting room for her in our bedroom so that she would have a place of her own to rest and recharge. This was back in the day when my mother, who was suffering with Alzheimer’s, was living with us, and when Jenni felt she had lost ownership of much of our home. She wrote a post about that called A Haven in Our Home. It doesn’t need to be an entire room, but think about how you might provide a comfortable space that would be a place of refuge for your spouse.
What can/do you do to be a haven for your spouse? Share your ideas in a comment.
I posted last week about five ways to communicate effectively during marital conflicts. This week I’m offering you a simple strategy you can use to totally change the dynamic when you and your spouse are at odds with each other.
A couple from one of our marriage small groups offered their strategy when things get heated. One of them will stop and say:
I am for you.
Using these four simple words in the midst of a disagreement will remind your spouse that you are on the same team. This little statement shifts the conversation in a way that invites collaborate on a solution.
When you work with each other rather than against each other it avoids accusation and makes it easier to maintain your connection.
Re-frame the Situation
In a similar way, you can convey the notion that “I am for you” when approaching a problem with your spouse simply by the way you describe the issue. Rather than taking a “me against you” posture, try taking an “us against the problem” stance.
For example, let’s say the issue is that your husband is constantly late for dinner. You could use terms that accuse him, such as, “You don’t seem to care that I work hard to prepare a nice meal for us after I put in a full day at work. You just show up whenever you want.” If repeated offenses cause you to be really angry, you might even just eat without him and leave him to fend for himself when he shows up. A more helpful stance would be say something like, “I know you work hard and I want to support you in your efforts to take care of our family. Since I know it’s often hard for you to know when you’ll be able to leave work, can we come up with some way that makes it easier for me to plan dinner to line up with your schedule? It’s important to me that we find a solution that works for both of us.”
Let’s say your wife constantly makes social commitments for the two of you without consulting you or checking your schedule. You could angrily snap at her in an accusatory manner, “I’m tired of you signing me up for all these events that I don’t care about. It’s like my time counts for nothing to you.” You could also flatly refuse to go with her as a way of retribution. Alternatively, you could say something like, “I know it’s really important for you to get together with friends and family. You are super relational, and I know that people feed your soul. I want to support you in that, but is there a way we could make sure we align our schedules before making commitments? Maybe you could text or call me before saying yes? I’m open to other suggestions too.”
In both of these examples, statements of support and understanding (conveying that “I am for you”) precede the request to find a collaborative solution.
Who is the Real Enemy?
It’s hugely important to remember that your spouse is not the enemy in any conflict. Rather, think of the situation as one where you and your spouse are on the same team, facing whatever the issue might be.
When you can keep in mind that your spouse is not the enemy, it allows you to approach him or her in a collaborative manner. It also reduces the likelihood that accusation and defensiveness enter the conversation. Finally, it allows you to maintain your connection, even in the midst of conflict.
Think back to your latest disagreement with your spouse. Would him or her saying “I am for you” have positively impacted the course of the conversation?