Could Your Family Of Origin Ruin Your Marriage?

Getting Ready For Marriage Series #3

Imagine with me, for just a moment, your perfect wedding day.  From the moment you wake up, everything is going exactly as you had hoped.

Celebrities everywhere are seething with jealousy as your guests shut down Instagram with one perfect photo after another.

Finally, it’s time for you and your (almost) spouse to exchange vows.  You get misty-eyed as the pastor says, ‘Repeat after me…’

I, John, take you Elizabeth…

your parents and your extended family…

to be my lawfully wedded wife…

As you start to mindlessly repeat the pastor’s words, something doesn’t sound quite right… After exchanging an awkward glance at the pastor and Elizabeth, you notice that she’s not alone.

There, just behind her, are her parents, brother, sister and other relatives.  As you look more carefully, you see that each one has a heavy suitcase with large lettering.

Her father’s says ‘kind but aloof’.  Mom’s reads ‘sweet but controlling’.  Seized with fear, you frantically try to make out what the other suitcases say without looking too obvious.

After all, 200 pairs of eyes are locked in on you.

One by one, the family hands their baggage over to Elizabeth, who receives them with a bizarre mixture of eagerness and regret.

With a look of fear and hope, she tries to hide the uglier suitcases under her dress.  All of a sudden, she turns back to you, awaiting your response.

As you try to remember what you’re supposed to say, you wake up in a cold sweat, thankful it was all a dream.

Or was it?

Who Do You Think You’re Marrying?

In their book Great Expectations: An Interactive Guide To Your First Year Of Marriage, Toben and Joanne Heim write, ‘Let’s face it; you marry more than just your spouse. In a sense, you marry your spouse’s family too.’

Over the years, in our premarital counseling with couples, we have found this to be true.

Many hopeful couples are like ‘John’ above.  They’re surprised to learn that their family of origin has shaped them in quiet, profound ways that will powerfully impact their marriage.

Other couples look more like ‘Elizabeth’.  They seem to recognize that they’ve inherited a lot of (mixed) baggage from their families.  While they’re still excited to get married, they worry that the negatives will bubble to the surface at some point and cripple their marriage.

Of course, many couples contain both a John and Elizabeth.  What about you and your future spouse?

And, how should you think about the role your family of origin may play long after you say, ‘I do’?

Your Family Of Origin & Your Marriage: Biblical Insights

So which is it?

Can we easily overcome what we’ve inherited from our families growing up, and go on to have a great marriage that proves them all wrong?

Or, are we bound to eventually succumb to the damaging patterns we picked up from our families?

When we look at the ways families influence their children and future generations in Scripture, here are some quick observations.

Sometimes children follow directly in their family’s footsteps.  The Books of 1-2 Kings provide many examples of this.  For example, after Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom never had another good king.  Every son followed the bad example of his father.

Other Scriptures, thankfully, paint a more positive picture.  Timothy, for example, had a ‘sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice’ (2 Timothy 1:5).  Timothy’s strong faith appears to be – at least in part – a result of the investment these godly women made in him.

Sometimes children walk away entirely from their family upbringing.  Returning to the Books of 1-2 Kings, sometimes kings with great fathers turned out to be lousy rulers. This happened when Ahaz took over for his father, Jotham (2 Kings 16-17).  Other times, the reverse happened, as when good King Asa followed on the heels of his evil father, Abijam (1 Kings 15).

I know a million caveats are in order, but these passages show that, spiritually-speaking, our relationship to our lineage isn’t always entirely linear.  There’s a real tension here, and it’s not always easy to sort out.

So let’s look a few more verses, see if we can make some headway, then end with a quick thought or two for your future marriage.  

Your Family Of Origin & Your Marriage: Biblical Insights, Part 2

Exodus 20:5-6 says,

I the Lᴏʀᴅ your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.

Verses like these seem to say that the sin of parents can somehow (we’re not given details) become the sins of their children, too.

But then other verses, like Ezekiel 18:20, seem to contradict this.

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.

So again, which is it?

If your parents struggled with anger, are you destined to import that into your own marriage?  Or, can you pretty much leave it behind you?

While it appears – from the bible and our own experience – that the families we come from can predispose us to certain patterns of sin, God’s grace runs far, far deeper.

John Piper mentions that the bible makes this abundantly clear.  For example,

  • Leviticus 26:40-42: ‘If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers . . . if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob.’
  • Acts 10:43: ‘To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

In other words, as Piper puts it, ‘Nobody is trapped in his father’s sins — or even in his own sins.’  Is that great news or what?  

Three Takeaways For Your Future (Or Current) Marriage

As you think about your family of origin and its possible implications for your marriage, here are three observations.

  1. The key themes and patterns of your home growing up may well be the default in your own marriage.  What are three positive, and three negative, patterns from your childhood?
  2. God’s amazing grace means our marriages can be free from poor patterns we’ve inherited from others.  And, even our own!  Ask God to free you from repeating the negative patterns you identified in #1.  And, your own sin.  (See 1 John 1:9.)
  3. Because we’re broken in a broken, distracting world, we can’t assume that we’ll just keep doing whatever was good from our upbringing.  Grace is still required.  Ask God to help you see the good you’ve inherited, and pray for power to keep living it out.  

Regardless of your story, your marriage can be the beautiful picture of God’s relationship to us, his church, that he intended all along.

If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in the other posts in this Getting Ready For Marriage Series:

5 Ways To Deal With Difficult People

Are you in a difficult relationship?

Actually, the real question is not, ‘Are you in one?’, but rather, ‘How many are you in?’

And, ‘In how many are you the difficult party?’  But I digress…

The truth is, whether it’s a boss, spouse, one of our kids, or an annoying neighbor, difficult relationships will always be part of our everyday lives.  So, we better learn how to deal with them.

Let’s look at 2 Timothy 2:24-26 for some practical, biblical guidance for how to navigate those relationships we’d rather not be in.  (Hat tip to counselor Jeff Stark for sharing this framework with me. If you live near Philly or Wilmington (DE) and need a solid biblical counselor, he’s a great place to start.)

oscar grouch photo

No doubt this is someone you know (and/or you).  Photo by al.star

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Don’t Miss Your Life By Looking For Life Up Ahead

5 Ways We Can Find Joy Right Now, No Matter What

Tired and bleary-eyed, I stared at the in-flight monitor and sank down into my seat.  This was going to be a loooong trip.

Seventeen hours, to be exact.  I felt my inner five-year-old urging me to ask the flight attendant (in a whiny voice), ‘Are we there yet?’  

In my desire to land in Israel and begin what promised to be a phenomenal vacation with my wife, I was missing the small joys in the journey of getting there.  The thought of life without wifi and being surrounded by passengers who (apparently) didn’t believe in showering had me in ‘just get through it’ mode.  (I know, first-world problems.)

While we’ve all probably had flights like this, I’m not really talking about literal travel.  I’m talking about how we travel through life day-by-day.  

So often, we fixate on whatever we don’t like and begin to look beyond it to the next thing.  When life will (supposedly) be better.  But if we’re really honest, ‘better’ never comes.

How can we break free from the lie that real life lies up ahead so that we can live with joy and contentment now?  

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Marry Someone Who Will Call You Out In Love

‘Hey, I meant to tell you something.’

It was just a kind, casual comment. But years of experience had taught me that my wife had something important to say. Something I probably didn’t want to hear.

Without warning, I felt like I had two people inside of me.  The first was a ninja, ready to dodge any incoming criticism. (And maybe launch a counter-attack).  The second knew she loves me and had learned her criticism always makes me better.

I didn’t know who was going to win.

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8 Reasons Your Devotional Times Are Boring & Inconsistent

Every morning, I had the best of intentions.  Today would be the day I had a mind-blowing, distraction-free devotional time.  But – every morning – something always seemed to get me off track.  And, if I was really honest, many times I didn’t want to read my bible or pray all that much.  Something had to change.

Can you identify?  If your times with God are boring, inconsistent, or both, it may because of one of these 8 reasons.  The good news is that, in uncovering the bad news lies the beginning of hope.

 

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Trusting God With Your Special Needs Child

When you find out that your child has special needs, it can feel like your world has ended.

And, in a way, it has.

Still, those of us who have traveled down the path with Jesus know that we can trust him.  Often, though, this trust comes on the other side of some very hard lessons.

Matthew, our son with special needs.

Matthew, our son with special needs.

One World Ends

For me, October 2nd, 2003 had been just like any other afternoon.  That is, until the phone rang.  It was my wife, Sharon. She could barely even speak through her sobbing.  I’ll never forget what she finally blurted out.

‘The doctor thinks Matthew has autism’.

Autism?!  Back then, autism wasn’t big news.  I had heard of it, but that was it.  But based on Sharon’s frenzied reaction, I immediately sensed that it wasn’t good.

In the days and months to come, we tried a million different things and some of them helped.  But not nearly enough to give him anything like a ‘normal life’.

This was the first really big thing that went seriously wrong in my previously charmed life.  The first thing that my drive and intelligence couldn’t fix.  The illusion of my control was failing.  Fast.

Your Story

I know that many of you have your own October 2nd.  The day your own child was diagnosed with a condition you couldn’t fix, or, had something tragic happen.  The day that the life you had scripted went off the rails.  Or, maybe it’s just been a slow realization that things aren’t going to ‘be OK’.

Before I try to share anything else, I just want to tell you that I’m sorry.  Your circumstances and your child(ren) are probably different than mine, so I’m not going to tell you I completely understand.  I don’t.

But even though there are lots of things we can’t understand, there are plenty of things we can.  God has lessons for us to learn,  and our kids with special needs are often our best teachers.

So what can we learn?

I’m (slooowly) learning a million things through Matthew, but I think the most basic one is this:

God can be trusted.  No matter what.

In these last few moments, I want to invite you to think – or re-think – about this with me in the context of your own son or daughter. (Or other life circumstance).

A Harder, Better, World Begins

At this point, you may be thinking, ‘Look, I already know that God can be trusted.  That’s old news.  And honestly, how does that help me?’

I’m a pastor.  For four years at seminary, the idea of God’s trustworthiness was hammered into us.  I knew all about it.  In English, Greek, and Hebrew.  But not really.  I knew about God, but I didn’t actually know or trust him very much.  (A pastor-neighbor later pointed this out to me!)

So we can know something intellectually, but practically have it make very little difference in how we think and act.  God uses the real stuff of day to day life so that our head, heart and hands begin to line up.

It seems like God does his best work through adversity and painful loss.  I often imagine what it was like for Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, the one he had waited 100 years for (see Genesis 22).

Those of us with special needs kids – in a way – know what it means to lose the kids that we love.  Sometimes the loss is complete, like the funeral I did for a friend’s son who had lived just a few hours.   More often, as with Matthew, the loss is less complete, but still very painful and real.  Unlike Abraham, we usually don’t have a choice.  But we are asked to respond in trust.  Will we?

It’s true that God called the whole thing with Isaac off just in time.  But before Abraham knew that, he was ready to trust and obey.

More than he had realized, Abraham had come to trust God.   ‘…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’ (Genesis 22:12).

Trusting God With Your Special Needs Child (Or Hard Circumstances)

If we’ll truly give – entrust – God with our kids, and keep doing that, we’ll trust him with anything.

When we do, God provides, often in unexpected ways.  In Abraham’s case, just after God spared Isaac, he ‘looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”’ (13, 14).  

Shortly after Matthew’s diagnosis, we found out his therapy costs would be $10,000-$15,000 a year.  Given our income, it may as well have been the national debt.  As that news sunk in, I got angrier and angrier at God for putting us in an impossible spot.  But, as our dinner guest – our largest donor – rang the doorbell – I figured I would fake it and at at least try to be pleasant.

Honestly, I couldn’t wait for him to leave so that I could wallow in our misfortune.  But as things wound down, he casually mentioned that, if we ever had a need, all we had to do was ask.  Before he left, he had written us a check for $10,000 – enough to cover all Matthew’s therapy costs for the entire year!  He did this every year until Matthew’s schooling was picked up by our new school district.

Before our friend’s visit, I ‘knew’ God could be trusted, but now I really knew.  Matthew is God’s son even more than he is mine, and somehow, some way, he will provide.  It’s a moment I’ve come back to again and again.

But back to you and your story.  Where are you struggling to trust God today?  It may be with your own special needs child, or, just some other really tough circumstance.  I hope that, no matter where you are, the following questions will help you to reflect and put your trust in the God who provides.

How are you (really) doing with trusting God with your special needs child or difficult circumstances?  How have you seen God provide for you specifically in the past?

 

 

Are You Friendly Distant?

How We Keep People At Arm's Length With A Smile (And How To Overcome It)

On a warm autumn day, for five minutes or so, we talked about our lives.  Our jobs, our kids, our weekends, and (of course) the football game later that day.  It was enjoyable, and we sped off with a smile and quick goodbye.

As I drove home, though, I felt a strange dis-ease about our interaction.  It was friendly and nice.  There was no tension.  And there was some back-and-forth.  It’s not like my friend talked my ear off.

But, our time together still felt empty.  We had held each other at arm’s length with a smile.

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1 Incredibly Hard Thing Husbands Must Do For Their Wives

Anyone who’s ever been in a romantic relationship knows how awesome, complicated, and just plain hard it can be. What if someone you trusted could make it simpler and easier for you?

I’m a guy. I like to keep things simple and straightforward. So I’m thankful for Ephesians 5:21-33, the Apostle Paul’s cheat sheet for marriage. There, he tells us guys the one thing we absolutely must do to have a successful marriage. If we do this, the other things tend to take care of themselves.

But even if you’re not married or in a relationship, you can do this in your other relationships as the best way to prepare.

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7 Secrets To A Lust-Free Summer

Before we know it, summer will be here.   I can already picture long weekends down the shore, the scent of freshly-cut lawns, the sounds of the ice cream truck, and… a bunch of stuff I’d rather not see.

Like women who are dressing to get attention.  Babushkas get traded for bikinis, and that’s a temptation for most of us men.

We want to honor God and the women around us, but that doesn’t just happen all by itself.  It takes some effort and intentionality.

In this post, I want to convince you that it’s worth the effort and then give you 7 specific strategies for success.

Lust: What’s The Big Deal?

Some of my secular readers, and even some Christians, may be thinking, ‘Seriously, what’s the big deal?  There’s no harm in just looking.  Or not much, anyway’.

Is that really true, though?

Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.

Jesus isn’t naive.  He understands that it’s worse to actually sleep with someone than to look at them with lust.  His point is that wrongful desire, which we can’t see, is ultimately behind our sexual sin, which we can.

Lust & Your Favorite Dessert

Author Paul Tripp illustrates this by using an everyday example we’re all (waaay too) familiar with.  Dessert.   Let’s say we’ve just finished dinner and we’re stuffed.  We know we shouldn’t eat that strawberry shortcake staring at us from the middle of the table.  But, truth is, we really, really want it.  The obvious truth is that we don’t want to just look at the cake.  We want to eat it.

It seems crazy to say it, but lust works the same way.  Lust doesn’t just want more lust.  It wants the actual experience.  (See David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11).  That’s why Jesus says what we do with our hearts and eyes is a big deal.

As we rapidly head toward summer and the temptations it presents, we need to be convinced sexual purity is critical if we’re going to stay safe and love the people around us.

Are you convinced?  Really?

7 Secrets For A Lust-Free Summer

If you are convinced, what can you do about it?

  1. Attack it at the root.  Since all our actions can be traced back to the hidden, but real, dynamics of our hearts, this is where the real battle occurs.  Biblical counselor John Bettler has a great, short article where he lays out the ‘pyramid of lust’.  I can’t unpack it all here, but read the article and pray through it.  The basic idea is that underneath obvious sexual sin at the top of the pyramid lies less obvious relational and ‘life’ lusts that drive it.  For example, someone’s struggle with pornography may really be about an easy escape from his loneliness.  Dealing with that is the key to long-term transformation.
  2. Build community.  This should include some loving accountability, but goes way beyond it.  We need to develop healthy, give-and-take relationships where using and objectifying people become less and less natural.
  3. Be where God has placed you.  The story of David’s downfall with Bathsheba begins with this interesting observation: ‘In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war… David stayed behind in Jerusalem’ (2 Samuel 11:1).  That set the stage for him to see Bathsheba and everything unraveled from there.  Sometimes what God is calling us to do is hard, but doing it insulates us from other, far worse things.
  4. Memorize relevant Scripture.  As a starting point, check out this list of 25 verses. Extra credit: find passages that force you to think a little, like 1 Timothy 6:6-10.  This passage is actually about money, but can easily apply to other challenges like sexual sin.  So you have to engage with it (and God) instead of just robotically memorizing it.
  5. Use the Joseph strategy.  When Potiphar’s wife tried to take Joseph to bed (Genesis 39), he didn’t stand there and have an extended discussion with her.  He ran away.  If certain situations are a temptation for you, why not just avoid them as much as you can?
  6. Be careful what you watch and consume.  We know that our bodies will pretty much reflect what we eat, right?  It’s the same with our eyes and hearts.  Are you discerning about what you watch on TV and Netflix?  The stuff you look at online?  If you need to make changes here and have been putting it off, make a commitment to do it. Today.  And tell someone else so that you actually follow through.  Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and OpenDNS (whole-house filter) are some good starting points.
  7. Be thankful for your spouse or boy/girlfriend.  If God has blessed you with a wonderful boy/girlfriend or spouse, thinking about them is one of the best ways to honor God – and them! – that I can think of.  My wife Sharon is awesome.  She’s beautiful, funny, a devoted mom, is all-in with our ministry and loves God more than me.  When I think about her, stuff that could be tempting loses its power. Even if you’re in a relationship that isn’t great, though, focusing on what is great about it will only help you.

Obviously, this isn’t a magic formula or quick fix.  But our efforts in this direction really add up and it’s worth it.

Summer is just around the corner and we need to be prepared.  Although our culture doesn’t think that keeping our minds and eyes pure is a big deal, God says it is.  With a little consistent effort this is a fight we can win.

Questions For Reflection:

  1. Which of the suggestions above would help you the most as you prepare for purity this summer?
  2. How can you specifically start to apply it?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Hope For When Your Heart Is Shutting Down

Our hearts are always shutting down.

It can begin with a defining moment where someone says something you can’t forget.  Or maybe it’s been many small disappointments with someone who failed you.  Again.

Either way, it’s so natural to hold people (including God) who disappoint us at arm’s length.  It feels safe and hurts less, but ultimately has disastrous consequences in our lives.

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