A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: marriage (page 1 of 3)

Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

Sometimes in stress, we actually ask some of the wrong questions–which lead us to some of the wrong answers. We might be thinking stuff like, Did I even marry the right person? Would I be happier if I weren’t with you? Are we a good match? Are we going to get through this? Should I think about getting out? Questions like those, I realize, don’t lead us to be more married. They don’t lead us to “unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8). They lead us further apart.

A tip: Set aside a time to talk about this when you’re not about to explode in frustration. Your goal isn’t an argument, but some constructive conversation: togetherness-talk. Consider sitting next to each other while you talk, cuddling or holding hands.

The goal of these questions? To push us further into a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Examining the Stressed Version of You (Plural)
  1. As individuals, what patterns do you and I fall into?
  • How do I know when you’re stressed? (Again, this list will help.)
  • How do you know when I’m stressed?
  • What are your go-to ways of relating? He goes into man-cave mode. I work until long after the kids are asleep. He gets critical. I get insecure. I don’t talk. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t really “see” me and my needs. I can’t get out of bed in the morning.
  1. What are each of your favorite coping mechanisms? Some of those will be helpful. In what ways do you each overuse your coping strategies?
  2. Ask each other:
  • What’s one tangible way I can help you cope?
  • At what point are each of our coping mechanisms unhelpful?
  • How can I help you steer clear of that point?
  • How can I be a “safe place” for you when you’re in hard times? How can I advocate for you?
  • In what ways do I make you suffer the consequences of my stress?
  • If you were to write a “stress relief prescription” of activities for me, what would be on it?
  • What do I dislike about “us” when we’re stressed? How do our weaknesses tend to create friction?
  1. What lies do we each tend to believe when we’re stressed? I’m powerless. When I’m overwhelmed, passivity is all I can muster. I’m a failure. I don’t have what it takes. If people don’t think well of me, I’m nothing.
  • What truth can I gently remind you of when you’re in those dark places?
  1. Who’s been helpful to us in the past when we can’t see our way out? Is there anyone new who might help us? Who encourages us to be more “married”, prays for us, and/or helps us see the good we can’t see on our own?
  2. Pray specifically for your marriage.
  3. For future reference in tough times:
    • What do we love about us?
    • What made us fall in love?
    • What keeps us trying?
    • What are our overarching reasons we push for a better marriage?
    • What do I love about you?
    • What am I thankful for in our marriage and our journey together? (Lord, don’t ever let us forget. Keep truth at the front of our minds, and show us what lies we’re believing. When we want to turn away, help us remember. Help us choose us, over and over.)

As you wade through thoughts like these, perhaps this prayer will encourage you as it did me this morning:

Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (it’s a new favorite of mine!), p. 255

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Ideas to Be Your Spouse’s Wingman

If you’re thinking of Goose and Mav, you’re getting my idea. How can we be our spouse’s “intimate ally”*? Get this: The word God used to describe Eve in the Bible (ezer) translated as helper—is most often used in the Bible as either as a term for a military ally…or for God Himself, helping us. Here are a few practical ideas—for husbands and wives–to act as your mate’s shield, advocate, and protector. (Like this? Be sure to check out 50 Ways to Inspire Your Wife and 50 Ways to Inspire Your Husband.)

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The Next Great Love Story

I was eighteen, it was February, and we were all headed on a road trip that weekend to a mutual friend’s house. I’ve wondered what God thought of that day, if perhaps He was rubbing His hands together with glee. The stage was set, everything immaculately timed.

In my memory, the young man was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki shorts. His hair was longer then, curly. Upon request, he prayed for our safe travel before we left. We all left for Oklahoma City and I climbed in behind the passenger’s seat of his car. I confess the thought may have flitted through my mind that his car was a little girly. That was before I knew he paid for it and maintained it himself, and before I’d ride around in it for the next five years, happy as a clam to be in his passenger’s seat.

That day, February 5, 1999, was the day I met the love of my life. If God would’ve tapped me on the shoulder—Hey, that guy over there? Yeah. That one. You two are going to have four kids, live in Africa. He’s the kind of best friend and man you couldn’t even imagine yourself having.

Like I said. I wonder if God just sat back and soaked in the love story He’d cooked up.

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Guest post: 9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage in Tough Times

It’s been one of the most pressing seasons for our marriage.

We’ve been navigating a crux of major life decisions—only one of which included the continent we’d be living on. And our marriage that has been characterized by fairly fluid teamwork can at times be pulled taut by our diverging passions, longings, and reasoning.

“Stressed” doesn’t begin to cover it.

The most pleasantly surprising discovery of such a thin, exhausting stretch of marriage:  Despite all we were juggling–by God’s grace, we have remained (as Dan Allender calls it) intimate allies.

Ever wonder how to pray for your marriage in the thin, challenging times? This post is for you.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com, explore what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, “9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage,” gives some uber-practical ways to move in prayer toward what’s always a good decision: being more married, more one flesh. …Even, perhaps especially, in the tough times.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

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Guest post: Breathing Lessons

For those of you who’ve been married: Do you remember what “just married” felt like? After the sound of the tin cans clanking behind the car faded, after you set your bags down in your together home after the honeymoon—what was it like?

Reality: No matter how much training you’ve had, one flesh takes a lotta work. My sin settled in our little 500-square-foot apartment right alongside our stacks of wedding gifts. And when my sin collided head-on with his? Well, let’s just say sometimes I wished our duplex walls were a little thicker.

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Off-season: When you’re not where you wanted to be, when you wanted to be there

Why does it seem like everyone else my age is promoted, and I’m stuck in Gruntwork Land?

I should be married by now.

I am so. Tired. Of the little kid season. Why did I quit my job?

He started at the same time as I did. How did he get so much further ahead?

Who goes back to school at my age?

I had no idea w hat I gave up when I got married.

What was I thinking?

Everyone else has a baby.

Why in the world did I major in that? I jeopardized my entire career.

 

Ever feel like your season of life seems…off?

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A Note for the Day You’re Feeling Powerless

I woke up the other day feeling—well. Feeling needlessly angry. (It wasn’t the first time, lately.)

I drilled down a bit in my surly little soul. Anger, I recall, is secondary; it stems from something: disappointment, fear, hurt, sadness. For me, there were slices of sadness—but also a big hunk of fear. More specifically, I felt powerless.

As I was scrawling thoughts for this post, I felt rather sheepish for even labeling that. The reasons I feel powerless are nothing like some of you reading this, huddling (or scramming) when an abusive spouse comes home. Or perhaps you’ve got a boss who makes you feel about an inch high, or even threatened—but you’ve gotta pay the rent. Or maybe you’re a person of color, feeling terrified and estranged after the last election. Or you have a dark diagnosis and a couple of small kids.

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Guest Post: Is Insecurity Robbing Your Family?

I guess you could say that because of my story, which I shared last week–I’m pretty passionate about giving insecurity the boot. Maybe it’s much more so in parenting because I watch how my kids Xerox my values.

And I know how much it’s robbed from me.

I told you how insecurity—for far too long—was a giant, life-sucking Hoover in my marriage. It was as if I’d wrapped a leash around my neck, panting to be led by someone’s opinions. …Even complete strangers.

If you’re asking, “What’s the big deal about a little insecurity?”–maybe I can only tell you what I’ve seen it control.

I’m guest-posting today on my friend Kristen’s site, weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you parents swimming upstream today!

because-of-a-generous-grace-janel

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Out of Insecurity: My Story

 

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He’s loved me through a lot, you know.

When we married 16 years ago—I at 19, he at 20—I was cripplingly insecure. It was as if I’d wrapped a leash around my neck, panting to be led by someone’s opinions.

The quick-and-dirty version of my downward spiral: I’d always been an achiever, loved appreciation; admiration. I was good at it. (Most of us are good at hunting what we crave.) My opinion of God, even, became tightly braided with what others saw and praised.

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Away: Feeling Far from God

The headlights wove through a mountain pass tonight as a few tears plopped on my lap. My husband had encouraged me to get out for some time alone; he and the kids shared shish kabobs at home. Usually I’m getting out for a relief from, well, motherhood. In the car it was blissfully quiet, blissfully alone. But my wanderings through the stacks of the used bookstore had struggled to lift what sat on my chest.

I mentioned I’ve been grieving lately. I wonder. Is it my heart’s questions that make me feel God is unusually silent?

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