God’s Plan for Marriage?

Paul & Linda Linzey

God’s plan is for marriage to be full of beauty and glory, happiness and harmony, each partner thinking of the other. But it doesn’t always start out that way, or if it does, it doesn’t always stay that way. People become self-centered, wanting their own way. Or, they are so fragile or bruised from their past that they are afraid of being hurt again. Some couples mean well, but don’t have a clue as to what it takes to grow the kind of marriage they really do want.

Linda and I met at a Christian college. We were preparing to enter lives of ministry. Shortly after meeting in the cafeteria, we started talking about dating. One of her classes was a psychology course in which her professor gave the students a list of one hundred questions to talk about if you were in a serious relationship and wanted it to work out long-term. W’d go to a local park and talk about the questions and issues identified on the handout. This started shaping our relationship, and within five months we were engaged.

PD_0333During the months leading up to the wedding, married friends from our church tended to say things like, “You guys are in love now, but wait ‘til after the wedding!” It made us wonder, “What’s going to happen after the wedding?” After we’d been married a few months those same friends would say, “You guys are in love now, but wait ‘til you have kids!” “Uh-oh! What’s going to happen when we have kids?” After we had three children, those same friends said, “You guys are in love now, but wait til they’re teenagers!” By that time we figured out that those friends, while they meant well, simply didn’t know how to grow a good, healthy, happy, Christian marriage and family.

In our early marriage, my wife and I meant well. We loved each other and wanted what was best for each other. But both of us came from families that modeled poor relational styles, and we began to automatically reenact the marriages of our parents.

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Knowing that we wanted something better than either of us had witnessed, we read books on marriage, attended seminars and couples retreats, talked with our pastors and several marriage counselors. We had our share of tough times, especially during the years after our sons were born, but on our twentieth anniversary, we had some friends over to the house to celebrate. I was in the living room with some friends, and Linda was in the kitchen when I heard someone ask her, “So, what’s it like being married to the same guy for twenty years?” I waited for her answer, and then heard my wife say, “You know, in twenty years we’ve had seventeen good ones.”

At first I got mad. What do you mean we’ve had three bad years? But then I realized that if a baseball player went 17 for 20 at the plate, the batting average would be .850, which isn’t bad. I think I can identify the years she had in mind as not being good ones. I came home from work one day, shortly after our second son was born, and Linda asked me if we were ever going to be happy again. I was twenty-four and she was twenty-two. We had two young sons. We weren’t getting enough sleep. We were dirt poor. Life was just hard. I answered, “I don’t know, Sweet-Heart. I think so, but I don’t know. How ’bout if we stay faithful to each other, treat each other right, and see what happens?”

Things did get better. Eventually we were happy again. We could tell when it got better because we could laugh together again. We were no longer angry all the time. We could look at each other and smile. We liked being in the same room again. It would have been real easy to call it quits during the tough times. It would have been easy to mistreat each PD_0227other, or to give in to the temptation to have an affair. But we didn’t. We stayed faithful. We treated each other right. We made the decision to honor each other.

On our thirtieth anniversary, I took my wife out to dinner. While talking at the restaurant, Linda said to me, “You know, in thirty years together we’ve had twenty-seven good ones.”

Hmmmmm. Next August we’ll celebrate our 40th. I wonder what the count will be.

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Designed to Help

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The first term in the Bible for couples is not husband, wife, spouse, partner, or mate. The first word for a married person is “Helper.”

After each day of creation, God looked at what he made and said, “It’s good.” But after he made man, he looked and said, “Hmmm. Something’s not good here. He needs help” (Genesis 2:18).

It’s important for both husband and wife to keep in mind that their first and most important role in the marriage is to help. It’s also a good idea to understand what “help” means and what it doesn’t mean. For example, when God made a woman to be the man’s helper, it doesn’t mean she is less important. It doesn’t mean he is the main character and she’s in a supporting role.

Throughout the Bible, God is called our helper. We see this in Deuteronomy 33:29, “The Lord is my shield and helper,” in Psalm 10:14, “God, you are the helper to the fatherless,” Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” and in many other scriptures, as well.

In American culture, we tend to think of a helper as someone who’s less important. A good analogy would be a sidekick, a companion or colleague who is usually considered to be subordinate. The sidekick is not the hero, not the leading role. It’s a support character. But this is NOT what God had in mind when he created woman for man, and man for woman.

When helper is used in the Bible, it’s just the opposite. God is our helper, and he’s certainly not the sidekick. He’s the strong one. And this is the term used for the first woman. God has no intention of men thinking they are the more important person in the marriage. No hint that the woman is of lesser value.

The point is that in marriage, a woman represents God to her husband. Similarly, a man represents God to his wife. Each of us needs help in many ways. God is our help, but he often uses people to be his hand extended, his love expressed, his agent to help in time of need.

We need to understand this not just in theory, but in practical ways, as well. For example, next time there’s an argument or a conflict, what would happen if the husband and wife said to themselves, “My lover is obviously upset about this. What can I do to help? What words can I choose that, instead of making things worse, will actually help make things better?”

What chore around the house does your spouse hate? You could offer to do that. Does your partner have a huge project to get started on? Perhaps you could volunteer to assist, without trying to take over and be in charge.

ID-10076456 My wife is a teacher, and has a ton of books – literally! When she had to move to a new office across campus, I volunteered to spend a day helping move her books, files, and other stuff. Then a few weeks later, I took an afternoon to help her rearrange the bookshelves.

A couple of weeks ago, I was yelling at my computer because it wasn’t behaving how it was supposed to. In my desperation I called out to my wife, who stepped in and asked if she could help. YES! PLEASE! She solved the problem and taught me a few things about the software.

The fact is, we all need help from time to time. What if when we’re on our way home from a tough day at work, we turned our thoughts towards home and started thinking about the minute we’ll walk through the door, how we can be a helper to the people living there. Can our words bring healing instead of pain? Can our actions invite peace instead of strife? Can our behavior encourage rather than tear down our partner and kids?

Life is hard in many ways. Life beats us up. We need someone to come alongside, put an arm around us, and be there for us. God invented marriage so we’d have a friend to help when the going gets tough.

  • Photos courtesy of  Nenetus, Stockimages, and Ambro at Freedigitalphotos.net

 

MFA Graduate Reading

University-of-Tampa-signThis afternoon I participated in the University of Tampa graduate readings for the MFA in Creative Writing program. I read an excerpt from the first chapter of my thesis, based on my experiences as a chaplain in Iraq. Here’s the text I read.

When they told me where I was going, they said it was the safest place in Iraq. But two weeks before I got there, things had changed. On a Tuesday night during dinner, the dining facility was crowded, bustling, hardly an empty chair, when mortars landed on the building. The report I received said that of the more than two hundred people in the DFAC, eighteen were killed. Forty-seven wounded, some seriously, but they’d survive – with or without that arm or leg or eye. People were stunned, walking around like zombies. Most avoided eating in the DFAC even after it was repaired and they started serving meals again. From that moment, incoming mortars and rockets became a daily occurrence, part of the routine that was soon to be my daily life.

I volunteered to go. My philosophy as an Army chaplain was that I wanted to be wherever Soldiers had to be, and if they were in a war, I wanted to be there. Not because I enjoy fighting. We all know that a chaplain is a non-combatant.

I wasn’t there to fight. I was there to encourage, counsel, and pray. To provide worship opportunities, friendship, and guidance. To nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead. To guarantee the constitutional freedom of worship to men and women of all faiths. And to men and women of no faith. Camp Echo was my home, my parish, my fiery furnace.

Located on the main rail line between Baghdad and Basra, Ad Diwaniyah is known for its manufacturing, famous for its automobile tires. Dust-colored high-rise apartment buildings line the streets, each building home to more than a thousand people. Water from the Euphrates River irrigates the farms and groves outside the city, making the region one of the nation’s most fertile.

Men from Diwaniyah would drive to a vacant field on the edge of town, bringing their rockets or mortars to launch towards us. They did this on their way to work, at mid-day, during a lunch break, or in the evening on their way home. Often just before or right after their prayers. Occasionally it was in the middle of the night. Sometimes, the people shooting at us were teens or younger.

Camp Echo was a small, squarish FOB, about a half mile across and three quarters of a mile long, in the middle of the desert. The temperature averaged 115-120 degrees. The dirt, sand, and heat were inescapable. Every day began with a new film of dust on each desk, table, chair, bed, and floor. The layer of dirt thickened as the day wore on. Surrounding the entire FOB was a 12-foot high concrete T-wall. Outside the wall were dry fields inhabited by rabbits, snakes, and scorpions. An occasional wild dog. And of course the men and boys firing the mortars.

One morning, about a week after I arrived, a mortar made a direct hit on the hooch of one of the female civilians who worked on the FOB. She was a vibrant thirty-five-year-old from Houston. She was smart, pretty, popular, and dead. Seventy-five of our civilian workers packed up and went home the next day. They liked the job and the money, some of them earning more than $100,000 each year they worked in Iraq. In a few years they could make enough to fulfill several dreams and goals. But they didn’t want to die. The fact that they could pick up and leave was great for them, but awful for the Soldiers’ morale. We didn’t have that option.

Right from the start I had a premonition that I was going to lose my right leg. It was a weird feeling, and I came to accept it. How or when? I had no idea. But every time there was another explosion, I wondered if this was the day.

My wife, Linda, also knew I might not make it home alive. Or if I did, I might be a broken man – crippled, blind, or psychologically damaged. It was something we talked about several times. With that possibility in mind, she told me before I left home, “I don’t want to find out after you get back or after you’re dead that you were in danger. I want to know right away.”

The phrase “I want to know” describes much more than how she felt about her husband going to war. It’s true about everything she does. She loves learning, is an avid reader, and always wants to know more about everything. She might not have invented the Internet, but it was certainly invented for her. She might not have read every book in the world, but I would bet there’s not an important book in the world she hasn’t read or skimmed or at least knows something about. When I was taking off and heading to Iraq, she was writing her doctoral thesis in British literature and preparing for a new teaching position. So, to hear her say “I want to know,” elicited my response, “Oh yeah? What else is new?”

Many of our military personnel won’t tell their spouse and family what they’re going through during war, thinking they’re protecting them. Plus, we’re limited in what we’re allowed to say or write to our families. But I have a feeling, there are many, like my wife, who are better off knowing what’s going on as it’s happening, and who want to know.

The first time I mentioned during a phone call some of the dangerous things that were happening, she softly said, “I already know. I saw it on TV, online, and in an article in the LA Times. They’re mentioning Diwaniyah and Camp Echo by name.” She scanned and sent me the LA Times article. Some of our own people didn’t know what was going on outside the wire.

The day I arrived I met the commander, a pleasant, graying fifty-nine year old from Illinois who wanted to survive, go home to his wife, and retire to a life of fishing with his grandchildren. He told me our troops’ morale was horrible, and that part of my job as the chaplain was to encourage them to stop grumbling and complaining. Three months later when I walked into his office to check on a few things he started spewing out his own frustration and anger.

“We’re sitting ducks inside this FOB,” he yelled. “And the general refuses to let us shoot. If I had my way, we’d put snipers in each tower along the wall, and whenever someone shows up with mortars and rockets, shoot ‘im dead. I’m tired of sitting here doing nothing.”

“Sir, my job is to help put an end to grumbling,” I teased.

He laughed, remembering his own words, then continued griping. Even the colonel needed someone safe to vent to, someone who would listen and care. It was a terrible place to be, and a terrible time to be there.

Exploding mortars and rockets weren’t the only danger. My busiest time was in the afternoons and evenings, so I got into the habit of working out in the morning, sometimes on a treadmill in the gym and sometimes outside. I got to the track one morning and discovered a large group of people huddled toward one end of the oval. A nineteen-year-old Soldier from a small town in Pennsylvania died of heatstroke while running. The temperature was over a hundred twenty degrees that morning. He had returned from the States the night before.

While at home for his two-week mid-deployment R&R, he took his girlfriend out to dinner and proposed to her. Excitedly, she said “Yes” and was wearing her shiny new engagement ring, eager for him to finish his deployment with his Reserve unit, come home, get married, and live happily ever after. 19-year-old men aren’t supposed to die like that. Nor should they die from bullets, rockets, or mortars.

Heat, danger, dust, and death formed the context for the ministry I was sent to do. Operating from the philosophy that “ministry follows friendship,” I built relationships among the men and women at Camp Echo. This allowed me to be there when they were at their best and at their worst, in their strongest and weakest moments.

This is the story of what happened in my life and theirs. Drawing on personal experience, I create a narrative that includes the atrocities of war, but also some powerful miracles and answers to prayer.

UT Plant Hall

Biblical Principles of Marriage

Paul & Linda Linzey

About half of the marriages in America end in divorce. About half of those who stay married are not happy. They are staying together because of finances, internal or external pressure, the kids, the teaching of their faith tradition, fear, or some other reason. This means that only twenty-five percent of Americans who get married, stay together and are happy.

Unfortunately, many Christians find themselves in similar circumstances. This has far-reaching ramifications, yet many people simply do not know what to do differently. Part of the problem is that eighty-seven percent of pastors in North America admit that they do not know how to help the couples in their congregations.

This book will combine clinical research, pastoral experience, and secular and religious literature on marriage, to present a practical guide for pastors, chaplains, and congregational lay leaders who are called to help the couples in their ministry context. The result is a practical, hands-on curriculum that may be used in couples classes, sermon series, seminars, or retreats. It may also be used in counseling and private conversations.

The theme verse for the Biblical Principles of Marriage is Proverbs 24:3-4: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”