Fresh Pineapple, Fresh Marriage

img_9600Three or four years ago, my friend Steve gave me the top of a pineapple his family had eaten. He told me, “Plant this in dirt and it’ll grow. It sometimes takes a few years, and doesn’t even need a whole lot of water.”

So I put the thing in a plastic grocery bag, put it in the garage, and forgot about it. A year-and-a-half later while cleaning the garage, I found the parched pineapple top and assumed it was dead. Then thought, “Oh well, why not put it in a pot and and see what happens?” I even started watering it once in a while. After a few months, it sprouted. When it got about 20 inches tall, I transplanted it out to the back yard. Now, there’s a pineapple growing in the center of the plant. Amazing!

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There are times when it seems like your marriage is dried up or dead. It might have been months or even years since you’ve paid attention or invested in the relationship with the one you used to love and care about the most.

But it’s not necessarily over. It’s not too late to plant new seeds of love and kindness, to offer a timely word of encouragement, or to start watering the pineapple.

pineapple-636562_1920If you decide to start fresh, you’ll need to be patient. My pineapple had been dried up and discarded for over a year, and when finally planted, it took months to begin to sprout, and then another year or more before the fruit appeared. My wife and I are still waiting for the fruit to ripen. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It is just as likely that when you begin to express loving, healing thoughts and words, it might take a while before you start to see new life in your marriage. So be patient. Keep on investing in your marriage. Continue loving. Be genuinely interested in your mate’s well-being. It’s going to be hard at first, but if you are willing to hang in there and continue treating each other right, your marriage can be restored.

Paul & Linda Linzey

Several years ago, we went through a pretty rough time in our marriage. We didn’t like each other. We were pretty unhappy. Things weren’t going well. I came home from work one day and my wife asked me out of the blue, “Are we ever going to be happy again.”

“I don’t know, Sweet-heart,” I answered. And I really didn’t know. “How ’bout if we just try to be nice to each other, don’t do anything that we’d come to regret, and see what happens.”

Six or seven months later, we could tell that the joy had returned to our lives. We could smile at each other. We could laugh together. We enjoyed being in the same room. But it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t  happen fast. We had to invest in each other, and we had to be patient.

Perhaps you’ve discarded the idea that you can be happy, or that you can have a good marriage. That pineapple in my back yard is a good reminder that even when things look lifeless, there’s still hope. You can reignite the love and the joy in your marriage too.

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By Wisdom a House is Built

treasure-chest-619868_1920The theme verses for the Biblical Principles of Marriage are 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.”

The house in this proverb refers first to the marriage, and second to the family: the people residing in the home. The building, its furnishings, its decorations, and its treasures symbolize different aspects of the relationships in the home, or perhaps the character of the people in the home. It speaks of the lives, the relationships, and the happiness of the people who live together in the home.

The writer of the proverb demonstrates an understanding that in the same way people desire nice homes and nice “things” inside the home, people also desire good relationships. He uses the home as a metaphor for the kind of marriage and family that are worth striving for. In reality, the quality of our relationships is worth far more than the homes we live in.

That is why there are other proverbs that say it is better to live in a hut or in a corner where love and peace can be found, than to live in a huge mansion with horrible relationships. When the interaction between the husband and wife is good, it results in long-lasting happiness for everyone in the home. When the marital interaction is negative or painful, it doesn’t matter how nice the home is or how much money the couple has. Life gets ugly, and the relationship is headed for disaster.wood-1629185_1920

Check Your Baggage

Luggage 2When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

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While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

House 1But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete who can no longer play is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability. Cancer survivors have to get used to “the new normal.” But anyone who can’t accept the new normal is in trouble. So is their marriage.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with scars that might remain for a lifetime.

  • Heal the wound but leave the scar
  • A reminder of how merciful You are
  • I am broken, torn apart
  • Take the pieces of this heart
  • And heal the wound but leave the scar

Water and ReedsOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

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Soiled Lives

Telephone 1When I answered the phone, it was my uncle. Though he had sons of his own and I had a father, he always called me “Son.”

“Son, I understand you want to be a pastor?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you think you’re called, huh?”

“Yes, sir. I do.”

“Son, if you’re really called to the ministry, meet me at the church Thursday morning and spend the day with me.”

My classes at San Diego State were on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so Thursday morning I got up and went to the church. I had no idea what he had in mind.

After chatting for a few minutes, he said, “Follow me.” We got into his car and, without saying a word, drove to the outskirts of town, pulled up to a cluster of tiny, two-room shacks, and parked on the dirt in front of a small green hut, too small to be called a house or an apartment, yet this was someone’s home.

Uncle got out of the car, and I followed. We walked up to the door of one of the units, and he knocked. No answer. He knocked again, louder this time. Again, no answer. “I know he’s in there.”

He tried the door, and found that it was unlocked. Slowly he opened it, and went in. There on the bed in the small two-room cabin was a man — drunk, passed out. A mixture of vomit, diarrhea, urine, and alcohol on the bed, walls, sofa, and floor. The stench was overwhelming, as if attacking my nostrils and throat. I thought I was going to throw up.

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Without saying a word, without even a grimace, the pastor took off his suit coat and tie and handed them to me. I watched as the man of God took on the role of the servant. He turned on the water to fill the tub, then went over to the bed. He undressed the man, rolled up his putrid clothing, and placed it into a garbage bag. He picked up the still-unconscious drunkard, naked and filthy, placed him carefully into the tub, and bathed him. I thought of the scene in the Gospel of John where Peter said to the Lord, “Wash all of me. Not just part of me.”

After washing the man, who never did wake up, my uncle said, “Make sure he doesn’t drown.” Then he went back to the bed, stripped off the blankets and sheets, and put those into the bag with the clothes. Finding an old towel, he mopped the walls and the floor, repeatedly going over to the sink to rinse the crud away. He searched the dresser drawers til he found a set of clean sheets and a blanket, and made the bed. There was a fresh pair of pajamas in a drawer, and he placed them on the end of the bed.

After cleaning up the place, my uncle returned to the bathroom, dried off the comatose man, carried him to the bed, and put the pajamas on him. Covered him up, and tucked him in. Then he took the bag of soiled clothing, bed linens, and a few other things that needed to be laundered, walked out to the car, and put them in the trunk of his car.

After locking the man’s door, we got into the car. The foul smell was not confined to the trunk. It filled the passenger compartment as well. The stench came with us, not only because of the awful stuff in the trunk, but because the filth had gotten onto my uncle’s shirt, pants, and shoes. Although by now it was almost time for lunch, I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.

Instead of going back to the church, we drove to the pastor’s home, where he took the bag from the trunk, went straight to the laundry room, and washed the man’s clothes and bed linens. After showering, my uncle dressed, and we went back to the church. Before I got into my car to go home, he said to me, “Son, that’s what ministry is all about. Good people soil themselves and make a mess of their lives because of sin. Your job as a pastor is to find out what Jesus wants you to do about it. And then do it.”

Though my uncle is no longer alive, I’ll never forget him — or the lesson he taught me that day. As we go about the daily tasks the Lord has called us to do, sometimes we find ourselves cleaning up our own messes — sometimes the messes other people have made. The ugly scenes are often the result of sin. Some of the mountains of debris we are called to clean up are caused by years of neglect or ignorance. Some is caused by discouragement, abuse, or failure. Seervant Leader Statue

In Lakeland, Florida, at the center of Southeastern University’s campus, is a bronze sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples. The sculpture is titled “Divine Servant.” I think of my uncle almost every time I see it. It is a great work of art, beautifully depicting the call for genuine disciples to be servant ministers. Ironically, the sculpture is beautiful, whereas the brokenness of human lives is quite unattractive, and working with broken people can get ugly.

Facing Messy Stuff in the Church Book

In his book, Facing Messy Stuff in the Church, Ken Swetland talks about the ugly, painful situations church leaders may deal with. “Churches are made up of sinners whose lives are broken – sometimes because of their own choices, sometimes because of experiencing wrongs outside of their control. . . . Resolutions are hard to come by.” He goes on to say that the church is “. . . a fellowship of people who come together to worship God, serve him in the world, and be agents of healing in the lives of broken people who make up the church.”

As we respond to the situations that people have made of their lives, their families, their cities, or their nation, it is helpful to keep in mind that we have a rich heritage of serving in Jesus’ name, cleaning up the stench and the debris of people’s lives. As my uncle said, that’s what ministry is all about.

Unity Produces Winners

QBMy wife and I watch college football on Saturdays during the fall, and in the spring we watch college basketball’s “March Madness,” featuring the top teams in the nation. The significance of teamwork makes sense to us, so we use the expression, “We’re on the same team” to emphasize the unity between us.

The players and coaches have different personalities and roles on the team, but a common goal unites them. They win or lose as a team. Therefore, everyone in the organization focuses intently on teamwork, chemistry, working together, and developing a team spirit.

Similarly, in marriage we have different personalities and interests. We have different roles in the relationship, the family, and the household. But the bottom line is that we win or lose together. That’s why we can’t afford to fight against each other. It makes no sense to compete against each other. We are on the same team. If my wife succeeds, then I succeed. If I do well, she does well.

Yankee Stadium

Several years ago I noticed that whether talking about the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, or the World Series, after it’s all over and the champagne is spraying in the winning team’s locker room, a reporter inevitably asks the question, “What is it about this team that brought you this championship?” The answer is always, “There’s a camaraderie on the field and off. We get along. We care about each other. We have a chemistry. We’re a band of brothers, a family, and it carries over to the way we play.”

They’re talking about unity, and unity produces winners.

The team concept helps Linda and me stay focused on unity. But each couple has to discover what works for them, because unity produces winners.

For this reason, I suggest that each couple take some time to talk about unity, define it, and come up with a slogan or word picture that summarizes for you the essence of what unity means. That way, you develop a verbal shorthand that you can use to remind each other.

Woman Thinking

You don’t cripple your partner, because the team needs him. You don’t cuss at or discourage your team member, because you need her to be at her best if the team is going to win. And you don’t bring up past offenses after they’ve been dealt with. A team that implodes and fights against itself is a team in trouble.

This Biblical Principle of Marriage comes from three scriptures. The first is Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one.”

The second is Matthew 12:25: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” It would be absurd for a king to attack his own realm. That would be a recipe for disaster. No entity can last very long with internal division and strife.

But my favorite scripture on the crucial dynamics of unity is Matthew 18:19-20: “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, I am there.”

The basis for expecting prayer to be answered isn’t merely the fact that two or three are in agreement, but because the Lord himself is with you. This is a continuation and development of the Old Testament theme of God dwelling among his people, and of Matthew’s earlier account of Immanuel, the God who is with us.

Where there is unity, the presence of God is invited in and the power of God is activated. But the opposite is also true. Disunity unplugs the power of God and evicts the presence of the Lord. That is why unity is essential in our churches, and in our homes.

Holding Hands

The bottom line is this: anything that builds or promotes unity in the marriage is worth doing, and anything that destroys or hinders unity must not be done. We have to be that practical about it, that pragmatic.

When a couple will do what it takes to build and maintain unity, the results are astounding. The presence and the power of God are at work in their life. Miracles begin to happen. They are healthier and happier. They can weather any storm and solve any problem. They win the battle against the kids. And, they develop a great sex life.

The opposite is also true. A couple who won’t maintain unity, will undo the blessings and lose out on what the Lord has in mind for them. Interestingly, it’s entirely up to you. It isn’t up to chance, as if some people just get lucky and pick the right guy or the right gal, and it all works out. And it isn’t up to just one of the persons in the marriage. It has to be decided and acted on together.

Happy Brown CoupleUnity invites the power and the presence of God into the home, and prevents the devil from getting a foothold in the most important of all human relationships. The wise couple will recognize this and do whatever it takes to promote unity, and stop doing anything that hinders it.

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.