• Dr. Shane Stanford

5 Principles to Recreate Your Marriage

My wife and I married young—far too young, especially now that I am the father of three daughters! Like so many young couples, we had stars in our eyes. But, we were not naive. In fact, we married against the hurried backdrop of difficult circumstances. I was born a hemophiliac, and at age 16 I discovered that my medicines were contaminated with HIV. My future wife and I started dating just weeks before the diagnosis. Literally, we have faced this mountain together.

Just a few months before our wedding, I had been appointed as the pastor of a small, dwindling inner city church. The aging congregation of 40 people were welcoming. But, their neighborhood was not what they remembered and looked very different from those who lived across the street.

Alongside these stressors, my wife and I faced other issues that would affect our marriage—though at the time we did not realize how much. Both of us were products of divorced parents. Our childhoods had been a strain, wavering back and forth between parents for monthly visitation, summers, and holidays. Coming from broken homes framed our marriage in powerful ways as did other various other 'broken places'. However, we kept moving forward through the timeline: college, graduate school, our first full-time appointment as pastor of a congregation, and then as church planters. Though most people around saw this happy, loving couple, the truth was very different. With so much swirling around us, my wife and I could not find a place to land.

By year seven of our marriage, we had built a strong future for everything but our life together. Our ministry was successful and our church was thriving. But, in fact, we sailed into a season that many do not survive. And we lived our home life as ships passing in darkness, as each day became more work than it should.

As my wife and I descended into the abyss of hurt and regret, we kept trying to see over the horizon of what would happen next, but we could never get the full view.

That is when God taught us to stop watching the long haul and to make each day mean something. My wife and I decided to take life in smaller steps—one day, one week at a time. And, we realized that each day played its own part in God's redemption of our marriage. The God who created everything, also created a tangible reminder that at least every 24 hours, a 'new beginning' is possible.

But, we did more than survive—we re-created our marriage. Now, nearly twenty-five years into our journey as man and wife, not only have we established a strong marriage but we watched God establish a core of love, respect, and forgiveness that continues to amaze and challenge us. Though we continue to face medical and other issues that may never go away on this side of eternity, we live a blessed life—not an easy one mind you—but most certainly blessed. With the gift of three beautiful daughters and more than one dream fulfilled, we remain in awe of God's provision.

How did we do it?

Well, the journey for a pastor and his/her family possesses unique issues. Sure, any job has its requirements and responsibilities but the strains on a pastor and pastor’s family are well known for their difficulty.

But, as difficult as pastoring could be on my family, I found it was my giving in to those pressures and expectations that did the most damage. My timidity in setting clear boundaries allowed the Adversary to slip into my home.

One day, I decided enough was enough.

First, we decided that each day meant something for how we would frame our marriage and family—and not just merely in a figurative sense. No, we looked at the seven days of the week as God’s gift for ordering life. As with the Creation story in Genesis, each day, God did something new, different, spectacular that ultimately impacted the whole of the creation story. And, on the seventh day, God took time to pause and soak it all in.

My family asked, "What would happen if we approached each day the way God did?’

‘What would happen if each day of a week meant something more to our journey than just getting up and going about the same old, broken routines?’

Therefore, my family discovered that each day not only possesses more than place on the calendar, but also provides a specific, weekly reminder of some gift that every life needs.

Second, we committed to a set of five principles that would frame each day, regardless of our focus. We realized that certain poor habits infiltrated our marriage and family too often and caused more damage than we had time to correct. By addressing those commitments each day, we offered ourselves a strong foundation and fair starting point.

The following are five principles that my wife and I use to re-create our marriage everyday. 1. Reality I realized that my world was not grounded in reality. First, I realized that my wife and I were complex combination of our parents, our extended families, our past hurts, dreams and fears. I remembered we are human beings with significant imperfections that only God can love. Therefore, if we were to truly love each other, we had to accept each other as Christ had accepted us.

2. Fidelity Scripture states that sexual and emotional intimacy is reserved for marriage only. Though many people worry about sexual infidelity in a marriage, I believe more pastors suffer from emotional infidelity rather a sexual. The Church, if not checked and held against faithful boundaries, becomes a ?mistress? in its own powerful way. I once heard a pastor friend say, ?I am not called to be successful; I am called to be faithful?. Our marriages are the same. Pastors cannot be faithful in their vocation, if they don?t learn to be faithful in their marriage covenant first. 3. Accountability We are our spouse's best cheerleader—and critic—and they are ours. But, we must learn to use our place wisely. A covenant gives permission for another person to enter into the deepest places of our humanity and then make comments. One of our great tasks in the marriage covenant is to speak truth in love while also loving the truth as we find it in each other. Ecclesiastes says, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other?" 4. Transparency One of the Adversary's best tools is a secret. Secrets not only eat away trust, but also our confidence in our marriages. Transparency is a secret-killer. Paul says in Ephesians 4:13 that God's goal is for us to become we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ." By speaking the truth in love, we can get rid of secrets in our lives and in our marriages and grow in maturity in Christ.

5. Tenacity Marriage is the most difficult task or relationship of which you will ever be a part. Sure, the formula is at times daunting and confusing. But, the combining of two human beings along the same journey does not happen at one moment of one day at one single altar. No, it is an act of holy re-creation. Scripture reminds us, that God makes all things new. But, the Creation story is not easy or without effort. Quite the contrary, the Creation story is hard work—enough that even God decided to rest. Marriage is also not easy. It sometimes takes more than everything we have. But it is worth it.

Every person, marriage, parent, family wants a long, healthy future. But, every successful journey begins with a first step and a second and so on. My wife and I learned that every day of the week means something within God's enduring hope for you and your family. And, so, for over the past fifteen years, we have not just taken each day at a time, but we have tried to live each day as it was meant to be—possessing the lesson for how each day blends with the next. Now, so far down the road, my family's deepest sense of peace comes from knowing that no matter how much we deal with in a day—serious medical issues, financial strains, relational and emotional struggles—just like anyone, we can only deal with today. If we can make this day mean something, then tomorrow has an even better chance of doing the same. In Matthew 6, Jesus said, 'don't worry about tomorrow... today is difficult enough.' But, maybe Jesus' greater lesson is that today is all we have. Therefore, make it something special.

Friends, this is a new day for you. Make it count!

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