Marriage Upkeep (Part 1 of 3)
Guest Writer: Shannon Soto Note: This article is written with alternating perspectives, and is divided into three parts.
A few weeks ago, I (Will) asked our Young Families Group to come up with a few topics they would like to read more about. They didn’t disappoint—I think we got almost a dozen ideas! As I brainstormed where to start, Shannon suggested we co-write a short series on “marriage upkeep”—it was a great idea, so here we are! At times, marriage can be tough; but, I’m convinced now more than ever that Shannon is the love of my life, and I’m grateful that we get to walk beside each other, raise our kids together, and serve the Lord.
When our Young Families Group suggested an article on “Marriage Upkeep” it was music to my (Shannon) ears. That’s my thing. Since I was a little girl, I had a God-given desire for marriage—to have a best friend to share everything with, to connect, to be seen by, to be loyal to. When I met Will there was no denying this was the man I would give my energy, devotion, and love. Over the years the Lord has taught us more lessons than we can count, brought us closer together, and grown us in different ways!
Over our dozen years of marriage, we have seen good, bad, and ugly times. Let us be up front: we’re not writing as a couple who “has it all together.” Frankly, we are two selfish, sinful people who have been redeemed by a selfless, gracious, and loving God. We are deeply flawed and full of imperfections; but we both strive daily to grow in our walk with the Lord and with each other—and we firmly believe that this is the best foundation to build on!
When you hear the phrase, marriage upkeep, I’m sure certain thoughts pop into your head. And, if you took an inventory with how well you’re doing, the results would be all over the place. If that’s true, let’s start by saying, “Welcome to the Club!” Marriage upkeep takes time, energy, and effort; and, it can feel like all of those are in short supply. We get it—there are lots of “things” competing for our attention. Here is our strong encouragement (and challenge): if you want your marriage to be strong, healthy, and more God (and spouse) honoring, then taking the time, energy, and effort is worth it. Here is the first of five priorities for marriage upkeep:
1. Prioritize your AND your spouse's walk with the Lord!
Will: As a husband, I know the Lord has expectations for husbands and wives (see Ephesians 5:22-33). At first glance, it seems simple: husbands love your wives, and wives respect your husbands. Easy enough, right? On paper, sure; but in real life, not so much. Why? Because these instructions go against my sinful nature—my selfish desires, passions, ideas, opinions, and ways of being. Even on my best day with my best effort I fall dramatically short of God’s standard. Here’s the truth: I want to love Shannon well; but, my love for her is rooted in my love for Jesus. She will tell you this without hesitation: if I am focused on loving Christ and following His example, I will love her passionately and serve her sacrificially. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and when I take my eyes off Jesus, I become self-centered and incapable of loving her as God intends. The same is true for you, as a husband.
In a sense, the love I have for Shannon is reflective of the love I have for Christ. He has taken the initiative in loving me and has set the example (and standard) for me to follow. His sacrificial love, demonstrated in His dying on my behalf, should be the norm not the exception in my marriage. But, let’s be honest—it’s one thing to know what Jesus did and another thing to follow Him. If you’re struggling with spending time in the Word, prayer, and worship, don’t give up! The Lord has blessed us with brothers in Christ who can come alongside and help shoulder the burden. I remember specific people AND conversations that were turning points in my walk with the Lord—the times of playing golf, drinking coffee, or having a meal with a brother in Christ were essential in laying a spiritual foundation. They taught me how to “keep the main thing the main thing”, and I’m thankful to the Lord and those men for helping me. If you’re struggling, reach out to a Godly, mature man who can help you grow, offer encouragement, and keep you accountable!
Husbands, we have a unique, God-given privilege to lead our wives and homes. We have the responsibility of being spiritual shepherds and whether we like it or not, we will be held accountable for this (see Ephesians 5:25-27). But, what does that look like? Does it mean having a Bible study with your wife? Or, setting aside time every day for study and prayer? It might; or it might not—each home is unique, and each marriage is different. In our marriage, here’s what we emphasize: speaking the truth of Scripture into each other’s lives, praying with and for each other, and helping each other keep our eyes on Christ. Here’s what I mean.
Each day, we come up against a variety of “things” that need our attention—some more important than others. Whether the “things” are large or small, we both try to intentionally consider the Biblical approach/response. In other words, we purposely try to use Biblical wisdom in a variety of situations. While this doesn’t require you to formally develop a Bible study plan with your spouse, it DOES require that each of you spend time with the Lord—both in His Word and in prayer. Then, as the need arises, you minister to one another in specific and helpful ways (see Ephesians 4:29-32). Pray for and with your spouse, encourage one another, and speak truth into each other’s lives. When one of us seems “off”, the other will often say, “Where is your focus?”, and it has been helpful in shifting our perspective. I’ll speak for myself here—it is way too easy for me to put on blinders and see things through my own selfish lens. The shift in perspective reminds me that I need God’s grace and wisdom and brings clarity to the situation. It also gives us an opportunity to communicate more effectively—just be sure to “speak the truth in love”; sometimes, how you say something is as important as what you say!
Shannon: The main priority in marital upkeep is keeping each other’s walks with the Lord in check. We use the term “where’s your focus”, and speak Scripture, testimony, wisdom, and words of prayer into each other’s life first and foremost. YOU cannot change your spouse (or yourself), but oh my wow, God can! Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and wisdom from His Spirit spoken to one another is a powerful thing; but encouraging your spouse in their time with the Lord is the ONLY thing that will bring surrender, freedom and authority over sin. Sometimes we are stubborn, and it takes a while to get there, but this is what we strive for. Our number one goal is to keep one another blemish free and right with the Lord. Pray with each other often and know what each other is praying about. This is the most intimate foundation you can have and lays the groundwork for emotional and physical connection as well.
Your husband cannot be your savior—your contentment, satisfaction, and identity come from the Lord. Your relationship with the Lord is your source of joy and strength and frees your husband to love and care for you appropriately. This world is a battlefield and spending time in the Word, prayer, and personal worship gets us battle-ready. If you need help getting started, don’t be discouraged; instead, seek out a Godly, spiritually mature woman who can help guide you in learning and applying God’s Word. Over the course of my Christian walk, there have been several women who have discipled me by modeling and sharing their walk with the Lord in unique ways. These faithful examples allowed me the chance of learning how to do this. As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we become better equipped to abide in a fruitful marriage by living out the truths of His Word (by His Spirit!) with our spouse--speaking truth and life to one another in the chaos of life circumstances. Seeking to walk out the truth of the Gospel through sacrificial love and respect. And, embracing the gift of marriage that God has designed!
Stay tuned as Part II (Loving/Respecting Your Spouse & Boundaries/Guardrails) and Part III (Dating Your Spouse & Enjoying Your Spouse) are published in the coming days!