Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll 2

I will never forget the first Christmas that Brooke and I had as a married couple. I was in seminary and we were dirt poor. When our apartment complex announced a balcony-decorating contest with one month’s free rent for the grand prize, we knew we had to win. We were going to be “that couple” that went nuts with the Christmas lights and hopefully start the next year with a few hundred dollars extra in our bank account.

Brooke had a great idea—a 3D multimedia shadowbox of Santa flying over Dallas. We found a cartoon picture of the Dallas skyline and a picture of Santa and the reindeer online and took them to a printer to be put on an overhead. I was leading an Adult Bible Fellowship at First Baptist Dallas at the time, so we snuck into the church on a week day to use some of the teaching aids in my classroom. We projected the pictures we had found on the wall and traced them on to butcher paper. Then we cut them out, mounted Santa on cardboard, and painted them. We blacked out our balcony with butcher paper (with the Dallas skyline painted on it), and then poked white Christmas lights through the paper in strategic places to look like stars. We suspended Santa in the air flying over the city for the 3D effect.

Sure enough, we won.

I mention this story because we had so much fun together. One of the things that has kept us happy together over the years is that Brooke and I are friends. Brooke is a lot of things to me—a wife, a lover, the mother of my children. But before she was any of these things she was my best friend, and she still is.

In chapter 2 of Real Marriage, “Friend with Benefits,” Mark and Grace Driscoll talk about the importance of friendship. When researching the book, they were surprised to find such infrequent mention of friendship in Christian marriage books. But a solid friendship has been a bedrock of their marriage. They write:

[M]arriage is about friendship. All the talk about spending time and doing life together, making memories, being a good listener, growing old and taking care of each other, being honest, having the long view of things, repenting and forgiving can be summed up in one word—friendship. (23)
Not only have the Driscolls found friendship to be key to their marriage, but studies show that quality friendship is a major determiner of a quality sex life. They note one study:

The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. So men and women come from the same planet after all. (John Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work [New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999], 17. Quoted in Driscoll and Driscoll, 24.)
When the Driscolls were struggling in their marriage, one of the things that they had lost was their friendship. Mark’s work struggles and Grace’s emotional scars shut them off from each other and they forgot that they were on the same team. Then one way, God showed them what was wrong and set them on the path to recovery. Grace recounts the story:

In those days when our marriage struggled, and our growing church was sapping Mark’s energy, he used to say that he felt alone and always would because of the nature of ministry. It felt hopeless that we could ever return to that trusting, fun, free friendship. I tried to fight it, but I also partially believed he was right and found myself giving up hope too. It felt as if no matter how much I tried to become a good friend, he was determined to be alone, and yet was upset because of it. I was very confused. It wasn’t until God had me tell Mark I wasn’t his enemy that the light went on for him and he saw I truly wanted to learn how to be his friend and not make him feel isolated. I clearly remember the fight we were having in the bathroom when I pleaded silently with God to give me words to explain and give Mark a heart to believe those words. God told me what to say, and I saw a physical change in Mark in that moment. He started to soften and want to trust me again. As I later walked through my abuse history, he became a friend again. I a good way I was forced to trust him, and he worked hard to respond lovingly. (25)
The Driscolls rightly insist that a strong friendship is key to a healthy marriage, and they list seven attributes of a Christian friendship as it relates to marriage:

Fruitful—Marriage and family exist to help you better glorify God; not to serve as a replacement idol.
Reciprocal—It takes two to be friends.
Intimate—Friendships should be intimate. Men tend to build intimacy through shared activity, while women tend to build intimacy through shared feelings.
Enjoyable—Friends have fun together.
Needed—People were created to be in relationships. You need a friend.
Devoted—Friends are dependable over time.
Sanctifying—Husbands and wives expose each other’s areas for growth.
I think that this is a solid summary of friendship. A friend is someone whom you enjoy and who has proven their dependability over time. A good friend has seen you through the hard times. A good friend sticks with you when you’re at your worst, and rejoices with you when you are at your best. A good friend makes you laugh.

One thing that sticks out to me about the Driscolls’ description of friendship is the last bullet—“Sanctifying.” I agree that a good friendship is sanctifying, but I want to clarify what this looks like. They list two ways of “sanctifying” your spouse (and I am glad that they clarify that you can’t sanctify your spouse, only God can do that)—being there for them when they sin and speaking the truth (in love) to them. These are both great ideas.

Where do we see in Scripture that we are called to “sanctify” our spouse? How are we instructed to do this?

One of the things that I have noticed about speaking the truth is that often a “love for truth” is actually a mask for a “love for being right” or a “love for putting people in their place.” I like to be right. It feels good to be right. It feels good to point out where my spouse is failing and I am winning because it validates me as right.

But being right can be an idol.

We need the courage to speak truth to our spouses, but we need to do serious soul searching before we do. Are we speaking truth out of love, or because we want to be right? Only one of those motivations is godly. The other is idolatry.

In Ephesians 5:25–26, Paul instructs husbands how to love their wives and also explains how Christ sanctifies the church. Christ sanctified the church by giving himself. If we want to help our wives grow in Christ, our best response is to sacrifice for them. It’s plain, simple, and in the Scriptures. If you sacrifice for your wife, you are on the right track.

Nine years after winning the balcony-decorating contest, my wife is still my best friend. She makes me laugh. She takes care of me when I am sick. She listens to me. She lets me beat her at Bananagrams. And she rejoices at my success. She reminds me of the verses Ted Cuningham shared with us last week:

Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments always be white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun . . . .” (Ecclesiastes 9:7–9 ESV)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll 1

Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging through Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. The elders of my church are going through the book together, so my chapter reviews will follow the elder meetings in which they were discussed. I don’t want to pass judgment on Mark and Grace, nor do I want to be a fan boy. They wrote this book to help marriages, hoping that it would be “biblically faithful, emotionally hopeful, practically helpful, sociologically viable and personally vulnerable.” (xi)

When I was in college, I had a professor named Dr. Drullinger who often talked about his marriage in class. He was in his sixties and had been married a long time. The guy loved his wife, and every time he talked about her his face brightened up and his smile beamed. Sometimes he seemed like a middle-schooler talking about his first crush, but in an endearing way. Even as a nineteen-year-old punk, I knew that this was how marriage should be. I remember nothing from the class he taught, but I will never forget how he treated his wife.

In the first chapter of Real Marriage, “New Marriage, Same Spouse,” Mark and Grace talk about each other and the early years of their marriage. Mark came from a rough neighborhood, but successfully avoided drugs and alcohol to become class president and be voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Grace was the daughter of a pastor, but learned to act like everything was okay on the outside when things were wrong on the inside. They were sexually involved while dating, but stopped as soon as Mark learned that this was “fornication.” When they got married, their married sex life was mediocre and frustrating. Mark became a workaholic before breaking down in his mid-thirties and putting his home in order. Since then, marriage has been great in the Driscoll home, and the book describes what they learned through the whole ordeal.
There isn’t much to evaluate in the first chapter, other than to praise the Driscolls for their honesty. So far, I think they have succeeded in putting a book together that is “personally vulnerable.”

One thing that has stuck out to me, though, is the way Mark talks (writes) about his wife. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they talk about their spouse. Do they honor their spouse? Do they complain about him or her? Do they seem to respect their spouse, or do they put them down? When they tell a story about their marriage, who looks good?

In recounting the couple’s dating years, Mark tells the following story about himself:

Upon graduation from high school, I was given a free senior trip to Mexico. The company representative said I would receive ‘VIP treatment’ that included lots of alcohol and young women to sleep with. A few weeks before the trip, I declined the offer because I loved grace and did not want to ruin my relationship with her. (7)
There is a similar story about Grace. A few years into their marriage, Mark had a dream about what Grace did on her senior trip. He recounts the dream:

One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film—something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. (11-12)
The vision was true—Grace had in fact sinned sexually during her senior trip.

Do you notice the contrast in these two stories? How does Mark look in his story? How does Grace look?

If you have read the book, what do you think about the way Mark talks about his wife? Does he honor her?

A pastor friend of mine once told me, “I can tell within the first five minutes in my office whether or not a couple seeking counseling is going to ‘make it.’ I can tell by the way they talk to each other. If they respect each other, I know they can work through whatever differences they have. If they don’t respect each other, they have a tough road ahead.” I completely agree.