This year on the blog I challenged everybody to read one book a month–that’s 12 books over the year–to boost your marriage. Every month we have a different topic (next month is sex! ), and hopefully it will help you all to get a new perspective on how to grow your relationship. (Check out all of the subjects for each month here!)
For January I gave you all a choice of three books–A Lifelong Love by Gary Thomas, The Story of Marriage by John and Lisa Bevere, and Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge. I’m so thrilled so many of you took me up on the challenge, and today I want to share some of the gems I learned from A Lifelong Love–and then leave you with a giveaway!
And bonus–I just realized that Gary’s publisher put the ereader version of A Lifelong Love on sale this week! That wasn’t even planned. So you can pick it up on Kindle or Nook, etc., for only $3.82!
Gary Thomas always takes you to the feet of Jesus. When I read his book The Sacred Search, about finding a mate, the thing that stuck with me the most is that in looking for a spouse, as in everything else in life, Matthew 6:33 must be our guiding verse:
But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and then all these things shall be added to you.
In A Lifelong Love Gary shows how to live this out once we’re married.
I write about marriage all the time, but sometimes I reread what I’ve said and I worry that it’s missing something. It’s not that I don’t agree with what I’ve written; it’s just that it’s all so practical. I’m usually talking to people about how to solve specific problems; and so I give them specific steps. But Gary reminds me, and us, that in everything, it’s all about what we’re doing for God. It’s all about our attitude about Jesus. And our marriages are about far more than our feelings.
Ironically, when we realize that, we can find true marital bliss.
Gary’s book takes you to the feet of Jesus. It’s divided into three parts: The Magnificent Obsession (remembering that the mission of our marriage, just like everything else, is pleasing God; Growing Together, or how to overcome significant hardships in your marriage; and The Journey Toward Love, or how to live out a real oneness with your husband.
I felt this book would be perfect for our January entry of Setting the Foundation, because if we get this “magnificent obsession” right from the beginning of the year–that God needs to be the centre of our focus, our aim, and our worship–then the rest of marriage will fall much more easily into place.
If I could sum up what Gary says, it would be this:
“A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make.” (click to tweet)
I can’t sum up the entire book, but what I would like to do is give you three snapshots, one from every section, that meant a lot to me. And I’ll be adding other thoughts on my Facebook Page to give you fodder to think throughout the weekend, so do stay tuned there!
God desperately cares about how you treat his son
The night before Gary married his wife Lisa, Lisa’s dad broke down in tears and said to him, “I don’t have to worry about Lisa. She’s found a guy who will take care of her. She’s going to be okay.”
And he was so relieved.
Now that I have a daughter getting married I totally get it. You pray so hard for your kids to find someone who will cherish them, and treat them well, and serve God with them. And when they find that person, you relax so much!
And one day Gary realized that just as Lisa’s earthly dad was so concerned about her happiness and well-being in marriage, so her heavenly father was, too. God wasn’t just Gary’s father; God was also Gary’s Father-in-Law. And how he treated God’s daughter desperately mattered to God.
So Gary turns that question back on us: what if one of the singular best services that you can give to God in this life is to love your husband? Even if he isn’t always loving back. Even if he’s difficult. Even if he doesn’t understand your love language, doesn’t get your personality, doesn’t love sharing his heart.
Gary tells the story of one mom of five who is exhausted and complaining about her husband–and feeling so distant that they rarely make love. She has reason to feel ticked off. But he asks her, “how would you feel if one day your son grew up and married a woman who treated him just like you are treating your husband?” The question floored her.
So let me ask you who are moms that same question: how would you feel if your son grew up and married a woman who treated him the same way you treat your husband right now?
That question has made me refocus my evenings with my husband. I want to make sure that when he gets home from work and we have some time to spend together that he knows I’m glad he’s home. That he knows I waited for him all day. That he knows there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Gary talks about how loving like this IS hard–but it’s what draws us into God’s arms and what grows our own spiritual dependence. And God does notice your acts of love, even if your husband doesn’t. And there will be a reward for those acts, even if you don’t see them on this side of heaven.
Be careful of power imbalances in marriage
In the second section of the book Gary gets practical about the really difficult seasons in marriage–what it’s like to be in a lonely marriage, and how to overcome that.
I appreciated his emphasis on the idea that marriage IS a battle–but it shouldn’t be a battle we fight against each other. It should be a battle we fight WITH each other. Together we form a team that God uses to transform the world. When we see that–that we are part of this epic struggle and epic story that God is waging and writing, then marriage has a deeper purpose. Indeed, that idea that there is a bigger story behind our marriage than just whether we feel loved is the key theme in all three of the books I chose for this month. Think of you and your husband on the same team, fighting for God to transform this world, rather than on opposing teams bashing each other.
In fact, this idea–that we should be on the same side engaged in the fight together, can truly transform marriages because it gives you a sense of purpose.
Nevertheless, sometimes we do feel on opposing teams, and Gary outlines how this often manifests in power imbalances. These occur when one spouse appears to care more for and is fighting more for the marriage than the other.
Here’s an example: when dating, the guy woos you and dates you and is romantic, but once you’re married all he wants is sex. The romance seems to end. And she feels lonely.
Or when the baby comes, she becomes all tied up in being a mom, and the husband feels left out.
Here’s the danger of power struggles that women need to understand. Gary writes: “One thing I’ve learned about men: if we don’t think we can win, we usually won’t even compete; we just start focusing elsewhere.”
And so you drift. And the biggest sign that power imbalances are causing one or both of you to check out of the marriage? your social circles become distinct and separate. You start confiding in and hanging out with people your spouse doesn’t even really know.
Fight against the drift. Remember that marriage must be something intentional, so that when we feel ourselves drifting, or when we notice our spouse starting to check out, we don’t just get mad. We do something to rebuild intimacy.
Gary says, “When couples say “I do” on their wedding days, I wish they’d add, “and I will, every day of our lives.” “
Love isn’t a feeling. It’s something that you are intentional about. It’s not about being “in love”–it’s about practising love.
How can I bless you?–not How can I get my needs met?
Here’s where the rubber hits the road, where the real heart attitude shows itself. In your interactions with your husband, what is your motivation? Is it to get your needs met? Or is to bless him? Gary urges us to keep our eyes on how we can love. What if the greatest lesson you can have on this earth is not how to find love but how to love? When we learn to love, we become more Christlike. We’re transformed into the likeness of God’s son (Romans 8:29). We grow.
And so when you are at a standstill in your marriage, ask yourself, “what can I do to bless my husband?” And start doing! When we act love we feel love. I know you’ve heard this all the time, but it is real. Why is it that you feel so attached to your kids (those of you who are moms). Have you ever read a story about a horribly neglectful mother and said to yourself, “How could anyone do that to their child?” But it isn’t that hard if you haven’t acted love. When you get out of bed in the middle of the night repeatedly to soothe a child; when you give up your own time to spend with a child; when you spend hours on homework and wiping dirty noses, you are so invested that you feel those loving feelings.
When you don’t invest time and energy, the feelings aren’t there.
So how do you bless your husband?
I really appreciated one example Gary gave that is something I say repeatedly here, too. Blessing your husband means you care about his ultimate good–not just about his feelings. So he gives the example of a woman who throws away her husband’s stash of porn against his wishes. A woman who wants to bless her husband will not allow him to do something that will harm their intimacy and his relationship with God. He won’t enable sin.
But it’s our attitude her that matters. When you confront your husband, are you doing so because you want your own needs met? Or are you honestly looking after his own interests? The result may be the same, but the heart attitude dictates how the whole interaction feels. And the heart attitude is what brings God into the picture.
I appreciate Gary Thomas so much, and I know this book will help you see your husband and your marriage in a whole new way, pointing you to Jesus. A Lifelong Love is only $3.82 on Kindle right now–a huge sale! So pick it up today.
I’ll be announcing February’s books next week, but just a heads up: they’re about sex! And we’re going to have fun!
But today I want to leave you with a giveaway, featuring many of the books that I’ve talked about this month on the blog. You can win one of 9 prizes of:
One prize of: A Lifelong Love, The Story of Marriage, Love and War, and Choosing Him All Over Again
Two prizes of: A Lifelong Love
Two prizes of: The Story of Marriage
Two prizes of: Love and War
Two prizes of: Choosing Him All Over Again
Just enter the Rafflecopter below to win! Remember: you get 5 entries if you leave a blog post comment with a question you’d like Gary to answer! I’ll send the top 5 questions his way and ask him to respond on Facebook!
I’ll draw the winners next Wednesday night at midnight EST, and then announce them on Thursday when we do our next marriage challenge post.
Some other bloggers have taken up the challenge to read and review some of my picks as well!
Check out Mom’s Morning Coffee with her look at Setting the Right Foundation, too.
(If you’re a blogger who has also reviewed some of these books, leave a link in the comments. If I get enough of you, I’ll start a Linky next month!)