relationships, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Lifelong Love

What are you doing to ensure that your marriage not only survives but thrives? Do you have a strategy in place for your next twenty-five years together? The final two chapters of Song of Songs are rich with practices for growing a lifelong marriage.

One of the practices, we will discover, is to bring play time into your relationship. Here’s an example from Song of Songs 7:11-13 (NIV). Here Shulamith is presenting an invitation to Solomon: 

Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.
Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
there I will give you my love.
The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,
that I have stored up for you, my beloved.

Shulamith is saying, “Let’s get out of the palace. Let’s get away…maybe visit the countryside together.” Clearly, what she has in mind is more than a sight-seeing tour. She wants to smell the fresh spring air – maybe even explore the vineyards. But she also has something else on her mind. She wants to grow intimacy in their relationship.

An interesting side note here. Notice that she says, “the mandrakes send out their fragrance.” In Hebrew, the word for mandrake means love-apple. Mandrakes were considered an aphrodisiac, a love drug. Unquestionably, she’s offering Solomon something more than long walks and sightseeing. Needless to say, before she finishes speaking, Solomon has already packed his bags and is booking flights on Expedia.

To grow lifelong love, you need to intentionally infuse play time into your relationship. This quality time is so much more than sitting on the couch together, watching Neflix, and brushing hands as you reach into that bag of Doritos at the same time. It means setting aside space and time, free from distraction: no kids, no work, and no social-media intravenous drip. Play time is not only important for your relationship, it’s necessary.

So are you planning play time together? Are you getting away on excursions? What about dates – when is the last time you had one of those?

You might think, “I see my spouse all the time…why do I need to date her?” Because setting is everything. If you take a dinner plate from the cupboard and set it on the counter-top, it’s just a plate. But if you take the same plate and you set it on a luxurious tablecloth, surrounded by cutlery, linen, candles, and a wine glass, it changes everything about that plate. It’s the same thing with your marriage. Setting is everything. A different setting changes the focus, the dynamic, and the conversation. Trust me…it will activate different parts of your brain. New parts of your brain will come alive – old parts of your brain will wake-up. Neural synapses will ignite. All because you decided to change your routine.

Dates don’t have to be expensive. Last summer, my wife Karen and I started biking together. We would throw our bikes into the back of my truck and take off on new adventures throughout the city. One day, we went for a long ride in the river valley. On the return trip to the truck, we passed a fruit stand. Normally, we don’t stop at fruit stands because we’re always racing from appointment to appointment. But on this day, we had bikes! I left my wallet in the car, but I did have some pocket-change. After a bit of haggling, we sauntered away with a bag of peaches and spent the next hour in the shade of the trees, laughing, dreaming, and spitting pits. That was a three-dollar date, but it was the best…date…ever.

The bottom line is, if you are going to embrace play, you have to work at it.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

relationships, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Messy Love

In every marriage, conflict is inevitable.

Even Solomon and Shulamith, those twitterpated lovebirds, had their differences. You read about this in Song of Songs 5:2-8. Solomon arrives home sometime past midnight. He comes knocking on the door of Shulamith’s room, hoping for a little bit of “something-something.” But she’s in bed. The makeup is off, cucumber mask is on, and flannel pyjamas have been applied. She’s a bit miffed that he’s shown up a few hours later than he should. So she shuts him down. Conflict anyone?

It’s understandable why couples conflict. In a marriage, you have two very different people coming together, with unique personalities, likes, interests, and families (you never just marry a person…you marry their family). And to add misery to the madness, each is hard-wired to be naturally selfish. It’s a problem that goes back to the Garden of Eden.

So if you’re in the early stages of a relationship, don’t be surprised when you experience conflict. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your relationship. If you haven’t had it yet, it’s probably because you still have a superficial knowledge of each other, or you’re blinded by infatuation. Trust me, a day will come when your relationship will come crashing head-first into reality. You might not consider divorce, but homicide might seem like a good option (I kid…I kid).

So if you are facing conflict in your relationship right now, don’t freak out. A good marriage is not something you find but something you work for. You’re going to fight with someone for the rest of your life – it might as well be your beloved.

At the end of the day, the issue is not if you have conflict, it’s what you do with conflict.

Here are two warning signs that you may not be resolving conflict. The first is the absence of conflict, and the second, the permanence of conflict. On the one hand, if you are in a relationship that has an absence of conflict, it could be that you are in the early stages of blind-love bliss, but it could also be that somebody in the relationship is being overly compliant, or walked on. This means you are avoiding conflict, not dealing with it. On the other hand, the permanence of conflict can also be a problem. In this case, the same problem keeps resurfacing. Rather that dealing with it, it gets swept under the rug, and never resolved. When you sweep too much conflict under the rug, it results in a bumpy marriage.

Paul writes in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” God wants us to resolve conflict. You have your part to play in this. You can’t determine what your spouse will do in a conflict, but you can determine what you will do in a conflict. You are responsible for your role in bringing about resolution.

Marriages often fall apart, not because of really stupid decisions or irreconcilable differences. They fall apart because couples don’t know how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. The conflicts persist and the relationship experiences incremental degradation: one bad argument at a time, one hurtful word at a time. The relationship erodes, like a shoreline washed away by the sea.

Expect conflict. But more importantly, resolve conflict.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Before the Bedroom

Before our wedding, my wife (Karen) and I made the wise decision of getting premarital counselling. Our counsellor made a statement that I will never forget: “Foreplay begins in the kitchen.” Before you let your imagination run wild, let me explain what she meant. Her point was simple – as you go about your day, how you treat each other determines if you are moving closer together or further away. Intimacy is something that develops throughout the day.

In short, sex begins long before the bedroom.

Solomon understood this. In the fourth chapter of Song of Songs, he wooed Shulamith with his words before pursuing physical intimacy. This chapter depicts a night in the honeymoon suite (maybe even the first night). Here’s what he said in verse 1 (NIV):

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead. 

Solomon understood the power of words. He began by declaring his bride’s beauty. In fact, he did it three times in the first seven verses. Then he continued to poetically describe her beauty, working from the top of her head, to below her neckline. While his metaphors could get lost in translation, in his day, they would have been Pulitzer prize-winning prose.

But what’s most astounding is that the couple hasn’t even touched each other in the first seven verses. Solomon didn’t come charging into the bedroom like a caveman, beating his chest. “Me Gronk! You Woman! We make love!” Rather, he understood that emotional intimacy should precede physical intimacy.

Did he want her? Absolutely. He was quite eager to climb his mountain of myrrh and hill of incense, and he wanted to do it all night long (4:6). But even so, he didn’t rush in, grabbing and groping, like a monkey searching for bananas in the dark. Instead, he wooed her.

Sex begins long before the bedroom.

And so, practically speaking, if you are a complete loser during the day, bullying, manipulating, or mistreating your spouse, don’t be surprised if you get the cold shoulder in the bedroom. This applies for both husbands and wives. But if you are tender, kind, supportive, and affirming throughout the day, you will build trust, security, and intimacy. Foreplay begins in the kitchen.

I wish I could take a poll of my friends’ wives and ask them: “What do you think is one of the sexiest things your husband does during the day?” I bet their responses might surprise their husbands. Chances are that flexing your gluts in front of the mirror in your tightie-whities doesn’t top the list. And neither does jumping out of the shower, and shouting “Woo hoo!” while doing the funky-chicken dance. So not sexy.

Surprisingly, the answer(s) might be:

  • When he texts me little love notes during the day
  • When he helps get the kids bathed, reads them a story, and tucks them in at night
  • When he serves others without complaint
  • When he prays with me and spiritually initiates
  • When he hugs me and tells me I’m beautiful – just because

I was surprised to discover what sexy looked like from my wife Karen’s perspective (she’s given me permission to write this). When we bought our current home, I did a lot of renovations prior to our family moving in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to complete the baseboards. For months, we lived in our home without them, and my beloved was very patient with me as I tackled a demanding new job. Every once in a while, she would kindly hint about how nice it would be to have them installed. Finally, I took time off work and tackled the project. It was about mid-afternoon on the first day that she stopped me and said, “Just seeing you working so hard for us, finishing the baseboards…I am so attracted to you right now.”

Cue the Barry White music. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

For the next year of our marriage, installing baseboards became a metaphor for something else. To my dismay, I finally installed baseboards in every room of the house. I did consider secretly removing some of the baseboards when she wasn’t looking…

God-honouring sex begins early, long before the bedroom. Intimacy grows throughout the day.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

Discipleship, Personal Development, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Infatuation

Dating? Courting? Crushing? Chances are you will catch a good bout of infatuation early in your relationship.

It’s intriguing that the Bible doesn’t shy away from this very human experience. In the Song of Songs – the big book on relationships – the two main characters are clearly twitterpated. Hear the poetic words of Shulamith, ogling her beloved, as he returns from a time away:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.

There are tell-tale signs of infatuation here. Did you notice how she describes him? He’s like a young horse, galloping and leaping across the mountains. It’s like a scene from a Bollywood romance. That’s how she envisions him. And then when he arrives, he doesn’t even make it to her front door. He stops and stares at her through the window. He’s not creeping or stalking – he’s just admiring her from afar. Tongue-tied, doe-eyed fool that he is.

That’s infatuation. The experience is so common we’ve got hundreds of ways to describe it. Star-crossed lovers. Love-sick puppies. Spell-bound. Enamoured. Punch-drunk love.

Did you know that there’s actually a scientific term for this experience? It’s called limerence. It was the psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, who came up with the term. She dedicated her professional career to studying this phenomenon by interviewing thousands of people who were truly, madly, and deeply in love. Her findings weren’t pulled out of Twilight novels or Ed Sheeran songs – they were completely research based. Some of the symptoms she observed included mood-swings, a literal heart-ache (chest pain), an irrational fear of rejection, passion and longing, and constant distraction. Limerence can make you do things outside the norm – like leaping over mountains as a gazelle, or playing peek-a-boo through the shutters.

Infatuation is great. It’s lovely. It’s wonderful. Ever felt it?

But here’s the thing. A lasting relationship cannot be built solely on infatuation, no more than your body can survive on Twinkies and cream soda. Sure they might taste delicious and give you a mid-afternoon sugar spike, but they won’t provide the nourishment you need for long-term health. And besides, you’ll be a diabetic in your thirties if you keep it up.

Infatuation occurs early in a relationship, but it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it comes crashing head-first into reality. It might happen with your first fight, your first failure, even your first flatulence. But at some point in a relationship, you realize that infatuation isn’t enough. This is why relationships sometimes end prematurely. Some falsely assume that infatuation is the only mark of a good relationship.  And when the infatuation dissipates, they ditch the person they’re with and drive off looking for a new candidate.

Infatuation won’t sustain a marriage. It won’t sustain you through job-loss. Or the demands of parenting. Or cancer. But what will sustain your relationship is sacrificial love: true, biblical, agape love, where you lay down your lives for each other, serve one another, and sacrifice for the relationship. It’s a love that’s committed for the long-haul: for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. When you live in the love of Christ, and you allow his love to live through you – this is what sustains a marriage.

Can I recommend something? Early on in your relationship, take your foot off the gas. Ease up on the infatuation and instead, take time to build your friendship. Divert that energy toward getting to know each other. Discover more about the person you’re courting.

You pick this up in verse 14. Whispering through the window, the beloved says to Shulamith:

14 My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

What’s he saying? He’s saying that he wants her to leave the house and talk to him. And more than anything, he wants to see her face (notice he mentions it twice). The face was very important to the Hebrews. It represented a person’s presence. To see somebody’s face was to know that person. This is why they would “seek God’s face.” Your face reveals everything about you: your personality, character, and emotions. He wanted to see her face. He wanted to know her.

What if, early in your relationship, you made getting to know each other the primary goal? What if you focused on building a solid, lasting friendship? I’d recommend asking questions that go deeper than where you recently ate lunch or your favourite episode of Friends. Find out what each other’s joys are. Tell your faith stories, like when God first became real to you. Talk about your fears and your weaknesses. Truly get to know each other.

Expect infatuation, but build friendship.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.