Category: Community

What 40 Years of Marriage Can Do for Kids

We piled into the small suv with my brother, Luke, and sister-in-law, Miranda. The “in-law” part feels artificial when you really are family. We pointed the car east, to Aggieland, for a rendezvous with my other brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Megan, and my parents. The Saturday afternoon laid open before us, like an unfurling map, winding our way through conversation, high and low, blind to our surroundings. A few conversational lulls afforded my the opportunity to rehearse my speech. I really wanted these words to count, to land in the heart.

We all converged, from the east and the west, at Madden’s casual gourmet. Open wooden rafters, well-worn wood plank floors, and twenty foot ceilings. Ben, Megan, Mom, and Dad were already there, at the table, waiting for us. After a barrage of hugs and smiles we all sat down to celebrate my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. Conversation zipped along the runway and we were off, traveling the airways of children, parenting, theology, church, and marriage.

We paused in the gaiety to reflect on the grace flowing from my parents’ four decade commitment. Parental marriages carry incalculable influence. I knew it was photoimpossible to estimate the impact of their mutual, spilling over love, but I had to get some of it out. Growing up, you have no idea how much your parent’s relationship affects you. You take it for granted. Occasionally you will compare or contrast it to others, but very often it is simply the water you swim in. You take in the good and the bad and just keep swimming. Upon reflection, I knew there were things I needed to surface with them.

First, thank you for your fidelity and friendship for forty years. We have watched your marital love and commitment strengthen, through thick and thin, and we have benefited. I have carried the example right into my own marriage. My wife is my best friend. My parents love life. They enjoy European culture, love struggling souls through deep brokenness, and give from a place of generous, mutual love. This love has been tested. We watched them fight as we grew. It wasn’t a plastic marriage with flaws hidden, it was real, deep, and always moving towards the Redeemer. Many people can’t look to their parents as an example of fidelity and friendship, but I can, and I am grateful.

Second, thank you for loving the church as a family when the church was hard to love. Growing up we had some weird and good church experiences, but one thing that is fixed in my memory is that church went beyond the walls, walked beyond the Sunday service, and ate leisurely together. Looking back, I realize that I have a foundation for church as a family from my parents pursuit of people outside of programs, events, groups, and services. They loved their friends. We would drive out into the country and enjoy home-cooking, run the rural fields, go fishing, all on a Sunday afternoon, with the church, with people who were utterly changed by Jesus. My parents could have understandably turned their backs on “the church”; they were hurt, snubbed, misunderstood, but deep down they knew that is all part of being an imperfect family, and that the galvanizing element isn’t mutual love but a singular love, the outpouring of the life and grace of Christ.

Third, thank you for praying this for each of your children for years and years: 

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)

Man, did I test that prayer request. We all did in our own ways–struggles with greed, skepticism, and sex. The deceitful siren call wooed us more than once, and I walked pretty far from the truth, from enjoying the love and grace of my Savior more than any other love or grace in this world. But they prayed me through. My parents plead with God that their son would leave the pig sty and come home, and they were there, every single time, running to meet me in the street, arms wide open. I dirtied their clothes in my embrace, and they didn’t even care. They were just happy their lost son had come home, that God the Father had answered their prayer, their son, now a very imperfect but committed disciple, is walking the truth, the truth of the gospel of God’s marvelous grace.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for praying us all into the truth, into Christ. We love you. We carry an intuitive inheritance of marital friendship, fidelity, and more than I realized, a model for loving the church as a family. There are more riches here than we will ever know. We stand on a heap of refined gold, may we follow your generous gift, may each of our children walk in the truth, may the graces cascade even more, from the Father, Son, and Spirit, through our marriages, onto our children, through the church, and out into the world.

Fearing Community & Telling the Truth

Truth isn’t popular.  It was G. K. Chesterton that said some 60 years ago that: “humility has moved from the organ of ambition to the organ of truth.” We are humble about the wrong thing—about what is true not our ambitious agendas to be loved. If truth is out, speaking truthfully certain isn’t in, unless it serves your agenda (see presidential campaign). Yet, in Ephesians four St. Paul reminds us that the church, God’s new humanity, are to be a people who “speak the truth in love”, who put away lies, and speak truthfully to one another.

The Discomfort of Truth

We don’t like the truth, as a culture, unless it serves us. A local T.V. station recently interviewed locals about their presidential votes. When asking a hipster whom he was going to vote for, he replied: “I’m not voting.” When asked why he said: “I’m apathetic and uninformed.” What should we think about his response? It is admirable that he told the truth about why he isn’t voting…but his commitment to the truth has limitations. Notice that he didn’t embrace the truth that voting in democratic society isn’t just a right but a responsibility. Why? That truth forces him to act, to register, to get informed, to go to the voting site and make a choice. Here we see two values in conflict: truth and comfort. With the hipster, comfort trumped truth. He prefers apathy over principle. He’s committed to the truth only as long as it serves him. Many of us are like him. We prefer comfort over truth.

But wait a minute, there’s a flaw in following this line of thinking. It assumes that truth sometimes is for your good and other times it isn’t. But the truth actually always serves our good, no matter how uncomfortable it is. The discomfort of voting contributes to flourishing democracy and freedom. If I yell at my 17 month old to tell her the truth about putting her finger in the outlet (“That will kill you”), it serves her well, despite the discomfort of her tears. Or take the first example of speaking truthfully in verse 26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It’s true that it’s unwise to let anger stew (Prov. 16:32). Yet, we are often slow to correct one another over frustration, complaining attitudes, and anger. Women let gossip go by and men empower anger. We sympathize with anger because it’s more comfortable than correcting it. But unchecked anger is destructive. Anger starts as a mild complaint, festers, and then creates distance in relationships and eventually dissention in the community. Anger tears marriages and community apart. But what would happen in that marriage if someone had loved them enough to speak truthfully? To exhort them to resolve conflict before the sun goes down, to go and be reconciled with their brother or sister (Matthew 18). Sure, it’s uncomfortable but its better, wiser, and true. Who would argue with acting for a saved marriage, a reconciled friendship, a flourishing democracy and yet we refrain from speaking truthfully. Why?

The Fear of Community

I’d like to suggest one general reason why we don’t speak truthfully with one another, then point to a specific reason underneath the reason. In general, we don’t speak truthfully with one another because we perceive no obligation to our community. We don’t live with a mindset that says: “I should look out for others.” We tend to live with a mindset that says: “I should look out for myself.” Marketing is built on this grand presupposition of self-interest. Michael Lerner, author of The Politics of Meaning comments: “The overwhelming majority of people who shape our national media hold the belief that human beings are rarely motivated by anything beyond material self-interest.”

Fundamentally, we see ourselves as individuals, who take for self, not as persons-in-community who give for others. We make withdraws but few deposits. How do we know this is true? I know the temptation in social settings to dodge the deep, to take from others but not to give. Do you encounter this? Do you ask questions, inquire deeply, look to discuss what’s true in social settings? When you walk into a room are you looking to get beyond self-interest? The great news for the church is that we don’t have to live by pure self-interest. In fact, we have a grand motivation for speaking truthfully to one another: “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). We’re body parts that belong to, rely on, one another, connected by truth and sustained by grace. As Christians, we are not individuals motivated by self-interest but interdependent members that love one another enough to keep the truth circulating in our body. We just need to get back into our own skin. The skin of our collective new humanity.

The Good of Truthful Community

Here’s where the deeper reason comes in. The obstacle to speaking truthfully isn’t just a case of mistaken identity (individual vs. interdependent members). The deeper reason is that we fear the community. Sounds silly, I know. But we really are afraid of what the community thinks of us, particularly if we discuss, correct, exhort or encourage them in the truth. We are fearful of losing their approval. We are like teenagers, dominated by the fear of what our peers think. This is the reason under the reason. We won’t speak truthfully with our church family because we worship their opinion. This is a massive idolatry we sorely need to repent of. Why repent? Because only God is worthy of our fear.  He is worthy because he is great enough to worship, but our community, they’re not worthy of worship. That’s why it is silly to fear the community. They aren’t great enough to adored that much. But this fear keeps us bound from blessing one another with the truth, from sharing the gospel with others, exhorting people to live a holy life, and encouraging one another with words of Scripture. We value comfort over truth. We fear the loss of social comfort. And before we pass off our reluctance to speak truthfully as love, we do well to remember 1 Corinthians 13, where we find that love rejoices in the truth because the truth sets us free. It always serves our good.