There can be an extremely difficult adjustment period when two people get married. Learning new roles, finding out about one another’s idiosyncrasies and weird habits, experiencing the withdrawal of “honeymoon” romance, and a variety of other issues all get in the way of starting a new family off on the right foot.
I grew up playing video games–a lot of video games. My wife’s family did not play any video games. Before we got married, she knew that I played a lot of video games, but she did not have the categories in her brain to understand just how obsessive I was with them. This obviously led to daily fights about the way I used my time, my love for her, and my idolatry of video games. By God’s grace, video games are not an idol to me anymore and I am using my time much better, but this is an example of something that hurt me and my wife as we started our new family.
As if uniting two people into one life isn’t complicated enough due to personalities, interests, weird habits, and–most importantly–sin, it can be much more damaging that most people do not have a solid grasp on the basics of starting a new a family.
What do we do with family get-togethers? How do we handle in-laws? What is the basis of our marriage? Is marriage a long-term roommate commitment with conjugal benefits, or is it something different? How can we pursue “happily ever after”?
God gives us practical advice for starting a new family IN THE SECOND CHAPTER of his book to us! It is important to him that we navigate well the awkward and difficult waters of starting a new family.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
In this first post, we will focus on “shall leave his father and mother,” in the next post we will focus on “hold fast to his wife,” and in the third post we will cover “and they shall become one flesh.”
What Does Leave Mean?
The word “leave” means “to depart from a place, with implication of finality.” A good, simple definition in this context is to “severe, cut ties, or shift loyalty.”
The nature of the relationship between a person and their parents changes when they get married. This involves a choice by the child to leave his/her parents behind and pursue a new life with their spouse. This does not mean that a child stops being a son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle (1 Timothy 5:8). But rather, this means that in light of your new relationship with your spouse, all other relationships become secondary. This will probably involve pain and an adjustment period for all the parties involved, but it is necessary for a marriage to form the right way.
I don’t know of a better illustration of not “leaving” than “Everybody Loves Raymond.” This show is primarily about Deborah, the wife, and how she puts up with Raymond and his inability to detach from his family. They live next door to Raymond’s parents. Raymond’s mom is constantly passive-aggressive toward Deborah. Raymond is constantly sneaking over to his parent’s house for his mom’s cooking. Raymond’s parents constantly come into their house unannounced. Raymond, sometimes accidentally, includes his parents in arguments that he had with his wife. It’s a mess!
What Does “Leaving” Practically Look Like?
- We seek to understand and appreciate our spouse’s family culture. If we love someone, we will want to understand where they came from and what values have shaped them. If they are important to our spouse, they should be important to us, even though those relationships are secondary.
- We prioritize the husband/wife relationship. The husband/wife relationship is primary over all relationships, including: moms, dads, children, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and friends.
- We go to our spouse first with problems or blessings. We should go to your spouse first with good news or bad news. This does not mean that friends, parents, or siblings don’t know what’s going on, but the spousal relationship takes priority.
- We handle our spousal arguments in-house. We should not go to our parents if we have an argument. Forgiving and asking forgiveness quickly is necessary for a good marriage, but parents should almost never be involved in the mediation or advice-giving of reconciliation.
- We set up reasonable get-togethers for family fellowship times. Frequent get-togethers can be a good thing. Some will be able to get together weekly. Others will be able to get together quarterly. We should do whatever maintains our spousal relationship as the primary relationship while loving our other family members.
- NO COMPARISONS! Comparisons to “how mom did things” or “how dad did things” undercut the marriage relationship. These comparisons breed insecurity and bitterness toward the in-laws.
- We, as in-laws, refuse to talk about our our children’s arguments with our spouse. It may feel good to help our children when their marriage is struggling, but our children need to learn how to handle their problems in-house in order to keep their spousal relationship primary.
- We, as in-laws, direct our children to share blessings and trials with their spouse first. We need to encourage our children to talk to their spouses before they pour out all of their problems on us or share huge successes with us.
The Gospel and Leaving
Marriage exposes a wide variety of sins in our lives, but we sin against God in many ways. God must always punish sins. Jesus Christ died to receive the punishment for our sins so that we will not have to endure God’s punishment for sins in hell. Through his sacrifice, we find forgiveness and grace. Through his resurrection, we find a new life and a nature of love.
If someone truly receives this new nature, his/her way of thinking and heart’s desires change. I have experienced God’s new life. Suddenly, my sin disgusted me. It no longer felt ok to sin. It didn’t feel like I was being true to who I was, or rather, who God had made me.
But it wasn’t just my attitude toward sin that changed. Even my attitude toward money, my future goals, my friends, my family, and my hobbies changed. God was not calling me to walk away from all of my relationships, goals, and hobbies, but he was calling me to prefer him above everything.
In the early days of Jesus’ ministry, he was calling certain people to follow him as he journeyed so that he could teach them and partner with them in ministry. Luke 5:27-28 records an interaction between Jesus and Matthew (also known as Levi):
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And LEAVING everything, he rose and followed him.
In the same way that a new family relationship should change the way we interact with our old family, a new relationship with God should change the way we interact with this world. This doesn’t mean we should leave the world and become a monk on a secluded mountaintop, but it means that all relationships, hobbies, interests, and goals should be secondary to our relationship with God. The mark of a true disciple is someone who values his relationship with God above all earthly things.
Many of the insights into these passages are from John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage.
Have you ever seen a plaque on a kitchen wall that says, “Marriage is Forever” or “Love is Forever” or “Family is Forever.” These platitudes have beautiful sentiment. Family, love, and marriage have a way of getting us through the tough times and help to keep us anchored to things that are more important than money, houses, and jobs.
But are those plaques accurate? Unfortunately, they are not completely true.
Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” There will be no marriage in heaven. I do think that we will know our earthly spouses, children, friends, and loved ones, but ultimately, these earthly relationships will pale in comparison to our relationship with Jesus. Blood may be thicker than water, but the common bond in Christ is thicker than anything.
Paul knows that future day is coming, and therefore he says in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 “This is what I mean brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no good, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”
Does this mean we should ignore our spouses and become a monk? I don’t think so, but I do think it means that, while we are united to our spouse in love, we also hold everything on this earth loosely, because all of our possessions, all of our earthly work, and all of our earthly relationships are passing away. Only eternal possessions, eternal work, and eternal relationships will last. And so we hold our spouses tightly, and loosely.
This is what Jesus means when he says in Luke 14:26-27 and 33, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This does not mean we should despise our spouses, any more than it means we should despise our own life. This word refers to preferential treatment.
For example, if I offered you $100, would you take it? Of course you would. In fact, you are probably already planning what you would do with it! What if I also offered you $1,000,000, but only on the condition that you cannot take the $100 too. Would you cry about the $100 that you lost? No! Because you have something much better. Jesus is telling us that we need to choose him above all else, which does not mean that we literally need to grit our teeth and despise our spouses. God gives the good gift of marriage. He expects us to love our spouses and enjoy our companionship, but he wants the greatest gravitational pull on our lives to be him. This means that, even on our wedding day when we hold one another tightly and enjoy our first married kiss, we hold our spouses loosely, knowing that there is an infinitely better day coming.
In Luke 18:29-30, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” We are not promised more spouses in heaven because we chose Christ over our earthly wife or husband. We already learned that in heaven we are not married. This means we will receive rewards that are far better than any earthly relationship could offer.
Christianity calls marriage a wonderful gift, an amazing responsibility, and a treasure to be held loosely. Love your spouse, but through your relationship with him/her, set your mind on eternal things.
Colossians 3:1-4 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Tightly, but loosely.
I love Valentine’s Day, not for the sappy cards, movies, chocolate, and date nights, but because of the creativity of comments of single people on facebook. You know the ones that I am talking about, right? “Happy Singleness Awareness Day” or while holding up a cat “My Valentine.” Even in our highly individualistic culture, there is an unwritten rule that being single is not okay. Singles feel slighted on Valentine’s Day, five-person dates are always awkward, and couples are constantly trying to pair up their single friends.
I’ve already explained in a previous post that early Christianity challenged their culture’s view of marriage and singleness. Both the founder of Christianity and the writer of much of the New Testament were single. Christianity teaches that marriage and singleness are gifts, but what we do with them determines whether or not they are good or bad. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
Think about it like this: imagine there are four buckets.
Bucket #1 Bad marriage
- Adultery and sexual sins
- Constant fighting, arguing, manipulation, and/or selfishness.
- Earthly-focused, not eternally focused. Lives for practices, work, and mortgage payments.
- Marriage only exists for mutual companionship and self-satisfaction.
Bucket #2 Good marriage
- Unconditionally committed
- Hold each other tightly and loosely.
Bucket #3 Bad singleness
- Sexual promiscuity
- Not wanting to be “tied down”
- Unbalanced desire for a passionate romance to fill their life and complete them.
Bucket #4 Good singleness
- Sexually pure in love for Christ
- Lives for others
- Eternally-focused, growing and learning
- May or may not desire to be married one day, but finds hope and security in Christ, not in future romance
Adultery, fights, and divorce can make marriages bad, but so could marriages that only exist mutual satisfaction, or for mortgage payments and tax benefits. Sexual promiscuity, overly-inflated independence, and selfishness can make singleness bad, but so could over-attachment to earthly possessions or an obsession with future romance. The point is that neither marriage nor singleness is bad, but it is what you do with what you have.
John Piper says in This Momentary Marriage, “Neither marriage as a physical parable nor singleness as a physical parable is to be idolized or feared. Marriage is beautiful and physical. Singleness is beautiful and physical. God made them both. Both are designed. Like all of nature, to display the glory of Christ. Marriage and celibacy can be idolatrous. Spouses can worship each other or worship sex or worship their children or worship double-income-no-kid buying power. Singles can worship autonomy and independence. Singles can look on marriage as a second-class Christians compromised with the sexual drive. Married people can look upon singles as a mark of immaturity or irresponsibility or incompetence.”
In the Bible (Luke 12:13-21), there is a parable of a man who was blessed with an abundant crop. He chose to use this gift of abundance for his own pleasure. By tearing down his old barns and building newer and bigger ones, he planned to take a few years off and enjoy life. Before he could even start to build the new barns, his life was taken away. He had focused so much on earthly things that he forgot about eternal things. Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
All of us have been given the gift of singleness or the gift of marriage. Neither is better or worse. If we take God’s gift and use it for ourselves, our own gratification, our own goals, our own dreams, then we miss the point of this life. If, however, we use our singleness or marriage as opportunities and resources to help others, show God’s love to others, and serve others, then we are rich toward God.
Jesus Christ came to this earth as a single man. He lived for eternal things, not for selfish gain. He gave his body and life to die on a cross for singles and marrieds across the world. He was absolutely perfect, but he died a death that was owed to cheating spouses, selfish partners, and earthly-focused marriages. He died a death that was owed to sexually promiscuous singles, selfish independents, and love-struck romantics. God put our sins on Jesus at the cross and punished him for them. In return, we are given Jesus’ righteousness, his perfect single life. If we believe in Christ and repent from our sins, he will forgives us and welcome us as his children. As God’s love for us impacts us each day, we long to hear God say “Well done” for how we handled his gift of marriage or singleness.