This video segment is one of six lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar.
The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at summitchurch.com/counseling, or visit bradhambrick.com/findacounselor for help finding a counselor near you.
If you are interested in the pre-marital mentoring program built around these materials, you can find everything you need at www.bradhambrick.com/gcm.
NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the GCM seminar notebooks. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at email@example.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).
In this lesson we want to offer you a couple of tools to both know and be a lifelong learner of your spouse. Marriage takes two stories and makes them one. That’s not easy and it doesn’t happen by accident. As we mentioned in Lesson One, you and your spouse are changing, so just because you know each other now doesn’t mean you can stop learning.
Here is the central premise of Lesson Two: we have to take the risk of being known in order to experience the joy of being loved. Being known is vulnerable. But not being known is lonely. We have to choose. Do we want to be vulnerable or lonely? We can’t pick neither. Dennis Rainey captures this well what we want to accomplish in Lesson Two.We have to take the risk of being known in order to experience the joy of being loved. Click To Tweet
“One of the riskiest, but most rewarding benefits of a marriage relationship is the exhilarating experience of knowing and being known, of revealing and having another person reveal himself or herself to you (p. 19)… If the person who knows you best also loves you most, your marriage will be truly special (p. 88).” Dennis Rainey (editor) in Preparing for Marriage
Writing Your Marriage-Gospel Story
You need know how to tell the events of your life as a story or life becomes meaningless. Most of us struggle to do this. Our life doesn’t feel like a grand story, so we wind up living as if our life is just a random series of events.
We will learn to tell our marriage story in two sections: birth to wedding (page 12) and future dreams (pages 13-14) and fears. Jerry Jenkins describes what we want to accomplish with these tools.
“Tell your [marital] story. Tell it to your kids, your friends, your brothers and sisters, but especially to each other. The more your story is implanted in your brain, the more it serves as a hedge against the myriad of forces that seek to destroy your marriage. Make your story so familiar that it becomes part of the fabric of your being. It should become a legend that is shared through the generations as you grow a family tree that defies all odds and boasts marriage after marriage of stability, strength, and longevity (p. 142).” Jerry Jenkins in Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It
Learning to Tell Your Story
Stories are made up of events, but a story is more than the events that comprise it. This will be a guiding principle as you learn to tell your marriage story. You will begin by listing formative events in your life, courtship, and marriage. But telling your life/marriage story is about more than building a chronologically arranged list of key events.
The “Sketching Our Marriage Story Document” is meant to be a simple tool. The first column divides your pre-marital life into six seasons. In this column you put three or four formative events from each season of life.
The middle columns are a place for you to put an “x” to scale how pleasant or unpleasant each event was. Connecting these dots will give you a sense for the topography (i.e., elevated map) of your life. Your spouse should know all the big ups and downs in your life story. Mentors and key friends should know most, if not all, the key events in your life.
The last column is for you to put key comments about particular events. You might write, “Safest season of my life,” or “Time of great confusion,” or “When I learned what I wanted to do with my life,” etc.
Once you’ve completed this document, discuss it with your fiancé/spouse. Most of the events will likely be review. But we likely learned the events of our spouse’s life via a series of non-sequenced experiences rather than a cohesive story. This is also a tool engaged couples can use to get to know their mentors (and vice versa) as all four people share their story.
Gospel as the “Grand Narrative”
Most people are unable to talk about the gospel as the theme of their life because they have never thought through their life as a story. We address that with the previous tool. But the gospel doesn’t rewrite your story; it reinterprets your story. The gospel does not change the facts of your life, but it does change the significance and meaning of those facts.
For this reason, it is suggested that you use color, not just words, to identify where the core themes of the gospel appear in your life-marriage story. The “x’s” and line will not move, but they will become three dimensional and multi-colored. The chart below contains the major themes of the gospel and a color-coding system. Use these colors to trace the line that runs through your charts. In some areas the colors may stack as you see multiple themes surrounding the same event.
|God’s Faithfulness||The gospel begins with God’s faithfulness. As the King of Kings (purple for royalty), we can count on God to be faithful. Where do you see God’s faithfulness in your story?||Purple|
|Sin & Suffering||The gospel is needed because of the marring effects of sin and suffering upon our lives. We are born corrupted by sin. We live in a broken world with people who will hurt us. Where do you see sin and suffering in your story?||Black|
|Undeserved Love||We could not fix ourselves or make up for the wrongs we had done. Christ lived the perfect life necessary to merit heaven and died the death we deserved (red represents his blood). Where do you see God’s love and grace in your story?||Red|
|Faith / Hope||Whenever we experience faith and hope (yellow like the breaking of the morning sun) it is intended to be a reminder that our story has been invaded by Someone greater than our sin and suffering. Where do you see the themes of faith and hope in your story?||Yellow|
|Joy||Laughter is the privilege of those who feel safe. Pleasure and joy are common-grace tastes of what God intends for His people and meant to remind us of the home, Heaven, God provides for those who accept His gift of grace (orange for warm and inviting). Where do you see the theme of joy in your story?||Orange|
|Perseverance||By the gospel God forgives our sin (justification) and shapes our character (sanctification). Character shaping is the process by which God makes us like Jesus (brown for steady, solid growth like a tree). Where do you see the theme of perseverance in your story?||Brown|
|Surprise||Because of the truths of the gospel we are able to trust God with the unexpected. God rarely works as we expect Him to (asterisk to represent something out of the ordinary). Where do you see God’s unexpected hand guiding your story?||
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Now that you have completed tracing the gospel themes through your story, examine what you wrote. Use the “comments” column to record what stands out to you about each event in light of your larger life story. What did you learn, re-learn, or unlearn about God, the gospel, and your story?
Future Dreams and Fears
Your marriage story is not just about where the two of you have been, but also about where you are going. God created our temporal lives with a glorious suspense called “the future.” When we fail to appreciate this God-given suspense, we experience either anxiety or apathy. A shared dream for the future is a vital part of unity and romance in the present. A marriage begins to deteriorate when personal ambitions and dreams are not woven into a joint story.
On another piece of paper or computer, make a chart like the one below. Allow it to fuel your marital prayer life. Revise this page annually, perhaps on your anniversary or at the beginning of each new year. Keep it where you have your quiet time or another place you frequently have time to reflect and pray. Let your spouse know when you’ve prayed for them.
A Second Kind of Knowing
Great movies and novels don’t just have compelling plot lines, they also have well-developed characters. In the first part of this lesson, we have focused on one way of knowing someone – history. We have focused on knowing the key events in someone’s life (past) and their dreams-fears (future). But there is another way we need to know our spouse – person.
The “Celebrating Our Non-Moral Differences” (page 15) tool is meant to help you with this kind of knowing. There are at least four things we should notice about this instrument.
First, there is no “Jesus side of the page.” That is what it means for this to be a non-moral assessment. When we get upset at our spouse because we feel like they “should” be different in these areas, we moralize (i.e., condemn) things that aren’t moral. Paul Tripp reminds us that this is actually a way we reject God’s design of our spouse.
“It is not your husband or wife’s choices that you are rejecting, but God’s… It is God who formed your spouse with his or her natural gifts and personality, and after he did, he stood back and declared your spouse ‘good.’ It is hurtful to your spouse when you disrespect her for things she did not choose or reject her for things she cannot change. Every difference is an opportunity to celebrate God’s creative artistry (p. 211).” in What Did You Expect?
Second, there are no numbers. This tool isn’t meant to be a scientific instrument. It’s meant to be a conversation starter. It is meant to give you a snapshot of several different aspects of your personalities at the same time.
Third, there are places where your strengths and weaknesses will overlap as a couple. Opposites don’t always attract. Your spouse is not the perfect inversion of your personality. Too often we think that tensions just emerge in our differences (i.e., when we’re on opposite sides of one of these spectrums). It’s worth talking about how to address it when you and your spouse have the same strengths-weaknesses that come with a matching dimension in your personality.
Fourth, you will change over time. If you fill in this tool a decade from now, and I hope you will, you and your spouse will score differently. Life changes us. Change is not a problem to fear, but a series of transitions to discuss. This tool will have served you well, if/when changes come, you have words for what’s changing and a sense of security to talk about it.
What did you get from this lesson? You received three tools to be a perpetual student of your spouse. The primary “action step” of this lesson is not something you do (as in, completable action), but something you should always be doing – learning your spouse. A good spouse, by definition, must be a perpetual student.
If you feel equipped to be a perpetual learner about your spouse and are excited about the opportunity, you have received everything this lesson intended to provide. A couple that is eager to know one another and is making themselves known to other trusted couples (i.e., mentors or small group), is a couple setting themselves up to flourish.
When studying this lesson as a small group it is recommended that: (a) each participant read the lesson during the week, (b) watch the 15 minute lesson as a group, and then (c) discuss the following questions:
- Share your “Sketching Our Marital Story” with your mentor couple or small group. Hear each other’s stories.
- Share which gospel themes (color chart) stood out to you most in each other’s stories and how you see God’s care during the ups and downs of life.
- Share a few items from the future dreams and fears exercise with your mentors or small group to be praying for you as well. Grow in the habit of being known.
- Pray for the concerns that were raised in various areas of life. Prayer doesn’t have to be the concluding element of a Bible study. Learn to stop and pray when a need is expressed.
- Share what insights emerged as you discussed the “Celebrating Our Non-Moral Marital Differences” survey.
- How have each of you changed over the years? When did these changes become evident? What was it like to learn to trust God and love each other well as these changes were occurring?
- In light of this lesson, what changes do you need to begin making to experience more of what God intended marriage to be?