To say that the Word of God is true is like saying Russian winters are cold. So when James 4:14 says life is “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away,” as I’m approaching the age of forty-five I totally get it; seems like I got here very quickly.
At one point in my life, though, I was in my twenties, but at this current stage of life the twenties seem like a blur. I say that because life now is so vastly different from life in my twenties. I married my wife (Lori) at the age of thirty, so the single life was the context of the twenties for me. Like many single believers during that time, I didn’t always view being single correctly and failed at times to realize how invaluable that season was in terms of fostering a deep intimacy with Christ and maxing out for Him in the work of the ministry. In no way is that a dig against where I am now. I’m richly blessed with a terrific wife, two amazing children and a very privileged ministry role. But writing this caused me to reflect back on the twenties and pinpoint three things I wish I had a greater respect for during that season of life:
1. I wish that I had a greater respect for Holiness.
A short time into marriage, Lori and I went on a double date with another couple to celebrate the birthday of the wife of the other couple. Our night closed with seeing a movie. As we stood in the lobby of the movie theater, discussion centered on what movie to see. I said to the wife of the other couple, “Since you’re the birthday girl, you get to choose the movie,” and that is how the movie selection was made.
Once the movie ended, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I recall the ride home with Lori being rather quiet. I had a faint sense that something was wrong, but concluded that she was probably tired and ready for bed. Shortly after arriving home, our paths crossed in the hallway when she stopped me. With tears in her eyes, she asked, “How could you do that to me?”
I was confused and felt blindsided by this. As far as I knew, we had a great time with our close friends and I could not recall anything that warranted tears and the question she was asking. In a defensive tone, I replied, “Do what to you?” to which she asked, “How could you let me sit through that filth? I feel dirty.”
The movie that we watched consisted of two hours of foul language, hostility, episodes of lust and other graphic expressions of carnality. To say I felt crushed would be a massive understatement. She was right. I had failed to protect her in that moment. It’s one of my worst failures as her husband to this day.
But why was her response to the film so drastically opposite of mine? At the time, I thought it was a great night with great friends, and I could have gone home and slept like a baby.
Ultimately, it was an issue of desensitization on my part. Not to blame my failures on my environment, but our upbringings were as different as night and day. Lori was reared in a home where the content of the film we watched was not practiced. My exposure to those things as a child was very high and regular. What I saw on the big screen that night was not a shock to my system.
When someone becomes desensitized, it means that they are no longer sensitive towards something. I guess there are areas where this can be a good thing, but for the believer in Christ, to become insensitive towards something that God is very sensitive towards is extremely dangerous. God used that moment to reveal to me that I had a blind spot in an area that, if not corrected, would result in immeasurable damage.
Holiness is the chief trait of God. He is holy, holy, holy. Everything that God is, everything that He is about, and everything that He does is rooted in holiness. Therefore, the believer is to always be “sensitive” towards what is holy and what is not. The believer’s thought life, speech, and behavior must exhibit to the world that holiness is central to their identity. This is why God told Israel, “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45).
To be something speaks to identity. At the time I was not unaware of the command to the believer to be holy in 1 Peter 1:15-16. But I’m not sure the gravity of it fully registered until that tearful encounter with Lori in the hallway nearly 15 years ago. I realized that night that my conviction for holiness was not where it needed to be.
The sobering truth is that a holy single will be a holy spouse, and likewise an unholy single will be an unholy spouse. Marriage is the great "exposer". Whoever and wherever you really are gets fully exposed. This explains why adultery, pornography, and other unfruitful works of darkness often surface after the marriage altar.
Ultimately, what I realized very early in marriage was that what I watched, what I listened to, and what I did as a single in my twenties mattered very much to me later as a husband in my thirties. I didn’t begin to realize how much until that hallway encounter with Lori.
2. I wish that I had a greater respect for living a debt-free life.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
The servant is in bondage to the lender. Biblically speaking, the believer is to be a servant to righteousness unto holiness (Rom. 6:19). Like holiness, singles who have not learned to abide by biblical stewardship principles will bring those unhealthy practices into marriage. Many studies show that the average American household has credit card balances nearing $17,000. That’s not including student loans and other potential debts.
Regardless of how compatible two people are in marriage or how much they love one another, debt can become a marriage backbreaker. It becomes a backbreaker when money management habits that lead to debt are not corrected. This means that not only is the marriage starting out with debt, but debt starts to rise to enormous heights.
Debt is almost always the fruit of discontentment. When believers never learn that Christ and what He has provided are enough, impulse begins to govern spending and leads couples to eventually engage in heated arguments over money. According to a recent Money Magazine survey, couples fight about money twice as much as they fight about sex. This is why couples consistently list money as one of the main causes for divorce.
The importance of this really set in early in our marriage. One evening, we sat down together and began going over our bank statement from the previous month with a focus on what we called “impulse purchases.” These were purchases that were outside of the budget (e. g. eating out, Wal-Mart runs for miscellaneous items, entertainment). Our mouths about hit the floor once we calculated what that amounted to in one month!
In short, there are 3 basic principles for managing money in adulthood or marriage:
Php 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
It has been wisely stated, “The issue isn’t having. It’s having to have.”
The key to contentment is learning that all you have to have is Christ. Failure to learn this will lead to overspending to acquire things that you believe you have to have to be content.
ESTABLISH AND ABIDE BY A BUDGET!
Pro 6:6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
A good budget starts with honoring God faithfully with the tithe. But one of the most important lessons I had to learn was that God is as interested in the other 90% as He is the 10%.
Both spouses must honor the budget or it will be useless and cause problems.
BE ZEALOUS TO GET AND STAY OUT OF DEBT!
Pro 1:17 Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
It should be rather obvious by now that traps have been set EVERYWHERE to lure people into debt. They’re set before our eyes on TV, the Internet, and anywhere your eyes can roam.
Don’t fall for it!
3. I wish that I had a greater respect for managing my emotions.
Pro 25:28 He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
As stated earlier, the marriage relationship is the greatest venue for self-exposure. A person will learn more about themselves here than in any other human relationship. Some of it will be encouraging and some of it will be hard to believe.
Two and a half years into marriage I came to discover something about myself that was completely unknown to me up until that point: I had an anger problem. Most people would never have known that at the time, but again, marriage exposes the best and the worst of us.
It reached a climax one morning as I was leaving for work. I felt that Lori interrupted my departure to discuss her errand list. As time went on, it was clear to me that she was unaware that this discussion was causing me to be late for a meeting that morning. Like a stick of dynamite, I exploded. My voice raised, my tone was harsh and my spirit was dark. At the time, I’d had it with what I perceived to be her inability to grasp how I have a process to manage time and get to places on time. It pains me to write this as I clearly remember the hurt I inflicted upon her that morning.
I left home angry and we did not speak until I arrived home from work later that evening. I remember wondering throughout the day, “What was that really about and what’s really wrong with me?”
Deep down I knew something was wrong but I could not pinpoint it. I also knew I needed to pray, but instead I quenched the Spirit and continued not doing so. I was ashamed, disappointed, and embarrassed about what I had done to Lori. During my three-mile bike ride home from work, I asked God what was really going on with me. During that quiet ride, episodes from my childhood resembling Lori’s approach that morning began to flood my mind.
As a child, I had no voice in the matter. Regardless of how something inconvenienced me or disrupted my schedule, I simply had to swallow it and do it or else. In those first two and half years of marriage, I was subconsciously declaring that I wasn’t going to be disrespected and stepped on. And as wrong as I was, that’s what I was letting Lori know that morning.
But that event was the catalyst for me to realize that I had a problem and then to begin allowing the Lord to lead me through it. I also knew that I never wanted to hurt Lori like that again. Overall, here are three things I’ve learned about managing my emotions since that day:
I can control my emotions.
Pro 16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
If I could not control my emotions, why does the Bible say that I have to rule my spirit (Pro 16:32, 25:28)? It turns out the key to controlling my emotions is by being controlled by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16).
No one can make me angry.
Eph 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.
Anger is ALWAYS a choice. In nearly 15 years of marriage to Lori, she has never made me angry. That dreadful morning when I erupted on her was my choice, not hers. Anger gives the devil a lot of space to do a lot of damage to a relationship.
Silence is golden.
Pro 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.
One of the many attributes about my wife that I treasure is her meek and quiet spirit.
In the first five years of our marriage, I had to say, “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me” a lot more than she did. One of the reasons she didn’t have to as often was because she refrained her lips.
As the Lord has grown me, I’ve learned to treasure the command to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19). It continues to amaze me how much unnecessary conflict is avoided in marriage and in relationships when this is heeded.
Over the years the Lord has been gracious to mature me to a place where I can recognize the things I struggled to understand as a young man. Wisdom isn't limited by age but by your willingness to obey God's Word and be sensitive to the work of his Spirit. I pray all of the young people in our church learn to recognize their own spiritual blind spots and weaknesses and pray God lead them to mortify those things in light of his leading.