Marriage Can Be Stormy: Check Your Anchors, Sails and Life Rafts

If life goes in waves, mine are rolling in faster and higher. In fact, I’m a bit seasick.

Weren’t we just children whom someone else worried about? Then college students, totally independent except for our parents’ money? Fast forward to marriage, careers, and kids of our own to worry about.

Weddings now fill the horizon as friends of our 20-something kids begin echoing “I do’s.”

My husband and I drove to Augusta this year to attend the wedding of the daughter of dear friends. It’s where we began life as newlyweds more than three decades ago. I couldn’t stop humming “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years.” He couldn’t stop rolling his eyes.

I flashed back to three young couples who met in Augusta: the parents of the bride, my husband and me, and one other couple. We connected as the rebels who didn’t follow the Young Marrieds Sunday School script. We played hooky from the potlucks, stayed up late playing “Nertz,” and dug deep into each other’s lives and struggles. Within three years, we all dispersed: the bride’s parents moved to Israel to run a youth hostel, the other couple transferred “up North” and began to populate the earth with boys, and we lived in Michigan and Montana before coming back to the South. Those two couples rooted back in Augusta, and we settled in Birmingham. But before our small group broke up, we left each other with a promise that turned out to be profound. We decided to simply pray for each others’ marriages. Looking back, there’s no better advice I could give these young wedding-bound women.

I was asked to speak to Elizabeth and her bridesmaids at their pre-wedding brunch. As I began, I saw the same look in these girls’ eyes that I had 30+ years earlier. A naïve determination that they’d be different, they’d get it right, because they’re more energetic, more creative, more in love.

Take notes, girls, and save it for later.

Just Give Me the Marital Navigation App

The thing that most about-to-marry girls want to hear is how to prevent the mistakes their parents and everyone else in the world have made. They want to download the GPS app to help navigate the hard times and ride the breakers back to calm waters. 

But unpredicted storms will come.

People abandon ship.

Boats sink—or get dry-docked.

So I asked these young women three questions:

  • What anchors will help you survive the storms that come to all marriages?
  • What sails will keep you on course into God’s deep, wild Kingdom and away from the shallows?
  • What’s in your life raft? Because, at some point, almost everyone lands in a dinghy bailing out doubt while trying not to drown in grief.

Anchors

The storms of suffering pulled hard at our anchors. Looking back to the times when we were tempted to cut free out of fear, we realize the line held not because of our “clinging” skill but because Christ held us. Deep relationships and prayer also anchored us.

Deep Relationships

We’ve latched onto a few decades-long friendships in our uprooted life. These are the couples with whom we made memories, laughed, prayed, wept, and stayed up really late (that last one while we were still young). We figure ways to stay in touch (beyond Christmas cards) and ask the good/hard questions no one else has permission to ask. We also had the gift of older “weathered” couples who shared honestly how they navigated their own marital waters.

Prayer

Hurricane-force winds of real life blew away any illusions of control we had. At those times, prayer—not rote repetition but gut-vulnerable pleading—anchored us to God’s grace, each other, and our praying friends. I often wonder how the “let’s just pray for each other’s marriages” prayers of these two other couples kept us from sinking.

Sails

The bridal bunch I spoke to are brave, world adventurers with sails set high. Most marriages start out like that, focused on the far horizon, but end up with a mortgage, 2.5 kids, three pets, soccer practices, and multiplying obligations. Couples stare at the stars and ask:

How did we get here? How did our children’s happiness become our biggest goal? When did our 401K begin to matter more than the Wild Kingdom? Will we have anything to dream (or even talk) about when the kids leave port?

It’s been a lifelong struggle for us to stay focused on the far shore. As my husband and I thought about what kept us steering out of the shallows, we thought of community, humility, and humor.

Community

We plugged into a healthy church. Christian community kept us out of the shallows of self-focused spiritual actualization, tied us to Scripture, and continually refocused us on our destiny and destination.

Humility

We learned to never, never, never say never. As soon as we rolled our eyes and judged others, we too ended up with a used minivan. We too got sucked into some get-rich-quick and get-out-slow scheme. We too made each go-sleep-on-the-sofa mad.

Humor

I’m thankful that we can laugh at ourselves (gently and together), the screwed-up world we live in, and at past painful situations which we chose to reinterpret with more lightness. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten so good at it we have been known to laugh uncontrollably in inappropriate places, like weddings and funerals.

Life Raft

At some point, most marriages land in a life boat (perhaps bankruptcy, betrayal, disease, death, infertility, mental illness, children stress, trauma, prison, etc.). We’ve been in that tiny raft before. The waves of grief, doubt, and shame loomed large.

There are no formulas, quick fixes, anchors, or sails in a life raft—just hanging on.

  • We tossed overboard all unnecessary ballast (including most of the advice I gave above).
  • We clung to the truth that God loves us (even though it didn’t feel that way).
  •  We focused on the resurrected Jesus Christ as our lifeline leading to Heaven.

We repeated the truth to each other that we will see the shoreline and arrive safely home, no matter if in this world or the next.

As I finished speaking, I looked over at my two friends nodding in agreement (especially the laughing at funerals part). These were the ones who had faithfully prayed for our marriage and a big part of why I was standing here spouting these truths. So, if there was one piece of advice I’d give Elizabeth? Find those kind of friends.

I left the girls with Sir Francis Drake’s prayer, which may be more suitable to us parents, but they can tuck it away for later—because in a few “waves” they’ll be there, too.

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,

Who is Jesus Christ.

Sir Francis Drake, 1577

 Photo by Bill Carroll

All photos by Bill Carroll

 

Nancy W. Carroll is a writer, speaker/teacher, and "soul-tender" from Birmingham, AL who blogs at Really Late Bloomer. She serves as president of InSpero, Inc., a 501c3 believing in the power of creative community to bring hope and healing to our city and churches. 

"F" Words

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I’ll take sticks and stones to break my bones any day because it’s words that hurt me. Sadly, it’s not someone else shouting them at me. It’s my own inner voice whispering them in my ear.

Let me start with one just one letter of the alphabet, F, to come up with my list of “bad” words and only one of them has four letters. These words freeze me in my tracks and stop me from engaging in real life in all its bumps and blessings. NO MORE.

Fat

It’s embarrassing to admit that the scale and culture have defined me. In a world filled with great opportunities and hardships, I’m undone by pounds and pant sizes. When I look in the mirror and automatically shake my head and spit out, “Fat,” I will breathe in and say FULL. I will focus on Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, and know that from his fullness I receive grace upon grace. My joy will be full with the joy of Jesus. I will be full of mercy, full of gladness, and filled with the fullness of God.

scales

Failure

I was raised to get A’s; to never, ever give up; and never disappoint people. It’s exhausting. But this F-word keeps happening—daily. My response to my failure? Mentally lock myself in my shame-filled room and berate myself.

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I will stop and remember that God already knew I would fail and that’s why he sent his son. I will whisper FORGIVEN. I will see his scarred hands and hear him say, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” I will embrace the truth that in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses—our sins, rebellion and failures—according to the riches of his grace. When I get to Heaven, I won’t hand God my report card, behavior record, or heart health check. It will be Jesus’ perfect record, written in blood. The good news means that God sees me as his perfect straight-A, delighted-in, never-disappointing daughter because he sees me through the blood of his son. I will train my eyes on the cross and remember another beautiful F word.  Finished.

Futility

Waste was one of the worst crimes from my childhood, especially food, money or my parents’ time or energy. How do I shift my perspective, since every day is filled with futility: Emptying the dishwasher. Idling in traffic jams. Making a stupid purchase. Looking for the lost receipt, giving up, and being stuck with buyer’s remorse, not to mention the cost and clutter. Even my most heartfelt efforts in parenting have a three-step back to half-step forward rhythm.

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 Stop. Breathe. Focus on FAITH.

Faith is hoping when it doesn’t seem to be happening, continuing to do the next right thing when I can’t see the end. To believe that nothing done in Christ’s name and his love will be wasted. The irony is my frustration over futility is the biggest waste of my energy. So I will set God’s steadfast love before my eyes and walk in his faithfulness.

Fear

The ultimate four-letter F word. It’s taken me a long time to admit how fearful I am. Age, pain and scars have caught up with me. I’m gun-shy. I’ve stopped taking chances. I wake up in the middle of the night. I call it by other words (worry, anxiety, problem solving). But, ultimately, it’s what God most-repeated command in Scripture tells us not to do. Fear. What does he desire for me instead?

Concept of fearless

FREEDOM.

Christ came to set me free. As I grasp the truth of God’s amazing grace, I will loosen my grip on fear. I will shout, in my best William Wallace brogue, “Freedom!” and step back into whatever battle I am facing.

What F word have you allowed to play again and again in your head?

Fat or FULL

Failure or FORGIVEN

Futility or FAITH

Fear or FREEDOM

 

I will battle back with true F words but I know my “word game” won’t change me. Only God can change the toxic tapes stuck in my head. So I will pray, but I will choose my words carefully.

Lord Jesus Christ, those bad F words have driven

deep paralyzing ruts in my mind and heart.

I humbly ask to hear and believe your voice

more than the habitual taunt I’ve allowed to capture me.

Although I experience fat, futile, failing, fearful days,

that is not who I am.  

Help me be who you say I am:

A free and forgiven woman living faithfully and fully satisfied in you,

awaiting the fulfillment of all your promises.