How to THRIVE in Your Wedding Vows Series - part 1
Disclaimer - Because of sin, there is serious dysfunction in some marriages today. This series does not mean to whitewash any problems inside of broken marriages. Instead, it is my desire to uncover the beauty of the vows thru a Biblical worldview and how they are meant to play out in a healthy marriage.
“Man and wife. Say man and wife!” the prince demands thru clenched teeth. The commotion outside the palace gate has reached a fever pitch, and he doesn’t want his forced marriage jeopardized. The priest does as instructed, skipping from the intro to the end pronouncing them man and wife.
The bride is dismayed. She’s married to the wrong man!
But, the prince forgot one small detail. By skipping the vows, the abducted bride never said, “I do.” She promised nothing to the prince that day. Therefore, when her one true love does “Have fun storming the castle gates!” the bride is free to marry him, her Westley.
This iconic wedding scene is from The Princess Bride, a ridiculously fun movie my man and I have loved from our dating days. As I was contemplating today’s post, the “man and wife” line kept coming back to me. There is much ado leading up to the wedding these days, that the vows seem like an add-on, a little inconvenience to hurry thru to get to the pronouncement “man and wife.”
Yet, the vows are the very thing that hold a marriage together. Think of “I do” as the vow's super glue, nothing can pull it apart.
Today’s vows date back to the covenants of ancient times. Covenants were a big deal back in the day. Remember God and Abraham (Genesis 15) and David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20)?
Why this focus on covenant?
1. Our God is a covenant-keeping God.
- Our faith is dependent on believing God keeps His promises. Therefore,
- When He said, “Your sins are forgiven!”, they are forgiven. Gone! Psalm 103:12
- When He said, “I love you with an unfailing love.”, You are loved, no matter what. Forever! Jeremiah 31:3
- When He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He’s there, as promised. Hebrew 13:5
This list of how God is a covenant-keeping God goes on. And the beauty of it is that God can’t break His Word. He is constant. He IS covenant. Hebrews 6:17-19
2. I’m desperately human.
- I might be swelling with love for my man one day, but the next I’m ready to put him on a slow ship to Siberia.
- Human love tends to ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean.
3. Covenant is constant.
- Covenant is what anchors my marriage against the storms of life.
- It’s not about feeling loving or if my man is lovable. It’s about “I do,” thru the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- It’s a "Let’s take divorce out of the picture" mentality.
What is Covenant?
Covenant comes from the Hebrew word bĕriyth. Bĕriyth is a solemn and binding agreement meant to last a lifetime. Back in the day, when you entered bĕriyth, there were up to 9 parts of the ceremony. Today, we’ll highlight 4 and how they tie into contemporary vows.
1. The Statement of Agreement:
Then - Both parties knew up front what was expected of them and agreed to it.
Now - In the case of marriage, as we state our vows, we’re agreeing thru good times and bad times, I will stick by your side.
2. The Offering of an Animal:
Then - This offering would be the best one could afford. They would split the animal in two, and the two parties would walk between the two parts.
This symbolized “I’m sacrificing my best to enter this covenant with you.” It also said, "May God do so to me [cut me in half] if I ever break this covenant with you and God!"1
Now - Today's sacrifice is when we chose our spouse "forsaking all others 'til death do us part."
3. The Belt Exchange:
Then - Belts were a necessary part of one's wardrobe. It held one’s clothes in place. It was a place to tuck your garment. The exchanging of belts symbolized, “I support you.” “I’ve got your back.”
Now - Same with the marriage vows today. We’re saying, “I support you regardless of the season. I’ve got your back thru thick and thin.”
4. The Weapon Exchange:
Then - Whatever your weapon of choice was, sword or spear usually, you’d exchange it. It was to state, “Your enemies are my enemies. We are not each other’s enemies.”
Now - Whoop! We could have church right here! My friend, think about it! When we’re stating our vows, we’re saying, “_________, I’m on your team. I’ll fight by your side shoulder to shoulder, not against you.” A team mentality! Glory bumps!
How Do I Live with a Covenant Mindset?
If our covenant-keeping God desires for us to keep our covenants, then He will also give us the ability to keep those covenants. Embrace the truth of God keeping His covenant with you, enabling you to keep your covenant with your spouse.
My teaching pastor concluded his message one Sunday with a statement which ties in perfectly. He talked about persevering thru the weary. I like that. That’s what covenant does, it puts its shoulder to the obstacle and pushes thru the hard. It perseveres thru the weary. It storms the castle gates to rescue its one true love!
“I do take _________ to be my wedded husband,
“I do promise to have and to hold ____________, from this day forward.”
“I do pledge to stay with _________ for better, for worse.”
“I do vow to remain with ____________ for richer, for poorer.”
“I do commit to love __________ in sickness and in health.”
“I do covenant to love and to cherish (and to obey) ___________ till death do us part."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, it is the marriage that sustains your love.”
A man who makes a vow to the LORD or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do. Numbers 30:2
So, my friend, what part of your covenant are you weary in today? What part of your vows do you need to drop the anchor so that you can hold steady in this current storm? Have you bought the world’s lie that to stay true to your vows, you have to feel the love? Soften your heart to accept and live in God's vision for marriage and covenant, and thrive in His blessings and approval.
Heat up Your "to Have and to Hold" - Part 2
Winning Solution "for Better for Worse" - Part 3
Do Not Grow Weary "In Sickness and in Health" - Part 4
1. Family Life
2. Precept Austin
3. Revive Our Hearts
4. His Wondrous Works
Jesus Girl. Wife. Momma. Student. Teacher. Confidante. Lover of milky coffee, dark chocolate, lively laughter, deep talks and a front row seat on the beach at sunrise.
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I can't even begin to tell you how much I love and admire today's Friend Friday guest. I have used her story many times in counseling other women. She is one of my modern day heroines, quietly living a bold faith despite the valleys. Oh, the valleys she's walked!
She sent me this prayer this morning, "I pray women will be encouraged, strengthened, and that their faith will increase after reading this post. It helped me see more clearly what God has done after putting it all into words. This is a reason why journaling is so helpful."
One more thing, to protect her man, she's posting anonymously. God bless you, friend. Praying for you.
I guess you could say that I’m the perfect example of a “goodie two shoes” gone wrong. Having grown up in a respectable Catholic home, I took pride in my strong morals and good character. I was the last girl you’d expect to fall for a blue-eyed, blond-haired bad boy, but when you're in “love,” crazy things can happen. Like getting pregnant right before your senior year of college.
Of course, my life wasn’t the only one that got turned upside down. Remember that bad boy? How do you think he felt being a footloose freshman one minute, and a dad-to-be the next? We were both young, scared, and in way over our heads, but at least we had each other.
Except it wasn’t quite that simple. We both wanted to be a part of our daughter’s life, but we had different opinions about what that should look like. I wanted him to marry me. He wasn’t ready for that, but I didn’t really give him any other option. He could choose to get married or risk losing a relationship with his baby girl. And so we said, “I do.”
Clearly, our circumstances weren’t exactly the ideal foundation for a lifetime of love together. In fact, I can say with certainty that we were well on our way to being just another divorce statistic. Until God stepped in.
Through a gospel mailing sent by a local church, God opened my eyes to understand Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. The truths I had heard and seen many times before were suddenly so clear! God saved me that day, the first of many miracles He would work in my life and marriage.
But fixing all of our relationship dysfunction was not one of them. My husband worked all the time. We argued about money and the hours he spent away from home. He wanted me to get a job when our daughter was still young, and I wanted to raise her at home. Because he was gone so much, I just started making family decisions without him, which created even more division between us.
We had both done a great job making a mess of our marriage. Yes, we. I certainly bore my fair share of the responsibility. I didn’t realize back then how important it was to honor my husband. To encourage him and let him know how much I appreciated his hard work to support our family, flaws and all. But a Titus 2 woman I was not.
And then it happened. Over the next 15 years, my husband was unfaithful to me on three separate occasions. Even though I didn’t fully understand why at the time, by faith I stayed with him—and that’s when God really began working a miracle in our marriage.
We went through Christian counseling together and began to heal. I started studying God’s word and caught a vision of the kind of godly wife I could be for my husband. Yes, he had wronged me, but I was not without blame. I knew I had to change my attitude toward my man before things could improve. 1 Peter 3:1 gave me much determination and strength to persevere during that painful time:
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”
Just when our relationship seemed to have turned a corner, my husband was once again caught in an inappropriate relationship. Though it was not a physical affair, it was still wrong. And it hurt. Badly. I struggled so hard to understand how this could have happened, again. Our marriage had grown stronger. I had honored him. I had respected him. The really hard part was that he knew I had changed, and yet he still chose to make more poor choices.
I didn’t want to deal with the heartache anymore. Surely it would have been easier to just not care at all, right? I could let him go live his own life away from me. After all, I didn’t really need him. Our daughter was newly married and out of the house, and I knew I could take care of myself. Everything in me told me to leave, and no one would have blamed me if I had.
But God had other plans—another miracle for our marriage. My husband agreed to meet with my pastor, whom he had known for years and had a good relationship with. It turns out a big piece of the puzzle that had been missing was having a godly man get in his face and challenge him with biblical truths.
My hubby and I have been empty nesters for about twelve years now. I can’t say that I’m 100% past the hurt I’ve experienced. I still struggle with trusting my husband, but I have learned to respond very differently to that feeling than I used to. Now I look to the Word for comfort and strength when I need it the most. By faith, I made my marriage about more than whatever moment we were in. As my now-grown daughter, who is wise beyond her years, puts it: “You made Dad’s soul more important than the expectations you had of marriage.” Maybe so, but the truth is, I really can’t take credit for any of what has happened. I can only marvel at the kindness of God that has held us together for all these years in spite of the odds.
Little by little, He has chipped away at my husband’s heart. We don’t fight about finances anymore, and he was the one who encouraged me to stop working so that I could help care for my aging father. In fact, my husband was so committed to this task that he was willing to move out of our cozy house and into my father’s basement.
And then there’s the care and affection that has blossomed inside my husband’s heart. He shows me that he loves me more than he ever has, and I am so encouraged by how he tells me when he’s sorry and sends me random texts to tell me how much he cares for me. And you ought to see how much he adores his grandkids! The look on his face when he watches their Facebook videos is nothing like I have ever seen before from him.
Though God has answered many prayers about my husband and has worked countless miracles over the years, He has not yet chosen to do what I most desire: open my love’s eyes to the truth of the gospel and draw him to a saving faith. But there are clear signs that He is at work. My husband works on Sundays, but he very willingly listens to sermons from both my pastor and our son-in-law every night before bed. And I don’t feel uncomfortable sharing about the Lord with him anymore because he so willingly receives what I say.
Of course, in the midst of all of this, the Lord continues the oh-so-painful work of conforming me more to the image of His Son. There is still much that I have to learn about honoring and respecting my husband, but I press on with joy, knowing the holy task that lies before me: I have the privilege of reflecting the Father’s love for me—imperfect as I am—to my beloved, imperfect as he may be.
If you had all of this figured out a long time ago, praise God! May He use you as a vessel to point others toward your same Christ-centered path in marriage.
But if your current reality sounds a lot more like what I’ve been through, take heart. I can’t guarantee that all of your problems will disappear. Or that your husband will change overnight…or that he’ll change at all. But I can offer you hope and a reminder that God is faithful and powerful and that no one is beyond the reach of His grace.
P.S. Last night I asked my husband to share with me again how he felt about the night I asked him to marry me. He said he was shocked at first because “that’s not how it’s supposed to go.” When I reminded him that I had trapped him, his response was, “You did me a favor.” Of course, I teared up. Perhaps soon I can finally say with confidence that in his wife, my husband has “found a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22).
My heart skipped a beat as he walked into the room. As usual, he engaged me in conversation by asking about my day and sharing about his. We could talk about anything, from light topics to in-depth questions. I enjoyed our conversations and realized I looked forward to them more than I should. Why? Because I was a married woman and this man was not my husband.
Emotional affair. I would never have guessed myself susceptible to fall into one. After all, I’m a believer married to a believer.
- That should be a recipe for success, right? Wrong.
- A safeguard against an affair, right? Wrong.
You see, even though I’m a Jesus girl through and through, my heart is still desperately wicked and prone to wander if I don’t keep a tight rein on it. Let’s put the spotlight on this sneaky enemy lurking in the shadows of one too many hearts.
The Making of an Emotional Affair
1. Emotional energy - Let’s start with a working definition:
“An emotional affair is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage but also receives emotional support and companionship from the new relationship.”1
Blah. It hurts to read the above description and brings me to tears, but it was my reality. I was emotionally pouring more energy into & choosing to receive emotional support and companionship from this other man who was not my husband, whom I had promised to be faithful to mind, heart, and body as long as we both shall live. My emotions had strayed into forbidden territory. God, forgive me.
2. Subtle beginning. My emotional affair started so innocently. He’d sit down and look at me and engage me in conversation. He took an interest in me, and I allowed that interest to begin to woo my heart. My emotional tank began to be filled with this other man’s time, his attention, and his words rather than my husband’s. My heart was on a slippery slope sliding toward him rather than my man. Ugh! God, forgive me.
You see, this subtle beginning takes our feet from the stable path onto the slippery slope of being convinced:
- This other man understands me better than my spouse.
- This other man loves me more than my spouse does.
- This other man is my true soul mate, unlike my spouse.
These thoughts lead us into the danger zone because they are all lies from the father of lies, Satan, whose sole goal is to steal, kill, and destroy our marriages. Just like he whispered to Eve in the garden, he slithers discontentment into our hearts making us think the grass is greener on the other side. My sister, it isn’t. The “green grass on the other side” is filled with weeds, and moles, and bare spots just like your current relationship.
3. Danger Zone: By the grace of God, I heeded the waving red flag early on when God brought the issue to my mind, but that isn't always the case. We can become so connected with this other person emotionally that before we know it, we’ve entered the danger zone! We think about what it would be like to be in his embrace, to be kissed by him, and for scenes to unfold in our minds which should be reserved for our husbands. Too soon these thoughts lead to actions, and we are having sex with someone other than our spouse. God, forgive us! My friend, an emotional affair can be a gateway to a sexual affair. James 1:14-16 says it best:
14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.
15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.
So, how do we slam shut the gate before we slide down the slippery slope?
The Unraveling of an Emotional Affair
1. Name it - When I realized what was happening, it caught my breath. I wrestled with the thought and denied it. After all, I wasn’t physically attracted to this other man…yet. But, the Spirit was gentle and kept bringing it to my mind. My heartstrings were starting to connect with this other man. I was in the beginning stages of an emotional affair. Psalm 51:6. Blah.
2. Confess it - My heart's cry is, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours, Lord!” I had to confess the ugliness of my reality. I was becoming emotionally drawn to a man other than my husband. This was a sin. It broke God's heart, and therefore needed to break my heart, also. I had to confess my wayward thoughts to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. Psalm 32:5. The Lord, in all His kindness, forgave me.
3. Cripple it - Once I realized what was happening, I knew I had to ask for help before it went any further. I talked to my man, told him what was going on, and how he could help. If however, I wasn’t comfortable telling him, I would have found a trustworthy person to confide in and ask me questions regularly. Questions like: How’s your heart? How’s your thought life? How are you taking your thoughts captive and making them obedient to the Lord Jesus? 2 Corinthians 10:5 & James 5:16.
I love the saying, “The grass is greenest where you water it.” So true! So how do I water my own grass? I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade to keep my heart tethered to my Lord and to my man.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23
The Safeguards against an Emotional Affair
1. Label - All men who are not my husband I now give the label “my brother”. If I feel the slightest twinge in my wayward heart, I mentally say the phrase “He’s my brother” over and over again to get my heart and mind back into focus.
2. Leave - If I can’t keep my heart obedient, I leave the conversation, the room, even the area if need be. Like Joseph left Potiphar's house in a rush, I leave the scene with or without my jacket.
3. Learn - I have learned that I have to be very careful with what I watch and read. My romantic heart has a fondness for a good love story, but that sweet love story can turn my “real life” love story sour. Just like I can’t measure up to an airbrushed model on a magazine cover or a real life beauty, my man can’t measure up to the make-believe man on the screen or in the book or in the figments of my imagination. I’ve learned my triggers and turn off the TV or close the book if it causes discontentment in my heart toward my marriage.
4. Love - This one is huge, and I saved it for last. When I truly love the Lord with all my heart, mind, and strength, other areas of my life line up, including my contentment with my man just the way he is.
God's will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. 1 Thessalonians 4:3
So, how about you? If you’re married, are you taking your thoughts about other men who are not your husband captive? What tricks of the trade do you practice to guard your heart? If however, any of my story raises a red flag for you and you are caught in an emotional affair, I beg you to unravel the strings that have tied your heart to someone who is not your spouse. It is the right thing to do, to honor your Lord, to honor your vows, and to honor your integrity.
If you’re a precious single woman, the same slippery slope is ever before you. Do you have an accountability partner to ask you the hard questions and help keep your heart and mind pure? If not, pray for one. God, in His kindness, will provide one.
Jesus Girl. Wife. Momma. Student. Teacher. Confidante. Lover of dark chocolate, milky coffee, deep talks, lively laughter, and a front row seat on the beach at sunrise.