Happily Ever After? - Not Your Parent’s Marriage
The last two weeks have been fun and I hope you are enjoying this series so far. If you have missed either of the last two sermons you can read them on my blog or listen to them on our podcast site. We have debunked some myths about marriage and talked about how to stay in love using the blueprint found in 1 Corinthians 13 and our love languages.
The video I showed during the children’s moment was a fun to do. We have a cute bunch of kids and youth. I wanted to create this because how our kids see that we love each other tells us a lot about how our marriage is perceived to others. Now our children’s perception isn’t as accurate as the truth, they really don’t know everything. But they do give us a window into what our marriage looks like. The relationship that has the most impact on our marriage is our parent’s marriage. For good or for bad, that relationship is what helps form how we approach marriage in general. Our parent’s marriage doesn’t define it but it has a dramatic impact on it.
There are three negative ways that Rod Stafford, the author of this sermon series, brings up about how our parent’s marriage affects our marriages. Actually to use his words, “Your parent’s marriage potentially has a deadly impact on your marriage in three different ways.” The first one is the damage of comparison. Growing up our parent’s marriage is really the only one we know well. It is the relationship we see daily and the only one we can see behind closed doors. We, as children, can hear the yells as our parents argue, or apparently from the view of our children and youth, a lot of hugging and kissing. How we see them acting out married life will impact our own marriage because we will compare our marriage with their marriage.
Some of it is good. You may think that your Dad is the best husband ever or that your Mom was the best wife ever. If you hold this view I bet your spouse is abundantly aware that you have this view because it probably comes up a lot. You may have heard your spouse say, “My Dad is the best husband. He was always home at 5pm and remembered my Mom’s birthdays and anniversary. He would bring fresh flowers home and candies. He would rub her feet and always give her a kiss when he walked into the house.” Or “My Mom is the best wife you can imagine. She had dinner on the table by 6 every night and it didn’t come out of the microwave, it was a three course meal every evening. Mom would press Dad’s shirts so he would look his best for work and would have a pot of coffee waiting for him when he got down stairs.”
Here is the issue that you may not realize. When we say a statement like those, what you are saying to your spouse is, “We don’t line up to my parent’s marriage.” “You don’t line up to the expectations I have as a husband/wife.” You may not mean it but I guarantee that is what your spouse hears. The damage of comparison is that we are holding up another marriage against ours and it is only our perception of a marriage not the reality. Maybe Dad came home with flowers and candies because the reality was he really messed up last night and put his foot in his mouth and so he is begging your Mom for forgiveness. Maybe your Mom served a three course meal every night because that is what the social norm for the day was and if she didn’t her friends would think she wasn’t being a good wife. In reality she would have much rather have a job and a career all her own instead of being a homemaker. What we perceive our parent’s marriage to be may not be the reality and so we need to step away from comparison, even the positive.
Now the negative comparison is also difficult. Maybe your parent’s don’t have the best relationship and maybe this is a statement you have said before. “I will not be like my mother.” Or “I will not be like my father.” But this can damage a marriage in two different ways. The first is that we think about it too much. If I told you not to think about ice cream I bet it would be really hard not to think about ice cream. Your brain just automatically starts to think about it although I told you not too. The same goes with that trait you couldn’t stand about your parent. “I will not yell like my father.” Then we get so caught up thinking about not being like our parent we actually start to embody the trait we are trying to dodge. Before we know it we are yelling like our father and then we hate ourselves for it. We end up battling the same demons our parents battle because we cannot stop thinking about not being like them.
The second way is that we get so preoccupied with not become like our parents that we grade our marriage on a curve. Instead of living into the 16 behaviors of love that we found in 1 Corinthians 13 we live into the fact that at least I am not my mother. We think, “I may yell at my husband but at least I don’t hit him like my mother did.” The way we look at our marriage is through the lens of “at least I don’t do.” That is not what God calls us to grade ourselves on and it looks nothing like the blueprint found in 1 Corinthians 13.
There are two other things that can potentially have a deadly impact on our marriage and I am going to cover them really quickly. Besides the damaged caused by comparison there is also the damage done by withholding blessing. Being blessed by the people in our lives is extremely important and God lays out ways that we can share blessings with one another. There are things that parents should do for their children and ways they bless them growing up and sometimes those things are not done. Maybe your father never told you he loved you or cared about you. Maybe your mother never hugged you or said she was proud of you. Those blessings we miss from our parents tend to follow us into our own marriages. Since we did not get them from our parents we look to get them other places.
We look to our spouses to fill that gap but the truth is they can never give you the blessings you wanted from your mother or father because they are not your mother or father. If you have a gap where some sort of blessing should be the only one who can fill that gap is God. God, our heavenly Father, is the only one who can give you what you missed from your parents. Your spouse can’t, your friends can’t, your job can’t. Only God and so we need to stop looking to fill that hole in our heart caused by missing those blessings, through our spouses and other things. Only God can do it and God would be happy if we let him.
The third deadly impact on a marriage from your parents is abuse. Parents can do some evil things to their children. If you have been abused physically by your parents that will have an impact on your marriage. If you have been abused emotionally by your parents by being told you are no good, worthless, stupid, a mistake, this will have an impact on your marriage. If you have been sexually abused, this will have an impact on your marriage. Abuse is horrible, evil, and more places then we realize. It creates some heavy damage in our relationships and leaves scars on us that he world may never see but may have a huge effect on our relationship with our spouse.
With these three types of damage that can be done by our parent’s marriage in mind what must we do? Now that I have opened Pandora’s box what we do with the realities of these demons? There are two ways to deal with them, revenge or forgiveness. Revenge seems a little harsh but it is true when we look at the different types of revenge or vengeance. When we think of revenge we think about an eye for an eye. But revenge is simply payment for being hurt. It can be an eye for an eye but there are other ways they are lived out. We can get revenge by simply saying, “I’m done with you.” We walk away or withdraw from a situation or life. The person may never know why and we probably don’t explain we simply walk away. Or we belittle or gossip about the person. This is a way of revenge because we are socially hurting them for the hurt they caused in us. Naturally if this person physically hurt you it will take a lot of gossip to hurt them back. The other way we seek revenge is by stuffing the hurt way down. We suppress it and compress it until it can’t be held back and the little think unleashes an explosion.
Revenge isn’t healthy though. It doesn’t really accomplish what we hope it will do. Rod in his sermon on this topic equates revenge to the game Angry Birds and it works well. I am sure many of you are familiar with the game Angry Birds but if not I will give you a quick little summary of this physics game. There are some birds and they are angry because some pigs stole their eggs. So to get revenge on this pigs they launch themselves at the pigs to destroy them. The pigs build different things to protect themselves and different birds have different powers to help destroy the buildings and pigs. Here is the catch though, for those who have played the game before, what happens to the birds after they are flung at the buildings and pigs? They disappear. Just like the pigs they disappear and in the end are destroyed. As they seek revenge on the pigs for stealing their eggs they too die in the process.
Revenge eats at us because we hold on to that hate, that un-forgiveness. We cannot forgive someone unless something happens to them equally or worse than what they did to us. Hebrews 12:15 says, “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.” When we seek revenge, which is holding back forgiveness, we are letting a root of bitterness grow up inside us. This root of bitterness will show up in our marriage and almost all other relationships as well. It will show up in our relationship with our children and with our friends. Sometimes it consumes us and all we are angry birds waiting to self destruct for the sake of revenge.
So how would God like us to handle it? How would God like us to handle the damage we have in our past to move forward into a deeper and healthier relationship in our marriage? For that we go back to the scripture I read. I am sure many of you were wondering what the parable of the unforgiving servant or unmerciful servant had to do with the sermon title, “Not Your Parent’s Marriage.” And now that you can see that train coming many of you maybe upset. The F word is not really popular because we would rather just seek revenge. We would rather hold onto the hurt because, for some of us, we don’t know who we would be without it. The F word I am talking about is forgiveness. Yep, I said it, and in church no less.
The parable of the unmerciful servant is all about forgiveness. The servant is forgiven a huge amount of debt, more than he could pay back in about 100 lifetimes. The king is beyond gracious and compassionate. He shows an abundance of mercy and more than the servant desires or even deserves. Then the forgiven servant tries to chokes out a tiny bit of money out of someone who owes him. The mercy he is shown doesn’t follow to the other relationships in his life and in turn the king doesn’t show him any more mercy either. What this parable boils down to is the our own capacity to experience grace. The fact that the servant could not forgive the one who owed him money shows that he really didn’t experience the grace from the king who just forgave him an obscene amount of money.
Now don’t get me wrong, our ability to be forgiven by God doesn’t hinge on our ability to forgive others. Forgiving others doesn’t earn us forgiveness from God. But our ability to extend grace to people that hurt us is impossible if we never really experienced God’s grace. Grace cannot be truly extended if is never truly experienced.
In Rod’s sermon he pointed me to a quote by Bono, the lead singer of the Band U2. Bono says, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.”
When we get caught up in revenge we are seeking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We are getting caught up in the karma aspect of life. Yet this isn’t how God works is it? Romans 12:19 says, “Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.” We get comfortable with that because we hope God’s revenge involves hell fire and sulfur falling from the sky. But what if God decides to handle the revenge we lay at his feet by sending his son to die on the cross and rise again? What if God’s plan on handling the sins against us is by showing mercy and forgiveness? What if the King of Kings shows the same mercy on our enemies as he does on us? Are we comfortable with that? Are we willing to be okay that grace and mercy overcomes all the evil in this world and in our lives?
If we are going to do what God calls us to do, which is to forgive and show mercy and grace to our enemies, our parents, those who have hurt us in the past so we can live healthier lives that reflect God’s love, then we will have to forgive. We will have to surrender those sins against us on the altar of God’s forgiveness and mercy. We will have to move forwards knowing that God loves us and commands us to love our enemy. Are we willing to surrender to that or is our revenge, our un-forgiveness, too much a part of us that we aren’t willing to let it go? Are we too consumed with the idea of getting back at those that hurt us, that we are willing to punish the people we are married too? Do we really want to jeopardize our current relationships for how we have been hurt in past relationships? Or are we ready to surrender them all to God’s love and grace?
The truth is that if we want a healthy marriage we will have to place God’s grace upon it. We will have to be willing to surrender our past to the grace and forgiveness that God offers. We will have to get rid of that root of bitterness that grows inside us. Are you ready to surrender that to God? Are you ready to forgive that person who has hurt you and caused you pain? Leave it here with God, because revenge is all God’s. Leave it here, surrender it in order to have a healthy, vibrant, and deep love.
And all God’s people said…Amen.