The dreaded late night call… A tough battle-hardened voice on the other end of the line, “Pastor, we don’t want to try anymore. Can you save our marriage?”
These calls always make me feel anger, sadness, and disappointment.
The anger is a righteous anger at the devil and his schemes. But the sadness and disappointment are for the young couple because they’ve ignored the truth and opportunities God offered for their marital success. You see no couple ends up at divorce quickly. No couple stands at the altar planning to fail. Few enjoy the process of throwing away their memories. No, the reality is that divorce happens over time – It’s like the building pressure of a steam engine or slow erosion of a large riverbed – and the alarming reality is that by the time a couple calls their pastor, hearts are usually so maimed that marital reconciliation is rare.
…they ignored the truth and opportunities God offered for their marital success.
Most relationships begin the same: Laughter, cuddles, cake, and a few selfies at the beach. Guy and gal ride the emotional high, ignorant of the petty disagreements, unconcerned with the variance in convictions, assuming their romance will be “the one” that survives. Interestingly, just as most relationships begin the same way, most broken relationships end the same as well. Somewhere between years 3-5 the couple begins to feel the pain. Intimate concerns aren’t addressed. Small deceptions are allowed. One person daydreams about a more emotionally satisfying partner. Finally, both people feel estranged. Fights begin. Unkind things are said. Hearts turn to stone. In America, there is one divorce every 36 seconds and over 50% of marriages end in divorce by the eighth year.
Over the years, I’ve noticed there’s enough traditionalism left in America to propel many young adults toward the church looking for a spouse. I suppose it’s because parents told them that marriage is to be done by clergy and not a courthouse. So they meet their spouse at church (or a church event) and spend large amounts of time “talking” or “hanging out” around church people. In a rather ironic twist, this means that many doomed relationships actually begin at church and then ultimately end at church when the couple finally sounds their 9-1-1 alarm for pastor.
However, the fact that seemingly good relationships begin and end at church begs an obvious question: What happened to the couple in between? Sure, they met and got married with “Christian” stuff around. Then, at the very end they sounded the “Christian” alarm. But, what were they doing in the middle? Where were they during the years when the marriage was eroding?
Where were they during the years when the marriage was eroding?
The sad reality is that often they were on vacation, at the beach, with family, sleeping in, or at the movies. But, frankly most of the couples with decimated marriages were rarely at church. I’ve seen it myself and have many friends in the pastorate that will testify to this uncanny temptation of modern newlyweds to slowly disappear from church.
In a 2016 study, Better Together: Religious Attendance, Gender and Relationship Quality¹, released by the Institute for Family Studies it was confirmed that:
– 78% of church-going couples were “extremely happy” with their relationship
– 67% of non church-going couples were “extremely happy”
– 59% of couples where only wife attends church were “extremely happy”
Note this study contends a possible 20% swing in relational joy simply based on whether one or both parties attend church! This study (like any study) isn’t foolproof but the overwhelming evidence suggests that a couple engrained in a biblical community of shared values, encouraging support, and wise counsel, will experience much more joy than a couple attempting to journey alone. On this note, it’s interesting that most people love bible verses about finding a spouse (Gen 2:24) and even know the bible verses about divorcing a spouse (Matt 19:6) but very few take time to study the critical “present tense” instructions about keeping a spouse (Prov 5:19, 19:14, 1 Cor 7:1-5, Eph 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19, Heb 13:4).
Based on this, I recommend modern newlyweds:
- Get married at church. Our post-Christian culture has moved marriage away from the clergy and toward the courthouse. Based on this, I’m a big fan for nuptials in a church. It’s vital Christians remember that marriage is primarily a covenant between they and God. Although the beach, a hotel, or vineyard provide earthly beauty, a church reminds everyone involved (most importantly the couple) that marriage is about eternal beauty. Marriage is God’s design.
- Attending church on honeymoon. Often people get married on Saturday with the plan to “escape” the next day on honeymoon. Thus, their very first day as newlyweds is spent with a Mai Tai instead of with their Savior. What a sad development – Make big vows before God, then make plans to spend the first twenty-four hours with alcohol instead of with Him!? What a marvelous testimony when a young couple chooses to spend their first Sunday in God’s house, either before leaving for paradise, or even at their chosen travel destination.
- Planning church into each vacation. Another way young couples can reassure one another of their priorities is to find a church to attend while on vacation. Before kids, young couples tend to vacate a lot. But sadly this normally means “vacate” from work and church. What a noble choice to vacate from work but not from God. This idea is ever more valuable for couples with children as it showcases to the kids that the family is not simply “Godly” while at home but committed to their values regardless of where they are in the world.
- Don’t go to work on Sunday. Culture has taught young people that “work comes first” so many newlyweds skip out on church to enhance their career. Sadly, they don’t realize that a great career without God’s blessing (and a devoted family to enjoy it with) is lonely and sad. It is heartbreaking to think of how many men and women lie alone on their death-bed, with no pictures on the mantel, or family at their bedside, because they didn’t learn this simple truth. Young people must trust God enough to tell their employer, “Sunday is off limits.”
- Joining a weekly community group. Sunday church attendance is important for spiritual fervor but ultimately every believer also needs a close-knit church group to help them journey through the ups and downs of life. This is why newlyweds must make the bold choice to move closer to their community of believers and fully divest of themselves. During the early years, newlyweds can drive long distances because they do not have children. But after kids come, imminent and urgent felt-needs arise, and the requirement for proximate care and support greatly increases. Young couples must choose early to build their life out from a concentric local church center where they can properly love and properly be loved.
If I were to summarize my appeal to newlyweds it would be a reminder from Ephesians 2:4 where Jesus told Ephesus, “You’ve left your first love… repent and do the deeds you did at first.” Clearly Christ’s statement was to an entire church but the convicting principle applies perfectly to young couples tempted to stray from their priorities. Jesus says, “Do what you did at first.” So, if you are a young husband who stood at the altar promising to “protect and cherish” then go back and do what you promised. If you are a young woman who promised to “love until death” then by all means go back and finish what you began. After many years of ministry I can testify that if you are prioritizing church, surrounded by biblical friends, and seeking counsel from mature saints, your marriage will experience inexpressible joy.