It took us a while to understand that it wasn’t our differences that divided us, but because of our mutual selfishness we were not looking at the biggest picture — the one that God wanted us to see.
God says our marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and His Church, not something He gave mankind to make us “happy”. It was given to produce in us – godliness. 1 Peter 1:16 reminds us, that we are to be holy as He is holy, reaffirming what God said in Leviticus 11:44. For a long time I thought that was hyperbole, or didn’t happen anytime soon. Reading Philippians 1:6 “He that began the good work in you will carry it on to completion…” made me ponder and question how that was supposed to happen.
What we miss, or at least I missed, was that spiritual growth is a process and I have a responsibility to be a part of that process by allowing and eagerly accepting God’s instruction along the way — particularly as it relates to my marriage. Worship, Bible reading, community and serving all function together to produce character change (holiness), making me more fit for marriage.
One piece of that was to see that it really isn’t our differences that divide us, it’s our failure to:
- Acknowledge the differences
- Accept the differences
- Appreciate the differences
- and Apply the differences to enhance and grow our marriage.
That clears things up a great deal in my opinion.
The differences we have are God given. He made us different. Just read Love and Respect by Emerson Eggrichs and learn how God designed us to be different, to make a display case for others out of our marriage (see Eph 5:32). Or read “Men are Like Waffles, Women Like Spaghetti” by Bill & Pam Farrel and see what a sense of humor our God has to make us so different.
To Acknowledge the differences is the first step in the process of understanding. Once we have acknowledged the differences by sitting down to talk about how I approach things and how Mary Jane approaches things, we found that our communication improved and we learned a lot about how each of us was raised that we didn’t already know. We bonded more too. And, it’s an ongoing occurance. revealing new things about each other still today.
Step two was learning to Accept our differences not as wrong but just, well, DIFFERENT. You may be saying your spouse is wrong! Most often it is not a matter of right -vs- wrong, it’s more about our preference -vs- theirs. That is where that ugly selfishness pops up and tries to undo what you’ve accomplished in step one. So we wrestle with our pride and selfishness and ask God to help us do what we know is right, in spite of ourselves.
Part three of the puzzle is to take that acknowledgement and acceptance and move to Appreciation for the differences. Once I understood and accepted that Mary Jane saw details I could not, I asked God to help me appreciate her detail orientation, and He was faithful to give us that.
That made the last part fit so well, as we learned to Apply our differences to the best advantage, not of ourselves, nor perhaps to the other, but to the benefit of God and our marriage. It’s going for the Win-Win, instead of the Win-Lose.
If this reads like we have the answer, let me assure you we do not. We know it will always be a struggle to arrest our self centered actions and replace them with God honoring actions. While we work on our marriages, we also need to work on ourselves – that’s where Men Coaching Men and Women’s Ministry come into the picture. Marriage Ministry is here to help us work on the relationship with each other, the other two ministries are here to help us work on our individual relationship with God. All three are important.