I Samuel 25:36-42
For Better Or Worse: Overcoming Challenges In Marriage
I can appreciate the fact that sometimes people say things in a way that sounds very different than what they intended; it happens to me often. A minister received a note from a newlywed in his congregation, and the note read Dear Pastor – I want to thank you for performing our marriage ceremony. It was beautiful the way you brought my happiness to a conclusion.
This morning we continue our series on marriage, and we come to the wedding vow that says for better, for worse. All marriages have some of both, but hopefully it is much more of the better and much less of the worse. We are talking about Overcoming Challenges this morning, and every married couple quickly finds there are challenges they will face.
The Scripture passage we read this morning tells of David’s marriage to Abigail. Abigail had previously been married to a man named Nabal, and we read that he was not much of a husband or a person. In fact, his name can be translated as fool.
In some ways, Abigail’s life improved after she married David, but there were some very great challenges as well. David would become king, and that role brought blessings but also tremendous stress to life. David was a warrior, his family had many relationship problems and he famously became involved with another woman, Bathsheba.
I think we can take comfort in the fact that the great Biblical characters were not immune to challenges in their marriages. For David, some of those challenges came to him, and others – such as his involvement with Bathsheba – were of his own making.
I think we find that to be true of every marriage; some challenges come to us from outside the marriage relationship, as life brings particular challenges our way; but there are also challenges that come because of our own actions.
This morning we will examine some of the challenges marriages face and some solutions as well. But allow me to also add another word this morning. As I speak about marriage there is a very obvious reality, and some of you have experienced this reality – some marriages become broken and are not repairable, and they end. People who have experienced divorce sometimes feel judged by churches or they are made to feel guilty – or both. Some marriages end, and some become so broken that they need to end, as painful and as difficult as that may be. But life can and does go on, and you do not have to carry around a burden of guilt or judgment.
Years ago I attended a 50th anniversary celebration for some friends of ours. They were a wonderful couple and seemed to have a very happy marriage. At the reception the couple shared some words with those in attendance and one of the things the wife said was this – 50 years of marriage and we never had a single argument! Someone standing near me said, probably louder than they intended, I bet they could have used a few!
Even when two people deeply love one another it is inevitable that conflict will enter into the relationship, and it’s not always something to avoid or fear, because conflict can, at times, “clear the air” in a relationship. Conflict can be a pressure release valve that prevents problems from festering and creating deeply hurt feelings and bitterness. The key is that conflict is handled in a healthy manner – not something to be feared, or avoided, but a dynamic to recognize as a way to bring problems in a relationship into the open where they can be discussed and solved.
Conflict is not handled in a healthy manner creates anger, and anger that is not managed or spoken to can be very damaging to a relationship.
The first piece of advice about conflict I will mention is this, and it is addressed to our role as parents – your children should not witness your fights and arguments. I am not saying that you should hide the fact that parents have disagreements and arguments, but a child’s sense of security is tied very directly to how they perceive the strength of their parent’s marriage. If they witness arguing and fighting on a regular basis they are going to feel insecure because they will wonder if the marriage is going to last.
When I was in youth ministry I used to listen to a lot of kids talk about their concern over their parent’s marriage (and I wondered if the parents were aware of the fact of their children talking about their arguments and their struggles). I witnessed first-hand the amount of anxiety that was created by those arguments and it obviously created a lot of insecurity. That’s why I recommend that parents be very careful about their children witnessing their arguing and fighting and disagreements.
The second piece of advice is this – while conflict can be triggered by several factors, it often comes from – and is intensified by – poor communication skills. Good communication begins by being a good listener, because people don’t always say what they really mean.
Even in a marriage relationship people do not always say what they mean, and marital conflict is generally triggered by poor communication. There are two very important matters to remember about conflict and communication. One, there is no logic to conflict and the ensuing hurt feelings. The worse thing you can do is to approach your spouse’s feelings in a logical way; it will only make matters worse and confuse you in the process. Don’t try to be so logical – listen to what your spouse is trying to tell you about what they feel. Don’t say something such as this – it’s silly to get that upset about such a small matter or, you shouldn’t feel that way. The person is upset and they do feel that way, whether they should or not. Second, conflict affects every facet of a relationship. It is a mistake to think that a single point of conflict can be ignored and the rest of a relationship will go unaffected. Some people say well, we’re having a conflict over one issue but everything else is fine.
The third piece of advice is this – conflict in one area affects the entire relationship because unresolved conflict destroys intimacy, and that will eventually fracture or destroy a relationship.
The fourth piece of advice is this – do not believe you must remain in an abusive situation. The various types of abuse – physical, emotional, sexual – are situations no one should have to endure, and never allow yourself to believe that you cannot escape such a situation.
2. Financial challenges.
There are a lot of people struggling these days. Is it all because of materialism? Is it all because of greed? No, I don’t believe so. Certainly, materialism and greed do exist, but the financial costs of raising families are a very difficult reality. In the early 60s my father was earning about $60.00 a week. With that $60.00 he was buying a home, raising two children, and paying for all the other necessities of life. Yes, things cost less then, but the cost of living was lower and today’s dollars have much less buying power.
One of the dangers in the early days of marriage is the desire to have too much too quickly. It took my parents a lot of years to arrive at a particular point economically, and it would have been unwise for me to think it possible to be at that point at, say, 25. There is a very grave temptation to try and have too much, too fast, which can lead to a crippling financial situation. Proverbs 21:5 tells us everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
Let me offer the following words of advice about financial matters.
1. Beware of debt, and live within your means. The Bible does not forbid debt, but it gives counsel about the dangers of debt. Proverbs 22:7 says the borrower is servant to the lender and 22:26-27 says do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts. If you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.
2. Don’t get caught up in competition over material possessions. It is very easy to be caught up in the desire to have as much as someone else, and that begins a journey down a road that can lead to financial ruin. Part of human nature is to have a greater desire for what we want than to be thankful for what we have, and that desire can be so powerful in our lives that we get swept up into the competition of outdoing our neighbors. Jesus gave numerous warnings about the danger of desiring possessions. In Luke 12:15 Jesus says not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.
3. Invest wisely. Be wary of shortcuts to building wealth, and when you make financial investments make investments that are honorable and with businesses that practice integrity in their business dealings.
4. Those suggestions make it possible to fulfill the biggest word of advice – be generous. The symbol of the world is a closed hand, holding and hoarding resources; the Christian representation is the open hand, realizing that as God has blessed us we are to use those resources to bless others. I am certainly grateful that our church has been so giving and generous as people have given so generously and faithfully.
3. Health challenges.
In sickness and health – that’s one of the vows, and some sickness can be very difficult, especially sickness that is chronic. But there are health challenges that are not often discussed, especially in church. There is the health challenges alcohol and substance abuse, which we will talk about on the final Sunday of September. There is also the challenge of mental and emotional health. The challenge of matters such as alcohol and substance abuse, and mental and emotional health is that they often remain hidden from view, and they remain hidden from view because there remains a great deal of stigma about those health challenges.
All of us have some first-hand experiences with the challenges of health. When health challenges enter a family’s experience they can quickly reveal any fractured or damaged relationships that may exist. One of the most difficult parts of health challenges can be the change in communication. If a person is facing a very difficult situation, they may not want to talk about it, while their spouse feels a great need to talk. The spouse will often feel shut out and become frustrated because the other person simply won’t talk about what they are facing. It is a very profound moment to face your own mortality, and some people don’t want to face it or talk about it, but that doesn’t mean they are shutting you out. It can also be frustrating because they don’t want to ask doctors questions; they probably don’t want to hear any more bad news.
Friends also need to understand this. There will be times when someone doesn’t want to be asked a lot of questions or talk about their health, and it’s important to respect their wishes; when a person is ready to talk, they will talk. You must give them the freedom to decide when they will talk. I try to be careful not to ask people a lot of questions; my desire to know should never supersede their need to decide how and when they will talk about the challenge they face.
When it comes to health challenges, living near family is a great blessing. If you have family living nearby, never take that gift for granted.
4. Spiritual challenges.
When I speak about spiritual challenges, I do mean religious faith, a relationship to a church, but I also mean those elements of life that have to do with our spirit, such as work and life balance, our basic perspective on life, our relationship to finances and possessions, how we use our time, how we relate to others – most every facet of life has a relationship to spirituality.
For some, that spirituality – and faith – can become a source of contention. Not every couple sees eye to eye about faith. Some couples have very different perspectives about faith and church involvement. Sometimes parents and their children will have very different views, and that creates a lot of stress as well, as many of you mentioned as you answered the three questions I asked for a number of weeks this summer.
I don’t know why faith seems to grow naturally with some, but others in the same family will have little or no interest. I do know that differences in this area of life can generate a great deal of stress and heartache.
There are two different issues that we need to separate. A lack of church involvement and a lack of faith are two different matters. I know people who have little or no involvement in the life of any church but I certainly believe they have a very real and genuine faith.
You cannot, and should not, seek to push or manipulate anyone into faith. Instead, you should live your faith every day, speaking of it when you can, and continue to love and serve your spouse.
36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak.
37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone.
38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.” Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.
40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”
41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”
42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.