Today, I was hanging pictures in our newly rehabbed 1850’s house. We have accumulated quite a little art gallery over the years. I didn’t realize it so much until today when I was motivated to hang all of the framed pictures in one fell swoop. The small pictures are easy to manage. However, the large framed pictures can be a challenge, not only because they are heavy but because you can’t get perspective while holding the picture in place. It is difficult to tell if the picture is centered on the wall when you’re close to it. For me, it is nearly impossible to tell if it is straight or leaning to one side. For me to properly hang a large framed picture, I inevitably have to step back several times to get a wider point of view.
As I was hanging heavy pictures this morning, I thought of my marriage of thirty-one plus years to my college sweetheart, Dalia. We have had our ups and downs over the decades—thankfully more ups than downs. But, I made a lot of mistakes that damaged the foundation of our marriage. When we were dealing with some heavy issues, I failed to step back to get an appropriate perspective of the situations. I pushed to get my wife to see things my way, not realizing that I had left my marriage with an unhealthy lean that compromised our friendship. My drive for success at everything left me without sufficient focus on making sure my marriage was centered on God’s will. Yes, things mostly looked good on the outside. But, Dalia and I were living beneath our full potential. I needed perspective. God’s best simply was not our reference point. We were settling for something short of that. Our spiritual core was sorely lacking perspective. And, as often happens in marriages, it took a big punch to my ego for me to realize just how askew my Christian marriage had become.
That punch came in 2017, when I made a significant miscalculation approximating how many attendees we would attract to a marriage event that we were hosting in Hershey, PA. My event planning naïveté cost us well over $50,000. And, at the end of the day, I felt ashamed that I had put us in this financial bind. This misstep could have forced a wedge between us as Dalia had every right to chastise me. And, when I’m most honest, if the shoe had been on the other foot, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have given her a piece of my mind. But, rather than give me what I deserved, Dalia was gracious and merciful to me. She reassured me that we were in this together. She stood alongside me in the difficult negotiations with the hotel and with her accounting background forged a path out for us.
Dalia’s actions transformed our marriage because they forced me to take several steps back and get a different perspective on how our marriage looked. It made me realize how in my zeal to pursue purpose, I had ironically lost sight of our joint identity as a couple. It gave insight into how much I take for granted in my marriage. And, most of all, it forced me to be grateful for the woman who God had placed steadfastly beside me.
Marriage is all about perspective.
Unlike what we naturally think, what most of us need is not more time or money to release the best of our marriage. What Christian couples need is a higher perspective. But, you only get a loftier perspective by climbing bigger mountains. Small mountains yield small perspective. Big mountains offer big perspective. So many couples want the mountaintop experience. But, few couples want to endure the travail of the climb. Frankly, most Christian couples lack the character or faith to traverse big mountains. They do not have the relational conditioning to survive it. Yet, I venture to say that there has never been a great marriage where the couple didn’t overcome hardship on their path to living out greatness.
In my experience, proper marital perspective comes through one or more of three ways: Prayer, People, or Pain
Prayer: Some Christian couples (a small minority) stay attune to God and one another by remaining vigilant in their prayer life together. Prayer keeps them humble and open to influence from a Christ-centered perspective. In my experience, I would say 80% of Christian couples need a deeper prayer life together.
People: Wise people follow the lead of others who are doing what they want to do themselves. Rather than continue making well-worn mistakes, most Christian couples could see things differently if they just heed the sage advice of other Christian couples. In our current technological advent, there really is no excuse not to have a mentor couple, even if virtual in nature. Additionally, most Christian couples could benefit from having objective truth-tellers in their lives to tell you when your perspective is distorted. Every Christian couple needs to surround themselves with other Christian couples who are operating in tandem on a higher faith plane.
Pain: The most difficult path to perspective is through your own painful experience that knocks you a few steps back. Some people (hardheaded ones like me) are so headstrong that no one can tell them anything—not even God. It takes a ‘pit experience’ that they cannot get themselves out of to teach the lesson. The challenge here for Christian couples is that you must endure the pain without allowing the Adversary victory. This only comes when the pain pushes you to a more objective vantage point. As in the case with Dalia and me, shared pain then becomes the glue that binds.
The strongest Christian couples are adept at shifting their perspective in and out as situations evolve. These are mature Christians with a penchant for empathy and prioritization of their identity as a couple over their individual selves. I continue to ask God for wisdom and perspective to be one of those couples. In the meantime, here is a tip, when hanging a large framed picture, do it together with your spouse. It is a wonderful reminder of how a godly team of two is always better than one.