Without constant attention, marriage can become stale and frustrating. The bible offers insight into how to keep it fresh.
Our refrigerators and cupboards are full of products with stamped expiration dates. Except for infant formula, dating these products is not a federal regulation. But, it is useful for stores and consumers to assess whether a given product is safe or unsafe for consumption. So, the ardent shopper checks that “sell by” date, especially on the perishable items like milk and eggs. This morning I checked the expiration date on one of my purchases only to learn that it had indeed expired. Should I eat it or throw it away? As I carefully inspected it to see if I was indeed edible, I began to think of the connection to marriage. How many couples are living in outdated marriages—going through the motions with freshness that has long expired?
The answer is “way too many”. It shows in the data. According to Dana Adam Shapiro’s research for his book You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married), very few married people are happy — he says about 17 percent. Another study reveals that a large percentage of married couples (~40%) say that they are not very happy in their marriage. It’s sad. For many of these couples, the relationship that started out with a sense of bliss and hopeful optimism has deteriorated into a functional partnership at best.
One study of 3000 couples identifies five top problems reported by these frustrated couples.
Lack of spontaneity
Lack of romance
Terrible sex life
No time to give each other attention
Lack of time to talk
One-third of couples suggest things like the loss of romantic trips away, cooking of favorite meals, and the surprise bouquet of flowers as examples of their outdated marriages. These couples have allowed the proverbial “shelf life” of their marriage to diminish. It feels stale and distasteful.
This disappointing state of marriage reminds me of the biblical account of the Hebrew people during their wilderness experience after escaping the slavery of Egypt. During their journey in the wilderness (as chronicled in Exodus 16), God supernaturally provided the Hebrew people with manna (a sweet wafer) from heaven. God promised Moses that each morning fresh manna would fall from heaven. As promised, each day God provided this food to sustain the nation. The people gathered this manna and prepared their meals daily.
But, they had specific instructions on how much to gather and how long to keep the manna.
Each person was allowed to collect what amounts to about a gallon of manna daily. But, each day’s manna had to be consumed that day. It could not be kept overnight. Those who tried to keep it—quickly learned that it would be full of maggots and emit an awful odor the next day.
As a result the Hebrew people had to trust that God was going to make the provision for that day alone. But, rather than gratefulness, their complaint grew into contempt towards Moses and God. This supernatural account of God’s provision teaches us many lessons. But, one is particularly pivotal.
You can’t love today’s marriage on yesterday’s manna.
In other words, you have to gather fresh manna each day to keep your marriage viable and fresh. Too many marriages are adrift—plagued by negligence, complaints, and outdated accomplishments.
In examining the Exodus account, I believe there are five lessons there instructing us on how to keep our marriage fresh and perpetually extend its expiration date.
5 lessons to keep your marriage fresh
Lesson #1: Know that God will give supernatural provision for the journey
Just like the Hebrew people were between Egypt and the land of Canaan that was promised to them, you too are on a journey. In marriage, much of our own lives are transitions. When these transitions are God-directed we have to believe that God will supernaturally provide for us.
In my own marriage, there have been many times when I have wondered how we would make it. It happened when our first child was born. It happened when we were trying to buy our first home and again when we were trying to selling it. It happened when we contemplated a cross-country move to go to seminary. And, it has happened on many subsequent transitions.
But, in each case God has proved himself faithful. As we are able to trust that God will provide we have less angst as a couple. We don’t allow the difficult circumstances to be a wedge in our marital relationship. Instead, we all our mutual prayers to encourage our trust that somehow God is going to make a way. And, we encourage one another to that fact during those moments when doubt inevitably creeps in.
Lesson #2: Follow God’s instructions
It isn’t enough to know that God will provide. We must also follow His instructions.
Exodus 16:4 gives the account of God’s instructions to the Hebrew people in how to take advantage of His provision. In fact, God tells Moses that this process is a test of the nation’s ability to follow the instructions that God gives.
Our journeys are no different. You want God’s provision. But, are you willing to follow His instruction?
When He tells you to “go”, do you “go”? When he tells you to repent, do you? When he tells you to wait, do you wait? You get the point.
You have to resolve that you will follow God’s instructions because you know that the plans that He has for you are good. Therefore, you decide to heed the Proverbs 3:5 instruction to trust God and lean not to your own understanding. But, to acknowledge Him in all your ways as you realize that He is directing your path.
Lesson #3: Remember from what God brought you
The Hebrew people had a memory problem. Within less than a month from leaving Egypt they began to bitterly complain—even to the point of suggesting that their days in Egyptian slavery were better than their days of freedom.
That is a sad state of denial isn’t it?
A great example is in the book of Numbers chapter 11 that continues to chronicle the Hebrew journey from Egypt. In verse 5 they complain, “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt.” In their state of denial, the Hebrew people had adopted a narrative that the provisions that their Egyptian taskmasters gave them were superior to those that God gave them.
Wow! That is not only psychological denial. That is heresy.
The lesson for us is to accurately remember what God has given us in our marriages. Remember how so many of us have our physical health. Remember the transportation that we can afford when we used to not have any. Remember how we received the housing for which we prayed. Remember the healthy children that we’ve had together. Remember how we got the jobs that we prayed for. The list is endless.
Though there may be many other things that we desire as couples, we must never forget what we’ve already been blessed to receive. And, we certainly have to remember that liberty that we experience in God in infinitesimally superior to anything that we had before we accepted Him into our hearts.
Lesson #4: Gather what you need for each day
In Exodus 16:16, God instructs the Hebrew people to gather what they need each day. He mentions that the gathering might look different for different families. Some families will look to gather much. Others will gather little. But, the key is that there is action. Gathering is to not just sit idly by.
Complacency is a marriage killer. The best marriages are those where the couple is intentional about action. What are you gathering for your marriage?
Whether it is taking time to educate yourself, taking time to listen to your spouse’s needs, or bringing home that nice surprise for your spouse, these are all steps that make us that gathering experience. Some days it might be little things. Other days it may be big things. But, adopting a daily attitude of gathering is demonstrating obedience to God, honoring to your spouse, and a blessing to the growth of your marriage.
Lesson #5: Keep it fresh
God told the Hebrew people that the manna they were provided would only last for that day. God promised a fresh batch tomorrow.
There is an important message there that we not allow us to rest on our marital laurels. It also means that we can’t be content with what has worked for us in the past. This mindset will eventually leave your marriage feeling stale.
God desires to give your marriage a fresh anointing. He wants your marriage to be vibrant. Look for new ways to bring excitement and levity to your marriage.
What would be a nice surprise for your spouse? Can you try something different, maybe out of the box?
Ultimately, God desires your marriage to represent Him in the good places and during those wilderness experiences. He isn’t only with you when you are on the mountain top. He is there providing for you even during those difficult transitions. He is indeed faithful and just to give you everything that you need to flourish as a couple.
My prayer is that these five lessons will give fresh insight that will elevate your marriage to another level.
Leave me a comment and let me know what other parallels you see between this account of the Hebrew people and our own marriage today.