Moving Marriage from Vows to Virtues

A few weeks ago my wife, Dalia and I had the opportunity to travel to Newport Rhode Island where I was a speaker at the marriage retreat sponsored by our dear friends Drs. Paul and Virginia Friesen of Home Improvement Ministries. My prayer was that my workshop, titled ‘Vows to Virtues: How Renewed Vows Can Sanctify Your Marriage”, would be well received by those in attendance.   More importantly, my desire was to challenge couples to pause and revisit the covenant vows that we each made at the altar on our wedding day. I’d like to offer you the same challenge.

Here is what I know. Most couples were like me on their wedding day. Despite being seemingly heartfelt, the vows we repeat at the behest of the minister performing the ceremony amount to little more than idle words. Why do I make such a brash statement? Well, the results are clear. Those “to death do us part” vows that we recite sometimes with quivering lip and maybe even a tear or two fail to stand the test of time. In fact, national U.S. statistics reveal that among divorcees, the average length of marriage is eight years. You might find it interesting to know that eight years is also the average number of years that a mortgage is held in the U.S. (before a house is sold or refinanced). Isn’t it sobering to know that our ex-mortgages and ex-marriages last about the same amount of time?

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no problem with the vows that we couples offer on our wedding day. My concern is that we don’t really mean them. They are superficial to most of us. There is an underlying (usually unspoken) assumption that these vows are contingent on my spouse meeting my needs. If I’m not happy then the vows no longer apply. If I’m subjected to unfair pain then no one should expect me to honor words like “in sickness or in health”.  If it turns out that we are financially incompatible then any reasonable person concedes that “for richer or for poorer” was meant to be more poetic than literal. In other words, for at least half of couples (those who subsequently divorced and many who are still married but emotionally disengaged), the wedding vows have little connection to our commitment.

Here is the fundamental problem. In those tender moments in front of the witnesses most dear to us, most of us lack the virtues needed to live out the vows rolling off our tongues. As the romantic bliss of the honeymoon is replaced by regular life, our vows fade too.

While in Rhode Island, we had the opportunity to visit one of the 19th-century ornate mansions called “The Breakers” that was built by the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The Breakers is one of many mansions that remain as relics of what noted author Mark Twain dubbed “The Gilded Age”. Twain satirized the promised “Golden age” with the uncomfortable reality of an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding of economic expansion. As was his gift, Twain had it right. As Dalia and I walked the palatial hallways of the Breakers we were mesmerized by the grandeur and excess of it all. But, in a real way, it was sad. When it was built, it represented the absolute finest that money could buy with its imports from Italy, France, and other faraway lands. No expense was spared. Yet, for many years it sat abandoned until the Newport Preservation Society came to its rescue.

Too many Christian (and non-Christian) marriages after spending many thousands of dollars on a wedding, rings, furniture, and other “necessities” invest so much less in their actual marriage. We go through marriage with a thin veneer of Christianity and commitment.

During my time in Newport, I challenged couples to revisit their vows but with a fresh perspective—emboldened by Ephesians 4 that pushes Believers to not walk through marriage as non-Believers do. Rather we are to put on a new self and embrace a different mindset. The scripture (verses Ephesians 4: 25-32) then encourages us to adopt seven virtues that will shift the trajectory of our walk with Christ and our spouse.

The Seven Virtues from Ephesians 4

  1. Be Truthful — Search your heart and be honest about anything in which you are not being fully authentic with your spouse

  2. Control Your Anger — Commit to do not harm to your marriage with runaway anger

  3. Serve Your Spouse — Quiet your ego enough that you can be more understanding and empathic

  4. Speak Gracefully — Check your motives before you speak and when you speak use positive words and tone

  5. Release Peace — Be forgiving and keep your thoughts in the present rather than in the past or the future

  6. Show Kindness — Create a habit of doing small acts of kindness, especially at unexpected times

  7. Offer Forgiveness — Create a culture of forgiveness in your home in which each party accepts a portion of the responsibility for missteps

Do not let your marriage be a relic of times past.  Do not let your mortgage last longer than your marriage. While you may not have perfected your vows since uttering them on your wedding day, scripture leads you down a virtuous path that promises to redeem past shortcomings—if only you will let HIm. After all, that is exactly what the Holy Spirit vows to do.

In this video, I can't say this couple embraced the 7 virtues from Ephesians 4. But, their vows certainly are original.

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