A Beautiful Mess Part III

Guest blog by Natalie Suarez

Read Part I Here

Read Part II Here

🎶It Takes Two to Make A Thing Go Right, It Takes Two to Make It Outta Sight 🎶

Rap music. My 17-year-old son is a BIG fan. He has a diverse music palate, but rap seems to dominate -- especially during my quiet time in the early a.m. I can hear the not-so-dulcet tones of uniquely named artists blaring from his cell phone while he gathers his scattered belongings for the day ahead. Scrolling through my Spotify stream, it’s evident that rap/hip hop is a music genre glaringly absent from my daily rotation, but I can appreciate the heartfelt lyrics of many of these tunes and occasionally be inspired. In my college years (and maybe yours), Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s It Takes Two became one of the greatest hip-hop singles ever cut. It’s hard to resist its catchy riff ‘It takes two to make a thing go right/It takes two to make it outta sight’.

But as I mindlessly sing along, the obvious truth in these words strikes me: especially as it relates to marriage. ‘It takes two to make a thing go right.’ A relationship is only fulfilled when two people are connected or according to Merriam Webster, interrelated. This word makes me think of a team, a complementary pairing; one that shares common goals and encourages and supports each other. It encompasses the idea of making sacrifices for the greater good of the relationship. As I discussed in my last blog (link here), a thriving relationship takes hard work and intentional investment by individuals but also by both spouses.

As my husband and I pledged vows before our friends and family again in 2014, we also made vows to each other on a very practical level. We knew our first go around produced a colossal failure and in order ‘to make a thing go right’ we had to approach our relationship with new eyes and new strategies for success. We make conscious choices daily not to slip into old behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Five years into our new marriage, we have settled into some new habits that have transformed our relationship, how we see each other and interact. There have been lots of hiccups along the way and often the process has been three steps forward and two steps back. Old habits are hard to overcome and sometimes we let feelings cloud the truth and stifle progress. But as we embrace the grace God so readily offers us in our stumblings, we also find grace to keep pushing forward to a better us.

Let me share a few proactive steps my husband and I have done and continue to do to make our new marriage thrive.

  1. Pray Together

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT)

Initially, as I was penning this blog, praying together was not my “number one” strategy to share. However, God was clearly telling me that without Him at the center of our marriage, all the other strategies would be fruitless. (When God speaks, who am I to say “no” to HIS wisdom?) As I thought about it, I realized that the reason I was going to tag this one on at the end, was because I don’t feel that my husband and I are particularly good at this, but we persist in pursuing prayer as a couple. I don’t think we are alone in this space.

I believe that prayer is one of the most intimate elements between a couple, closely followed by sex (blog to follow, I promise:). One, we are acknowledging God as a member of the covenant that we made with Him in the miracle that took place on our wedding day. His presence is the unifying factor that brings stability and strength to our marriage. When the pressures of the world tempt and attack our marriage it is this unity, this triple braided cord (God, husband, wife) that provides an impenetrable stronghold. There is power when we are submitting ourselves before our creator and inviting Him to work and to speak life into our most precious relationship. This has exponential effects within God’s Kingdom. Nothing can change us, our spouses, our perspective or our situation more than God’s movement in our lives through prayer. In times of despair, my husband and I have prayed together over immovable and impossible situations and we have seen God answer us. So why does it continue to prove so difficult to make it a seamless part of our relationship?

The enemy of our soul is wise to the significance of marital prayer. He knows the power it yields and is happy to oblige in creating diversions that stall our efforts. Some of the lies we have believed about marital prayer prevent us from creating a spiritual fortress in our marriage. It’s time to defeat these lies:

We don’t have time.

We are tempted to think that prayer has to be this preplanned intense moment to be worth it. Yes, setting aside a specific time to pray is helpful and creates a great habit, but the important aspect is that we just do it: anytime, anywhere, at any moment. I have friends who pray at night before they go to bed, or in the morning before work. Some do prayer journals and then share with their spouse. Others use mealtime as a vehicle to pray together. My husband and I haven’t embraced all of these approaches but are trying to find a rhythm that works for us. Some of our best prayer moments have come spontaneously. Often we are discussing a particular issue or tumultuous situation in our lives, and one of us just says ‘Hey, let’s pray about this right now.’

We don’t do it well.

We have some great praying friends in our lives that we meet with on a regular basis. They are gifted prayer warriors and when they speak you feel like their prayers are moving God in that moment. I truly believe that their prayers are bringing heaven to earth, but I have learned that no matter how poetic or simplistic a prayer may be, God hears EVERY SINGLE ONE because He is more interested in our heart than the words we use. Jesus is our example. He prayed with honesty, praise, and gratitude, confident in His relationship with the Father. Other than the Lord’s prayer, we don’t have lengthy examples of His actual prayers. Mostly we know that He prayed and prayed often. Don’t worry about the words or the structure or the timing. Our sovereign God knows our hearts and knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). He just wants us to join with Him!

It’s not worth praying about.

How many times has prayer been offered, but we dismiss the opportunity because we feel our needs are minor? We think our requests are not significant compared to others. She is dealing with cancer. He just lost his job. Her spouse died. Their house burned down. I can understand in that moment, a smaller request may seem insignificant. But that’s the rub. If we get into the comparison trap, we are limiting our opportunity to bring God’s power into our situation. We bypass an opportunity to see Him work. Don’t be anxious about anything, but in EVERY SITUATION, by prayer, and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6. NIV Simply said, God wants to hear ALL our prayers.

We are not sure it works.

We have a good God whose timing and answers don’t always align with our desires. Those prayers yet unanswered can cause us to doubt God’s goodness or His willingness to help us. The greatest way to defeat these lies is to reflect on the answered prayer we have already seen in our lives and in the lives around us. Nothing shifts my perspective more toward belief in God’s faithfulness than to return to my journals and read those moments where I have seen God answer my prayers. He hasn’t always answered them in ways I have expected, but His answers always give me hope and deepen my faith for the next time. Taking time to meditate on answered prayer gives us ammunition to defeat the enemy’s whispers that God doesn’t care about our needs.

We are too emotional.

Praying with your husband is an intimate act that exposes our deepest need for God. If we let them, emotions can prevent us from entering into God’s presence. When we are hurt, sad, despairing or angry with God or our spouse, prayer can seem difficult. It might feel we are entering into an even more highly charged emotional situation. But when we are in an impassioned state, it is wisdom to bring it ALL to the throne of grace. Nothing defuses an emotional upheaval quicker than partnering with God and your spouse. God calls us to be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). There is something about setting our needs humbly before the Lord, holding our spouse’s hands in patience and love, and transparently opening up to God who strips away all the junk that may be hindering us in our relational intimacy with our spouse. No matter how we feel about our spouse or God in the moment, prayer never fails to bring insight and comfort, even if all we do is utter His name in thanksgiving.

  1. Make Your Relationship Your Number One Priority.

Look at your calendar, honestly. Where do you see the time investment for your marriage? Is it even on the calendar? We schedule everything these days, triggering us to keep priorities straight and get the most done efficiently and effectively. It may sound clinical or businesslike but scheduling time for your marriage is essential. I can easily fill my calendar with all my stuff: kid events, volunteer opportunities, mentoring, church, friends, self-care etc. I may say my marriage is priority number one, but is it reflected on my calendar? If not, then it is time for a serious examination of priorities and letting some (or maybe many) things go. Our spouses shouldn’t have to compete with our calendar.

Once you have cleared time on the calendar, it’s time to schedule ‘date night’ once a week, an hour or two (without the kids). This isn’t crash on the couch and stream Netflix together, although occasionally that might work (especially if there is a lot of snuggling involved). The hope is date night becomes an intentional investment into the marriage to reconnect face to face on a weekly basis.

My husband and I usually set aside about 1.5 hours on Sunday to spend time together. We are pretty protective of this time. It’s rare that another event will supersede it. Often it is a trip to a local eatery to grab a glass of wine, a cup of tea or coffee and chat. Sometimes, it’s a walk through the neighborhood, a bike ride or a trip to the gun range. A tip for you ladies, if you really want to hear your husbands’ heart, doing an activity side by side often opens up the spigot of conversation more easily than a more formal, face-to-face date.

Sometimes it may be just secluding ourselves in the bedroom (a very low-cost option) because we are too tired to venture out. We may have a much-needed conversation or maybe some much needed sex. Date night doesn’t have to be expensive or take a lot of planning, but it needs to be intentional. The focus may be to discuss the kids, or the calendar, or goals for the family. Sometimes it is just to dream of what we would like to do in the future. This is the opportunity to say, ‘How are you really doing?’ ‘How are we doing?’ ‘What’s going on in your world?’ ‘Bring me into what is meaningful for you this week.’ The point is to make time and allow your relationship to continue to grow and flourish. Time invested always brings growth. It’s not about what you do. It is just about making time to connect.

Stumped in your conversation with each other? Find yourselves defaulting into talking just about work and the kids? Try Googling date night questions and you will find lots of conversation starters. You will be surprised no matter how long you have been married that you will discover new facts about your spouse and laugh a lot in the process.

If you have kids, ask the grandparents, hire a babysitter, or if money is an issue swap with another family—they watch your kids, then you watch theirs. Your kids will survive and benefit from your time together as spouses. They need to see you making each other a priority. You are modeling to them what a healthy marriage looks like. Not only are you keeping your marriage thriving, you are preparing your kids for their future spouse. Double bonus!

  1. Take Time for Little Moments in the Everyday.

My husband has a demanding job that requires long hours and frequent travel for extended periods of time. It would be easy for us to drift apart as time and distance comes between us. We have had to establish daily practices to emphasize our commitment to each other and to touch base in simple ways to help the other feel valued and loved. We aren’t super creative people, but we have become students of each other and have found ways to speak to the other’s heart. Texting wasn’t around in our early days, but for the younger generation, I am sure there are thousands of text messages you have sent that have said ‘just thinking of you’ or ‘miss you’ or slightly more romantic messages ☺. Using this easily accessible technology, we have developed a daily texting ritual. The words aren’t so much important as is the gesture that says ‘you are on my mind and are important to me no matter how busy I am or where I am.’ It’s short, sweet but communicates volumes. It’s truly something I miss, if we skip a day.

My husband knows my love of gardening and flowers and makes it habit to buy me flowers on a regular basis. Not fancy flowers, maybe just Walmart flowers, but they make me smile nonetheless because it shows he is thinking about me. In the morning, I usually fill a travel coffee mug for my husband before he runs out the door. It takes about 1 minute but communicates ‘you are important, and I want to meet your needs.’ Kissing and hugging before leaving and coming home is essential. That small gift of touch is a reminder that he is mine and I am his. The physical intimacy reconnects you on a personal level. Make it even better by making it a deep long smooch, or ‘I am going to hold you forever’ hug.

Make it a priority to thank your spouse especially in the everyday stuff. Whether it’s taking out the trash, cooking dinner, cleaning out the gutters or taking the dog for a walk on a subzero day, those little moments of appreciation communicate to your spouse that they are valued in all they do. We are barraged by negativity and criticism in our culture. It can be a brutal place to live and work, reinforcing the false belief that we are not good enough. Making our home a bedrock of gratitude is a must to keep relationships healthy. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with

thanksgiving . . .(1 Timothy 4:4 NIV).

Leave a love note for your spouse. On occasion I will give my husband a card for no reason, or a simple note, or just a post it on his bathroom mirror. It’s a tangible text message, made with extra time, thought and intention.

Maybe none of these options float your boat, and that’s ok. It’s not the action but the intention. Find those little somethings that speak to your spouse’s heart and do them. Start small and do it repeatedly. Maybe he or she won’t reciprocate. That may be a discussion item on your next date night!☺

  1. Reflect on the Past, Rest in the Present and Dream of the Future.

Long term planning has never been my strength. I am a live-in-the-moment kind of gal. Maybe I take the ‘we only got today’ bible verse a bit literally. But my husband is a huge planner. He loves to plan vacations years in advance. He loves to dream and consider the future. Years ago, a counselor suggested we, as a couple, make a tradition of taking 24-48 hours away together on a quarterly basis. It has forced me to focus on my marriage in a more thoughtful and forward-thinking way-- not just what I should do today. For my husband, it speaks his love language, planning and dreaming. All around a win-win.

This takes slightly more planning and we generally have a specific agenda to focus on. We try to combine fun, with reflection, prayer, forgiveness, dreaming, planning and romance.

We have used this as opportunity to address issues in our marriage. What are we doing well? What do we need to work on? What do we need to forgive? What are our dreams for ourselves and our family? What are our spiritual goals for ourselves and each other? What’s our next great adventure? What’s our mission for ourselves as a couple in the Kingdom of God and for our family? It doesn’t need to be expensive nor do you even need to leave town. We often stay in a local hotel room for 24 hours to do this. These little getaways are a major reset button on our marriage and can be for yours as well.

If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, a guide like Mountaintop of Marriage: A Vision Retreat Guidebook by Jimmy and Karen Evans could provide needed structure to your first weekend mini marriage retreat. It’s a very thorough resource, but easily cherry picked to meet your season’s needs. For those of you who prefer to leave the planning to others, A Weekend to Remember getaway sponsored by Family Life is a great option.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See

I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not

perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43: 18–19 NIV)

We have a choice. We can give up hope and believe our marriage is doomed, a literal wasteland, or we can trust that God is doing a new thing and is honoring our steps forward? God has resources and plans for you both. He can help you navigate that which seems impossible. But if you want your marriage to change, then something’s going to need to change. So just start. Take one suggestion and implement it and see where it takes you. Maybe the first step is to believe it can change and dare to dream for your marriage to be ‘outta sight’. Maybe it’s time to kick off your marriage journey with a little dance party with Rob Base And DJ EZ Rock . . . HIT IT!