Walking into church that Sunday morning, there was nothing that would’ve tipped us off that everything was about to change.
There was nothing that would’ve distinguished this morning from any of hundreds of others. But things were about to change . . . for us, at least.
Jennifer and I had been married for eleven years. Our daughter was one year old. Our boys were three and five.
Who knows, but God, the exact deeds and events that lead up to something like this. There is history in everything we do, in every choice we make. That morning, the thing that began our adventure was Jennifer’s opening the bulletin the man had handed her as we walked through the church doors a minute or two before. It was a casual act. And there, in the middle of the third page, were a few sentences about a trip to East Africa . . . to Ethiopia. Something stirred in Jenn.
I had no idea what was happening. Happy in my ignorance, sipping coffee, I felt an elbow.
“I think we need to go to Ethiopia.”
Neither of us had been on a mission trip before, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just trying to refocus my brain and catch up. I leaned over and looked at the words that Jennifer had read. There was nothing unique about the sentences. Just facts and dates. At that moment, though, the Holy Spirit whispered into my heart.
“I think we need to go to Ethiopia,” I agreed.
It didn’t make sense. Our kids were too young to join us on the trip. We’d have to leave them with our parents for 16 days. Work was busy. Our marriage wasn’t on the most solid of ground, what with the stresses of work and married life and parenting three very young children.
We could have ignored the whispers. We could have ignored the thoughts the Holy Spirit had originated in our minds. We had ignored his whispers many, many times before. It would have been very easy to ignore these too . . . but for some reason, we didn’t.
Because we didn’t, everything we’re doing now, with Gather, began that morning.
When two people, caught up in the crazy, wonderful, painful, holy entanglement of marriage, consider God’s work, sentiments like these are commonly expressed:
“I think we should wait until we’re in a better place.”
“We need to work on our marriage, first.”
“We need to focus on our family, first.”
“We’ve got to keep our focus here, before we can think about anyone else, out there.”
It’s rational to want to wait—to wait to get things under control at home, with our marriages, with our families, before turning our focus outward, out to the Kingdom work of service or evangelism or discipleship. Proper steps. Logic. And, sometimes waiting is the right approach. Most times, nearly all times, though, waiting is not right.
The idea of “working on our marriages,” for most of us, simply lacks context without mission. And, by “mission” I don’t mean mission trips. I mean God’s work, locally, internationally, wherever is right for you two. Some marriages, granted, are working through crises so severe that an inward focus is appropriate. For most marriages, though, it’s much better to create a context (one that would please God), rather than “working on our marriages” without a context. Let me explain.
There is nothing that brings two people together like sharing mission. It’s why military units become so tight. It’s why the members of a unit become so sacrificially-minded, with regard to one another. It’s why sports teams become so close. There’s rarely anything better for a marriage than taking the focus off the marriage, entrusting the marriage to God and struggling beside one another toward something bigger and better than the marriage. In most cases, the marriage becomes stronger: two united as one, in victories and defeats; two united as one in shared meaning and purpose. It becomes a path, maybe the path, to intimacy (which we talked about last week, here).
Jennifer and I have seen it, first hand. We’ve seen what happens when we love together and serve together. We’ve seen how it gives the Holy Spirit room to move and work within our own marriage, in a way that is mysterious and powerful and wonderful. By loving others (together) and serving others (together), we learn, somehow, someway, to love and serve each other better. Somehow, someway, by sharing purpose, by sharing a mission, purpose and mission get injected back into our marriage.
Out there in Ethiopia, and on subsequent trips to the Navajo Nation and Brazil and Mexico, I learned that I actually love serving street kids . . . and my wife. Out there, I learned that I prefer to serve in ways that are apparent (so people can see me and I can get credit), both when leading mission trips . . . and in my relationship with my wife. These things were revealed to me by my Helper, my Guide, my Teacher, my God the Holy Spirit. They’re things that I know, now, because of trying and failing and trying again (with God’s help). Knowing these things makes me a better husband. And I know them more deeply than I would had I just read about serving in a book.
God brought you and your spouse together, as one flesh. It’s no mistake. He also created both of you with “good works” in mind. He designed you and shaped you and equipped you to be able to do those “good works”—to do His works. Some of your “good works” are for you to do, some for him to do, for her to do . . . but many of them are for both of you to do, together.
Imagine holding the hand of your wife, your husband, as you take risks, toil together, face great odds and exciting circumstances. Imagine being exhausted from serving together. Imagine the bond. Compare that kind of bond to one created while sitting beside a pool, reading the greatest self-help book ever. Mission pulls us together. Mission brings joy. Mission heals hearts. Mission builds trust.
Stop looking inward. Stop waiting. Find a mission together and turn your marriage over to the Holy Spirit.
It may not be easy. But it’s going to be good.
*photo credit: picjumbo