You know that feeling of slight panic? The sweat of gentle terror? You’re in the supermarket and you suddenly spot the Anniversary or Valentine’s Day Cards, and the immediate thought is, "Did I miss it? Is it today? When is it?!" Yeah me too.
Greetings cards are a small but meaningful way to mark the importance of our marriage – otherwise we wouldn’t feel so guilty when we forget, or almost forget, to buy one.
And yet down the years our society has increasingly devalued the marriage relationship. There are choices now where you can pick ‘n’ mix the type of relationship you want with the level of commitment you feel like making. The problem is, without the commitment, you’re setting off on the wrong foot from day one. After all, it’s much easier to walk out of a relationship which you never committed to in the first place – right?
But while the idea of staying with the same person for the rest of your life might be under question to people around us, for Christians it’s still both the ideal and the expectation. Sometimes it might not be possible, but mostly it is possible. We will have problems and struggles – whether we are Christians or not - but the promise we made was to stay together "till death do us part", that means literally until one of us attends the graveside of the other.
I can’t remember many sermons, either ones I have heard or ones I have preached (…that’s not so good). But sometimes you hear a sermon and something sticks. I remember many years ago someone telling me the "7 most important words in a Christian marriage". I don’t remember anything else in that sermon, but I remember Brian Buhler's (senior pastor at Pacific Community Church) seven words:
For many of us these may be the most difficult two words to say in the entire English language.
We spend so much of our time convincing ourselves that we’re in the right. And even when we realise we were not as right as we thought we were, we don’t actually need to say sorry because "my partner knows me and will understand". This is another way of saying "I’m too proud to apologise".
In a very real sense, I think pride is at the heart of all human failing. Pride will be the last sin to go. In other words, even when we have accepted all the other things we did which were wrong, some of us will somehow still hang on to an excuse - "yes but here’s why I behaved like that” We’ll desperately find a way to salvage some pride.
I love you
This is one of those things where we think "this is obvious - why do I need to say it?" But that would be like God saying: "of course I love you, why do I need to keep reminding you? There’s no need for me to keep writing it in the Bible is there?".
Of course there are lots of ways to say "I love you". We might give up something we would rather do for the sake of our husband / wife; we might perform an act of kindness; we might just give each other time to go on a date. But the words themselves also matter, and can have a power of their own.
There aren’t just two people in a Christian marriage. God is also present and that means finding times when the three of you can talk together. But praying together does something else as well. It means we lay out on the table what we're concerned about, what’s on our heart. If we have children it gets us on the same wavelength for our hopes, fears and aspirations. And then it does the most wonderful thing, where the two of you can hand it all over to the third person, to God.
What's special about these seven words?
- They are all ways of releasing pressure and getting on the same wavelength as each other, kind of like doing a level-set on your relationship. In fact, to coin a popular expression: in many situations these phrases are game-changers.
- They demonstrate the complete truth of James 3. James points out how our tongue (our words) can devastate a relationship. He says: a whole forest catches fire from the spark of a hurtful comment, a huge ship is knocked off course by the rudder of a single thoughtless remark. But what we often don’t realise is that the exact opposite is also true. A damaging situation that has gone on for months can be put right by two simple words "I’m sorry".
- I believe all three comments are sacrificial. In saying them we lay aside something of ourselves. We make ourselves ever so slightly vulnerable. In fact we begin to imitate Christ himself, who "being in very nature God, didn’t cling to equality with God…" Surely, being Christ-like is better than being "right"?