When I look back at wedding day pics of me and my bride, I’m stuck by the sheer lack of awareness that rests in our eyes! Our wedding day was pure joy, and we have nothing but great memories from December 28th, 1996. The process leading up to our wedding was crazy, tumultuous, fun, tense, joyful and even tearful, but our wedding day was beautiful.
19 years later and I can honestly say, we had no idea what this journey was going to be like. We’ve owned six cars, lived in 7 (I think?) houses in three states, I’ve had three jobs and we’ve enjoyed a fair amount of travel together. I’ve preached in several different countries, we have met amazing people and God has given us more than we ever imagined in terms of friendships and connections.
But more than any of that, on that beautiful snowy day in Salem on December 28th, 1996, we had no way of knowing just how much our three future children would change our lives. Nothing really prepares you for the title of parent, and I’m not sure if there is any aspect of life that is more rewarding and frustrating, more joyful and painful, more thrilling and excruciating than that of parenting. Traci and I wouldn’t trade our family for anything in the world, and truly, when we count our blessings, AJ, BJ and CJ are always at the top of the list.
So as I thought about this anniversary blog, I thought about how much influence our marriage has on our children. In fact, I think marriage is the single greatest influence on children, generally speaking, and here are 10 areas of life that your marriage is teaching your kids. In other words: your marriage matters to your children, more than we can ever quantify, so keep working at it!
- Giving our children a true understanding of love: Everyone craves love. I’m guessing that half of the Christmas movies we watched this year revolved around the message of love and that, in the end, love is more important than anything else. But the happily-ever-after movie love, is only a tiny glimpse of how God defines love. Yes, love involves emotions and feelings and the touchy-feely side of relationships that is so attractive on the outside. However, that part of love is fleeting, and I’m sure all of us have seen it come and go on our Facebook feeds with friends still searching for it! True love goes so much deeper, involving a commitment and choice that strengthens those other aspects of love. Traci and I are constantly reminding our children, through our marriage, that real love is an act of the will, not something you fall into and out of based on the day. Real love is a choice to keep growing, changing, learning, confessing, forgiving and embracing one another as imperfect children of God, not as the fairy tale movie character with perfect hair first thing in the morning.
- Helping them understand gender and roles: The gender crisis we are experiencing in our country today, I fully believe, is rooted in the marriage crisis we’ve been living with for decades. Godly marriages define and promote the beauty in God-designed gender differences and roles. The fact that men and women are different in creation, equal in value and designed to compliment each other in marriage is absolutely central in the gender discussion of our day. During the past 20 years of ministry discussions, with scores of people (from age 10 to 70) who have struggled with their gender roles and identity, I’m amazed that the vast majority of those conversations end up back at a marriage. Their marriage. Their parents’ marriage. Their in-laws’ marriage. Somewhere along the way, they saw in a marriage something that was out of balance. Usually it was a dad or mom that was abusive, controlling, hypocritically “religious” or absent. Somewhere along the journey, a broken or dysfunctional marriage was a major factor in this person’s struggle to embrace their own identity as a man or woman, and to accept the role(s) connected to that gender. Traci and I are teaching our kids the value of womanhood and manhood, teaching them how God designed those genders to work together and how beautiful His plan is in the right context.
- Giving my son an example of what kind of woman he should seek: Our marriage is the first exposure to relationships that any of our children have had. I want AJ to see in Traci, the kind of woman that he should seek for his own marriage! As Traci and I work and our marriage together, he is seeing an example of a woman who sacrifices for her family, who lavishes grace on her children and husband, who takes joy in managing our home and crazy schedules, who excels in her business ventures and who loves her identity in Christ. AJ sees a woman who gives her all, and at the end of the day finds she still has more to give. He sees a wife and mom who loves her family, but prioritizes the relationship with husband even over her parenting tasks. Your marriage will be the standard by which your children will seek their own spouse, so give them a great target at which to shoot!
- Providing a model for my girls to choose their husbands carefully: Like AJ, our girls are seeing how I treat Traci, and that will have a significant impact on the type of man they will choose. I want them to see a man who honors his wife above all other human relationships (even the ones with my kids!) and one who lives with his wife, not over her. My girls are seeing a husband that embraces and celebrates his wife and her successes, who promotes her above any other woman, and I hope they are seeing a man who won’t allow another woman to captivate him the way his wife does.
- Teaching our kids generosity in all seasons of life: Your kids are learning about money from your marriage. A big issue for Traci and I is that we want our children to understand the true meaning of generosity in all stages and seasons of life. We want them to embrace abundant giving, even when the bank account has more pennies than dollars! How you manage money, how you talk about your finances and how you model your generosity will trickle down to your children in significant ways. Your marriage is teaching your children about life’s priorities, and where money fits on that list.
- Showing them how to handle disappointment, heartache, anger and loss: Your marriage is a front-row seat for your kids to view how you handle life’s setbacks. Over 19 years of marriage we have navigated loss, anger, heartache, pain and suffering and our three kids have seen the cycles of grief and the processes of growth play out in our lives and marriage. They’ve watched as we’ve struggled with each other, how we’ve handled internal conflict, as well as how we’ve handled pressure from outside our marriage. As we navigate life’s hard stuff together, our children are seeing our marriage commitment played out in “real life” and I pray this will influence their own marriage commitments.
- Demonstrating the importance of life with God: More than anything, I hope our children have seen that life with God is the best life imaginable. Our marriage has been a testing ground for us, and a viewing ground for our children, on whether or not we would hold the course God has set out for us. We’ve navigated great moments of praise and thanksgiving when everything came up like roses, and they’ve watched as we “ran the race” nicked up, injured and wondering where the path was headed. We pray that they will see us trusting the Lord in good times and bad, and that living life with God -- not near Him, not around Him, not close to Him only in crisis -- is the very best choice.
- Teaching them boundaries of children and marriage: Marriage matters, and as Traci and I try to navigate the challenges of life in today’s hectic family schedules, we work hard to let our kids know that our marriage is a top priority. We take date nights every week, we enjoy kidless get-a-ways several times a year and have “no-talking-to-mom-and-dad” moments in our house, when we sit and enjoy conversation at the table. Our children are the greatest thrill to us, but our marriage relationship is still a top priority. Our kids are seeing that children don’t drive the family, marriage does.
- Giving them a model of God’s love for us: In Ephesians 5, Paul explains one of the key purposes of marriage: it is a picture that is meant to represent the love God has for us through His Son, Jesus, and the love we are to show Him. “Husbands love your wives,” writes Paul, “as Christ loves the church.” “Wives submit to your husbands...as to the Lord...” A strong marriage, as imperfect as we are as humans, is meant to be home base for our kids in their relationship with God. I hope AJ, BJ and CJ can look to Traci, in all of her struggles and challenges, and because of how she lives in our marriage, know that they have a God who loves them perfectly and understand how they should respond to His love. Likewise, I hope they see in me what their Heavenly Father’s love is like -- despite my mistakes, sins and failures -- because of how I love my wife. That’s God’s plan for marriage!
- Giving them a good time around parents who love each other and their children: Our kids are learning that marriage is a joy, and that it’s fun to be together, living as a couple and moving towards the same goals and dreams together. Yes, marriage is hard work, but there is a deeper joy experienced by two imperfect people when they commit themselves to each other in following God’s design for marriage and family. We laugh a lot in our marriage -- and in our family! -- and our children see the way Traci and I love being together.
There are many more I could add to this list. When I think about my parents and the example they set for me and my siblings, I know this list isn’t all-inclusive. I also know that I certainly don’t live these out perfectly, but that’s part of the learning for my kids, too -- they are watching two imperfect people trust God with their lives while devoting themselves to each other. They are watching a mom and dad make mistakes, grow, then change while still moving forward, together, one day at a time.
Frankly, that’s the beauty of reflecting on this for me and I hope for you, too. Mistakes are part of the learning process for everyone, and if you’ve made mistakes in your marriage -- or maybe you’re making a big one right now -- you can get back on track and show your children the right path, today. Kids will have to make their own decisions about marriage and relationships, but I promise you that Your marriage is the first place they’ll look to as a model of what’s possible and what’s worth pursuing. Working hard on your marriage is worth it for you, your spouse and for the marriages your children will have in the future.
What would you add to this list that your kids are learning from your marriage?
Go ahead and take the plunge, life -- especially your marriage! -- is always better on the water!