Sunday, September 25, 2011


A second factor in the marital relationship that is important in maintaining a healthy relationship is trust.
Dr. John Van Epp describes trust as a mental image one has of another person. That image includes being fairly certain that you know the other person well enough that when you are not together you can still imagine what your partner might be doing or even thinking or feeling. Obviously the level that you know your spouse impacts the level of trust that you experience.

As mentioned in the previous blog, time is an important component in knowing someone. However, for many couples, the issue of time can also be a disadvantage, because once a strong image of "who the other person is" has been established, across time it is easy to become lazy, or distracted by the busyness of life and not continue to grow in "knowing" each other as you change through life. Suddenly the partner may do something not consistent with your image of them, and trust is broken. This especially becomes obvious when one spouse is no longer open about what is going on in their inner thoughts and feelings, both good and bad. Usually you realize a sense of being "shut out" from your partner's inner heart, but may not know how to change what is happening.

Often a partner that gets involved in an affair will say, "We just grew apart, and were no longer connected." The partner not involved in an affair will say, "I don't know him/her anymore."  By this point the relationship feels dead, and unless both of the partners are willing to work on rebuilding their relationship, the marriage is likely to end.

Trust is not only necessary in issues related to faithfulness, but even in areas such as being truthful regarding finances, expenditures, parenting, and many other areas of marriage. When a partner makes it unacceptable to fail or to have a different opinion, it becomes very hard to be open so your spouse can "know" you. No one likes to be critized or mocked, so many will withdraw rather than risk a negative response from their spouse.  The lack of feeling accepted shuts down your willingness for your partner to know you.

So how do these patterns of knowing and trust parallel our relationship with God? We know trusting God (also called faith) is of great importance to God. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that "without faith we cannot please God, for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him."  He desires that we trust Him. What is our mental image of God? Is He who He claims to be? Is He truley there, as He says, even when it appears He is not? The difference between my mental image of God, who He is, and whether I can obey Him (even when it seems like a bad thing for me) will be the measure of my faith. If I truly believe God is good, and always doing what is best for me, then I will be able to obey Him even when He asks me to stay in a painful place or obey at the cost of a sacrifice.

To know God at this depth of trust, I must continually work on my relationship with Him. God is so different from us, even in a lifetime we will never fully know Him. As we move through the varied experiences of life we get to know a different side of God. When I have a financial need, I learn more about His provision, as well as His wisdom about the differences between my needs and wants. When my heart is broken over some loss, I learn about the depth of His comfort, and His tenderness. When I fail, I learn about His mercy and grace. When I face a task beyond my ability, I learn about His strength and power.

Without really knowing God, I will not trust Him. When a person begins his or her relationship with God and decides to commit themselves to God, there is an excitement about the new Savior. But the growth of faith requires an on-going growth in knowing Him, His desires, what pleases Him. Too many believers do not continue to grow in their knowledge of God, so they do not grow in their trust of God either. The relationship breaks down, just like a marriage does. In Revelation Jesus compared it to marriage "You have lost your first love" (Revelation 2:4).

May you accept the challenge to allow your knowledge and trust of God be paralleled to the level of knowledge and trust in your marriage!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How is your relationship with God is paralleled in your marital relationship?

Dr. John VanEpp1 has identified five primary factors that play an important role in bonding and maintaining relationship in marriage. There is an abundance of research that illustrates the importance of each of these factors. The five factors are: to know, trust, depend, commitment, and touch.
Marriage is a model, a picture, of how Christ loves us, the church. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are exhorted to "love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." It is only logical that the five factors that enhance attachment and bonding in a couple also play an important role in our relationship with God. In the next few blogs I want to process a little through the impact of these factors, how they play a part in marriage, but also how they reflect our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is paralleled in our marital relationship.

God knows us. Psalm 139: 1-4 "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord."

He even knows how many hairs are on our head (Matt. 10:30--information we don’t even know about ourselves). If I am going to "love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind," (Matthew 22:37) I must continually be growing in my knowledge of him. That means learning how He thinks, what He desires, how He has acted in the past.

It is easy to slide into a relationship with God defined by what He gives us and what we give Him. Often our conversations with Him become one-sided with our doing most of the talking. God tells us "I don’t want your offerings, I want your love. I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know me" (Hosea 6:6, LB). God created us from the beginning for a relationship with Him. His knowing us and our knowing Him is an integral part of the love between us.

Our knowing God, and His knowing us parallels our knowing our spouse. One of the primary keys to building intimacy is to know someone. If I do not know my partner, how can I truly love them? How can I demonstrate that kind of unconditional, "always looking out for your best" type of love if I do not know my spouse–who he is, what he likes, what his dreams, fears, and hopes are. I cannot understand my partner if I do not know him, what he has experienced in the past and what he is currently experiencing. Knowing your husband or wife is an on-going goal in the marital relationship because we are ever changing, developing, growing, and taking on new roles. We are never the same person that we were 5 years ago–or even one year ago. Life experience itself brings change and development in each of us.

God often allows us to experience a broad variety of life circumstances, and in the midst of those experiences, we often come to know Him in new ways. This is also true of our marital relationship: with each new life experience, we change, and couples have to continue to grow to know each other.

As our knowledge of God-- who He is, His faithfulness and character-- increases, our faith and trust in Him grows. In the same way, the more a husband and wife know each other, the richer their relationship becomes. A great challenge for all of us is to continue to grow in our knowledge of God, and in our knowledge of our spouse.

1Van Epp, John. How to Avoid Falling in Love with A Jerk

Monday, September 5, 2011

Families: Reflecting God’s Glory

This weekend my husband and I had a wonderful privilege to be with a Hispanic church for a Family Retreat. The families had been saving their money since January so they could participate in this event, and around 200 members of the church were there. It was incredible to see whole families with children of all ages, singles, all types of families, to be playing, eating, and worshiping together. I was impressed with how the emphasis was on being together and playing together. Instead of long days of conferences and workshops to learn more "content" there was only one workshop session (2 hours) each day, and a short time of worship or devotion each day. The rest of the time was spent doing activities as family groups (three or four families on a team). Even though it rained non-stop Friday through Sunday night, they played together–even outside in the rain.

Family is one of the major metaphors God uses in the Bible to describe his relationship with us.
Not only do families serve as models of God’s relationship with us and His love for us, (although an imperfect picture because we are not perfect), but I believe family is one of the major tools God uses to mold His very nature and character into us. The family is a perfect opportunity to reflect God’s glory! Where else but in a family are we challenged to show on-going, everlasting unconditional love? Where else but in a family are we pressed to love even when it is undeserved?

Additionally, in a family, there are no masks. Family members see what we really are, who we really are. Our imperfections are highlighted by the reaction of our family members to us and our behavior and attitudes. If we have ears to hear and eyes to see, God can use our family to make us aware of our stubbornness, selfishness, impatience, and laziness (just to name a few areas we have not surrendered to God).

God frequently challenges us to grow in our faith and trust in Him in areas of family relationships. Sometimes it is in the form of financial stressors the family faces, or a crisis in health, or maybe trusting God to change our spouse, or believing that God will provide all your family members need in terms of support when away from home. Children will never have a greater opportunity to learn to believe in God than those years they are at home and get to watch their parents trust God in the difficult times.

One of the greatest challenges and privileges we have as Christian counselors is to work with families. Working with several people at one time is not for the faint-hearted. It is difficult to balance the voices that speak, and desires that flood the counseling room, to manage the quick emotions that surface at unexpected times. But it is rich to see God at work in a transformational way in a family.

I wonder if fewer families would need counseling if more churches had family retreats, encouraging families to play, worship and be together, forming bonds and memories that will never be forgotten. May we all make family unity our goal that God may be glorified!