Having the chicken pox was perhaps the best reason I ever gave for turning down a date. He and I didn’t know each other very well, so I suppose his invitation was the first question he ever asked me. Chicken pox surely sounded like a lame, random excuse yet it was nothing but the itchy truth. Thankfully, he believed me, and after a week or so, post-infection, he asked again. And again. And about 10 months later, he set me up for another question….
It was August 27, 1993. Twenty years ago today.
John hid the ring in a 35mm film canister (how dated does that sound?) and tucked the canister into an apple that he had hollowed out. As a second-year teacher, I had just finished the first week of school, and he took me on a picnic to “unwind.” In his basket I discovered a small yellow piece of paper with a poem that he had written: “An Apple for My Teacher, the Apple of my Eye.” As I read the poem, he presented the apple, dropped to one knee, and asked a question that changed our lives.
Seven months later, we stood at an altar where our pastor asked us questions.
“John, do you take Renee….?”
“Renee, do you take John….?”
We answered, “I do,” and gave each other bands with our life verse, Psalm 127:1, inscribed inside:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”
For (almost) twenty years, the Ratcliffe house has been built, in part by romantic love and friendship, but more importantly by moment-to-moment decisions to stand upon Christ our foundation. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been times when the walls seemed to tremble against the forces of misunderstandings, aggravations, and stress. We don’t always behave like Mr. and Mrs. Right. But because our blueprint is the very image of the Master Builder, we trust that He uses these ups and downs of marriage to build a home that’s right with Christ.
Sometimes, for us, the important question is not “Who did I marry?!?” but “Why did I marry?” That question keeps us from pointing fingers at each other. Instead, it points us to Him.
This past Sunday, our pastor began a series on Nehemiah, a man who is known in Scripture for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile (5th century BC). Nehemiah’s mission to restore the city’s fortifications started with a simple question.
Nehemiah 1: 1 – 2: “Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.”
Nehemiah’s question was met with news that broke his heart and prompted him into action.
Leaders, said Pastor Alex, ask questions. They have seeking hearts and minds. They are watching for where God is working. The answers to their questions often prompt them into God’s plans and purposes. And when they believe that God orchestrates even their most ordinary conversations and experiences, they find that He does.
As our pastor said, “The great doors of history swing on small hinges.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus asked purposeful questions.
For instance: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”(Luke 14: 28 – 30).
Wise builders ask questions before they build.
So today, August 27, 2013, I couldn’t be more thankful that God led us, before we became husband and wife, to ask the right questions and count the cost.
Not that we were so wise ourselves, but God placed wiser people in our path who loved, discipled, and counseled us. We needed wiser people help us remember that a wedding lasts for a few hours and a marriage lasts a lifetime. We needed wiser people to ask us if we were ready and willing for our marriage to be a picture of Christ’s love, humility, and sacrifice.
When one of those wiser persons stood with us at the altar and asked, “Do you…?” we were able to answer with confidence, fully assured that the Lord was building our house. Our home.
In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks a very good question:
What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
John and I have shared many, many moments that have made us happy. And many moments that have made us, well, less than happy. Let’s be real and say angry, hurt, and disillusioned. The first five years of our marriage were very difficult as I battled an eating disorder and often looked to John to carry me, literally and figuratively. But those years shaped us and strengthened us, mostly because we learned to look solely to Christ for healing, hope, peace, redemption, perseverance, and fulfillment.
In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas says,
“We need to remind ourselves of the ridiculousness of looking for something from other humans which only God can provide….How many adults have asked, perhaps unconsciously:
“Are you going to fulfill me or is God going to fulfill me?”
Whoa. There’s a question that makes you stop & think, wouldn’t you say?
My husband and I were created with a spirit that craves God. But I am far, far less than God, and so is my husband. So our marriage has to be built upon an understanding that we will be two good forgivers who cause one another to crave God. We stop pointing at each other and allow the struggles of married life to point us to Jesus. Our marriage becomes the context where we grow increasingly into His image.
Being two flawed people, John and I don’t automatically or consistently regard each other in this spirit without a conscious effort to remember that our existence, as individuals and as a couple, is about more than our satisfaction. While we’re doing life together, we have to stay focused on the truth that there is more to this life. And so, as Pastor Alex reminded us, we need to ask ourselves some questions…
- What do we value?
- What’s God doing in our family? Around our family? Through our family?
- What does our daughter see in our marriage?
- What’s my spouse’s love language?
- What’s God teaching us in the midst of this rough patch?
- Do our decisions reflect our priorities? What about our schedules?
- Does our home reflect grace?
- What’s for dinner? :)
The most important questions in your life or your marriage might be different. They might reflect a particularly painful season that you’re in. Or stem from a lonely heart as you’re the only one who is working for your marriage. But our Heavenly Father invites us to ask, and He’ll reveal a way of hope:
“Call to Me and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
Our stories swing on hinges such as these.
May they open doors of purpose and promise for this life and the Life to come.
Pastor Alex Kennedy, Carmel Baptist Church. Nehemiah – Leaders Ask the Right Questions. 8/25/13. http://www.carmelbaptist.org/media/sermons/
Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage. http://garythomas.com/books/sacred-marriage/
(His book Sacred Parenting is excellent as well).