Friday, August 10, 2012

Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy

This weekend, I will be preaching on marriage. As I reflect on the Deuteronomy 24:5, the verse which specifically says that the newly married man, needs to take a year off from military or other duties, so that he can spend uninterrupted time with his new bride. Such a command may seem weird to modern eyes. Who practices that nowadays? Yet, there is wisdom in doing so.
"If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." (Deuteronomy 24:5)
How can we understand this? The clue is in the first few verses of chapter 24.
"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
Goodness gracious! It seems like divorce is not exactly a modern phenomenon. It seems rampant in Old Testament times. It appears that people are not spending enough time together, leading to all kinds of marital problems. The ease of divorce is not the issue. It is the ease of "displeasing" one another, and the ease of remarriage that appears to be the core problem. Marriage is not about a simple signing of the certificate. It is much more. A failure in the home eats at the crux of society. A stable home leads to a stable society. A stable society grows when homes are strong. For Israel to be strong, the family unit must be strong. Thus, verse 4 is a wise instruction for couples to grow closer in intimacy, with the man initiating the act of intimacy and love, and the state doing its part to encourage bonding. The question is, what can a man do for one year with his wife? In our modern world, we cannot imagine a world without social media. No Facebook or Twitter. No emails or Internet connections. No movies or automobile joyrides. Life will certainly be boring and meaningless then! Right? Not necessary.

James Dobson, founder of the world famous evangelical organization, Focus on the Family, has been in the forefront of education and teaching all things relationship, especially the home. In one of his books, "Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy," he calls intimacy as "the mystical bond of friendship, understanding, and commitment that almost defies explanation" (9). He distills his wealth of knowledge and learning into five essential principles. These principles are apparently chosen from a panel of "six hundred marriage experts."

1) A Christ-Centered Home

The rationale is clear. If God created us and the marriage institution, should we not listen and follow His design? It is a call to put Christ first and always in the relationship. It means persistent prayer, the special place of common prayer between couples with God. There is a need for BOTH husband and wife to be intimate with Jesus, and to push each other to spend time with God.

2) A Lifelong Commitment

Commitment in marriage is vital. Lifelong commitment is absolutely essential. The smoothening of rough edges, the honing of each other's strengths and weaknesses, the adaptation to one another's idiosyncrasies takes time. It is during this crucial time that foundations are built. Lifelong commitment is needed to press on through times of pain. It is also needed to work through emotions. More importantly, one needs to trust less of one's emotions, and more of God's patience. Supplement this with a strong dosage of mini-celebrations of meaningful togetherness. There is no need to have anything beyond the words "I Love you." One thing I have learned is that in a marriage, we learn to deny ourselves, and to give the benefit of the doubt to our spouses. It is like giving a blank cheque that says: "I (own name) love you (your spouse's name) even though _______" and lets our spouses fill in the blank at any time. Then commit yourself to honour that cheque.

Tip:  Regularly re-affirm each other. Learn from other couples you respect about commitment. Recall your wedding vows.

3) A Deep and Abiding Trust

Trust is an antidote against fear and insecurity. One builds trust with honest sharing and gracious words. Do not hurt or embarrass our spouses, especially in public. Build trust with actions, to regularly show the spouse how much you trust him/her. Protect the marriage by building hedges against all kinds of temptations, even small ones. Learn to trust God, and in the process, ask God to help us trust each other.

Tip: Be convicted against adultery. Build the level of comfort between husband and wife through communications and humble behaviour toward each other.

4) A Willingness to Communicate

I remember my uncle telling me that the biggest factor for marital problems is the lack of communications. It is either we miscommunicate or do not communicate enough. Moreover, couples have varying communication levels. It is important that during the early years of marriage, one learns the "love language" as well as one's own style. A willingness to communicate also imply the willingness to adapt one's communication to suit the other. Through communications, one learns to share most intimate details of oneself. Let the goal be to see our spouses also as our best friends. Part of communication is also in recognizing hard walls that prevent further progression along any one path. These are called "unresolvables." Here, both parties need to agree on how best to deal with it, whether to delay it, or try a different approach. Even talking about it is a good step toward more open communications. Not having a good result does not mean one cannot carry on a good conversation.

Tip: Think about compromising as a way to increase greater communications. What about learning of ways to improve one's level of communications?

5) An Understanding of Love

Love is one of the most used words in our modern society. It is also widely abused and misunderstood. It contains romance. It has elements of intimacy as described in the biblical Songs of Solomon. There is a "thrill" of pursuing as well as being pursued. The wife can love the husband by being sensitive to him during his deepest despair. A story was told of EV who invested in a service station and his business failed miserably. Instead of saying "I told you so," the wife wisely looked at the positive side, commended the husband's honesty and personality, and moved on together as a couple. Instead of further demoralizing the husband, she became a huge encouragement. According to researcher, Desmond Morris, intimacy needs to proceed slowly. There is no quick fix, only slow growth.

"No matter how you define and express romance - through flowers, love notes, an evening in the bedroom, or all of the above - it is a vital ingredient for achieving genuine and lasting intimacy in your marriage. If you are careful to nurture and protect the flame of romance in our relationship, you'l enjoy its warmth for a lifetime." (James Dobson, Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy, Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005, 100-101)

So what do couples need to do in their early years of marriage? What can a newly married couple do? Build on the five essentials of intimacy. If such essentials are worked upon, and prevent even the slightest chance of any divorce situations, why not?

Let me try to use the five Cs to help us remember the five essentials.
  1. Christ-Centered Home
  2. Commitment toward One Another
  3. Common trust
  4. Communications
  5. Caring to Love


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