How Do You Keep The Music Playing?

Who keeps the music playing?
The ultimate question in the back of the minds of anyone who is married is will it last? Will we live out our lives together through to end and leave a legacy for our children’s children? This is a good question. More to the point though, is who will make it last? This consideration can be obscured by two things that could end up derailing the best of friends: being blinded by the newness of romance or by the notion that it is all up to us. If marriage is only based on romance then what happens if the romance grows cold? If it is all up to us then it’s all the more easy to conclude that if one of us fails, it just can’t work anymore. The problem with both views is that they’re based on humanistic underpinnings without roots in the Word of God. But if God is our focus, and his design for marriage central in our hearts and minds, though we at times may fall, we will not fail. How can we know this for certain? Is this a realistic expectation?

The answer is a definitive YES, and here’s why. As alluded in our book, “The Music of Marriage,” we answer the question by way of a musical analogy. If you’ve ever watched an orchestra perform you know that the success of the performance lies not only in the musicians but in the maestro directing the performance. The music of marriage, as it were, is masterfully written and composed by God, and we who have taken our vows before him are privileged to be the performers. The magnificence of marriage is that we have the ultimate composer who wrote the perfect score and directs us throughout the entire performance. Our author also provides the tempo and rhythms that guide us through the desired ups and challenging downs. These rhythms, along with discordant chords in the music push us to resolve the dissonance; likewise, the marriage commitment pushes us to resolve conflicts, returning us to the central theme of the song. The reason being is that our mutual commitment is not based on love, but on a covenant of companionship. The background for this, found in Genesis 2 and Mark 10, is provided in our blog “Is Love The Basis for Marriage,”

When God does his part and we do ours
The score God wrote for marriage has a way of pushing us toward Sovereign dependency. God’s purpose is to support the music where the beat goes on to the lasting fulfillment of marriage. We are not the author and composer of marriage—nor are we the director of the orchestra—we are the orchestra. Our only job is to do our part and to allow the “Maestro” to do his. Once we say “I do,” we are no longer auditioning for the part; we are on stage as performers awaiting every cue by the Maestro. Understanding the distinct role relationship between husband, wife, and God is critical for a realistic view of marriage. The reason being is that our focus is on God and his directives to fulfill our responsibility to our spouse, rather than on our spouse and their responsibility to us—or worse, on me and my responsibility to myself.

Certainty comes from faith grounded in continuity.
So our confidence is grounded not in our abilities, or in our understanding the needs of our spouse, but in the certainty of the work of God which cannot be diminished by time or circumstance, nor its permanence easily dismissed.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

It’s in the context of a certain future that the marital relationship provides the fertile soil for three critical dynamics:

  1. Aligning expectations—because we both are playing our parts from the same composition, we know the score, and we are in perfect harmony.
  2. Mutual understanding—because we both have supporting roles to fulfill.
  3. Sacrificial love—because the music will never move anyone if it is played without the dynamics and passion observed one when lays down their life for their closest companion.

Bob Smith
Co-Author of The Music of Marriage

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Is Love the Basis for Marriage?

Two Distinctions
There’s a distinction between love and marriage that is both easy to miss and difficult to understand. On top of that, cultural trends and re-interpretations complicate it. Both love and marriage have different definitions that are independent of each other, and as my post “Is Marriage a Thing of the Past” unvails, both definitions are found in the Bible. What complicates it is that a feelings-based emotional love (eros) is usually what drives you to marry, but you can also love someone without marrying them, or marry someone without loving them, these are all independent of each other. While either type of love cannot be the basis for marriage, it is essential to have both for marriage to flourish.

If love were the basis for marriage, then a lack of love or an unfaithful love could undo the marriage. But God knows that while his love never fails, our love will. So he took our human weakness into account and drove marital commitment into to rock of his eternal covenant. This is why you won’t find a back door to marriage in the Bible. Even in the case of adultery, Jesus, in Matthew 19, doesn’t just say if you screw up you’re out of here. Neither does Jesus command the offended spouse to divorce, but points back to God’s original intention for marriage in the book of Genesis: “what God has joined together let not man separate.” God based marriage on something deeper than love.

The Covenant of Companionship
Dr. Jay Adams, founder of the Christian counseling industry says this, “Love is not the basis for marriage as some think, the basis for marriage is a covenant. It is a covenant made before God in which each promise the other that so long as he/she lives, the other will never lack companionship. That was, of course, the original reason given for marriage—that man might not be alone, which God said was “not good.” Does love have a part? Of course; but rather than the basis for marriage, it is the duty of marriage, We promise to “Love, Honor… etc. Therefore, love is a Covenant of Companionship.”

This illustration shows that the foundation of the marriage relationship is the covenant of companionship as designed by God. The covenant was created to reflect his faithful and abiding relationship with his people. The covenant of companionship is the basis on which we must be devoted to commitment, duty, and honor (Level 1). Foundational understanding will help us know why we need to work through the transitional phase of self-examination (Level 2), to bring our beliefs and actions into alignment with each other. Applying self-control and self-denial leads to a fuller expression in the practical phase of love and faithfulness (Level 3). Christ-centered love and faithfulness facilitate one of the most powerful expressions of love, which is forgiveness. The covenant is a constant that enables all other aspects of relational love.

The Duty of Love
In Tim Keller’s book Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage he unpacks how the covenant aspect of marriage empowers and releases love. “In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions, you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”

This promise of future love—a forever love, can only be possible in the context of something greater than us—which is why God ordained marriage as a covenant. A covenant wrapped in the arms of companionship is what gives purpose to marriage, defining a husband and wife like the land defines the sea, and the sea defines the land. One would not be realized as relating to the other or seen as distinct without the other. For what is the sea without land or the land without the sea? There would be no balance or completion, no embracing each other where the water’s edge meets the shoreline; that venerated place couples drive hundreds of miles to walk along.

Bob Smith
Co-Author of The Music of Marriage

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Marriage Is A Conversation

Getting Inside the Song
Bob Dylan recently released a CD of cover tunes from the 40’s and 50’s—many were originally sung by Frank Sinatra. In a recent interview, Bob was asked what he thought of Sinatra and he said, “Frank had the ability to get inside of the song in a conversational way. Frank sang to you, not at you.” You know, I thought what Bob said was true. When you listen to him sing, it’s as if he is conversing with you about something, whether it was his view of life or the ups and downs of his love life. The “getting inside the song in a conversational way” is what is often lost over time in a marriage relationship.

Like the dating relationship, marriage usually starts out as a conversation. You cherish every thought your spouse has, and because you do, you are intent on listening intimately. The capacity to understand each other is at its highest in those early days. But routine and friction soon wear the edges off romance like water over river stones. Now the concern is being heard rather than hearing—what’s on our spouses’ heart that is. The emotional shift leads to erecting defense mechanisms rather than putting up an antenna for a better signal. This naturally is where quarrels and other opportunistic forces begin to drive a wedge in the relationship. But not too many people reflect on why they’re quarreling—that’s not the conversation they began. There may be some obvious things like the emergence of an unpleasant character trait in a spouse that gets routinely criticized by the other, yet the critique is not always met with a willingness to change. Yet change is a necessity for a fruitful life and by extension, marriage.

Dialog or Monolog?
Love in marriage grows through mutual understanding, (the dialog, or conversation) but love is stunted through a lack of mutual understanding (the monolog). One or both parties want to be heard, but no one is really hearing the other one. Perhaps one party does get it and the other doesn’t. Have you ever heard your spouse telling a story but you weren’t listening, and you had to find a way to reply in such a way that they wouldn’t know you weren’t listening? Our natural tendency is to be preoccupied with our own thoughts. If we don’t consciously break through that self-centered barrier, we effectively shut communication down and bigger problems arise. So if the love of your life shares a thought or desire it should never be taken as insignificant. Because behind it all is a heart where that thought or desire lives. If what is important or meaningful to them gets shrugged off, he or she will think you don’t care about them.

Enlarging Each Others’ World
If you’ve lost that loving two-way conversation where you’re talking at your spouse rather than to them and with them, how do you get it back?  We’ve seen in our marriage that problems have a way of resolving themselves when we transfer our mind and affections to the other person. That means, a purposeful movement to fulfill the other person in every way—like we said in our vows—rather than seeking fulfillment for ourselves. Our new book, “The Music of Marriage” goes into detail about fulfillment. When we decide to see life through another’s eyes, instead of just our own, we step inside the immense beauty of another’s world, which enlarges the small confines of our own. A new appreciation for the gifts, the uniqueness, and the contribution your spouse makes to your life emerges. It becomes apparent when the focus is shifted to the other person that you both embrace and enlarge each other’s world. That doesn’t mean you’ve solved all your problems; it does mean that you’ve already gone half the distance toward solving them. Once thoughtful, loving communication is established, you can solve anything and accept each other for who you both are.

William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet said, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”

A Never Ending Conversation
Within Christian marriage, you have the added dimension of the lordship of Christ—who makes you one in marriage—bringing even greater significance and scope to your unity. To get to the point where we see the complete dimension of being ‘one’ with our spouse as we are one in Christ takes an ongoing understanding of both. This is why it takes a lifetime to develop a never ending conversation.

Bob Smith
Co-Author of The Music of Marriage

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