(This is part one of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)
Mark: When you think of maintaining balance in a marriage, the initial thing that may come to mind is relationship.
John: It seems there are two things to consider. One, what do you individually have to do to bring balance to the relationship. Second, how does the couple work together to keep balance in check.
Tonya: One of the things that I remember probably halfway through my marriage was a moment when I felt God spoke to me to tell me that as a couple you don’t complete each other; you compliment each other. God completes us. He’s the lover of our soul. We can’t find that in our spouse. But we can compliment each other, help each other grow. So I remember that moment when he made it clear to me that when I walk closer with him and stay intimate with him, I actually don’t need as much from my husband. I still want closeness and intimacy, but when I’m close with the Lord I’m not trying to get things from my husband that he can’t give me anyway.
John: That reminds me of the triangle/pyramid illustration for marriage you’ve probably both seen where the two in the marriage are at the bottom on either end and God is at the top. The more the two work toward God the closer you are together.
Mark: I just literally drew that on my notes.
John: As simple as that is, it seems to be an easy tool to evaluate where I am working toward God as a person and also how we are working together toward him.
Tonya: That speaks to singles also. If God is first and the lover of our souls, then it brings peace to those who maybe are in transition and not wanting to be single that they are still whole and complete. They don’t need a spouse to complete them.
I remember my dad used to use the picture of a coffee cup to illustrate it. The cup is full of the Lord, and everything else is on the rim. So if it falls off, it’s not that it won’t be painful, like if you lose your spouse or kids, but you can survive if your cup is full of the Lord. That’s always stuck with me-keeping the cup full with God first.
Mark: In order to have a healthy marriage, you really have to see yourself as healthy and whole first and not seeing all your needs met in the other person but in God. There is nuance and tension between relationship and companionship. It’s foundational to not look at the other person as meeting all your needs, or you’re going to be disappointed.
Tonya: Because no person is capable of that.
John: In light of being a married person, what’s different that you have to keep in check in your relationship with God?
Tonya: I’ve been writing a series on preventing leadership exhaustion and just recently wrote on marriage. To be married and have children, it does take more focus and energy, so it’s a little harder. When I was single and just met my husband, I was on top of the world spiritually and had no interest in dating. But when you fall in love, it becomes more challenging to make sure you’re still nurturing your time with the Lord. You have to work at that a little bit more. You have to work at finding that balance for your time alone as well as your time together. You have to learn how to grow and encourage each other together.
My husband and I are as different as night and day, literally. The way he walks out his faith is very different than me. So how do you do that together? Finding that can be a challenge.
Mark: I agree. From a different angle, there is an opportunity in a marriage to more deeply grasp what is means to love unconditionally. In this work you’re talking about, there are many opportunities to love this other person. By love I mean way beyond the emotion and feeling. It’s the service, sacrifice, and action of unconditionally loving this companion. Sometimes it’s easier than others, but it’s always front and center. You get this tangible opportunity to love this person in the way that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure that is about balance as much as it the difference between being single and being married and the opportunity it presents in what it means to love someone.
John: Tonya, referring back to your “everything on your plate” exercise you talked about last week, the plate just looks different. There’s more on the plate-another person, kids come along-your plate is just different. There’s more on it, so the balance is keeping a healthy relationship with God based on what’s currently on my plate.
Tonya: One of the things I’ve done since then has to do with a bull’s eye. God is in the center, then your spouse, then your children, then your friendships, and then your ministry. When I would teach pastors I would ask, “How do you do ministry starting with God and moving through your marriage, and then also back in?” The idea is that you don’t just make your own decisions. They have to go through God, your spouse, your children. It has to be right for your family first, then out through your ministry. But that’s for all of us in all the things that we do.
When I asked my husband about this, one of the things he said was that we make decisions together. So we make big decisions together-work decisions, moving decisions. They take time and money, and impact everybody. So many of the leaders I work with have trouble grasping the impact of their decisions on their whole family. So this idea of using the bull’s eye was a different way to help them see it.
Mark: That’s an excellent point of being on the same page. Tonya, you and your husband are different. My wife and I are very similar, so it’s fairly natural for us to be together on a decision and think the same way. That comes very easy. For others who have differing personalities, it may be harder but it’s not less important.
Tonya: For sure, and I would not have any clue in how to just flow in a situation like that because we totally see the world through completely different lenses. But you are right, so one of the things it comes back to is commitment. We made a commitment that means something; we meant it. When decisions have been harder, we’ve come back to our commitment to our vows, to taking the time to work it out. A lot of couples fall apart in those moments. “You don’t see it my way.” They start to fall apart because they don’t have that strong commitment.
Mark: The picture coming to my mind is the balance between giving and getting in a relationship. A commitment from both sides makes that easier. It’s harder to do when you feel like you’re the only one fighting. If both people work to be about giving first before getting, it’s like the oil that just makes the machine work better. The machine may break down at times, but the oil provides the lubrication when the friction comes when you are doing life together. Staying focused on the giving part first makes it more likely you’ll get the things you need out of the relationship as well.
Tonya: That’s right. When you are focused on giving and giving, your spouse will most of the time turn around and give back. You’ll get what you want when your heart is to give. It’s that upside down thing we talked about before. God’s kingdom is not the way the world’s kingdom is.