3 Keys to Unity in Marriage – #3: Community
Today, I’ve been David’s wife for exactly 500 days! (D3, I think this may call for roses or a cupcake or something, just saying…)
Over the past 500 days, we’ve learned that there are three things that help create unity in our marriage: questions, prayer, and community. This week, I’d love to share why community has been one of the most important aspects to unity in our marriage.
Isolation is Dangerous
One of the mentors in my life often reminds me that every decision made in isolation seems like a good idea. He means that it is critical for me to have other trusted peers around me to sharpen my character, encourage me, and to check my motives as I make important decisions. I have always revered this as very wise advice.
But until I got engaged, I thought that this advice was mainly for individuals. I thought that once I had a ring on my finger and a man by my side, he would be the one to sharpen, encourage, and hold me accountable.
While David does all of these things for me exceptionally well, I have learned that married couples can make dumb decisions in isolation too.
Now more than ever it is important for us to have a group of trusted friends whom have mutually committed to holding each other accountable and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There are too many forces in this world that are pushing marriages apart – temptation, busyness, false beliefs that marriage is only about your personal happiness. While David and I have committed to love each other well ‘til death do us part, we know that we need a band of brothers and sisters to lock arms around us and hold us tightly to God’s word and each other. Because, let’s face it, maintaining unity is hard work.
For the past year and a half, David and I have been blessed to be surrounded by 3 other newly married couples and 2 “veteran newlywed” couples (married 13 and 25+ years) from our church that have committed to meet regularly in order to sharpen one another, encourage one another, and to keep each other from making dumb decisions in isolation. At Watermark, we call this a Foundation Group.
Transformed into His Image
This small group of Christ-followers has been instrumental as David and I strive to build a strong foundation for our marriage. But perhaps, even more important than our marriage, is our individual pursuit to become more like Christ. This band of brothers and sisters has been absolutely vital as David and I both seek to be “transformed into His image” (2 Cor. 3:18).
But here’s the honest truth: No matter how awesome the group of people, we can’t expect positive life change to happen if we only get together occasionally for a cup of coffee and to share “highs and lows.” Over the past year and a half, we’ve learned that there are four important elements to transform a superficial “supper club” into a Christ-centered community that produces positive life-change.
Probably the most important lesson the leaders of our Foundation Group taught us is this:
Not topic is off limits, but one phrase that should never be spoken is “I think.”
If our goal is to make each other more like Christ, we need to be seeking council from the Word of God. I may think that I have a deep well of “wisdom” from my measly 25 years of experiences and that the advice a sorority sister once gave me is perfectly applicable to the situation being discussed, but God’s Word will always and forever trump what I think.
As a group, we’ve committed to regard those two words (I think) as foul language. We’ve promised to seek truth in Scripture rather than giving our own prescriptive advice.
When we first did this as a group we were pretty awkward. Googling was definitely involved. None of us have gone to Seminary (yet).
We were trying to help our friend process the decision of whether or not she should stay home from work with her newborn child or continue working and put him in day care. There are no specific verses on this topic. But after nearly an hour and 10 sets of thumbs flipping through Bibles or researching via iPhones, we had a pool of verses that spoke clearly to the issue of a woman’s role. We were able to share with confidence that she need not feel guilty helping to provide for her family by continuing to work.
Best of all, rather than feeling like they were told what we think they should do, I think our friends felt loved. I think they were flattered that we took the time to come along side them to really process their issue in light of God’s Word, rather than solving it quickly from our own experiences.
When we first began meeting, our group met every other week when it was convenient. After several months of the same, surface level conversations about work and weekends, we realized that in order to know each other on a deeper level, we needed to invest in each other consistently.
Only by consistently meeting will we build the relational equity necessary to speak truth into each other’s lives.
For us that means meeting together every Tuesday night. I’m sure other community groups have been successful with a rhythm of every other week or a few times a month, but for us, every, single Tuesday is what works.
Here’s the thing: we have to be committed to consistency. Kind of like our marriages, we’ve all individually made the decision to work hard at this community thing. Some times we might annoy each other, some nights we might be too tired, and still other weeks we may piss each other off. But we’ve committed to be consistent. Of course there is always grace when someone is sick or when a couple has a fun vacation planned, but the fact that we all equally strive for consistency makes a huge difference in the quality of our time together.
In addition to meeting regularly, each member of our group has committed to being authentic and transparent with one another. If our ultimate goal is to become more like Christ, we cannot leave any area of our lives in the dark or unchecked. We need to be willing to drop the façade and lay our struggles out on the table for a group of trusted friends to sift through with the good intention of making us better.
Sounds scary? It was at first. But it has been totally worth it.
Over time, David and I have learned that really no topic should be off limits for accountability, because there is no area of our life that cannot succumb to temptation. We discuss our health, our careers, our future plans, and even our finances and sex life (two of the most common places darkness can hide) with our community group.
(My friend Blake wrote an awesome blog this week about why it is important to tell your friends how much money you have. If the idea of sharing your finances with others makes you want to vomit, I encourage you to read it!)
Today, sharing our lives with our community is like second nature. When David’s dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was our community who received our emotional emails. When I was struggling to choose between a new, higher paying job offer or staying in a lower-paying but more fulfilling job, our community gave us Biblical council. And, before we booked our vacation to Greece, we willingly (OK, somewhat nervously) laid it on the table so our community could check our motives and our bank account and give us advice rooted in Scripture.
As an added bonus, having a group of trusted friends to process big decisions with has made it easier for David and I to “leave and cleave.” Rather than continuing to rely on our parents for constant guidance, we are able to stand on our own as a couple while still receiving sound council.
4. Brave Love
Finally, transparency does nothing for accountability if we are not brave enough to love one another by speaking the truth. Often that means leaning into conflict.
Proverbs 27:17 talks about how believers sharpen one another as “iron sharpens iron.” Have you ever seen iron being sharpened? Sparks are always involved.
We cannot expect to truly edify one another if we are afraid of conflict.
As a people-pleaser, this is a serious struggle for me. I prefer to avoid conflict at all costs. But I know that if I see an area of darkness in a sister’s life, I am called to love her bravely by gently pointing it out (Galations 6:1-5).
At first, taking a couple to dinner to ask them about a sin-issue in one of their lives sounded like a terribly self-righteous thing for us to do. I thought that it would most definitly cause conflict and would probably blow up the group. False.
We all need to be brave enough to love each other in this way. I’ll tell you what, if one of the couples in our community group notices something in our lives that needed to be discussed, I would be deeply hurt if they didn’t bring it up to us. Wouldn’t you?
What about you?
Whether you are single or married, it is important to surround yourself with people who are brave enough to hold you tightly to the Word of God. Do you have people like that in your life? If you are in community: Do you love each other bravely? Are you being consistent and transparent? Are you giving your own advice or council from Scripture? If you are not in community, will you consider praying for God to provide that group of people for you? I promise it will bless you!