I’ve recently modified my thoughts on what is really important in building a better marriage, as well as improving any other area of life. This process took the form of three separate steps forward. The first step was to accept the importance of action. I discussed this some three weeks ago in What is the Perfect Miracle Marriage? I said sharing and acting were key – acting together, in partnership. After all, actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough to read a good book, listen to a good message, or get good advice. You have to take some action. But action alone is not enough. I remember an illustration of a coworker, pushing hard against a wall, commenting: “See, I am working hard, I am working so hard, my feet keep sliding away from the wall, and I’m starting to sweat. But work is not enough. I’m not accomplishing anything.”
After reviewing a message by Andy Stanley titled Application Makes All the Difference, I modified my thoughts on what is important. A lot of action can be wasted, and a lot can be spent trying to escape the issues or need for change, rather than improvement. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” So taking notes, highlighting, agreeing with someone accomplishes nothing. You have to do what it says.
I get to this point, and I say “I really ought to, but not today.” Maybe you don’t like to procrastinate, but I do. My first week of ten years working in Spain, a Spanish coworker approached me and asked if I was learning Spanish. When I said that indeed learning Spanish was one of my goals, he asked me if I knew what the word mañana meant. I said yes, of course, it means “tomorrow.” He corrected me, saying that mañana might be tomorrow, or might be the next day, but mañana is “not today.” My wife recently observed that I took this initial Spanish lesson 26 years ago to heart, modifying the definition at times to be “not today, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe even sometime before eternity.” I couldn’t help but observe that while I learned much more Spanish than she did, she had also demonstrated an understanding of the relation of mañana to eternity.
So I advanced to the belief that I needed to make application. But that was soon followed by the realization that for me to make successful application, I have to be open to, be willing to, and decide to make changes. This realization came by means of several factors: a wake-up call, which I affectionately refer to as a kick, ah, below the belt, and reading a book by Andy Stanley, Enemies of the Heart. Action may be addressed at symptoms rather than root problems. Application may take the form of repeated, maybe even superficial, acts that fit the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over while expecting or hoping for different results. Action and application are not enough, to make a significant improvement, real change is needed.
It’s always easier to stay the same, with the same habits, in the same ruts, and just make excuses. The best picture of this conflict over change comes in an examination of the term “repentance.” While it is often commented that repentance involves a turning, a change in direction, I often don’t actually put it into practice. One of the first verses I learned was I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” But it has always been so easy to view this verse (in Andy’s words) as a loophole or an escape hatch. After all, if we are always forgiven of all our sins when we confess them, and we know we are never going to be sinless, why make a real attempt to change? Because God makes it clear that the purpose of confession is not to just relieve my conscience, but to accomplish change and improvement in my life, and reconciliation with others.
So that’s where I am at – open and willing to change. As I have said, when someone finds a bug or a hair in their food in Spain, they say “what doesn’t kill you makes you fatter.” We sometimes say upon facing a trial, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I add to those this one: “what doesn’t kill your marriage, motivates you to build a stronger marriage.”