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New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

That’s the question I popped at a small dinner gathering not long ago. Looking around the room–two couples were newly engaged, two others had passed the thirty-year mark, and the rest were somewhere in between–I wondered what people would say.

“You need to look for ways to serve one another,” one husband said, “putting each other’s needs ahead of your own.”

“It helps to remember that you’re on the same team,” added a young wife. “You don’t want to ‘win’ a fight because that means your spouse has to lose. It’s not you-versus-them; you want to be fighting for your marriage together.”

“Share each others’ passions,” chimed in a third couple. “If you don’t love something the other person enjoys, learn more about it. You might discover you like it, after all.”

(That last comment reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago about how watching football can upgrade your marriage.)

I loved everything everyone said. The simple words spoke volumes and reinforced something I’d read about satisfaction in marriage: namely, that kindness glues couples together.

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

You might think that the secret to a successful union comes down to other things. Good communication, perhaps, or sexual compatibility. Or not having money problems, or issues with in-laws.

These things all matter, of course. But when it comes to predicting long-term stability and satisfaction in marriage, kindness is what matters most.

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

And it’s not just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning (although researchers at the National Marriage Project are big on little “I love you’s” like that); studies show that having a generous mindset–appreciating your spouse’s intentions, even if the even if the execution is iffy–is key.

Your husband, for instance, might not have been “deliberately” trying to annoy you when he left the toilet seat up; it could be that he’s just absent-minded. Your wife might not be late for dinner “on purpose.” Maybe she just had to stop by the store to pick up your gift.

(As someone who often keeps her spouse waiting but rarely shows up with a gift, I will go ahead and tell you that I did not make up those examples. I got them from one of the “Love Lab” psychologists quoted here.)

But you get the idea. Instead of being on the lookout for your spouse’s mistakes, look for things you can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. Be intentional about showing respect. In humility, as Scripture says, value your spouse above yourself, looking not to your own interests by to theirs.

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

I can imagine what some of you might be thinking. I thought the same thing, when I read the research. “I want to be kinder to Robbie,” I said to myself, “I really do. But…I’m just not that nice.”

(It’s true. My husband is way more thoughtful and generous than I, both to me and to others. As I’ve often said, “I might make friends for us, but Robbie is the one who keeps them.”)

But here’s the thing about kindness: It is not something we have or we don’t. The Bible says kindness comes with our salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness, like all of these other God-given attributes, is available to every believer.

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

Which, actually, brings up some other interesting marriage research. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out a few months ago, prayer makes a difference–even when one or both partners are being unkind. “When people pray for the well-being of their spouse when they feel a negative emotion in the marriage, both partners—the one doing the praying and the one being prayed for—report greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Greater relationship satisfaction.” That sounds very important and official. But let’s put it plainly, shall we?

If you’re annoyed with your spouse–they left the toilet seat up, they were late again, they did whatever–don’t get mad. Try praying for them instead.

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

May ______ (insert your names or the names of another couple you love) be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ you forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

P.S. Robbie and I celebrated our 35th Anniversary this week. When I look back at our wedding photos, I am struck by two things.

First, I could not have imagined how incredibly kind my husband would be, or how much more I would love him today than I did back in 1985:

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

And second, I wonder how on earth I held that ginormous bouquet without my arm falling off. But hey; it was the 80’s. As one son-in-law said when he looked at our pix, “It could have been a lot worse.”

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a teacher-parent this year, you know what it’s like to grow weary.

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

If you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenyou may remember the time when Hillary (then a first-grader) came home from school and told us that she thought her new teacher was a Christian.

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

“She prays?” (Our kids attended the neighborhood public school; I didn’t think teachers were allowed to pray there – at least not out loud, where their students could hear. I needed details.)

“Yes Mom,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ But sometimes she just says, ‘Oh God,’ and puts her head down on her desk.

Prayers You Can Print

If that’s where you are today – praying that nobody gets COVID, that Zoom doesn’t crash, or even just that you’ll make it ’til lunchtime – can I just say “Thank you”? As someone whose own kids are grown, I can only imagine the challenges that younger parents and teachers are facing this year.

My all-time favorite teacher prayer comes from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if they do not give up.”  This year, I’m combining that verse with two others – 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Titus 2:7-8 – and bundling them all into one “ask” for the educators, both the in-school ones and those teaching at home:

A Prayer for a Teacher

Want to print this card for yourself? Click here. (And if you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to add a few back-to-school prayers for the students, you’ll find a collection of my tried-and-true favorites here.)

Honestly though? If all you can muster this week is an “Oh God,” that’s okay. You just go ahead and put your head down on your desk.

We get it.

And those of us not in the teaching trenches will have you covered. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Do not let our teachers (and teacher-parents) get tired of doing what is good. Remind them that, at just the right time, they will reap a harvest of blessing if they don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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As Good as Dead? Think again.

Is there something in your life that is as good as dead?

I’ve just taken a spin through Hebrews, and I can never get through chapter 11 without stopping at verse 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as countless as sand on the seashore

That’s a reference to Abraham, the guy who laughed when God said he’d have a son. He was a hundred years old (his wife Sarah was ninety) and, as Robert Alter puts it in his Genesis commentary, it was a laugh “edged with bitterness.” Was God, Abraham wondered, playing some sort of cruel joke?

As good as dead.

How many times have we looked across the landscape of our lives–our relationships, our careers, our dreams–and thought the same thing? “Nothing is there. There’s no way this can work. That _____ (whatever it is) is as good as dead.”

Here’s the thing, though. With God, that doesn’t matter.

God brings dead things to life

God doesn’t care if we can’t see signs of life; he calls things into existence that do not exist.

Take the universe, for example. Hebrews 11:3 says it was formed “at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” God didn’t have to see something to create it; he just had to say it (“Let there be light”) and it happened.

And when God allowed Sarah to conceive, he did so (and you can check me on this in Romans 4:17) “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”

God brought a promise to life–he created a life–because Abraham believed.

I can hear what you’re thinking. I’ve thought the same thing: “I want to believe that God could call this thing–this marriage, this job, this hoped-for baby–into existence, but I just don’t see how it could happen. And if I don’t have faith…maybe it won’t.”

I get that. And, like I said, I have thought that. And if all we had to go on was Hebrews 11:6 (“Without faith it is impossible to please God”), the picture would look bleak, indeed.

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

There is much more we might say–much more encouragement tucked into the pages of Hebrews–but if you are struggling to believe God for something that looks and feels as good as dead, here are three hooks for your hope:

First, we don’t have to see something for it to be real. We can still believe it. Faith, Scripture says, isn’t just wishful thinking. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Second, faith is not something we need to create or produce in ourselves. Jesus, the Bible says, “initiates and perfects our faith.” He starts it. He finishes it. He supplies what we lack and makes it complete.

And finally, God’s horizon is infinitely bigger than ours.

When Abraham laughed, it was because he knew what God had promised–that he’d be the father of many nations–but it had not yet happened. Nor would it, he thought, at his advanced age. Abraham was, Alter says, “someone living within a human horizon of expectations.”

A human horizon of expectations. Am I the only one who reads a phrase like that one and thinks, “Ouch”?

Because we do that, don’t we? We apply our human horizons–our timelines, our procedures, our perceived ideas of what will work best–to our lives, and when things don’t turn out like we wanted or expected them to, we figure that God has let us down. Or that we didn’t have enough faith. Or that the situation, whatever it is, is as good as dead.

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

The Bible says that God is always at work. That he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And that, when his plans or his methods don’t match up with ours, that’s okay; we can be confident that his ways are higher than ours.

Abraham is just one in a hallway of heroes whose lives are recapped in Hebrews 11. None of these people saw God’s promise fulfilled–at least not in the way, or at the time, they expected. But did that negate their faith or diminish their assurance that God would do what he said he would do? Not at all. They all died, Scripture says, “still believing,” welcoming God’s complete and perfect provision “from a distance.”

We can do the same thing. We can expand our perspective, acknowledging that our timelines (and even our lifetimes) do not limit God’s power or his provision. We can stop “living within a human horizon” and start praying with faith–with confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see–for every need.

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

For the desire–the unmet longing–that is as good as dead. We can ask God to bring that dream back to life.

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

Please bring this dead situation or relationship back to life; create a new thing out of nothing; make something that can be seen out of what is not now visible. (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3)

Be the source and the perfecter of my faith, providing and completing what I lack. Equip me to believe as Abraham did, against all hope, trusting that your thoughts and your ways are higher than mine. (Hebrews 12:2, Romans 4:18, Isaiah 55:8-9).

Amen

 

 

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Don’t talk to your kids about God?

(Note: This post about how we can talk to God about our children appeared earlier this week over at Club31Women as part of their new Strength and Dignity Devotional series. Thought I’d share it here in case you missed it. Happy Fourth!)

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

I exchanged a look with the woman sitting next to me at the young mother’s Bible study. Where was the teacher going with this?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God,” she repeated, “nearly as much as you talk to God about your kids.”

Talk to God about your kids

Ahhh. That made more sense. And over the years, as our four children became teenagers and then young adults, that value of that advice grew right along with them.

My husband and I wanted our kids to love Jesus. We wanted to showcase God’s attributes—his faithfulness, his mercy, his power, his love—so our children would know Him. We wanted to talk about His Word, like Deuteronomy 6:6-8 says, sitting at home and walking on the road, from early in the morning until late at night.

We wanted to talk about God all the time—and there were plenty of days when our kids might say that we did.

But there were also plenty of days when they did not want to listen. Plenty of days when it felt like our children were out of our reach, emotionally and spiritually, even if they were sitting just across the dinner table. Plenty of days when all our best parenting wisdom fell flat.

The answer, those days, wasn’t to talk louder, or more. The answer was to talk to God.

Mindful of verses like Isaiah 55:11 (which promises that God’s Word does not come back empty but accomplishes his purposes), we used Scripture to give shape to our prayers.

We asked God to captivate our kids’ attention: “Make _____’s heart a stream of water in Your hand; turn it wherever You will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

We asked God to let their words and deeds line up with his plans, to give our children “the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

And we prayed that our kids would know how much they were loved: “I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

We prayed prayers like these (and we’re praying them still), knowing that shaping our kids’ faith—along with their character, their relationships, and their future—is not up to us. It’s up to God. And honestly? Even though His answers have not always looked like what we expected (or wanted, sometimes), I can say with confidence that God has been faithful.

He has listened.

And He has been good.

The next time you feel like your kids are tuning you out or like they don’t want to hear what you have to say (or like you aren’t sure how to help even if they did want your advice!), don’t be discouraged. Instead, talk to God. He’s the one who, as Romans 4:17 puts it, “calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

He can create anything—even faith—out of nothing.

Heavenly Father,

Your bend down to listen to our prayers, and you invite us to pour out our hearts to you on behalf of our children. (Psalm 116:2 and Lamentations 2:19)

Today, our need is for ___________. Please call that into existence, even if there seems to be nothing there now.

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

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The Words We Speak to Our Kids

Mother speaking life to her daughter

What sort of words do we speak to our kids?

I’ve long been a foot-in-mouth gal, and whether it’s a joke that fell flat, an ill-timed lecture, or even an emoji that my children tell me that I’m using wrong (to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “I don’t think that symbol means what you think it means, Mom”), I often ask God to set a guard over my mouth, especially when I talk to my kids. I read verses like Proverbs 18:21 (“The tongue has the power of life and death”) and I think: Dear God, don’t let me kill them.

Last week, though, I was reminded of the flip side of the coin–as in, the positive power of the words we speak.

As part of an Instagram giveaway for two new books about how we can love our sons and daughters, I asked folks to tell me how they showed love to their kids. I got lots of uplifting responses, from creative efforts like decorating a child’s bedroom door on the eve of their birthday to simpler (but no less impactful) things like baking cookies together or doing an adult child’s laundry when he comes home. Love comes in all sorts of packages.

I scrolled through the comments, liking them all, but I paused when I got to this one:

“I have a son. I speak out what I see in him that is good, and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is!”

Speak to the good you see now

I speak out what I see that is good…

As parents, we can get so focused on “fixing” what’s wrong that we fail to notice what’s right, particularly when it comes to the things that not everyone sees. For instance, parenting experts tell us to highlight character traits more than accomplishments. A starting spot on the soccer team or a report card full of A’s may earn peer and teacher approval, but things like patience, wisdom, humility and perseverance equip a child to flourish in life.

Take a moment to consider your kids. Do you see the good in their hearts? Attitudes that bring honor to God? Speak them out! Make a point of telling your children–in person, or with a phone call or text–how you see God’s image reflected in them. Does your son pay attention to what people need? Does your daughter light up a room? Are they (sometimes) kind to each other? Let them know that you noticed.

 Speak to what is “not yet”

…and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is.

That’s the second part of the Instagram comment, and I can see some of you scratching your heads. But don’t get hung up on the word “prophesy.” Prophets aren’t just wild-eyed old men in long robes who predict future events or do bizarre stuff for God. Prophets are also people–regular old moms and dads–who “speak forth” God’s purposes, proclaiming and teaching God’s Word. These parents know the power that comes, sometimes without any fanfare, simply though the words that we speak.

Here’s what this might look like in everyday life:

Say you want your child to have wisdom. Envision that in his life, and speak words like this: “I can picture God shaping you into a wise and discerning young man. I have great confidence in your future.”

Or maybe you want your teen to show kindness and compassion to others. Say something like this: “I can see God’s hand on your life. I love how he is growing your heart for other people, and I admire the woman you are becoming.”

I realize that this might sound a bit..iffy. Like, you might worry that your teens will look at you sideways if you start talking like this. I get that. I hear you. But give it a try anyway. Because here’s the thing about speaking to the “not yet” in our kids: It doesn’t matter how old they are, what choices they’ve made, or how many habits or patterns look “set.” We might not have the power to change things with our words, but as we speak them over our children, God does.

God’s Word makes things happen

The Bible says God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. He creates new things out of nothing. He’s been doing this creative and regenerative work since time began.

(“Let there be light,” for example.)

God’s Word makes things happen. There is literally no limit to what he can do. Our words might not have that same sort of supernatural power, but they still carry weight. I like how the Message translation renders Proverbs 18:21. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit–you choose.”

Let’s choose fruit. Let’s look for opportunities to speak life to our children–both in what we see happening now and in what God’s word equips us to proclaim. Here are a handful of ways we can start planting for the harvest:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ know that they are your masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things you planned long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)

May _____ grow in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with you and with other people. (Luke 2:52)

May _____ know that they are your special possession, called out of darkness into your wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Want to get your own copy of the books from my Instagram giveaway? Check out 100 Ways to Love Your Daughter and 100 Ways to Love Your Son from Lisa and Matt Jacobson:

100 Ways Books by Matt and Lisa Jacobson

And as always, when you order from these links, Amazon sends me a small compensation so that I can keep ordering books–and sharing my favorites with you. 🙂

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