I love to eat.
Eating satisfies so many of my senses. There is something about the smell of a freshly cooked breakfast, the warmth of bread straight out of the oven, the crispness of bacon right off the grill, the taste of fresh-squeezed orange juice washing it all down, and the gratification of going from hungry and grumpy to happy and full.
While I thoroughly enjoy eating, I have to be cautious about the types of things I eat. We cannot simply eat what we like because it tastes good. We also must feed our body what it needs. Eating what you like and feeding your body what it needs are usually two different things. I love to eat enchiladas. I don’t love to eat vegetables. Yet, my body needs vegetables much more than it needs enchiladas. Simply because I like enchiladas does not give me permission to skip out on vegetables.
In our marriage of five years, my wife Linda and I have recently started to learn this lesson on a spiritual level. In our first few years, we would enjoy leading worship together at ministry events, or hearing Pastor Miles preach on Sundays. Since we did this consistently, we assumed we were spiritually feeding our marriage. We would also attend the annual marriage getaway (which is awesome, if you married folks have never been) and check the box that we were feeding our marriage. In reality, we were eating enchiladas–things that tasted good, but did not account for the full needs of our spiritual and marital health.
Marriages must account for the full course of spiritual feeding. Similar to the five food groups, there are five areas that we can focus on to ensure that we are spiritually feeding our marriage, and intentionally putting ourselves in God’s presence together. Linda and I have been increasingly focused on feeding all of these areas of our marriage, and doing it on purpose, with purpose.
The first area where couples must have a healthy dose of spiritual feeding is in the area of communication. Linda and I recommend spending purposeful time improving marital communication. Reading books like The Five Love Languages and The Five Languages of Apology (both by Dr. Gary Chapman) helped us interpret each other’s expressions of need when in conflict. For example, we had the largest discussion over the way I apologized. She wanted to specifically hear the words “I’m sorry.” I spent the first three years of my marriage saying, “My bad…” or “I wasn’t trying to upset you…” or some other phrase that was not what she wanted to hear. Once I learned her language of apology–I felt like I was given a secret code to a safe! Arguing stopped and I had access to regular conversation again. Currently, Linda and I make a point to either read a book or attend an event specifically focused on marital communication. Recently, Linda and I spent some time with Dr. Sharon May, an author, speaker, and Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT). We didn’t see Sharon because there was something wrong with our marriage. We saw her to purposefully increase our resources for effective communication. Sharon simply gave us more ingredients to make our daily marriage dinner plate taste better.
The second area of spiritual food is in the area of finances. With over 2,000 verses in the Bible about money, it would be silly to think that our marriage challenges and our money challenges won’t overlap. Linda and I are purposeful with how we honor God with our resources and our marriage.
One practical way we stay fed spiritually is by feeding all five of our financial food groups, in order of priority. I came up with an acronym we use to help other couples financially, and we follow that model: TISHA (Tithing, Investing, Saving, Housing, Automobile). We seek wise counsel from biblical principals of tithing (Malachi 3:8-10), investing (Matthew 25:14-30), saving (Luke 10:29-37), housing (Luke 14:28-30), and automobiles (Matthew 6:19-21).
Another practical way we stay fed as a couple is by staying in communication with people who are financially wise and married. Our business tax attorney is a Christian and has been married over twenty-five years; our Christian family tax accountant has been married nearly twenty years; and our Christian financial planner has been married about ten years. We have open discussions with all of our professionals about marriage and money. Every meeting we have about money is as much spiritual as it is financial.
Perhaps the most practical thing we do is meet bi-monthly for family finance meetings. We review our budget and our spending. We also talk openly about upcoming expenses and how to deal with them. Money is an emotional subject. It is so nice to have money discussions in a prayerful, peaceful, and planned context where God is the ultimate Chief Financial Officer.
The third, and often overlooked area for getting spiritually fed, is community. Not simply hanging out with friends, but spending purposeful time with other married couples. For newlyweds or younger couples, this looks like spending time with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, or marriage mentors that can speak and pour into your marriage, as well as give direction. For those who have been married awhile, this can look like serving together, mentoring younger couples, and helping serve in the marriage ministry at church. Linda and I try to do both. Last Christmas, I got to spend quality time with my aunt and uncle to glean from them regarding some basic, yet profound, principles of making marriage work.
On the other end of the spectrum, Linda and I love to host newlyweds in our home for dinner and discussion to share some of our own successes and failures to help others avoid mistakes. Marriage is a team sport. There is nothing more powerful than groups of married people all loving and supporting each other’s marriages through prayer and community.
Fun is the fourth essential part of how Linda and I feed our marriage. While seeking a way to combine fun into our marriage growth, I found out about a funny marriage conference. We went to a marriage conference called Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage by Pastor and comedian Mark Gungor. We were laughing so hard we cried. Our faces and stomachs were sore the next day, as Mark made light of communication, sex within marriage, and (as he puts it) “how to stay married without killing anyone.” It is critical that couples have fun together as an ongoing way to feed your marriage.
The fifth essential part of feeding marriage is feeding both spouses desire for intimacy. Intimacy is unique in that my definition is different than my wife’s. For her, intimacy starts with affirmation, encouragement, kindness, and loving demeanor. For me, intimacy starts with respect, attitude, and physical touch. Since our appetite for intimacy has different flavors, we are purposeful, not perfect, in the way we “feed” each other. Recently, Linda and I had the great opportunity to watch Matt Chandler dissect the Song of Solomon. I was so upset that I didn’t get to know the information sooner; it would have radically changed our intimacy and sex life. He’ll be speaking here at Rock Church on March 6 and 7. Don’t miss it. Go to the link below and sign up today!
As Linda and I grow in these areas, both our relationship with God and our marriage relationship grow. I’ve noticed that being purposeful in feeding our marriage with the first three (communication, finances, and community) makes it much easier to enjoy the last two (fun and intimacy). This is only half of the excitement. For us, watching other couples grow because of our fruit is just as fulfilling and exciting. So eat your vegetables, and also share them.
Zap and Linda Martin will celebrate their fifth year of marriage in March 2015. They are Marriage Coaches and also ministry leaders in a new Rock Church Outreach ministry called Just Married.
»» For more information and to register for Rock Church's Relationship Conference with Matt Chandler on March 6-7 at Rock Church Point Loma, click here!