Let me begin today by asking those of you who are married a very personal and revealing question. If your mate were to be suddenly taken away from you either through divorce or death, what regrets would linger with you about your relationship?
Possibly your mind would race back to an argument that quickly got out of control. Desperate to gain the upper hand in the conflict, you grabbed the dagger you knew would cut deep into your mate’s heart, plunged it in, and then twisted it. Although you later called a truce and made a fumbled attempt to reconcile, things have never been quite the same between you.
Maybe your thoughts would linger on those qualities of your mate that first attracted you to him/her and, strangely, later repelled you from him/her. How you wished you had learned to appreciate those qualities instead of always trying to “fix” them.
You may think about all the missed opportunities you had to enjoy one another. “We were having such a great time in the mountains. Why was I in such a hurry to get back to work?” “Why didn’t I take more walks with my husband after dinner instead of feeling like every dish had to first be clean?”
Your flood of “if onlys” might include a regret over an adulterous relationship that sapped your physical and emotional strength for more months than you would like to admit.
I believe that the Old Testament patriarch Abraham experienced some of those regrets as he grieved over the death of his faithful life partner, Sarah.
Genesis 23:1-2 says, “Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”
The word translated “mourn” means to “beat one’s breast.” Abraham’s overwhelming grief over the loss of Sarah was understandable. After all, they had been married for more than 60 years. Think of all they had been through together.
Early in their relationship, they were forced to depend on one another as they left the security of their friends and families to follow the leading of an invisible God. They had endured the pain of a childless marriage for many decades. They had been the recipients of some of God’s choicest promises. They had even entertained angels in their home. As Abraham stood in front of that sepulcher, I’m sure his mind raced back over many of those memories.
But I imagine part of Abraham’s deep grief was also tied to regrets. There were scenes in his marriage he would have loved to have rewritten: the incident with Hagar that broke Sarah’s spirit or the two occasions when he placed his safety above that of his wife. But it was now too late. Never again would he have the opportunity to communicate to his life partner how much she meant to him.
Grief is a natural and necessary result of losing one’s life partner, either through death or divorce. Nothing you do now will prevent you from experiencing that pain.
However, one way to lessen the pain of the inevitable separation from our mate we will all experience one day is to remove as many of the regrets as possible.
Here are four decisions that will help you experience a regret-free marriage.
1. Decision #1: I Will Not Divorce My Mate (Matthew 19:3-6)
In the survey I conducted with men in my church about regrets in life, divorce was at the top of the list of some regrets in their marriages. Why? Many of them realized that divorce (and even remarriage) did not solve problems; it only created new problems.
In Matthew 19, Jesus said there are three principles that we should understand about marriage:
- Marriage is Uniquely Designed by God
God had promised Adam that He would make a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18). The word translated “suitable” could be translated as “opposite.” God’s plan was for the first woman to complement, not duplicate, the first man. Their gifts, their temperaments, and their needs would balance one another. So God “built” Eve (that is what the Hebrew word translated “fashioned” means in Genesis 2:22) according to some very precise specifications. Given God’s foreknowledge, I believe He also created Adam to complement his future wife, Eve.
Do you view your mate as God’s unique creation for you and you alone? Do you understand that no one out there is better suited to meet your needs than that husband or wife living under your roof? Only when you truly appreciate God’s customized job in creating your spouse does the sometimes murky divorce issue become clearer.
- Marriage Creates an Unbreakable Bond
The word translated as “cleave” refers to an unbreakable bond that exists between a husband and wife. Not the white paste kind of bond that is easily breakable, but Jesus is talking about the Super Glue kind of bond.
For example, an unbreakable bond describes the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. After both Ruth and Naomi were widowed, Naomi presumed that her daughter-in-law would want to return to her native land and begin a new life like her other widowed daughter-in-law Orpha. But Ruth desperately desired that their relationship continue in spite of the changes that had occurred in their families.
The word “cleave” is also used to describe the unbreakable bond that is to exist between God and us. Can you imagine God saying to us, “I want you to serve me…unless a god comes along that better suits you. In that case, you are no longer bound by our commitment.” Or “I realize that nothing lasts forever. Even though you are in love with me now, you may fall out of love at some future date.” Such thoughts are preposterous! The God who never changes desires that we serve Him regardless of our changing circumstances or feelings.
- Every Marriage Relationship Is Orchestrated by God
It is obvious that God arranged the union between Adam and Eve. Moses tells us that God “Brought her [Eve] to the man” (Genesis 2:22). But both Moses and Jesus were teaching truths that went far beyond the first couple. How do I know that? When they speak of a man leaving his father and mother, they obviously don’t have Adam in mind; he had no earthly father. Instead, Moses and Jesus are teaching a universal truth about marriage.
Just as God joined together Adam and Eve, He is still in the business of bringing men and women together today. “What therefore God has joined together…”
I like to recall the unique set of circumstances that God used to bring my wife and me together. Amy was living in Illinois, and I was living in Texas when we were in the sixth grade. That summer, Amy’s father was given two choices: remaining in Illinois or transferring to Texas. They decided to move and purchased a home one street over from my parent’s home. That meant Amy and I would attend the same junior high school. There were several seventh-grade math classes, but Amy ended up in mine. There were 30 seats in the classroom. She was assigned to the one in front of me.
Guess what? By “chance,” I was the first person she met on her first day in school. And out of the endless possibilities for class assignments in a school of 3,000 students, we had every class scheduled together (except P.E.) We immediately began a friendship in that seventh-grade math class that lasted through college, resulting in our marriage.
If you are married, I image you have a story of how God brought you and your mate together. In fact, I encourage you to sit down some evening with your mate and review all the circumstances that led you two together. Undoubtedly, you will see God’s sovereign hand guiding you to your mate.
Jesus says that in light of (1) God’s unique design of your mate to meet your specific needs; (2) The unbreakable bond that is to exist between you and your spouse; and (3) God’s supernatural guidance that brought you and your spouse together, how could you even think about destroying the relationship that God has created?
A commitment to remain together is the first step in experiencing a regret-free marriage. But it is not the only step.
2. Decision #2: I Will Make My Mate’s Happiness a Priority (Philippians 2:3-4)
There are many couples who refuse to divorce yet continue a miserable existence together. I remember reading one amazing study that claimed only 17% of marriages could be classified as happy. Why is that? In a word—selfishness.
Do you know what is really important to your mate? It could be spending 30 minutes each evening talking without the television blaring in the background. Possibly it’s getting to spend some time alone each week engaging in a favorite hobby. Getting together with other couples might be important to your spouse even though you would rather spend time alone.
Here’s the irony. Consistently placing your desires above your mate’s will only produce conflict and unhappiness in your marriage. On the other hand, making your mate’s happiness a priority not only brings happiness but ensures a regret-free marriage for you.
I heard somewhere that for every hurtful remark made to a family member, it takes four positive statements to counteract the damage. I doubt the validity of that statement. I’m not sure it is EVER possible to counteract the emotional damage inflicted by our words. Words are like nails driven into a wall. Even though you may remove the nail, the hole remains.
Just as one careless spark can destroy an entire forest, a careless word can destroy the spirit of marriage. Many times I have heard a husband or wife will recall a comment made by their mate years or even decades earlier. Although the perpetrator does not remember the conversation, the wounded party can recall it verbatim.
Using an acrostic originally developed by Alan Redpath, let me share five questions to ask yourself before you make a hurtful remark to your mate.
- T: Is it TRUE? Earlier in Ephesians 4 Paul says that we need to lay aside all falsehood and speak truth to our mates.
- H: Is it HELPFUL? Our goal should be to help, not hinder, our mate.
- I: Is it INSPIRING? Paul says our speech should “edify”—literally build up our mate, not tear them down.
- N: Is it NECESSARY? Not every thought needs to be expressed. Paul says to only speak “according to the need of the moment.”
- K: Is it KIND? Even when confrontation is necessary in a marriage, our words should communicate “grace” to our mate.
4. Decision #4: I Will Build Memories With My Mate (Ecclesiastes 9:9)
An obviously happily married couple was asked what they owed their successful marriage of 30 years. The husband replied, “We dine out twice a week—candlelight, violins, champagne, the works! Her night is Tuesday, and mine is Thursday.” Yet, for many couples, that formula is more the rule than the exception.
I will admit that spending time apart as a couple is necessary and sometimes helpful. One of the greatest myths about marriage is that when we marry, we must become like our mate to have a successful relationship. She should enjoy swinging a nine iron if he likes to play golf. If she enjoys the opera, he should salivate over Madam Butterfly. But the Bible teaches that God gave us a mate to complement us, not to duplicate us (Genesis 2:22). Don’t try and become like your mate, and don’t expect your mate to morph into a clone of you.
Nevertheless, don’t forget that the primary purpose of marriage is companionship. After God created the plants, the animals, and even Adam, He pronounced His work “good.” But the only thing in God’s creation that was labeled “not good” was Adam’s loneliness. “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
I see a lot of couples just marking time with their mate, waiting for the kids to get out of diapers, waiting for the last child to graduate from college, waiting for their children to marry, waiting until the mortgage is paid, waiting to retire, waiting … waiting … waiting.
For what? In Ecclesiastes 9:9, Solomon is saying WAKE UP! Life is quickly passing you by. You don’t have to wait to enjoy life. That husband or wife is God’s gift for you to enjoy NOW. Do you have a hobby you both would enjoy? Why not start one today? Do you have a trip you’ve dreamed of taking together? Borrow the money if you have to and go. There’s no guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures