Fall is in the air and it's one of my favorite seasons of the year. As I've watched the leaves begin to fall, I'm reminded of how important it is that "everything's nice" in the kingdom. Marriage is full of seasons. With each one, challenges arise and storms blow in. When they do, let's make sure we're not allowing negative thoughts or poor behaviors to develop in the midst of the surge. Weathering the seasons of life requires us to monitor our relationship to make sure everything dead falls away. God wants us to cast it all aside like the leaves falling from the trees in preparation for Spring.
Identify and Address
In our twenty-seven years of marriage, there have been times Dan and I have taken our heart break out on each other. At times hard feelings and words have been spoken out of pain. Poor habits of relating have developed. At each turn, we had to determine to identify them all and address each one so they could die and fall away. Casting aside anything the enemy is using to bring down your marriage is a crucial part of the journey. God can use it all for the good of our marriage if we let him. In fact, conflict in marriage can be constructive if we allow our marriage to grow deeper roots like an oak tree planted by the water that shall not be moved. It's up to us to surrender it all to our Father's hands and commit ourselves to a lifetime of fall seasons.
Here are the things to look for if you want pumpkin spice and everything nice in the palace:
We can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do when confronting the issues of marriage by examining couples in scripture. One such couple is Queen Esther and her King named Xerxes. Theirs is a story of loving confrontation. Queen Esther had to confront her King because her future was on the line. She had to take a walk to the palace if their marriage was going to survive. As the story goes, King Xerses was keeping bad company with his right hand man, Haman, who was known for his naughty behavior. Haman had deceived the King into making a decree that all the Jews should die. He hated the Jews, and he thought if he influenced Xerxes to declare their deaths, he could solve his own personal problems. Sadly, the King was so out of touch he had no idea his beautiful Queen, who was also a Jew, would be facing an “Off with her head!” due to his decree. When Esther learned of the death sentence she had no choice but to gather herself and take a walk for the sake of a truthful confrontation with her King.
Why should we confront?
When you live in a one flesh relationship, if one spouse is doing something hurtful to the marriage covenant, both people are suffering in the situation. In Esther's case, it wasn't just her marriage on the line but her entire family. In our situation, it's not just our marriage that's at stake but the future of our children and grand children. Everyone needs an accountability partner and in marriage we are to hold one another accountable for the sake of the covenant. Ezekiel 33:6 says, "But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand." Unfortunately, accountability is greatly lacking in our world today. Nobody wants to be responsible for their choices. Our willingness to choose integrity in our marriage requires us to take responsibility for what we do and hold our spouses accountable if their actions affect or harm our relationships in a negative way.
How does accountability look?
Step One: Identify Wrong Behaviors
This step is half the battle to protecting our happily ever after. Some of the behaviors easy to see in our own marriages often originated from the first famous couple six thousand plus years ago as Adam and Eve set the stage for our struggles. Once the garden vines began to unravel, their relationship took a turn for the worse. Do any of these behaviors sound or look familiar in your marriage?
First, Adam chose cowardice when the serpent arrived and slithered through their conservatory. He was passive and apathetic as Eve’s protector. He wasn't across the garden he actually stood nearby watching her converse with a serpent while letting her eat from the tree. He later blamed Eve for what had happened when God came looking for them. The first thing out of his mouth was, “It was this woman you gave me.” This symbolized Adam wanting to protect himself over the responsibility God had given him to lay down his life for his bride.
I can look back over our past and remember instances where Dan exhibited these Adam qualities. I have honestly exhibited all of Eve’s at some point or other myself. This chick had her own issues. She was disrespectful to Adam when she chose to speak with a serpent in the first place. Her loyalty should have belonged to her man but she was easily led astray. The conversation led to her greed for power she wasn’t meant to possess. Following her faulty decision, she persuaded and possibly pushed Adam to join in her mistake and eat from the tree. She then blamed the serpent when God started calling their name. During our love life I know I’ve gotten greedy for power. I can definitely relate to being pushy and then blaming Dan or the enemy for mistakes I’ve made.
As a married couple, we have a choice to make. We can either walk under the curse of Adam and Eve or walk under the covering of Christ as God’s blessed, adopted children. The wrong choice will cause the kingdom to fall into the enemy’s hands every time. Confronting in love is often the path to turning things around and casting them aside.
Step Two: Fast, Pray & Examine Your Motive
As we consider Queen Esther’s journey to confrontation, the scripture says she entered a season of prayer. Before carefully confronting our spouse, we have to first examine our own heart and pray for God to give us His perspective on the matter. God sees the heart of our spouse and He's more than able to address the situation if we willingly step out of his way and pray. We don't confront unless the Lord says "Go". Esther also fasted before her confrontation. Fasting is a method used in Bible times that Dan and I have used many times to empty ourselves of our “self” so we could hear the voice of God. Once that happens, God can soften any heart and move us to say whatever needs to be said.
If He does ask us to confront, our primary goal is to restore our spouse to a right relationship with God, not to ourselves. Don’t look for an apology from your spouse, instead seek to help them make an about face and reconcile in their relationship with the Heavenly Father. When this relationship is restored your marriage will be restored as well. Our motive must be pure and without selfishness. We may never hear the words “I’m so sorry” or “Please forgive me.” Those words are the words meant for the Heavenly Father. We can't approach our spouse and succeed if our heart is in the wrong place, and if our motive is pure and our priorities in order, we can move to the next step in the process.
Step Three: Gather Your Courage
Next, Esther, who was determined to do the right thing, had to grab hold of bravery and devise her plan. Confronting a spouse requires courage, especially if the subject is a sensitive one. Our courage comes from the Lord, and in our bravery, humility is required. We cannot approach our husband with a prideful, righteous arrogance. Esther approached the King humbly and he received her. Back in those days, it was illegal to approach the King unless you were summoned. The King actually had the option, if approached without being called, to order execution. Thank goodness those days are over, but knowing the Father has sent you is crucial to your success. We have no guarantees that our spouse will be willing to listen to what we have to say, but if we follow Esther’s example and approach them with humility and respect they will be more likely to listen.
Step Four: When the Timing is Right, Extend an Invitation and Share the Evidence
Queen Esther gathered her courage and approached the King extending an invitation to dinner. It’s always best to offer an invitation to our mate, trusting they’ll accept our request for conversation. Over dinner is a great idea. Sometimes confronting in public keeps the emotions of both spouses under check. Once you are face to face, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you share your evidence to support your frustration. Esther didn't end up confronting the first time. Instead, she listened to her gut and requested dinner a second time. Timing is everything when it comes to confrontation.
When the time comes, have the evidence ready. In the first few years of our marriage, when I would confront Dan, I rarely had the evidence prepared. As I was presenting my opening arguments before the court, I was like the young, legal assistant who had not prepared her case. I soon learned I had to have the evidence to back up my case or the conversation quickly turned into an argument. Remember presenting evidence doesn’t give us permission to bring up old crimes that have already been discussed and forgiven or throwing old issues into the ring. It does mean we provide a couple of recent examples to make our point in a respectful way when presenting the proof. Remember, you’re not keeping score; you’re just keeping good records. Esther clearly explained why she needed to address the crisis with her King and she gave the evidence that proved the guilt of Haman.
Step Five: Speak the Truth in Love
Speaking the truth in love is one of the most important aspects of confronting your spouse. The scripture says if we speak but have not love we are like a clanging gong. If we put ourselves in our spouse’s shoes, I think we’ll realize the truth is really hard to hear. It means coming face to face with our personal failures. Realize the truth is always easier to swallow if spoken with loving lips. Queen Esther spoke the truth in love, with respect to the King's authority, explaining her circumstances clearly.
As Esther journeyed toward the throne, she said, "If I perish, I perish." She accepted the fact the King still had the final say in the situation. Enter your conversation as she did, with no expectations. She went only with hope and faith in the Lord who had sent her. It’s up to your spouse how they receive the truth. If they don’t willingly accept the confrontation, remember it doesn’t mean it can’t change over time. With God all things are possible. Sometimes it requires a time of thinking, waiting, and more prayer. If you can't seem to find a solution, seek the council of a pastor or marriage counselor as an objective third party to resolve the issue. God commands us to seek Godly council when in need of wisdom beyond ourselves.
As you enjoy this season of Fall, if you are facing a challenging season, don't lose sight of the good when things are hard and allow your heart to grow faint. God wants us to stand strong, gather our courage, and do the work to bring new life to any dead situation. Confronting those we love isn’t easy, but it is sometimes necessary to maintain a relationship of integrity and nobility in the kingdom. Your palace can be full of pumpkin spice and everything nice if you're both willing to let the dead leaves fall away and the Father bring new growth and life in the Spring!
Do you want to live in a war-torn castle or a peaceful palace? The decision is up to you. You are the child of a Great King and you have the power to change the world you live in!
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