Monday, September 29, 2014

What did you expect? (Now: Marriage)

What did you expect? Paul David Tripp (Crossway, 2010)

(See note below regarding the republished version, Marriage)

I have worked my way through this book over a couple of months. It took time and energy to read.  It took a willing heart to hear what it had to say and it took humility to accept it.  It will take longer to absorb its teaching and a lifetime to apply it.   It was very, very good.

Up until now when we recommend marriage books they have generally fallen into two categories:

I think Paul David Tripp has managed to combine the two in a way that is practical yet completely grounded in the gospel and God’s grace.

It’s not an easy read. It challenges you to the core of your being as to why you got married and what you expected from it. From that he makes it clear that:
  • You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world
  • You are a sinner, married to a sinner
  • God is faithful, powerful and willing
His overarching message is that a marriage of unity, love and understanding will grow out of a daily worship of God. It is our relationship with God that matters. How we view him as creator, sovereign and saviour defines the way we view our marriages. Addressing how we view God (our vertical relationship) is the key to how we view our marriage (our horizontal relationship). He emphasises that the mentality of a healthy marriage is living with a harvest mentality (there are consequences), an investment mentality and a grace mentality.

The main body of the book is structured around 6 commitments of marriage:

1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness. These powerful chapters nut out the real need for grace with each other on a daily basis. He strongly endorses a lifestyle that is confessional and forgiving in depth.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda. We must be willing to pull out the weeds in marriage – selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, fear and laziness and replace them with fruitful seeds, for “you cannot escape the influence of what you do and say on the person you live with and your relationship to him or her.” (p117)

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust. We must be willing to trust one another and be am person who is trustworthy, for trust is “readily given, easily broken and costly to restore” (p152). He claims that the early years of marriage are building years so we must set patterns of being straightforward, keeping our word, facing up to wrong and keeping short accounts of wrongdoing. To keep this up we must be talking, listening and praying.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love. These chapters were quite challenging, exposing false ideas of love – the attraction that might be only physical, emotional or spiritual. Yet true love is cruciform – cross-shaped - and has very high goals. This chapter was a little overwhelming in terms of how true love could really look in a marriage, yet again grace was emphasised to show that none of us can do this alone.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace. These chapters addressed the positive ways differences can affect our marriages and then he dealt in depth with the idea of never letting sun go down on your anger. I am in two minds about this one, from personal experience, continuing an argument at night is often a bad idea for us. However the principle of never letting anger remain between you or always dealing with an issue is a good one.

6. We will work to protect our marriage. This is the section for those who already count themselves as having pretty good marriages. The risk of thinking you have a good marriage is that you stop working and start coasting, “there is one thing you have to accept: your marriage may be great, but it is not safe. No marriage this side of eternity is totally problem protected. No marriage is all it could be.” (p238) God’s grace can work things in all marriages, but you still have to do the work. He then encouraged couples to make prayer a central part of the marriage and to continue to remind themselves that it is their relationship with God that defines their marriage. It is both toil and trust. Work daily at the relationship yet trust that God is faithful, powerful and willing.

A very helpful book for any couple who are willing to keep putting in the work to make their marriage better.

Note in 2022:

This book has now been republished as Marriage: 6 Gospel Commitments Every Couple Needs to Make (Crossway, 2021). None of the content has changed. Having re-read it, I am impressed at how good, gospel-focused, God-honouring, and challenging it still is. I have three caveats to the above review that I didn’t mention last time:
  • I noted this with his more recent Parenting book - he has a tendency to be absolute - you must, you should, you need, you must never, etc. It can read authoritatively and harshly. 
  • It is quite verbose. It could have been cut quite a bit, he repeats himself at numerous points. Some may like this, for there are lots of examples, and so you might note the personal application more. But it does make it longer than it needed to be. 
  • There is no explicit acknowledgement of the potential of abuse in a relationship, and how to deal with that. There are some implicit ideas, but they are not drawn out as needing a different response to the usual marriage problems. 
There are also two additional chapters: 
  • 18. The Gospel, Your Marriage, and Sex. I felt this was the low point of the new book. He started with guilt, shame, regret, sexual problems, and then later brought them to the gospel. It would have been so much better to start with the good gift sex can be, then turn to the challenges of a fallen world. 
  • Q&A chapter. This is fine, addressing pretty much all the usual issues that couples face. 
There is also a study guide at the end, which couples could use together as a springboard for further or more focussed discussion.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Crash Test Mummies & Daddies

There are a few DVD/TV show reviews coming up in coming weeks.  I seem to have found a few of note recently. 

This week's one is Crash Test Mummies and Daddies.  Produced by the ABC it chronicles the first four months for first time parents.  With five couples from diverse backgrounds and situations, there is:
  • An Asian couple with a Taiwanese mother who comes out for a month and insists on a traditional confinement period.
  • A Greek couple with a large involved extended family and the husband who works a lot.
  • A couple with the unexpected surprise of a baby, who are hoping it won't change their life too much.
  • A couple who broke up but decided to try make it work once they realised she was pregnant.
  • A young couple with financial struggles.
So it seems to be a pretty typical selection of average Australian new parents.  It starts with the reality of birth and those early weeks of sleep deprivation and feeding, mastitis and early health scares.  It shows them coming to terms with this massive life change, dealing with extended family and their expectations, returning to work and managing life at home. 

For those of us past this stage, it's a helpful and sometimes humorous reminder of what those early months were like.  For those in the thick of it, it could be good to watch others going through the same thing.  For those about to face it, it could be a helpful dose of reality and a good conversation starter for the two of you.

I have to say though as I watched these couples the phrase that kept flitting through my mind was that quote from Thoreau: "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I have only watched 3 episodes of the 6 so far, you can catch them all still on iView.