Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas
Last week, Grace and I celebrated our wedding. As a married man, “Sacred Marriage” is the first book that I read. Grace read this book a few months ago, and I was waiting to read it until after our wedding. And, I’m glad that I waited to read this one. I read a few other marriage books before our wedding, but I found it especially valuable to read this book post wedding, because I feel like I was able to relate more intimately to some of the topics that Gary wrote about. Overall, this was a good book, although most of the major themes were not new; Grace and I already covered most of the major bullet points during our discussions about other books and during our pre-marital counseling sessions. Also, this is the first time that I used Google lens to copy the handwritten notes in my journal to text in this blog, so I hope that the result is ok.
Christians only need one reason to stay married, and that reason is the analogy of Christ and His lover, the church. We must act in a way that parallels what we preach. To please God, we need to make our marriage work. I can never renege my promise to Grace because doing so would contradict Christ's relationship with the church and contradict my testimony about God’s sovereignty.
A strong marriage will stretch and be elastic. It will be tested and as a result become stronger. Just like exercise puts physical stress on our bodies, marriage will put stress on our abilities to build and maintain relationships. We must persevere through all of the stress - just like I must persevere through cycling intervals - because there is no option to give up on my marriage to Grace. We will experience stress from sexual temptation, communication problems, frustrations, and unrealized expectations. However, we both must have an unwavering commitment to God first. If our commitments are to God first, then our marriage will persevere through the storms and lightning, and it will become stronger because of the stresses.
I really liked the story about two brothers. Both brothers were storing up grain in order to prepare for a famine. At the end of every day, the brothers split the grain evenly between them. The first brother, who was married and had two children, wanted to provide grain for the second brother, who was single. So, in the middle of every night, the first brother secretly delivered grain înto the second brother's storehouse. Similarly, the single brother wanted to give extra grain to his married brother, and every night the second brother would secretly move some of his own grain into his brother’s storehouse. One night, while performing their secret grain deliveries, the two brothers met each other, and at this meeting place they both realized what the other was doing. Thus, they named the place that they met the “Holy Place” or the Place of Love,” because both brothers were selflessly loving the other. I love this picture of love. It’s what our marriages should look like - selfless love for one another.
A section in this book is largely focused on divorce. Reading about case studies on divorce and unfaithfulness honestly made me feel terrified. It is difficult to imagine how awful it would feel if Grace was unfaithful to me. And vice versa - how would it make her feel if I was unfaithful? Not good at all. Although it is uncomfortable and unpleasant to read about divorce, I think it’s good to read about, because it makes me desperately want to avoid the situation. It makes me want to love my wife with all of my heart and do everything that I can to avoid such a situation.
"Does Grace feel like she is married to Jesus?" Does Grace feel respected and loved? I hope so. To avoid feelings of contempt or resentment, we need to focus on our spouses’ strengths, not their weaknesses. Focusing on weaknesses and trying to fix your spouse will breed feelings of resentment and contempt - that’s not what you want. Instead, what you want to do is harbor feelings of love, respect, and admiration. These feelings are generated by focusing on your spouse’s strengths - by offering encouragement, by verbally affirming his/her gifts, by giving words of affirmation and inspiration.
Gary also takes a lot of time to talk about sex and how sex with your spouse improves your prayer life and draws you closer to God. The sections about how sex enables us to draw closer to God were particularly interesting to me. Basically, the sexual temptations and distractions that exist in single people can cause them to be distracted from prayer. In marriage - in a healthy marriage - our sexual appetites are filled, our minds and bodies are no longer distracted, and we are enabled to fully focus on prayer and other actions that bring glory to God. So, one of the benefits of sex in marriage is that it removes sexual temptations and enables our minds and bodies to focus on other matters that glorify God.
Sex is a way to worship God and gravitate closer to Him, just like fasting is a way to focus on God. Many of us are comfortable using fasting as a way to draw nearer to Christ, but using sex as a way to improve our closeness to Christ often feels uncomfortable. Typically, we think that only acts of self-denial and discipline honor God, such as fasting, daily reading, monogamy, and continual prayer. However, we (well, at least I) often forget that enjoyable acts, such as celebration and sex, also bring glory to God. God values celebrations and He also values sex, but both of these are only honorable in the correct context.
While marriage helps satiate a man's physical desire for sex, and helps him focus on other priorities such as the pursuit of God, sexual stability within marriage also helps women have security in their body images. For a married woman, she does not need to focus on or worry about maintaining an unrealistic body image, because in marriage, the husband promises to love his wife no matter what, and husbands are instructed by the Lord to find satisfaction only in their wives. This frees the wife from worrying about her body image and beauty and enables her to focus on other acts of worship, like prayer. Sex is a way us to worship God and enjoy something good that He for created for us. Our physical desires for one another are healthy and help draw us closer to one another. For example, many men will sheepishly admit that they will concede to their wife during an argument in anticipation of having intercourse with her. As a man, and now a husband, I think that our sexual passion is a good thing that helps teach us humility and selflessness. It's very good to be passionate about your wife. I’ve frequently heard it said that when you learn to be passionate about one thing, then you also become more passionate about other things. Gary says the same thing. Become passionate about making love to your spouse and you will also learn to become more passionate in other areas of your life. This reminds me that my first priority is Grace and that I need to show her love and show her that I'm passionate about her. I need to pursue her daily and be infatuated by her. This goes beyond my physical passion for her; it transcends to all aspects of her spirituality and being.
A good marriage takes work. Embrace the struggles and use them to grow closer to Christ. I particularly liked the short biography about Abe Lincoln and his wife. I've heard that every person should read Lincoln’s biography, and Gary’s book made me want to read about Lincoln even more. Abe Lincoln was married to an extremely contentious woman who had many glaring faults. Yet, Lincoln loved her and cherished her, and his marriage to a difficult woman enabled him to be arguably the most respected president in history. Through his wife, Lincoln learned how to be patient, compassionate, and slow to anger. These skills helped him lead a nation. Maybe we should all seek out contentious wives?
Another big theme is that marriage teaches us to forgive.
Talking and touching are the two most vital ways that we give ourselves to one another in marriage. These two simple, yet complicated, acts are the blood of our marriage that brings oxygen and vital nutrients to our marriage heart. For me, this means making myself available for long conversations with Grace at any time of the day and touching her without any expectation that my touch will lead to sex.
I think it is cool that Gary reads 40-50 books per year. To be a writer, and more generally, to be successful at any career, I think that a person needs to read, and read not just books. I think that we also need to read magazines, journals, articles, and other sources of information. This reminded me that I need to do a better job of reading aerospace magazines and staying informed on propulsion, energy, and computer science topics.
In conclusion, I willingly chose to marry Grace, and I chose to give myself to her. This means that it is my responsibility to excel at loving Grace. I want Grace to be able to say that Charlie loved her like nobody else ever could or like nobody else ever has.