So says Winston T. Smith, author of Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments. This is a most extraordinary book on marriage, taking a direction I haven't seen before, with this as the crux: "...all struggles to love stem from problems of worship."
It's interesting because before I started reading the book, God was convicting me about my tendency to self-indulgence. I've been slowly memorising the book of Matthew over the past many years and recently my memorising took me to this verse: "'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.'" Matthew 23:25 NIV When was the last time you heard a sermon on self-indulgence or heard it mentioned as a sin? Jesus is not leaving any room for doubt on where he stands on the subject; he is scathing in his condemnation of what we in North America embrace, promote and glorify.
I like my creature comforts. I love to indulge myself with all sorts of little things. Is this wrong? I began to see that yes, it could be and, for me, it is. In the context of marriage, being full of greed and self-indulgence means that my basic bend is towards myself. I put myself and my needs first.
My prayer room time involves reading bits from several different books each day. Three of these currebtkt are Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, Prayer and Worship: A Spiritual Formation Guide by Renovaré and The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. What have been the topics in each of these books since starting to read that struggles to love are problems of worship? Worship. Devotion to God. Repentance.
In today's reading of Marriage Matters, Winston asks the question: "If Jesus were to evaluate your relationship with God based on the way you treat your spouse, how would you score? ...What things in your life do you value more than loving your spouse (or even God himself)? ...When do you feel that loving your spouse or God costs too much?" Ouch!
For most of our marriage (we've just celebrated our 40th anniversary so we're talking a lot of years here), I have blamed my unhappiness in marriage on Tom. If only he would do this or that or stop doing this or that, things would be wonderful. Then God convicted me about my self-centredness and self-indulgence and I began to see just how much my own attitude and behaviour have made marriage miserable for both of us. I never saw it before.
I get impatient with him, reprimand him for his fears in the guise of being encouraging, try to control him for the benefit of my own well-being and am dismissive of his fears and concerns. I haven't asked, "What does Tom need to be or feel loved?" It's been about what I need.
What do I (or have I) valued more than Tom and/or God? When does loving Tom or God feel too costly? The time I was most tempted to give up on God was when he [God] told me to give up the woman I loved. Impossible! I think that has been the most difficult decision I've ever made. Another very difficult decision, required by Tom, is that I have no more contact with the biological father of our eldest son. Tom and I had been separated for over two years and I had been very promiscuous during that time but I had this one chief, emotional attachment that seemed impossible to break and I rebelled greatly in my heart over Tom's expectation that I now see as very reasonable but found tremendously painful at the time.
What do these two most difficult experiences share in common? Why were the demands from Tom and God so painful? With both these lovers, I felt loved, wanted and affirmed and with Tom I didn't. That's not to say that Tom doesn't love, want or affirm me but that I couldn't feel it the way I did with these two people--even though I was painfully aware of their flaws. So this is what I seem to value more than God or Tom; this is when it feels like the cost is too great: when I have to give up my need to feel loved, wanted and affirmed; when I have to sit in the pain of seeming rejection, anger, dismissiveness and silence; when I have to give up what I want, the ways I want myself indulged.
At these times, Tom is difficult to love not because he's a bad person but because I want to feel emotionally safe, unabandoned, enveloped, protected and I don't feel that with Tom; not because he's not doing what I need, necessarily, but because I am worshipping my need more than worshipping God, my Creator and Jesus my Saviour. These emotional needs of mine predate Tom and probably stem from losing my father when I was very young. Nothing Tom can do will ever make up for that lack and the sooner I stop expecting him to, the sooner I'll find contentment with the man God gave me as a life companion.
How do I change who and what I worship? I think I need to be willing to sit in the place of pain where I often find myself and turn to God with the expectation that he loves me, wants me and affirms me and trust him to make his love, desire and affirmation clear to me. My dependence has to be on God to provide what I need and trust that I don't need to have what he sees fit to withhold.
Winston says, "Whatever we depend on, seek out, or organize our lives around other than God is what we worship instead of God." Worship is "all-consuming love, a devotion that shapes and directs every area of life." What do I worship, my own needs and wants or my Creator? I agree with Winston when he writes, "...the foundation of loving your spouse is truly worshipping God" (italics in the original.), and so I am on a mission to learn how to worship God above all else (especially above myself) and thus improve my ability to love my husband and others.