Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Sitting in the crowded circus seats, my wife and I watched as the trapeze artists — three of them — flew through the air with the greatest of ease. So fantastic were their acrobatics, I barely noticed the net stretched out below.
While others maintained a keen focus on the acrobats, gasping with every twist and turn, leap and lunge, I mused on the safety net. As confident as these artists were in their skills, as talented and majestic as they were, they still felt a need for a safety net.
My musing led to further consideration of the safety net. I hadn't seen an acrobat fall, but suspected the net below gave them some measure of reassurance that should the worst happen, should the grip of a partner fail, there would be a something to catch them.
Continuing my reflection, I wondered if the church could provide that kind of safety net for couples. What if we were so connected, so intertwined, that no marriage could slip into trouble without other key people knowing about it? What if every couple knew if they were ever in trouble, if the grip of their partner ever failed, someone would be there to help them out?
I often consider the Scripture, "A chord of many strands cannot be broken." It suggests there is power and strength in gathering together with a common purpose. What if our purpose as Christians was to create a safety net for each and every couple in our congregation?
A recent email voiced concerns I have about this issue.
Dear Dr. David. My husband and I recently separated. My husband told me he needs space to think about his feelings for me and our marriage. While I'm frightened about the condition of our marriage, I'm disappointed in my church. At first people seemed to care about what was happening to us and then suddenly people stopped calling. I feel so alone as I face this uncertain time with my husband. I know I play a role in what is happening and need to reach out more to the caring people at my church, but I'm ashamed of our situation. I also think it would be so nice if people would reach out to me and help me save my marriage. Is there something I can do to have the church help me save my marriage?
I'm saddened when reading emails such as this one, knowing this woman represents thousands of others who fall between the cracks. Statistics indicate that couples losing their grip with each other often tragically fall out of the grasp and safety of their church.
While there are no simple answers to marital separation and divorce, I wonder what would happen if our churches functioned as the early church? Scripture paints a picture of the early church being a tightly woven group—a safety net: "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." (Acts 2:44-47)
Can you imagine a gathering of people who gave to each other as they had need? I dream of a world where no marriage can slip away to become another tragic statistic. I envision a world where every couple feels connected, cared about and within a phone call of immediate and appropriate help. Perhaps that help simply takes the form of encouragement; perhaps it takes the form of a group of prayer warriors gathering for support, or simply a team of trained persons ready to come alongside us.
This model sounds fantastic, but we may want to step back and consider the possibilities. Most of us have hectic and disconnected lives. Here are a few ideas to consider for modern couples and congregations:
First, we need to make an effort to know others in our congregation, thereby creating a powerful connection. This takes committed involvement, something many are reluctant to give in our busy world. Connection, however, cannot happen without effort. Consider taking a more active role in your church, seeking opportunities to be useful and interconnected. This connection creates not only an opportunity to strengthen your marriage, but to ensure you are part of a safety net when troubles arise.
Second, make an effort to be vulnerable and transparent to others in our church or small group. Being involved doesn't necessarily allow others to see us for who we really are. We must be willing to find a place to take off our masks, allowing others to know our challenges. We must be willing to know and be known, allowing others to understand exactly how and where we struggle in our marriage.
Third, we intentionally create a "safety net" where we recognize signs and symptoms of marriages in trouble. Consider being part of a "body" where each member is part of something larger and important. When a couples falls, we are there to pick them up. Being present and tuned in to the functioning of the larger whole, you take time to learn about others, recognizing signs of healthy and vital marriages, as well as signs of trouble. In this group we take responsibility for each others' well-beings.
Fourth, we know how to reach out for or offer appropriate help. It is tremendously exciting being part of a church that offers resources for marriage problems. If your church doesn't have those resources, be part of the team that creates them. Listen to the people in your church to understand what is needed. Perhaps you will sense a need for a recovery group such as Celebrate Recovery. There may be a need for classes on marriage enrichment, parenting or financial well-being. There may be an opportunity to create a lay counseling program. Whatever marriage resources cannot be offered within your body of believers can possibly be found in another church within access.
There is safety and security in connection. Just as surely as gathering together and belonging was powerful for the early church, it is just as powerful for us today. We need connection. We seek connection in friendships, workplace relationships and even "third places" such as coffee shops. We long to be included and understood. How much more this is true when we sense our world unraveling.
I invite you to interact with me about the concept of No Marriage Left Behind, and next month I'll share more ideas about steps your church staff can take to create this powerful safety net. Until then, I'd love to hear your ideas about how we can encourage and strengthen marriages, or have you email me with interest about creating this program in our churches. Please feel free to email me or visit my website.
October 4, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.