By Dustin Youngstrom, Pastor of Grace Marriages Ministry
Dear Grace Couples,
Let’s be honest, this is hard. And when things are hard, for those of us who are married, the relationship most likely to be affected negatively by stress is the one closest to us. No matter how much or how little square footage you live in, you feel like you’re living on top of each other. And everything from a dish left in the sink, to having to overhear yet another FaceTime conversation between your spouse and their mom, to an extended sigh from the other room feels like a personal attack, signaling the opening salvo of World War III.
Quarantine, and the isolation it causes, is not God’s original design. We were created for connection and community, as evidenced in the very earliest parts of Scripture when God declares in Genesis 2:18 it was “not good for…man to be alone.”
So, God created marriage. But even the first marriage in the Bible never existed outside of a dynamic relationship and connection with a God who walked intimately, and even physically, alongside that first couple in the Garden before the Fall (Genesis 3:8) and the resulting separation (isolation) from God that occurred because of sin. (Was Adam and Eve moving East of Eden the first occurance of “social distancing”?!)
Even after sin entered the world, however, God continued and created conditions for humans to live in relationship with himself and with others. Starting in the innermost circle and moving outwards, humans desire relationships with a spouse, a family, a larger or extended family unit, friends, and a like-minded larger group with whom we can identify (e.g. a nation, a social club, a faith-community, a church, etc.).
As we are learning through this era of social distancing, we need all of those relationships to work in harmony in order to thrive. No matter how much we love our spouse, we probably miss our siblings, parents, close friends, coworkers, and church family. And if you are anything like me, you are recognizing how much each of those relationships impacts our mental, emotional, spiritual, AND marital health.
So, in addition to finding ways to connect with your community group digitally with video calls, and having semi-awkward 30 person family reunions over Zoom in order to stay connected (and sane), we need to find ways to allow technology to connect us with things to maintain the health of our marriages, as well.
To help, I “crowdsourced” some biblical wisdom and practical advice from our Grace Marriages leaders and some of the Grace staff to help you and your spouse stay connected and even thrive in your marriage during this time of isolation.
What follows is a semi-organized summary of the best bits of wisdom and advice we received this past week to share with the whole church. The best part about this is that it’s not coming from some random journalist or so-called relationship “expert” on the Internet. It’s OUR Grace family, the same people we sit in worship gatherings and community groups with each and every week (before COVID-19, that is), helping us.
As always, the Bible is our primary authority and source of wisdom on all matters. Marriage is no exception. Fortunately, the Bible gives lots and lots of relationship wisdom.
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…
Ecclesiastes 9:9 (NASB)
Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.
James 4:14 (NASB)
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Be still and know that I am God…
[Implication for one leader: “Being still, slowing down, recognizing that I am a finite being with a God who loves me and wants me to slow down and know him. By doing this, it fills my tank to serve my wife and family at this time.”]
The NLT translates Proverbs 19:20, “Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” Each one of the people quoted below lead lives and have marriages I would want to emulate. They are not perfect, but through Christ living in them, their lives show them to be wise.
Seek Christ First
“Take this time as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with Christ. As you grow deeper in Him, He will give you grace, forgiveness, and a servant’s heart…all things to help a marriage survive during a quarantine.”
“Pause and count to 10 or say a prayer. I say the Jesus prayer, modified, ‘Lord Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner, in need of your loving kindness and grace.”
“Pray and read Scripture together.”
Don’t Stop Dating your spouse
“Still honor weekly dates; or maybe begin them; set [appropriate] boundaries to protect your time from kids [if you have them].”
“Keep dating. Spend intentional time together for the ‘soul’ purpose of knowing each other better– play a game, go on a walk/drive– this is not a time to talk about the budget or household ‘to do’ list.”
“[Get take out from one of your] favorite restaurants… [and] have a candlelight date at home.”
“Stick with dating each other even with the stay at home orders. Maybe this looks like ordering food out or making a special meal and finding a different place to eat other than the kitchen inside or even outside the home in the yard to keep the relationship in the forefront. Creativity being the catalyst for a fun and deepening (i.e. thriving) marriage.”
“[Be intentional about] scheduling time together. Sometimes when we have lots of extra time on our hands, we don’t use it wisely. Or between juggling kids, working from home, cooking, cleaning, etc., it’s been easy for us to put each other and our time of connection last (which means it doesn’t happen often).”
“Breakfast with your spouse is a very satisfying way to start the day.”
“Make sure you get time alone together without kids, even if just in another room.”
“Things to do together: Take walks, cook together, build a fire in a fire pit and roast marshmallows and talk, take on a household project together, ‘attend’ virtual church services together, meet virtually with your community group together.”
Keep Perspective and the long-view
“Keep remembering perspective: what is truly important and what is not (and be mindful about how you remind the other about that perspective).
“Looking at this time as not a negative thing but cherishing the moment as a way to grow [your] family closer together….being purposeful in [your] times together, walking together, family games and meals, serving in the kitchen and home.”
“Spending all day, everyday with my wife has been my goal ever since we met. I have been striving to build my business such that she can quit her current job (if she wants to) and work together with me. We are best friends, lovers, and co-parents. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend all day with. Now, as for the kids…”
“God owes us nothing and everything we have is a gift. Enjoy life with your spouse as much as possible today, because we do not know what we could lose tomorrow.”
“Ask daily: What is something I am grateful for about my spouse?”
[Over-]Communicate and Expectations
“Eat dinner together and ask how [your spouse’s] day went. [W]ork still continues (thankfully) and there is no commute to decompress now. Allow some time for them to share the highs and lows and be willing to be a sounding board to just LISTEN — no need to give advice.”
“Checking in with one another daily with the” how are you really doing?” question and the what “can I pray for?” question. Important: (really) listen. Then hold hands and pray together about those things you just heard.”
“We thrive when there are routines so we “check-in” at the begin of each day and try to review that day after the kids go down for bed. Check-ins are simple, things like, what do you need to get done today? When are your meetings? When do the kids have school time?”
“Talk about expectations each person has and come to an understanding and agreement about how things will work with both of you home more… how will the space in the home be used? When does each need to focus on work, etc., and when is each person “free”? What is the “schedule”? How often (how much time) will you do things together as a couple?”
“Process your feelings about what is going on in the world with each other. It may be affecting you more than you realize and will come out in other unhealthy ways if not processed.”
“We often have flipped schedules [because of no childcare]. One [spouse] is working in the morning and one in the afternoon so we try to eat lunch together. We try to keep each other in loop with how the days is playing out before we transition to the second part of the day and ultimately into the final phase (dinner, kids bedtime, reading or evening phone calls, and our own bedtime routines).”
Recognize Personality Differences and Practicing “Love Languages”
“Understand your spouse’s personality and needs– introvert vs extrovert, when to give space, when to encourage, when your spouse might need to talk, etc.”
“Encourage each other to connect with friends virtually, as couples and individually. Support your spouse in maintaining healthy friendships.”
“If you don’t know your spouse’s love language, both take a quick survey online on love languages. Then take this opportunity to ‘fill their tank.’”
“Lots of verbal affirmation and encouragement. [T]hink of two to three specific things you can compliment your spouse on each day.”
“Pursue your spouse in the way they feel love. A.K.A. [their] ‘love language’ –physical, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts or acts of service, etc. [H]ere is when you can talk about that ‘to do’ list.”
Strive for humility
“Humble yourself (like never before!) and give space [when needed]!”
“Just put the clothes in the wrong drawer. Recently, I’ve tried to help around the house more, like doing our child’s laundry. A couple times, my wife got annoyed with one shirt/pants set that I kept putting in the pajama drawer. [S]he insisted it wasn’t pajamas, but a regular outfit. With extra quarantine time on my hands, I finally Googled it. It’s totally pajamas. Fighting the urge to a) put them in the pajama drawer once again, or b) send her the website, I decided instead to put them in the drawer alongside the regular outfits. [Biblical humility] reminds us that we don’t always have to be right. Because seriously, does this [latest disagreement] even matter?”
In closing, I would challenge you to try to practice one or two of these habits with your spouse this week, even if you don’t feel like it. Remember your vows to love each other “for better or for worse.” We get to embrace those covenantal vows in a whole new way during these several weeks.
So, let’s do it together and find a buddy to virtually ask you how these habits are going and to pray with you.
The Peace of Christ,
Dustin Youngstrom, Pastor of Grace Marriages
Special Thank Yous to our Contributing Leaders:
Jennifer VanBlarcom, Rena Tolson, Susan and Chris Kirk, Dave Ross, Shaena and Jeff Foot, Amanda and Mark Slatin, Jason Abell, Wendy Gladstone, Viola and Dan Grossman, Chris and Catherina Lyu, Kelly and Kristin, Capraola, Andre and Cindy Roy, Greg Giering, Bob and Connie Passman, Chris Wolf, Mitchel Lee, Cynthia Considine, Katrina Murphy, Kathy Petersen, Thomas Anderson, Seth Rumsey, and Kristen Youngstrom (my favorite!)