Guest post by Gary Thomas

Marriage is a Team Sport

In Engagement by Debra Fileta

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:5-8

During the 2016 Summer Olympics, the U.S. volleyball team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross lost a rough semifinal match to the Brazilian team. Walsh, the most decorated female Olympic beach volleyball player ever, wasn’t having her best day, so the Brazilian team kept targeting her, directing most of their attacks her way. In a stunner, the U.S. team lost in straight sets—the first match Walsh Jennings had ever lost at the Olympics.

To her credit, Walsh Jennings took responsibility and said she just had to start playing better (which she did; she and April Ross went on to win the bronze medal).

Marriage is kind of like beach volleyball. There are two players per side, and the team can be only as strong as the weakest individual. If one partner has a persistent weakness, the marriage will suffer accordingly.

In Frank Shorter’s autobiography My Marathon, Frank shares how at any elite marathon there are only about ten runners physically capable of winning. The 1972 Olympic men’s marathon was delayed a day due to the terrorist attacks on the Olympic village. The runner who had the fastest time in the world that year was having lunch with Frank and complained that the delay would be catastrophic—their training was carefully calibrated, and pushing the race to a different day would mess everything up.

Frank was far more laid back, responding, hey, we’ve been training for this race our entire lives and one day shouldn’t make that much of a difference. He added (to the reader, not this runner), that he knew this guy—even though he had the fastest time in the world that year—wasn’t going to win the gold medal. He had already talked himself off the podium before the race even started.

As I read this account to Lisa, she said, “That’s you!”  

“I know!” I responded. “But I want to become more like Frank Shorter.”

My marriage will improve when I learn to roll with the changes, not obsess over things I can’t control, and refuse to think the worst when unexpected interruptions occur. As long as I allow myself to be obsessive in a negative way, that’s where our marriage will suffer and my own joy, peace and confidence will be shattered.

So, as you prepare to be married (or as you live in marriage), think about that personality trait that isn’t what you wish it would be.

If you don’t address it, that’s where your marriage will suffer.

Remember—you’re like a beach volleyball team. If you are responsible financially but your spouse isn’t, your marriage may still hit the financial rocks.

If you are Eeyore and your spouse is Tigger, your marriage will suffer the effects of your negativity or impulsivity.

Once you get married, you no longer stand alone—everything you are and aren’t will impact your marriage, either positively or negatively.

The “beach volleyball” metaphor of marriage means that one of the best gifts you can give to your spouse after the wedding is a commitment to keep growing in the Lord.

If you cling to romantic sentimentality (“Why can’t he love me just the way I am?”), you’re preferring spiritual laziness over the health of your marriage and over the desire to bless your spouse.  I have the opportunity to give my spouse a gift—a better, more mature me—and I don’t want to become too selfish or too lazy or grow comfortable with her acceptance when I might be able to bless her with my transformation.

In his Word and by His Spirit, God has made available to us everything we need to grow: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Which means not growing is a choice. If you are a Christian and you want to grow, you can.

Where do you need to grow? Where is your marriage threatened by a personal weakness? Start preparing yourself spiritually now, even before the wedding, by addressing those areas where you are weakest.

Heavenly Father, I thank you so much that my future spouse is willing to receive me just as I am, but help me to grow so that I become ever more mature. Give me the desire to surrender to you, to pursue a holy life, so that I will not be the weak spiritual link holding our marriage back. Thank you for the wonderful promise that in Christ and your word you have given me everything I need to grow. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Looking for a great gift to give to an engaged couple that will help them get spiritually prepared for marriage? Are you half of an engaged couple and want to enter marriage prayerfully and thoughtfully?

Gary Thomas’ newest book, Preparing Your Heart for Marriage: Devotions for Engaged Couples offers focused spiritual preparation for couples who are planning to get married. The second half of this devotional goes through every phrase of the Statement of Intent and the traditional marriage vows so that during a couple’s wedding, the language will be more than just familiar—it’ll be something they’ve talked about, prayed over, and committed themselves to, making the ceremony all the more special.

This is an adapted excerpt from that book, but the message is just as relevant for married couples as it is for those who are planning their wedding. This post was used by permission.