By Ben Meyers
Last week my wife Chelsea and I were able to join several others from St. Luke at a 2-day marriage retreat located at Knox Presbyterian. The retreat was refreshing. It was hosted and attended by four different churches in the area. Each church body brought with it its own atmosphere and energy, leading to a great mix of people all in one place for a common goal: super good marriages!
When we first walked in the door we were found by Pastor Dan Flynn, and encouraged to come sit with a group of other St. Lukers. The worship portion of the night was ramping up, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in college again, joining a varied group of people to praise God in an evening outside of church, just like Chelsea and I would have done at Campus Crusade at Michigan State 12 years ago. It was fun.
Soon thereafter the actual content started, led by Dave and Ann Wilson. Dave is the co-founder of Kensington Church in Troy, MI and is also the Detroit Lion’s chaplain. He and his wife led the group through a series they wrote called ‘Vertical Marriage.’ The over-arching premise was that in order to have a fulfilling, fruitful marriage, you must first go ‘vertical’ to God. Only from Him can we find fulfillment. Then, once filled by God, we can reach out to our spouse. Now instead of seeking life and happiness FROM our spouse, we can offer it TO our spouse, from God.
Going to this retreat was not at the top of my priority list and I didn’t have a clear set of expectations for what to get out of it. Nonetheless, I found myself going. Thinking back I can see that God had plans for me. The message shared by Dave and Ann seasoned with countless, often hilarious, real-life examples of how to orient our marriage vertically was something I needed to hear.
At the beginning of our marriage this fact was clear to me: God must come first, and then your spouse. But over time, the relentless voice from the world slowly began to creep in and foggy-up that clear vision I had as a newlywed. God must be the first focus, but that’s not the message the world likes to reinforce. I’ve never seen any Valentine’s Day cards say: “You’re 2nd Best in My Eyes!” …that would be weird.
Yet, the alternative approach we so often take, which is to put our loved one on a pedestal, easily leads us eventually to some degree of disappointment. When we remove that pedestal, and give that position of importance to God, it frees ourselves and our spouse. It prevents us from draining our spouse, gives them opportunity to rest, and allows for mistakes to happen in an environment where forgiveness is available thanks to the love of Christ that’s now in us.
This retreat gave several examples for both husbands and wives on how to give God his rightful place in a marriage. And it also spoke openly about the significance of the physical aspects of marriage. As a guy, this was heard loud and clear. I won’t go into the details of the discussion… better left for professionals leading a marriage retreat. But I will comment on the general point. A marriage, with all of its physical, emotional, and relational components, is a holy thing; it’s set apart and made special by God. As we remember to keep God at the center of this most holy relationship, we will thrive.
Now in the time since the retreat Chelsea and I have had a lots of conversations; some of which we may not have had otherwise. Many of them were uplifting and fun, but some were slightly less than fun. It’s easy to talk about the importance of keeping God first, but it can be difficult to remember this when life is happening.
For myself, I find comfort in knowing that when I fail to provide her fulfillment, or she somehow fails to fulfill me, that it’s OK. It doesn’t mean we’re failures, or “not meant for each other.” It likely means that we’re looking for life and fulfillment in the wrong place. I pray that we’ll continually be reminded where to look. For me this marriage retreat offered that reminder.