If you’ve read more than one or two Christian marriage books, you may have noticed they tend to follow a pretty standard template. For a marriage to be successful, husbands and wives need to:
- Understand how God has intended them to be (with some sort of discussion of Genesis 2);
- Have frequent sex;
- See how their relationship represents the gospel (as per Ephesians 5); and
- Have frequent sex. Frequently.
And then Francis Chan went and wrote a marriage book. Or did he?
Chan and his wife, Lisa, give readers a decidedly different take, one suggests that as good as it is it try to make your marriage better, our main focus—whether in marriage or singleness—needs to be something bigger: God. This is the big idea behind You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The Chans want readers to picture marriage as a vehicle for mission, an opportunity for Christians to carry out our mission to make disciples of all the nations.
Sounds pretty lofty, huh? So how’d they do?
Marriage problems are God problems
“As a pastor for over 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that most marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are God problems,” Chan writes (20). “They can be traced back to one or both people having a poor relationship with God or a faulty understanding of Him.”
This, among all the many wonderfully helpful things you’ll read in this book, is probably the most important—and also the most contentious. While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, certainly, many of us are too quick to call everything a cigar.
Or (to mix metaphors) we treat symptoms, but not illnesses. The problem with this is what happens when you leave an illness untreated? It only gets worse (and in some cases, eventually kills you).
So think about it in a marriage: if a husband is domineering, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in his relationship with God, if one exists at all. If a wife commits adultery because another man understands her and makes her feel special, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in her relationship with God, looking to other people for affirmation instead of the Lord.
The same can be said of virtually any problem we face. They all start with our relationship with God. And that’s what makes it so contentious. Chan’s tendency is to get to the heart of an issue right away, rather than easing his audience into that knowledge. And because of his, shall we say, abrupt style of springing such things upon us, it’s easy to be turned off. But the more you sit with what he says, the more you realize it’s true (most of the time, anyway).
Marriage is for mission
This theme continues throughout the book, as both Francis and Lisa continually remind readers that marriage is a tool for the spread of the gospel:
Beautiful people make beautiful marriages. Jesus is the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth. Your best shot at having a beautiful marriage is if both of you make it your goal to become like Jesus. (91)
Our mission does not call us to neglect our marriages. But a marriage cannot be healthy unless we are seeking His kingdom and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). (97)
Whether as individuals or as couples, our mission is to make as many disciples as we can during our time on earth… We should be constantly asking ourselves the question: How can we free up more time and resources for making disciples? (98-99)
There is an urgency to the period of time in which we live—after Jesus’ resurrection and before His second coming. We have callings from God, and those callings are bigger than our marriages. Seeking His kingdom must be our first priority, and if we’re not careful, marriage can get in the way. (114)
This, again, is a necessary reorientation for many of us (even if there are some cautions I want to address). We should be examining our lives from the perspective of our clearly stated purpose: to make disciples. If we are in Christ, each and every one of us is called to this in some way, shape or form. There is no denying it.
And if we have children, mission starts at home. We want our kids to know the gospel, to see the beauty of Christ. To see Christianity as something more than just going to church for a couple hours on Sunday. We want them to see that it involves sacrifice. And sometimes that may include sacrificing time with them for the sake of the gospel.
How much should mission disrupt marriage?
But we also want them to see something else: sometimes the sacrifice we make is saying “no” to a good opportunity in order to be with them. Chan writes:
I work a lot. And I definitely travel more than most. Hardly a week goes by where I’m not jumping on a plane, wishing I could just stay home with my family. Some would call this bad parenting. I would argue that. I don’t neglect my children by any stretch of the imagination, but there are many times when I know God has called me to serve Him in ways that disrupt the family routine. I genuinely believe that it’s good for my kids to observe this. (165)
I sympathize with this a great deal. There are times in our lives when our family routine is disrupted. Because of work commitments or speaking engagements, I’m away from home probably five to six weeks of the year. While that might seem light in comparison to the schedules of many authors, speakers and pastors, we take it very seriously. When I have the opportunity to speak somewhere, we consider not only the opportunity, but the cost for our kids who are all very young. And there have been many times when I’ve had to say no to really good opportunities because where I’m most needed is at home playing cars on the floor with Hudson.
(There was also the time I went to Nashville and back in 36 hours when Emily was days away from giving birth to the boy, but…)
The point here is simply this: sometimes where we will be most effective for the sake of the mission will be away from home. But this is not license to “take care of the ministry and let God take care of your family,” as so many of a previous generation advocated (with their lives if not their words). I fear for the one who neglects his family in the name of Christ, because I can’t see it going well for them. Instead, what we need to do is find the right balance (in as much as something as unbalanced as ministry is). While we might have good opportunities to be used effectively away, sometimes it’s still best to be right here.
A marriage book that’s not about marriage
You may have gotten to this point and thought, “Great, it sounds like Crazy Love: Marriage Edition.” As tempting as it might be to say, it’s not entirely true. Yes, it has all the emphases of “radical” Christianity that you see in Crazy Love, Radical and so many others. No, it’s not without it’s problems. Personally, I feel Chan’s explanation of disrupting the family routine could be better fleshed out. But You and Me Forever succeeds in giving us a different kind of marriage book. It’s one that is less about marriage and more about the gospel. And that, for me at least, is a welcome change of pace.