Lisa and I are about to embark on a Sailboat Cruise where I’ll be speaking once every evening, and Lisa will be planning the play during the day. The thought of going on a cruise — with all the play during the day — reminds me of one of the unforeseen incompatibilities between Lisa and myself.
One of the advantages of being so broke the first decade of our marriage was that it kept Lisa and me from recognizing our “vacation incompatibility.” When you can’t afford to go on one, you won’t ever find out that you can’t agree on what you’re supposed to do while you’re on one.
To me, “vacation” meant bringing along a half dozen books, not having a schedule, and spending most of my time (apart from daily runs) lying around and talking with the family. To Lisa, “vacation” meant exploring every last vestige of the city or island we happened to be visiting, with events scheduled pre-breakfast, post-breakfast, mid-morning, after lunch, a “special” dinner, and “just one or two things you need to see in the dark” after dinner.
Once we could afford the occasional vacation, it seemed like an impossible burden to overcome — we were living examples of James when he wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1–2).
The real problem was that both of us were using our own needs as the basis for what we thought the family should do. The subtitle of Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” made me think with a smile of a similar thought: “What if God also designed vacations to make us holy more than to make us happy. I thought I needed rest; Lisa thought she needed excitement, but what if what both of us needed was a bit of humility and a lot more Christlikeness? Maybe the purpose of any particular vacation wasn’t about me getting a certain amount of rest or my wife getting a certain amount of excitement. Maybe God’s agenda was to confront the pride that rules our hearts.
God may not have been as concerned with what my wife and I deemed most important; He may well have been far more interested in both of us being shaped into the image of Christ: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 2:3–5).
It’s precisely because I so desperately wanted rest that I needed to be challenged not to make my wants the determining factor of how my family would spend its time. And it’s precisely because Lisa was so eager to do so much that the vacation afforded her such a powerful example of crucifying her own wants and learning to put someone else first. Isn’t it possible that God was more concerned about me growing in unselfishness than about me getting some rest? And isn’t also possible that God was more concerned that Lisa learned to think of the needs of someone else, even though she was so excited about seeing some new things?
If you don’t enter into these questions regarding so many marital situations (this goes way beyond vacations) — if, that is, you don’t see your pride as your greatest spiritual enemy, and Christlikeness as a worthy goal of your journey together — you’ll get lost in the give-and-take of conflicting personal desires. That will spawn nothing but resentment, frustration, and alienation.
When two people desire to grow spiritually, conflict acts like an X-ray. It shows the “doctor” where the problem lies, what needs to be cut, or what medicine needs to be applied. When two people just want to be happy, conflict becomes a battle — somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. That kills personal growth and it eventually erodes intimacy in the marriage.
It’s not until we crucify our pride and take on the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus that we can be freed to vacation with the ultimate purpose: enjoying ourselves immensely, but also allowing God to use a seemingly no-win situation in order to help two people both become more mature. In this sense, with neither of us getting exactly what we wanted, both of us won. God used a common event in life to accomplish His eternal purposes.
Every day we wake up in our marriages with a particular agenda: “Will I get what I want today?” This agenda may be deeply buried in our unconscious, but it drives us. When it’s frustrated, it can unleash a torrent of anger, bitterness, and resentment. How much better to choose to apply God’s agenda: “What does God want me to get out of my marriage today? Rest or service? Affirmation or greater humility? Fun or the chance to crucify my selfishness?”
Sometimes, the answers might well be rest, affirmation, and fun. But we should always be open to asking the question, “What does God think I need most this week?” and humbly submit to that.
But please don’t worry about us this week. We’ve learned how to navigate this and I am relatively confident we’re going to have a great time on this work/vacation. Fun and enjoyment are great blessings in marriage, and not every situation marriage calls us into needs to be thought of as a test. Sometimes we really can (and should) just have fun. But for both Lisa and I to get to the place where we can experience full enjoyment now, we had to first go through the above spiritual cleansing.