Can I just say, marriage is hard sometimes? They tell you before you get married that “it takes work”, but really “it takes work” comes nowhere close to expressing the truth of how hard it is to share your life with someone who loves differently, believes differently, prioritizes differently, spends differently, and thinks differently than you. And “it takes work” will never be able to encompass the challenges of loving through miscarriages, foreclosures, bankruptcy, in-laws moving in, job changes, cancer, parenting, and even just every day misunderstandings and miscommunications. Marriage is hard and demands a lot.
I’m not trying to discourage you who are engaged, but I am trying to state the facts that marriage can be really tough. It requires 100% commitment and effort from both people. Some say it’s 50/50, but really it’s 100/100—each person has to give of themselves to make the marriage work. And when you’re giving it all to grow in love—you really have to give it ALL—you’ve gotta give your best to be your best.
Think of it this way—say you’re drafted and sign with the Denver Broncos. What’s your responsibility?
· Get to know the team
· Learn the plays
· Practice with the team
· Train for strength and endurance
· Push through adversity
· Celebrate the victories with the team
If you want to be any good, you have to put in a lot of work with your team. But what if you didn’t show up to the Denver practices. Or maybe you just kind of faked your way through it but never really learned the plays and hardly learned what would work well with your team mates? Instead you decided to start practicing with the New York Jets. You learn their plays and hang out with those guys, despite the fact that you’re in a lifetime contract with the broncos. How well would you play with the Broncos if all your time was with the Jets? Not well. If you don’t invest in a team, then you can’t expect to succeed with the team.
Marriage is like that. If you sign on with your partner—you can’t go and spend your time and energy with someone else. It may sound like a good idea, especially if things are rocky, but at the end of the day, your team isn’t stronger. You need your head in the game. You need to be all in. You can’t split your allegiances and still expect to succeed.
God knows the power of the covenant of marriage. God knows what it is to be loved for all your strengths and all your failures. God knows what it is to be accepted and heard and valued when everything is going your way and when nothing is. Marriage is meant to offer us that deep love and acceptance. But a depth of trust and intimacy don’t just happen by luck, they take work and intentional effort. And so you’ve got to be all-in.
Now, just like any good team, even with the right players, and regular practice, and strength and endurance training, and good communication, some plays won’t work, some days you’ll lose. But you don’t quit the team just because it was hard or just because you lost one game, or even one season. If you signed on, then you continue to give your best to strengthen the team.
Now remember what I said in the beginning? Marriage is hard. Some seasons hit hard. Some years feel like all you’ve done is lose. BUT, marriage is also rich with blessings. The hugs, the listening ear, the companionship, the intimacy, the trust, the adventures, those are the wins. That’s what make it worth all the effort and sacrifice. And to know the fullness of what that commitment can offer you have to give it your all, and give it your best. We won’t know how amazing marriage can be if we are always considering what it would be like to be on a different team.
God wants you to play for the team to which you signed.
To be sure, the 6th-10th commandments are pretty straightforward. It hardly seems like they warrant explanation, but there’s always more than just understanding the letter of the law. And there’s the fact that we struggle to uphold the laws in their entirety, regardless of how well we might know them. Commandment #8 says, “thou shalt not steal”. We get that. No one should take something that doesn’t belong to them. If I tell you not to steal, you know what that means. We can readily define what is ours and what is someone else’s and know that we shouldn’t just take that which doesn’t belong to us. But why not? Scripturally, we understand it’s because God has made enough for all of us—God’s provision is abundant. And if we understand and live within that, then there’s no need to steal. To live by God’s law is to allow for God’s provision to provide for all as God planned. We are invited to believe that playing fair is sufficient and worthwhile because winning isn’t about having more than everyone else. Winning for God is about being the best of who we are created to be.
Now that might sound “soft” and like an “everybody wins” mentality. But it’s not about giving everyone a trophy regardless of performance; it’s about ensuring a fair game. Think of it this way—this last week the New England Patriots won the AFC championship game—but then a couple of days later, the news broke that Tom Brady, their quarterback, had played with deflated footballs. There’s some question about who deflated the balls. Was it Brady? A coach? The equipment manager? Someone on the sidelines? I’m not here to solve the mystery, but instead to point out that regardless of who did it—deflating the balls stole the opportunity for a fair game.
Is it possible that the patriots still would have won, even with the balls fully inflated? Sure. But that’s not the point. The point is we don’t know who would have won if it was a fair game. It could have been the patriots. But it’s possible it would have been the colts. It’s great to win, but if you win you want to know you did it—that you gave your best and played well and the best team won. Similarly, a loss is a loss—it’s not what any team wants, but a loss is tolerable if you know the other team brought their A game and played a better ball game. But you don’t want to lose because a ref threw the game or because some guy deflated the football. We all want to win, but we know that can’t happen 100% of the time. Losing happens. Most of us can accept that. But what we can’t accept is not being given the chance, a fair chance, to show our stuff and prove we were the better player or team.
To live with the satisfaction that what God has provided is enough is to take our share, and use it, to play a fair game, and trust that the highs and lows that will result will pan out in the end. But your chance to succeed, to be your best, is stolen when someone else rigs the game. No one wants to play the team that cheats. No one wants to play in the arena where the refs always call for the home team. Why bring our best if we aren’t given a fair chance in the first place?
So how does all of that relate to the 8th commandment? How does cheating in a game relate to everyday life? Well, in how God designed life, everyone has a chance, everyone has gifts and talents to use, and everyone should be given the chance, a fair chance, to be their best. But institutionally and systemically, we have rigged the game. Now, not necessarily us personally and individually, but companies, governments, and some groups have stolen the opportunity for everyone to play a fair game. Now some of those structures and injustices have been around a long time. It’s hard to undo systemic injustice. But if we want to have an honest conversation about playing fair and providing an opportunity for everyone to live into the world God designed, then we have to acknowledge that for a lot of folks, the game is rigged. If they don’t have clean water, or enough food, or access to education, then how can we expect them to bring their A game? We’ve been taught to absolve ourselves of responsibility for them. We are responsible for us and they are responsible for them. But, as Christians, we are called to see the world not just for what it is, but for what God wants it to be, and that means everyone should have a fair chance. And a fair chance includes access to the necessities of everyday living. You wouldn’t expect a fair game if one team had all the best pads, shoes, and equipment, while the other team played barefoot, with cardboard pads, and equipment that’s falling apart. Each team may be coming with what they have, but really, it’s not a fair game. We can see that. So, how can we think that a fair chance is offered when they have to walk a mile to get a few gallons of river water, while we have purified water anywhere anytime. The game has been rigged around the world. And part of our responsibility is making sure we play fair and that our brothers and sisters around the world have a fair chance to become their best. That means we invest in wells for clean water, schools for education, and food for their tables. And it means we look at the systems that promote and protect inequality and injustice and work against it.
As a church, we’ve worked hard to help create opportunities and chances for people to be their best. We have given nearly $200,000 through our Christmas Miracle offering over the years, and more throughout the year, to create a fair chance for people to have employment, education, housing, and basic necessities. As a denomination, we have given millions of dollars to fight malaria in Africa so people have a chance at a healthy life. United Methodists have built schools, hospitals, shelters, clinics, and churches to help level the field, providing for the everyday needs of brothers and sisters around the world. We have truly been about God’s work. And at the same time, we know that we enjoy more riches in one year than most will enjoy in a lifetime. The game is getting better, but it’s still not fully fair.