What I’ve Learned About Marriage – Anthony Delaney, Ivy Manchester
I can’t really think of too many leaders who got this right! There is such a danger – whether in ministry or business for us to put our best on the wrong altars. In writing a book on marriage I certainly wasn’t trying to set up myself as being the great role model either, I’m very aware that I married up!
One thing I’ve noticed is that you can’t be complacent. Some of the married leaders I would have pointed to as being great examples ended up crashing and burning in the most spectacular ways sometime later. Whether it was through affairs, financial difficulties or just the pressures of life and generally drifting apart over time – none of us can afford to stop investing in our most important relationship on this earth. Like anything else, if you’re not going forwards you’re going backwards.
It’s probably a bit of a cliché, but I can’t think of a healthy, life-affirming married relationship being portrayed in the media. Probably the nearest to it would have to be Homer and Marge Simpson. At least they are honest about the ups and downs and letdowns of family life and are committed no matter what. It is a little bit sad that that’s the best we can do in terms of models to point our kids to from TV!
Generally adultery gets a lot better press on screen than monogamy, though I’ve seen the pastoral fallout of the former time and time again – heartbreak and relational complicated strife – and I’ve never had anybody come to me saying they were glad that they had an affair or that it improved their life in the long term. The fact is while the other man’s grass is always greener, it still needs mowing.
I want everything that we do [at Ivy] to be accessible to ordinary people. There’s not much point these days starting off with ‘the Bible says’ because that’s not an authority for many people to buy into unfortunately. We have to get there by showing WHY what the Bible says matters.
The way I try to teach starts with me being vulnerable about my own struggles and temptations – that includes everyone, believers and unbelievers, as part of the mass of humanity struggling to love God and love people right.
I will try not to shy away from the difficult questions – because everybody messes up, just in different ways. Bible heroes and heroines get it wrong but get made right. And I’ve openly shared that Zoe and I went through a season of difficulty which ended up in Christian counseling. People respond well to that because it’s like, ‘Hey you’re normal too!?’ I’ll talk about how it would have crossed our minds at various points that it would seem easier to just walk away, but how glad I am that we both stuck to our vows, for better or for worse – and having come through the worst with the help of God it got better and better to become the BEST!
I once saw Nicky Gumbel, I think it was on a video – he stuck two cardboard cutouts of a male and female together and talked about how we become one flesh. He then drew out how special that was in terms of the marriage relationship and then talked about the pain caused by adultery, unfaithfulness and divorce. At the same time he tore the two glued ‘people’ apart and you could see the bits of each other that were left behind, and the pain of that was displayed in a really graphic and unforgettable way. I think we preachers need to engage visually in a way that cements our main point in the minds of the hearers and I’ll never forget that picture.
I’m convinced by studies I’ve read which contend that you can tell a great deal about whether a marriage will stand the test or not based upon how the couples speak about each other and even look at each other when they come for counsel.* The research indicates that once a couple look at each other with scorn, it’s going to be very unlikely that they will make it. That’s the case whether even just one of the pair has begun to actually despise the other or both. There really can be a hardness of heart which is what Jesus talked about in Mark’s gospel, which leads to divorce – the word we get sclerosis from.
How do you bring the feelings back? Well it’s the actions or lack of actions which caused the feelings either positive or negative. So you need to start a whole new set of actions which over time can sometimes create or re-create positive loving feelings.
When I first started out in ministry I was on a mission team and heard the leader say, ‘Do not enjoy for too long the embrace of another man’s wife.’ I mentally filed that away as great advice – but I was with another young leader who got very angry about that and said, “Well he obviously has a problem, but I haven’t.” A few months later, guess what, it turned out he was having an affair.
I remember hearing one particular extraordinarily gifted yet very ordinary looking Christian speaker and leader talk about the attractiveness of the anointing of God and how women would sometimes make themselves particularly available to him and he knew it wasn’t because of his good looks! He said he had to take precautions to protect himself and remember that he was vulnerable. I think there’s something wise about that. Unfortunately I later heard that that same leader fell sexually in other ways, because it wasn’t women he was attracted to!
The enemy is determined to take us out and will do everything that he can to exploit our weaknesses, probe our defenses and lead us into temptation. Nobody is immune however big our ministry (or head) gets.
I try to keep a number of disciplines in place for myself and the staff here which involve not counseling women alone or even meeting alone with members of the opposite sex. That’s because it is good to keep wide boundaries, a good degree of margin whereby there’s no room for misunderstanding or compromise. A little while ago a woman at the church told me I was considered a little too aloof by some of the women of the church, and I thought, ‘Good! Maybe I’m getting this balance right!’
I’ll be honest, I should pray with my wife more. But I’m never too good with “shoulds.” My wife works as a nurse practitioner in a busy casualty department often working 10-hour shifts, so sometimes her being full-on means that just doesn’t happen. However in my book The BEST Marriage I do describe something of a workable system for sharing, growing, praying and discipling together, that has mostly worked for us for the last 25 years through my time as a police officer, student and busy church minister.
When I got married, the Vicar said to us 3 times in the service, “God brought you two together and it’s His intention that you stay together.” There have been many times I have remembered that and it’s not just the vows you make, it’s keeping them that make you.
*Anthony cites Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, as an example.