By Dr. Robert R. Kopp
Back in those searching 60s and 70s, it seemed everybody was reading Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet (1923).
There was one passage that meant a lot to me for my parents back then but speaks to me as a parent today: Your children are not your children…They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Wedding days are tough on parents. Its a Sunrise, Sunset moment. The newlyweds are flushed with expectation. The parents are filled with experience. One couple is convinced theyre doing the right thing and will be rewarded fantastically. At least two other couples contemplate contradictions of even the best intentions.
Extended families pray and labor to rise above their disaffections, disappointments, delusions, and dysfunctions; because two in their midst are drunk on love for each other and the tenderly transitory invitation to the Lord for more than the religious rite.
The atmosphere is so heavy with desperate hope for the couple to live happily ever after, even as the congregation yearns to taste a future unencumbered by the past.
No wonder theres so much energy, dreaminess, and lingering desire for true love in all at weddings.
But it doesnt take too long for the couple to discover the undeniable realities betrayed by the tear-welling gallery of destined days when the bliss, mist, dog-eyed stares, and couch-cuddling to the tune of Elton Johns Your Song are supplanted by suspicions of men coming from Mars and women coming from Venus.
Indeed, there are days when an exchange between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill seems too close to home. She said, If I were your wife, Id poison your tea. He said, If I were your husband, Id drink it.
And countless couples cringe and cry in isolation when Gordon Lightfoot drones on and on, I dont know where we went wrong, but the feelings gone and I just cant get it back.
Yet Im not writing about what could go sour if youre not careful.
After so many good, bad, ugly, and innocuous adventures of my own within the context of growing discipleship, Ive got some counsel on how it should and will go if youre careful.
The best book that Ive ever read on preventing failure and promoting the kind of marriage that propels couples to the chancel steps is Willard F. Harley Jr.s His Needs, Her Needs (1986).
His message is simple.
Women and men have needs that must be satisfied. If needs are met, the marriage thrives. If needs arent met, trouble is around the corner.
Specifically, Dr. Harley understands a mans basic needs of sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration. A womans basic needs are affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment.
If those needs are met, the couple lives happily ever after.
If those needs arent met, my buddy Eric Felacks theory becomes fact: Marriage is like flies on a screen. 50 percent want in. 50 percent want out.
I talked about these things to a singles group in Lower Burrell, Penn. about 10 years ago. Knowing there were some really bitter people therepeople who had been burned by unfaithful spousesI opted for truthfulness rather than the ecclesiastical good-humor-man approach of saying nothing eloquently to pick up a check and move on without content or consequence.
Summarily, I said everyone has needs; and if youre not meeting your spouses needs, those needs will be met with or without you. If your spouse isnt getting it at home, she or he will get it somewhere else. If youre not working on your marriage, someone else will do it for you.
I went on to say they were divorced because they took their spouses for granted. Romance stopped. Ignored spouses were left to fend for themselves. And they did!
I was never invited back.
I went back several times to discuss divorce-proofing marriages.
We started with our Lords counsel, Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (see Matthew 7:24ff.).
In Myths That Destroy a Marriage (preached on 9 March 1997 at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif.), Dr. John Huffman observed, The truth is that every couple is going to have some problems. Our problems will be different from yours…Whenever you get two people together, given the many differences and family backgrounds, cultural expectations, and finely-tuned differences in individual temperaments, there will be marital difficulties. The sooner you and I discover this truth and put away the myth, the better off our marriages will be.
Maybe thats why we celebrate so much on the wedding day.
Its a glorious moment.
Its a moment that can be multiplied if were careful -attentive to each others needs and respectful of the real head of the house on more than wedding day.
Putting it another way, the grass is always greener where its watered.
Thats true every day in every relationship.
Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.