When we have heavy rains or howling winds, I always “look forward” to playing count the shingles. It is an easy game. One simply goes into the front yard, counts the number of shingles on the ground, and proceeds to pick them up. At that time, I almost always think, “We really need to have someone come look at our roof.” But, life goes on, a hundred other thoughts distract me, and the roof stays forgotten until the next storm.
My concern, as is with any home owner, is that one of these days, a storm will whip through and do expensive, and possibly irreversible, damage to the roof. Losing a shingle is not a big deal; but, losing hundreds of shingles is an extremely big deal. So, when should we become concerned? When should we start tending to the roof?
Between my observation of married couples and my own relationship, I have experienced my share of relationship storms. At first, the weather is nice; then, comes some rumbles; and, before long, there is conflict raining down. Words are exchanged. Eyes are rolled. Unkind thoughts float from our hearts into our minds. Unbiblical ideas consume us. Questions are posed, silently (yet mentally loudly), “Why did we ever get married in the first place? What were we thinking?” At the time, the pressure feels overwhelming and bewildering. Can we withstand this storm?
Then, the storm breaks. We retreat to different corners of the house. We get a good night’s sleep. A joke on Facebook breaks our silence. Slowly, but surely, the storm passes. In my heart, I can tell some damage was done. The experience was hurtful. The angry words ring in my ears. But, we are smiling again. It was only a few shingles. It does not matter now. The sun is shining again.
Most couples look forward to a bright future when they fall in love, get engaged, and start planning a wedding. They know in the back of their minds that storms will come, but they seem insignificant when compared to the hugs, companionship, children, and good fortune sure to come their way. We will make it through anything. Our love is strong. As long as we have each other, nothing can bring us down. I would be tempted to gag had I not nursed the same thoughts back in my goofy, in-love days. ~smile~
Then, the newness wears off and inevitable struggles surface. I did not know she acted so erratically when she is stressed. Where is the sweet woman I married? I did not know he could get so angry. Where is the man I married? Life stressors, new challenges, unmet expectations, and human frailty create the perfect storm. He says something unloving. She responds with disrespect. He thinks, “Well, if she did not act so crazy all the time, I would not have used those words with her. It is her fault if I am harsh.” Simultaneously, she is thinking, “He has no idea how hard it is to live with him and his selfishness. He says I act crazy, but he is the one making me crazy! It is his fault if I do not give him his precious respect.”
Then, the sun starts peeking out from between the clouds. He feels a bit of regret. She misses the comfort of a peaceful home. Soon, they are talking again.
It’s ok. It’s just one shingle.
Life keeps moving along and recurring arguments continue rising to the surface. No matter how many times they are discussed, they are never quite resolved. He keeps waiting for her to bend to his will. She keeps waiting for him to bend to her will. In the quiet, a cyclone of wants and regrets flow through the ‘peaceful’ room. Then, sure enough, one of them can no longer stay silent. Old wounds are ripped open and new wounds inflicted. In not so many words, he and she both say, “You are still not giving me what I need. You are still falling short!”
But, just as every time before, the fighting dies down. They go to their mutual corners. They might even cry out to God in the darkness of the guest bedroom. Still, who likes to stay at odds with their romantic partner forever? Life is too short to stay mad, right? He nudges her in the hallway and smiles. She grins and puts her head on his shoulder. It is better now.
It’s ok. It’s just one shingle.
Five years pass. They find themselves in a cycle of war and peace. For a few weeks at a time, it seems like they do not agree on anything. The gloves come off because they are tired of the same arguments. They think, “What do we have to lose? Being nice to each other never got us anywhere!” Again, harsh words are exchanged, and hearts are bruised. Then distractions – children, work, holidays – push them into seasons of peace (i.e., dormancy). Maybe we are finally reaching a happy place. Maybe we are finally content with each other.
Then, another season of fighting begins. Discouragement creeps in and pitches a tent. When are we going to be okay? Life is bound to get easier, right? We just have to get through this next challenge. Once my job gets easier, it will not be so hard for us. Once our daughter is potty trained, life will get back to normal. Once he gets his raise, we will not be so stressed. This season has been rough and we have taken our frustrations out on each other.
But, it’s ok. It’s just one shingle.
Ten years pass. Fights come and fights go, but neither seem to recover as quickly as they used to. She finds reasons to leave the room when he begins talking. He cuts her off when she broaches certain topics. Sarcasm is a houseguest which showed up one day and never left. They are concerned by how little they care. They argue and insult each other, but it does not bother them like it did in the early days. They used to come out of their arguments with a sense of hope. We learned from this. We will be stronger from now on. We will work it out. But, now they just keep moving along, biding their time, hoping to avoid discomfort – even if it means barely uttering a word to each other. It just is not worth rocking the boat.
Years of unkind speech and buried arguments finally caught up with them. A grin and a hug do not cut it anymore. Like an ax to a mighty tree, eventually words will cut down the strongest of structures. One by one, their shingles fell. They picked them up and thought, “we should really do something about this,” but it was easier to put it off and hope for the best. Before they knew it, their roof had multiple leaks. They could not hide from the problem any longer. Do we empty our bank account and replace the roof, or do we abandon the house? Something must give.
No marriage is immune from disagreements. Most couples argue and fight from time to time. It is going to happen, so we are better off to expect it and plan for it. In planning for it, couples need to be keenly aware of the words they use. A lifetime of hurtful comments changes a person. Harsh responses cause cracks in the heart. Eventually, to survive, individuals become numb. In the short-term, it helps one or both people cope, but overtime, it keeps them from feeling anything.
Harsh words cause damage. Period. We cannot throw them around carelessly and expect our relationships to grow. We seldom see the effects in the moment, but over time the scars show – a daily reminder of untreated wounds.
God’s Word says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV) Until just this moment, I did not realize this other familiar verse followed right behind. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22, ESV) Is this a coincidence? Probably not.
Our Words Matter to God
God is quite vocal on the topic of our speech.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1, ESV)
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19, ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4, ESV)
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:5, 9-10, ESV)
In a few months, Lord willing, you will begin writing your personal creeds and working together on your couple’s creed. As you do, you will likely feel some excitement as you look towards your future together and that is great! We want you to feel that longing. We believe it is from God and, therefore, good. But, as you prepare, and then write, and later display your creed, please bear in mind the importance of keeping vigilant watch over your words – what you say and your tone. A person’s tone communicates more than the words he or she uses. The best of intentions and the godliest of plans can come crashing down when we do not guard our mouths.
Declaring our beliefs is meaningless if we allow our mouths to be used as weapons. What kind of a witness are we for Christ if we verbally assault our partners? Our life’s work is not as effective and our marriages can never be truly sweet if we repeatedly spew bitterness.
Two years ago at a wedding, I heard the officiating pastor say the following words to the groom: “If you gain the whole world, but lose her, you will have nothing.” That statement hit me like an arrow in my heart. I do not think I will ever forget it. Those are words to live by for any couple. Let us never become so consumed in our lives that we become careless with our words.
If you speak unkindly to your loved one long enough – if you shed enough shingles – you will lose him or her. It is a fact.
When you do fail to speak gently, push past your pride. Approach your loved one and repent. Be genuine. Look him or her in the eyes. Take precautions against letting it happen again; and, if there is a recurring argument you cannot get past, it is wise to seek counsel.
Problems do not just go away. Not talking about them is not resolving them.
None of us will get through our marriages (or future marriages) unscathed, but we can protect ourselves from much pain simply by shutting up. Like the Bible says:
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:23, ESV)
This is a lesson I am still learning. ~smile~
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14, ESV)
How are you safeguarding your relationship against “roof damage”?