My wife, Margaret, and I met a few days after Valentine's Day. In our first conversation, we talked about how hard it was to be single on Valentine's Day. Now after many years of marriage now, I so resonate with God's words in Genesis (2:18): "it is not good that man be alone..."
In addition to Valentine's Day this week, it is also National Marriage Week, which celebrates God's pattern of one man and one woman devoted to each other for life. That's why in our mid-week chat, I want to talk to singles who would like to be married, to those who are already married, and really to anybody who wants to grow in the Lord. My hope is that we can make better choices about who we marry and how we get better in our interpersonal relationships. I also want to remind us all how marriages flourish and thrive.
So this week, if you are looking for a spouse, here are ten characteristics to look for. If you are single and don't want to get married ever, here are ten areas for personal growth to develop in your own life. Also if you are already married, here are ten items to work on and to improve on in your life:
1. Be someone that loves.
The Roman Emperor, Claudius II, believed that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because they would be less concerned about danger and death if they did not have wives or families. So Claudius made marriage of young people illegal.
But there was a Christian leader and physician in Rome by the name of Valentine. He encouraged Christians to go ahead marry within the Christian church and performed many marriages. Eventually, Valentine was eventually found out and imprisoned. In 270 A.D. Valentine was beaten, stoned, and finally beheaded, all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The date of his death was February 14.
Just before he died Valentine wrote a letter to the jailer's daughter who had been kind to him. His closing line in the letter has become a line that is still used today. He signed it "from your Valentine."
The point is that Valentine's Day is about giving, sacrifice, and loving to the point of death. People who succeed in marriage, faith, and life understand that "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). It is a principle of life and wisdom that "he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25).
If you and I can think of others first, if we can get beyond ourselves, if we can see other's needs, wants, and concerns above ourselves, we will be better at marriage and better at life. It was Francis of Assisi who prayed: "O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."
2. Be someone who is loveable.
With assertiveness training seminars and looking out for number one attitudes, the new pop-culture is extoling people who speak their mind, are hard-nosed, tough, and feisty. Lots of people work at being a "diva" or "hard-nose." But this way of living evolves into a person who is self-centered, argumentative, disrespectful, and hard to get along with. The truth is that few people want to be married to anybody like that. Nobody wants to work with a co-worker or boss who is like that.
That's why the developing a Christ-centered life is so important (see Galatians 5:22-23). When you pattern your life after Christ, He becomes your focus. You won't be dark but joyous. People will enjoy being with you because you bring joy and your presence lifts their spirits. Gentleness and kindness softens even the hardest hearts. Meekness helps you laugh at yourself, makes you less defensive, and open you up to be more transparent. Suddenly you will find yourself more affectionate and more able to offer somebody a hand, a hug, and your heart. Your self-control over your anger and passions will draw people because they will want to be with a person who is becoming the person God wants them to be. When you allow God to take over your life, you will be inundated with people wanting to know you. When people are living the Fruit of the Spirit in a marriage, you will see a strong and vibrant marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33).
3. Be someone to talk to.
In the last few decades as people have become lovers of themselves, the art of conversation has faded and people talk too much! People who succeed in life, marriage, and faith learn to listen. Listening is a ministry. It affirms people and tells them you think they are important to you. Listening is how you establish a relationship and earn trust. Ask questions to get them to share more of their feelings and of themselves. Paraphrase what they said to show them that you are listening.
This is how we tell people they matter to us and to God.
In my ministry, I had occasion to meet "the other" woman or man in marital affairs. In most cases, the "other" was not as attractive and not as appealing as their spouse. Each time, I drilled down on what the attraction was. It was not sex. It was that someone thought they were important, cared enough to listen, empathized, and comforted.
In the Psalms, God says thing like this: "You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry" (Psalm 10:17). We are like God when we listen to our loved one's hurts, thoughts, ideas, dreams, and pain. You might even prevent an argument if you listen long enough. To be a good Valentine, work at your ministry of listening!
4. Be someone to confide in.
We all need someone who will keep our secrets. Everybody needs someone who knows your childhood, your insecurities, your sins, your worries, your hurts, and your inner pain. This person knows your deepest and darkest past. Then without judging you and with grace, this person goes on to still love you and affirm you! Then without gossiping your story to others, this person prays, cares, and affirms you. That's a person with whom someone would want to spend the rest of their lives.
One of my favorite poems is called "Friendship" by Dinah Maria Craik. It says:
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
James 5:16 say: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Valentine people are a safe place where hurting souls can go.
5. Be someone to care about.
It was the Puritan Bible commentary writer, Matthew Henry who wrote: "The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved."
If you are too busy, too pre-occupied, and too inhibited, potential suitors, spouses, and others will not stick around. Learn to enjoy the mushy card, the well-meaning gift, and acts of kindness. However inept and clumsy, accepting these things without retort or critique is the way that you keep the love going. He might have given you a microwave for your birthday or she gave to tickets to a "chick flick" for Christmas, but it is the thought that counts. You don't always have to win or be the strong one. Let her dote over you. Let him protect you.
6. Be someone to rejoice with.
There are some very sweet things in life that God gives us. The late Louis Evans, the pastor of Bel-Air Presbyterian Church has a line in his marriage prayer that says: "Now our joys are doubled, since the happiness of one is the happiness of the other."
Proverbs 5:18 says: "may you rejoice in the wife of your youth." Well, if you stick with your spouse and honor God, this kind of rejoicing can be yours in your middle age and old age too! From personal experiences, I know that sunsets are prettier, travel is more enjoyable, food is tastier, and life is sweeter when you have somebody with which to share it. You don't have to be married to enjoy this. Share your joys and God-given pleasures with someone!
7. Be someone to lean on.
Another line from Louie Evans' prayer is "Our burdens are now halved, since when we share them, we divide the load." When times of discouragement, criticism, disappointment, work load and hardship come, Valentine people practice Galatians 6:2 which says: "Carry each other's burdens..." This lightens the heavy loads of others.
Some years ago, Helen Reddy sang a song that explains this: "Sometimes it feels like it is you and me against the world. When all the others turn their backs and walk away, you can count on me to stay ... and for all the times we cried, I always felt that God was on our side."
If you want to be someone's Valentine, be a soft place for others to land when life gets hard and people are mean. Even the strongest among us gets weak. Be someone that others can go for support, encouragement, and help. They don't need our lectures and our recriminations. Valentines know this and they work at being someone to lean on!
8. Be someone who understands.
Too often we are so busy trying to get our point across that we miss what the other is saying. The longer I am married to Margaret, the more I want to understand how she views the world. Whenever some world event, something happens in our personal lives, or someone does something in the sports world, I want to get her take on it. She does the same for me. That is the fun of a long-term marriage and friendship.
Marriage is the joyous journey of learning to know someone in the deepest of ways. Great Valentines know that this is a process as each day unfolds some new insight about the other. The beauty of long-term marriage is that we are always changing so this is a never-ending adventure of knowing this person. What means the most to a person is when someone actually wants to understand your ways and know your heart. When you strive to understand your spouse with the same curiosity and interest as you would anything of great value, you will find life's greatest joys and the love you really long for.
9. Be someone to grow with.
One of the benefits of marriage is that it forces you to grow or refuse to grow. In the close quarters of shared bathrooms, shared bank accounts, and shared everything, we have the opportunity to learn to compromise, forgive, apologize, change, and surrender. The people who refuse to learn these things are the ones who end up alone, divorced, and bitter. But those who choose to grow as Christian and as a person find love.
Here is what I have learning. Marriage is not so much about finding the right person. It is being the right person. So, become the person that someone might want to marry. Be a student of the opposite sex. Be the woman or man of God that someone would like to spend the rest of their life with."
10. Be someone to pray with.
From the day we were married, my wife and I have read the Bible together and prayed together every day that I am home. Even when my ministry requires me to be away from home, we still talk about what we read. Several times a day we pray for each other. Prayer is a bond and a glue that will attach hearts to another person. If you are married, pray with your spouse. If you are single, find a friend to pray with. If you want to get married, begin every relationship with prayer!
I hope you have a great Valentine's Day. Whether you are single or married, God's love is to be celebrated! I pray that you can celebrate one simple but profound truth: "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
Every Sunday at East Hills Church, we celebrate God's love. So you join us this Sunday!
Bring a Bible, a smile, your friends, family, neighbors, and work contacts. Remember, we have: