I took the kids to buy their Valentine cards last night. Going through the aisles at Target filled with chocolates, candies, stuffed animals, “hatchables,” and cards for every type of relationship on the planet…they all reminded me of what Hayley and I have made a habit of doing some time around Valentine’s Day. We spend time together. I like to think I have “graduated” from the heart shaped chocolate boxes and annual stuffed animal (which was a staple in our dating relationship between 1997-2001) and now it is about have some extended time together, usually at a well-picked restaurant of her choosing (she finds good food!), sharing and connecting.
In a fast paced life, we can buy things that remind our loved ones how special they are…and that does help. In addition to all of the monetary ways to say, “I Love You,” we can also just be present…it costs nothing and builds deeper intimacy than all the chocolate, roses, and teddy bears we can buy. Below is an article, I believe it was written by Christi Straub and posted to Joshua Straub’s blog. As we think about this week of love and intimacy, as we make our plans for Valentine’s Day, the Straubs provide a way of thinking about intimacy that goes beyond the holiday to every day, and celebrates the normal routines that build love and connection in our marriages.
Last Thursday morning, I fell out of “like” with my husband, Josh. And if I’m honest, it happens fairly often.
Here’s how it went down: The night before we chose not to clean up the kitchen after dinner. This is rare in the Straub home, but on this night, we abandoned it all for a family dance party—leaving behind an overflowing sink of dishes, food on the table, sticky refrigerator, and crumbs on the floor screaming for us to step in them.
I was almost proud of myself. Choosing people over projects, something against my get-‘er-done nature. Then, Thursday morning came. I was making the kids’ lunches for school. Josh was unloading and re-loading the dishwasher. #teamwork
Then the comments started. Josh’s running commentary about how nasty the table was and how much food mysteriously ends up on the floor under our blessed children’s chairs. The garbage smells. The counters are sticky.
It hit a nerve and my defenses flared: “Stop. I get it. You think I don’t know that?”
Sure, we chose not to clean up the kitchen together, but somehow the diatribe triggered my all-too-familiar lie: I’m failing as a mother and wife, again.
He didn’t mean to hurt me; he wasn’t even directing the comments toward me. Truthfully, Josh pulls more than his man-sized weight around the house. He didn’t deserve my defensiveness, but those truths didn’t matter when it triggered my lie. I was angry at him for making me feel like a failure, and I didn’t like him because of it.
I fell out of like with Josh that morning. And I bet if you were to ask him, he didn’t like me much in that moment either.
One lesson we continue to learn is that like is a feeling, but love is a choice. The intimacy in our relationship isn’t based on some grand vacation we take or date night we have. Intimacy is built on the choices we make each day—and more often than not, how we choose to handle these moments of dislike in the here-and-now.
So how do we grow in intimacy in our marriage, when all of hell and our hellion-like natures are warring against us? We’re practical people who need practical things to hang our hats on, so here are five everyday ways we’ve found help us build intimacy in our marriage.
1. Be willing to endure negative feelings.
Josh’s favorite definition of intimacy is from a psychologist named David Burns. “Intimacy is the willingness to endure the negative feelings you get when you get close to another person.”
I know—downer, right? Culture would like us to believe that negative emotion in our marriage is a sign toward a way out. But what if it’s actually the way in?
To clarify, this post is not about abusive or coercive situations. We would never advise enduring negative emotion that comes with being treated in such a way. Instead, for spouses experiencing the everyday ups and downs of being married—insecurities and all—actually pressing into the negative emotion can make or break our marital intimacy. I was hurt because I felt like Josh was criticizing me for not keeping a clean house. Once he knew he hit a nerve with me, he immediately stopped and asked what was going on underneath my anger.
What if, instead of getting defensive, we press into the negative emotion and give our spouse the benefit of the doubt. Asking, “What could be going on underneath their accusation?”
When we empathize with, and understand that feeling, intimacy grows.
2. Tuck each other into bed.
We tuck our kids into bed, why not our spouse? We find going to bed together is one of the best ways to stay connected. You can cuddle, pray together, and debrief the day.
And for the love of all that’s good in our marriages, let’s leave the phones somewhere else.
3. Be mindful of disconnection—and act on it.
We know whether or not we feel close with our spouse. We also know those moments when disconnection starts to kick in. Instead of ignoring those feelings of disconnection, act on them.
Sometimes all it takes is one simple gesture. Writing a note. Buying a little treat. Sending a text. Planning a date. Putting the kids down early. Making time to close that subjective gap we feel often doesn’t require a lot, it just requires our intentionality.
4. Share with your spouse what God is teaching you.
My default was to pour out my heart and hot tears to a girlfriend and come home to give Josh the brief synopsis. My friends saw the raw me, while Josh got the Cliffs Notes version. I wanted to open up, but it felt unsure and so deeply private. But one tip-toe at a time, I began sharing what God was teaching me.
When we share with one another what God is teaching us individually, it gives insight into our deepest selves. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
I’m learning to listen with empathy when Josh shares his fears, instead of correcting or fixing or critiquing. It’s opened him up to want to share more with me and I’m getting a private peek into Josh’s relationship with Jesus because he feels more comfortable sharing it with me. Those insights have allowed me to pray for him and encourage him in ways I’ve never been able to before.
5. Talk openly about sex.
Sex is often a deeply personal subject for women. Sex holds great power to bring together and to divide. Great sex is a mutual willingness on the part of both spouses to give pleasure, not merely receive it. Because of this, nobody should feel coerced or like they have to give in to sex. On the other hand, neither are we to withhold sex for a long period of time from our spouse (1 Cor. 7:3-5). If the act of marriage is about serving one another, it’s no wonder that that the enemy often twists sex to feel like another chore after we’ve been “serving” our families all day.
So we started to talk about the elephant in the room. The wanting; the avoiding. Giving each other insight into the whys of our default behavior. Our new understanding of one another’s view gave way to a new rhythm and desire to pursue togetherness, instead of allowing it to cause division.
Bringing the elephant into the light has brought freedom, and true intimacy requires us to feel free—to share our raw selves, to be truly known. Because being truly known and truly loved is intimacy to its fullest.
Christi Straub, M.A., M.B.A. is a native Canadian, wife to an American, and momma to two feisty preschoolers. She and her husband Josh are the cofounders of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. Passionate about families in her generation, Christi writes and speaks on helping moms discover their identity and have marriages they’d wish on their children. Her honesty, wittiness, and transparency are contagious. She is also the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st Century. You can watch Dr. Josh + Christi live each week on Facebook Live talking about marriage and parenting in the 21st century. When she and Josh aren’t working together, they’re playing trains or having tea parties. (And trying really hard to put the phones away.)
Dr. Joshua Straub has two cherished roles, as husband—to wife Christi—and dad—to son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy. He serves as Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the president and cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower marriages and families. He speaks for and consults with corporations, organizations, and churches about family wellness. As a family advocate and professor of child psychology/crisis response, Josh has trained thousands of professionals in crisis response. He also speaks regularly for Joint Special Operations Command and for military families across the country. He is author/coauthor of four books including Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well and creator, along with Christi, of TwentyTwoSix Parenting, an online community of parents offering discipleship tools for their kids. Together, they host the Dr. Josh + Christi podcast and their weekly Facebook Live broadcasts reach tens of thousands of families.
In February, we tend to focus on relationships. Sure, Valentine’s Day is February 14th, which probably helps but there always seems to be some good resources available that allow us to reflect on love, spouses, significant others, and family relationships. I am by no means an expert on families or marriage, but a ministry colleague provided me with some articles on those topics this week and in reading through them, I really liked the following article by Dr. Eric Scalise. I am passing it on to you to prompt thought as we imagine healthy and holy families, loved one who are freed from the guilt of sin and shame and alive in Christ. My desire is to pass on a legacy worth repeating, in the life of the church and in the life of my family. I know I need three things to accomplish this: 1) God’s grace through Jesus Christ to take away my shame and sin, 2) the Holy Spirit’s transformation in my life, 3) an openness to God’s will that allows my family to experience the newness of life I have instead of the scars of past hurts I carry. So, let’s run away from these rules, and instead of ruining our families, lets build them up and edify our loved ones.
By Dr. Eric Scalise:
Every marriage and every home offers the opportunity to create meaningful relationships, to lay the groundwork for a secure and healthy self-identity and to incorporate scriptural principles that lead to a vibrant and active celebration of one’s relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul tells us that “love edifies” or builds up. Love helps build a marriage. Love helps build well-balanced children and a legacy that moves from one generation to the next. Yet, what about the things that tear down? In my professional and ministry experience, almost nothing is potentially more destructive within our primary relationships then when a pervading sense of shame is present. In fact, research in this area indicates that for every critical, hurtful or abusive thing someone hears about him/herself or experiences on a personal level, the average individual needs 17 positives before he or she perceives balance again. If this is the case, imagine how consumed by negativity some people are before they ever leave the home environment.
Shame communicates to others they are somehow unworthy…that they are unlovable, unwanted and in one or more ways, flawed or defective. The result is often a debilitating fear of rejection. When compounded by the fear of failure, this two-edged sword can be a damaging force in any marriage or family system. To effectively integrate biblical truth that can counter these beliefs, it is important to have a good frame of reference in how the dynamic evolves in the first place.
Murray Bowen was a major theorist who helped develop a family systems model of behavior. He and others advocate the notion that individual patterns of behavior, as well as one’s interpersonal relationships, need to be understood contextually by looking across generations. Both functional and dysfunctional relationship principles are imparted within the home environment and Bowen’s work particularly emphasizes the transfer of the “emotional” elements that impact behavior. This includes the ability to set appropriate boundaries or the lack thereof. The same could be said regarding the development of intimacy, positive attachments and feeling connected to others in a meaningful way.
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken to help evaluate the consistency of this intergenerational transmission of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, was the Dunedin study. Over one thousand children were identified at birth during a one-year period (1972-1973) in Dunedin, New Zealand and then reevaluated at ages 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, and 21. This research is a unique resource for the investigation of behavioral and emotional development. Researchers used the Dunedin data to find support for the concept of generational legacy. Follow up reports showed as the children in the study aged, there was consistent evidence that parental role model behaviors were being emulated and the behaviors were becoming more established and entrenched with each successive period of evaluation from birth through early adulthood. The Dunedin project further supports the notion that family of origin dynamics, how spouses interact and parenting styles have a longitudinal effect on an individual and that this effect overlaps multiple adult environments.
The following are five dysfunctional family rules that many of us probably grew up with. This does not necessarily imply they were posted on the refrigerator with a magnet, but they may resonate with you on a deeper level. Perhaps the first word of each rule offers a clue as to why they can be problematic.
Rule #1 – Don’t Talk – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to talk about anything significant or personal, especially in a transparent way. Let’s take, for example, an alcoholic father. Everyone knows dad is drinking. Everyone knows that dad comes home drunk and sometimes gets physical with mom or the kids, but no one talks about the drinking. It’s like having the proverbial elephant in the living room. We all see it. We all smell it and we see what it’s doing to the carpet, but we are all supposed to tip-toe around as if it was not there. And a big “no-no” is…we never tell anyone outside of the family. That would be considered treasonous. What often develops is an unhealthy fear of transparency and the keeping of secrets, which can create enormous conflicts within a marriage.
Rule #2 – Don’t Feel – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to express their feelings in an authentic way. Whenever they tried, the process would be shut down. Feelings were ignored, minimized, criticized or disallowed. Sooner or later, we come to believe that no one really cares how we are really doing, so we hide behind the hurt or the perceived threat of rejection and indifference. Again, this is an extremely destructive pattern that negatively impacts the development of intimacy in marital or family relationships.
Rule #3 – Don’t Touch – I have spoken with some adults who will tell me that as children, they have no memory of being hugged or told they were loved by the significant role models in their lives. They may have assumed it at some level, but the questions still persisted. Another possibility is that the touch was unhealthy or abusive. National statistics indicate that as many as one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys will experience some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I disagree. Long after the words are spoken or the rejection has been experienced, the emotional bruises will linger, possibly creating an unhealthy perception of intimacy. During Jesus’ ministry, whenever He dealt with the demonic, more often than not, He spoke a word. However, when He healed people, He usually touched them. Appropriate physical, emotional, relational and spiritual touch are critical to healthy development.
Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve – Those who grew up with this rule came to believe that nothing was resolvable or even allowed to be brought to closure. Emotional wounds were “picked at” again and again much like a scab, until a long-lasting or permanent scar was the end result. This can also translate into how believers may approach forgiveness and letting go of past hurts. They may wrestle with either receiving or giving forgiveness. Some are convinced there is no reason in trying to address and solve problems because it cannot or will not change the outcome.
Rule #5 – Don’t Trust – This last rule is based, in part, on the first four. If there is no permission to talk openly, if there is no genuine expression of feelings, if there are no healthy forms of touch, and if there is no ability to bring something to successful resolution, then the hurtful conclusion is that no one can really be trusted either…even God! Being too afraid to trust leads to an independent spirit; being too hurt to love leads to pride; and being too angry to listen, leads to rebellion. Honesty and trust, especially within a Christlike environment, are like a glue that helps hold a relationship together.
Whether we are husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, or provide counsel and care to people, we must find ways to counteract the negative messages that are attached to these Rules. The good news of the Gospel is that we are loved, forgiven, offered the gift of grace and of such great value in the eyes of God that we were worth dying for. This does not mean we excuse sinful behavior and poor choices or never hold people accountable, but rather, to be proactive as we have the opportunity to affirm others in the eyes of God. So many people are buried in negativity, often by their own doing. Transformation can begin by telling them, “Shame off you!”
I stood in the cemetery, looking at the stones with the different names on them, spotting familiar last names that brought up persons whom had been distant memories. There were flags on the graves of those who had served in the military. There were flowers on the more recent ones, and down at the other end were grave markers from the 1800s. I saw years that indicated long life and years that indicated only a few months. Of course, the one place that is special to my wife is the large stone that reads “Weaver.” This is where her grandparents are buried. This is where, each year on Memorial Day her aunt sets up her music stand and plays her trumpet to songs like “Yankee Doodle” and “America the Beautiful” among other selections. I watch as others bring flowers and gather around graves…Lee; McCombie; Coble; some more Weavers, among others.
This year, for the first time, I attended a Memorial Day service featuring “Taps” and a message by a retired minister about the importance of remembering. He told a brief history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it has been designated in the past, and then moved on to remind us of the sacrifices of soldiers and their families. He touched on the Vietnam Days and those who didn’t support the war…or the soldiers…and how that trend is thankfully changing…slowly, but it is changing.
My mind wandered a bit as he told stories, and I went to Joshua 3 where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and they were commanded to place rocks at the place where they crossed as a memorial to God’s action. This happens in several Old Testament stories, and it made me wonder if that is where we get the notion of headstones in our cemeteries. So, a quick search…
These graves were usually marked with rough stones, rocks, or wood, apparently, as a way to keep the dead from rising. (Ok...I thought this line was funny!)
They were mostly marked with the deceased’s name, age, and year of death. Gradually, churchyard burials evolved involving large, square-shaped tombstones prepared from slate (1650-1900) or sandstone (1650-1890). The inscriptions carved on slate used to be shallow yet readable.
Public cemeteries evolved in the 19th century. Eventually, people started giving importance to the gravestones, headstones, footstones, etc. as a means to memorialize the dead. (https://www.iscga.org/history-of-gravestones.html)
Interestingly enough, gravestones can be traced back to ancient civilizations like Egypt, and that could also explain the use of them as memorials by Israel. But what I thought about was not just gravestones, but remembering and how I am trained to look forward and not backwards. We don’t do much remembering or reminiscing do we?
Here I stood in the cemetery and I began to think about my own family, my grandfather who served in the Navy. I remembered, and as I did I started to tear up, longing for just one more conversation with those who in my childhood seemed so large and so wonderful. In that graveyard was the story of our families…and it is the same with all of us. It is a shame that we don’t take the time to ponder, reflect, and tear-up from time to time. Or once a year, just because we get the day off to do it. I have heard it said among Christian circles that the person is on there anyway, so why visit? Well, maybe visiting a graveyard isn’t supposed to benefit the dead, but to benefit us who are living. Maybe when we see the larger story of life, we have a better understanding of the unfolding larger story, and not just the moment.
At one point, we started talking with my mother-in-law and came to the realization that the place we were standing were actually the plots that my wife and I own…we were standing in the place of our burial. That was sobering! Shocking really…and I joked that I wanted to make sure the view was nice! WOW…awkward moment.
It made me wonder who might come and visit my headstone one day. I wonder what the name “Woodall” will mean to those who visit the cemetery and who will plant the flowers and decorate my grave, because my life meant something to them. You see, the day before my daughter and her grandmother went to put flowers on the family graves, and her artistic flare could be seen…her presence definitely known. I’m all about having a good time, enjoying family and friends, and having a great meal—but we must also learn to remember in a sobering and weighty manner that places our lives in the context of larger “Life.” If you haven’t visited a cemetery that matters to you in a while, my homework or challenge for you is to go there and sit by a headstone and remember for a few moments.
“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ― Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces
I was reading in Matthew 19 the other day, and I came across a confrontation Jesus had with some Pharisees. The topic at hand was divorce, which I know can be very daunting, but I want to show you an interesting thing Jesus does with these religious leaders. So, here is the text:
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
So, the Pharisees want to trap Jesus by asking him an essentially unanswerable question. (Note to church leaders and ministers…if asked this question you may want to consider what I just wrote there!) Jesus gives the standard answer, the one we all know. God’s intention is for two people to be faithfully married for a lifetime. It is interesting because I don’t know many Christian folks who would argue that marriage is a life-long commitment and that it is God’s intention that we be blessed in our marriages.
However, after Jesus gives the standard textbook answer, the Pharisees see an opportunity and throw out the name that is above every Jewish name…Moses! Then why did Moses say that we could get out of marriage?!?! And Jesus’ response also takes a page out of the story of Moses. Jesus says that Moses made an exception to God’s intent; not because God decided to be more permissive, but because of the people’s “hardness of heart.”
Hardness of Heart…Moses…where have I seen this image before? Wait, is Jesus comparing the people of God with the Pharaoh of Egypt? Pharaoh who had the hard heart and would let God bless his people and act on their behalf. Does this same condition exist among God’s people? It wasn’t a one time thing? Pharaoh destroyed his whole people with his hardness of heart, I wonder what we destroy with ours…
You see, God wants tender hearts. Marriage is a good example of a prime arena that this needs to be lived out because there are very, very few who enter into their marriage commitment without tender hearts. Yet, over time and life experience, and other factors…our hearts can turn hard against our spouses. The same could be said of our relationship with God. This is a lesson that the Pharisees refused to learn as we read through the pages of the Gospel stories. There hardness became the very core of there teachings and communal interactions. Yet for us, in our marriages, we need to stay tender toward one another and not be a closed off, hard-hearted…stubborn and self-focused. In our relationship with God, we also need to be tender so that God can do his work in us. To harden a heart is to be closed off to the movement, work, and will of God—it is to lose God’s intention.
I love how Jesus uses the story of Exodus to combat the Pharisees here, but the image is terrifying in that divorce which continues to be commonly practiced is more a condition of the heart, and less an intention of our God. But before we think that divorced people are the only hard-hearted folks, don’t lose the overall principle while pointing at the specific people! (And look at the passage that follows…understand the seriousness this discussion aroused in the disciples)
This past Sunday morning my daughter was on the floor of our church building drawing the picture above, during one of the songs she asked me, "Do you remember our home in Memphis daddy?" I shook my head and continued to sing, peering down from time to time as she added the details to her picture of "home." It was a small house on Sheridan Street, and of course I remember it. It was our first home, the one in which our family came to be. Our neighbors, the best, from Mrs. V who grew up on the street and never left to young families whose children cruised the sidewalks. Mrs V is up into her 80s and she knows nothing else than Sheridan St. Then there were other families that came and gone. I mean, I was really impressed with the picture Brynn drew of our Memphis home. Here is an actual picture of the house when we first bought it.
We have lived in PA for a little over a year now, and B has made friends and seems to be really adjusting to life here. However, it isn't home to her! Home is a little house on Sheridan Street in the city that we loved, where she was born, the world she came to know in Memphis. We have three red maple trees in our front yard, they are affectionately named Olivia, Elliot, and Sophia. Personally, I think it is beautiful that B loved that little house, the friends we have, and sometimes I pray that this move is good for the family...and I must admit that moments like this Sunday scare me just a tad!
However, for most people "home" is simply a place tucked away in the past, it is a nice trip down memory lane. While there is a nostalgia for home, we rarely get to experience it as it was. I remember going back to places that I had once completely immersed myself in and being surprised at the changes. I have visited my high school, my college, and even my home congregation and they are not the same...in fact, I don't think they are supposed to be.
I remember going back to SomaMemphis when I was visiting last spring, and it had changed so much. The look had changed, the students had changed, and while there was some familiarity, I realized that it didn't feel like home to me anymore. That isn't to say I wasn't welcomed and didn't have a good time catching up with people, but my stamp, my imprint, was gone. Soma moved on as did I, and well...that's life.
On that same trip I went by our little home on Sheridan, and it has been changed to suit the new owner. It isn't the same, no longer the Woodall's home. But guess what, B doesn't need to know! She can keep our home alive in her mind, in her heart. She can be creative in her art as she represents what was. She can name the flippin' trees after whoever she wants because a sense of "home" is important and I am absolutely grateful for our home in Memphis. I am grateful for our newer, emerging home in Hummelstown.
I have rambled through some tears as I think about what makes "home" possible...so thank you to those who have been neighbors, family, and friends of the Woodalls. Home is a sacred space, and wherever you are and whatever you're doing, know that you have a home in the hearts, prayers, and thoughts of the Woodalls. To God be the praise, for God has saw fit to give us a home with him, and at the end of our journeys through this world we will all gather once again...and we will be HOME!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.