So, it is Valentine's Day. Again.

We have many "special" days we are told to observe, but this one is unique because it is entirely designed for the purpose of buying things. Christmas, at least, arose from celebrating Christ and then degenerated into being about buying things. Birthdays were celebrations of life which degenerated into just buying things. Anniversaries were celebrations of marriage that degenerated into just buying things. But, Valentine's Day, as long as I have been alive, is just about buying things. And, specifically, buying things for women.

Candy. Jewelry. Cards. Automobiles. Even gifts of lingerie are now marketed as being a "proof" that a man loves his wife. In the USA, at least, there is no equivalent day for buying things for men, either. This is about women getting things from men. How did we get here?

All over the country, men will get up, go to work, and work all day to support their family. But that is not enough "proof," we are told. All over the country, men will get off work and head home, but that is not proof enough, either. Many of those men will buy groceries on their way home, but that is not proof enough, either. Once home, they will join in caring for their children, they will participate in the life of the family, they will tell their wives "I love you," but that is not enough, either.

We are told that the men must bring candy or jewelry or a card or flowers. WIthout candy, jewelry, cards, or flowers, their actual love is considered deficient. Their wife will feel let down and unloved, no matter how much love they have actually been shown, because they husband did not stop at a store and spend money on a gift for them.

So, ladies, let's think about this for a minute. You believe that a bracelet or a box of candy or a bunch of flowers will prove his love for you? Were you in doubt about his love? Were his years of faithfulness not enough for you? Was his faithfulness in your pregnancies, caring for you and staying with you, not enough? Was his faithfulness in your illnesses not enough? Was his willingness to work every day, day after day, to support you and the family not enough?

Well, maybe it wasn't. Maybe you need candy or flowers or cards or jewelry. If so, it is because you do not  understand love at all. Love is not about the things he can give you, but about how he cares for you. Thanking him for a box of candy is nothing. Have you thanked him lately for the life he has shared with you?

In a production of "A Christmas Carol," there is a scene where Fred Holliwell gives his wife a Christmas gift. It is a very nice bracelet. She thanks him and, having put it on, tells him "I love you. And not just for this." It is a nice scene.

Tonight, if he brings you something as he has been told to do, give him the same answer she gave. Let him know that you love him, and not just for February 14, or for candy or a bracelet. Let him know you love him in truth. 

And if he brings you nothing. If your budget is so tight, or if he is so busy, or if he just forgets, then do the same thing. Hug him and tell him that you love him and let Valentine's Day go.

It's not really about his love anyway. It just about buying things.
One night, several months ago, I was in bed, trying to get to sleep, when I heard a radio playing somewhere. I could hear the radio as clearly as I have ever overheard any radio. I could not understand the conversation, but I could hear it going on. It was late, so I was kind of upset by the radio. I got up to find it and, suddenly, could not hear it anymore.

I laid down again and heard it again, so I got up and began to search the house to find out where something had been left on. I looked everywhere and found nothing. I also heard nothing. I checked outside to see if it was drifting from my neighbor's house, but there was no sound.

I laid back down and heard it again, as clear as ever. That was when I realized that what I was hearing was not a radio at all, it was a fan. My wife and I have a fan in our bedroom which we run at night. Not only does it help cool the air, it also creates a steady sound that helps muffle all the little sounds you get when you live in a neighborhood. I turned it off and the radio sound disappeared. I turned it on and the radio sound returned.

I was not hearing a radio at all. I was hearing a fan. It was not transmitting radio signals (like Gilligan's tooth on Gilligan's Island). It was just being a fan. The problem was in my hearing. I do not always hear a radio when the fan runs, but sometimes I do. Sometimes it sounds like water running. Sometimes it sounds like a fan. But it is always just a fan.

You see, "what I did not hear" was a radio. I just thought I heard one. I was sure I heard one. But I was wrong. There was no radio. My hearing is not a good measure of reality.

When I watch couples, one of the most common things I see is one person "hearing what he or she doesn't hear." Men and women are both guilty of this (just as my wife sometimes hears a radio at night as well). We are convinced that whatever we "hear" must actually be there. If we "hear" anger in our spouse's voice, then it means our spouse must be angry. If we "hear" bitterness or snarkiness or silliness, then we conclude that our spouse is being bitter or snarky or silly. We hear a radio and believe it is a radio.

But, maybe, it is just a fan. Maybe your husband, who married you and supports you with his work and comes home faithfully and does so many things, is just a husband. Maybe the anger you hear is not anger at all. Maybe the bitterness or snarkiness or silliness you hear is not those things at all. Maybe it is just your husband. Maybe he is just tired. Maybe you are just tired. Maybe he just sounds like a radio, when you know deep down he is not a radio.

Whatever else may be true, it is certainly true that I can listen to a common fan and hear a radio or a waterfall or a fan just being a fan. It is also true that I can judge others not by what they actually do and are, but by what I hear when they speak to me. This is a special form of self-centeredness: the idea that my perception is reality.

We need to stop looking for the radio at night and to stop looking for anger and other such things in the words of others. Let us judge them by what they are, not by what we think we hear.
In many homes, we find a very interesting situation regarding how wives view a very central question. The homes are those that have both (1) a teenage or almost teenage boy and (2) a husband. 

Being good Christian parents, these homes have a great concern about how much sex their son is exposed to. The mothers in these homes are vigilant about protecting their sons from too much exposure to sexually explicit material or even sexually suggestive material. Put simply, there is no good reason to let their sons grow up on a diet of Lady Gaga videos or magazines filled with half-naked girls. 

Mothers, in these situations, will be very careful about all kinds of things. I know a couple who no longer go (with their son) to the best pizza parlor in our town because the parlor uses young waitresses who often wear "short shorts" at work. Having a teenage son, she feels strongly that he does not need that kind of visual with his pizza. 

In the same way, television shows and movies are carefully screened and, sometimes, shown in truncated fashion to avoid the sexually suggestive parts of those shows or movies. Mothers will often be uncomfortable having their sons around attractive female cousins. 

Now, without any question, I fully support these efforts. We all know that sexual desire is a major factor in the lives of young men. While we may disagree on specifics occasionally, all Christian parents need to be alert to these dangers. Speaking as a man, I can tell you that I clearly recall early images and they can be a problem for years. 

Here is what makes it odd, though. The same mother who fears doing anything to inflame her son, will often be a wife who is not fond of sex with her husband. She realizes the power of the sexual drive in the young man, but discounts its tempations in her husband's life. While her daily activities are driven by being sexually alert, when her son is involved, she ignores the real problem she is creating for her husband. 

I do not mean problems arising from movies or television or waitresses, but from the wife herself. The same wife who is deathly afraid that her son will see a woman's legs lives with a man who sees her legs all the time. The same wife who thinks that any look at a partially clad woman will inflame her son walks casually around her husband dressed in far less. 

Sexuality is a very important concept in the life of almost every man. While you may fear that your son will see or think about sexual things, you must realize that your husband both sees and thinks about them all the time. He lies in bed with a woman he finds sexy and whom he loves. Just as your son's sexual safety is in your keeping, so is your husband's. 

The Bible is clear. Married men are not to "control" their sexuality, but to fully indulge their sexual desires with their wives. Proverbs 5 is quite clear. Pro. 5:15-19 directs the man to find full fulfillment in his own wife. 

Spend a few moments thinking about how much temptation your husband faces each day, just from living with you. Not from the secretaries at work or pictures on billboards or television shows, but just from living with you. Then add in the other things, in fear of which you govern your son's activities. 

How much temptation does your husband face every day? How much do you reject God's way of satisfying the result? 
In the news this morning is an article regarding "single fathers," and the apparent fact that some men now want to be fathers without being husbands. They are not, primarily, talking about homosexual couples, either, but heterosexual men who want to be fathers without being married.

This, of course, follows the fact that many women have made the same decision from the other side, choosing to be moms without being wives. What is going on here?

More than anything, this tendency arises because of how poorly most of us do at marriage. We have seen so many couples divorced or struggling, we have heard of so much adultery and unhappiness, that we no longer believe that marraige can work at all.

We should realize how much this relates to the problem of finding someone to marry. It appears that many of these situations involve people who cannot "find the right person" to marry. The desire to be a parent is so strong that they just want to find some way to have a child without having to be married. This is because either they or their prospective spouses are just wrong about marrying. Being unable to find anyone, they choose to go it alone.

We should also realize how much this has to do with staying together. Many of these people may have tried marriage at some point with no success. Again, marriage is a permanent state in the minds of many of us, but a temporary state in the minds of many others. They do not "marry for life" but for the time being. They are not committed to their commitment.

Finally, we should realize what this means about how far we have gone from wisdom. The idea of wanting to be a single parent seems so wrong on so many levels. It means wanting to be what most of us agree is a sad thing: a single parent. It means taking a child and putting that child in a sad situation, living with someone who cannot live with anyone else.

Part of what makes parenting possible is the experience of having been through marriage. Another part is having someone to share the experience, to bear much of the burden. It is difficult for those of us who have been married so long to imagine choosing to be a single parent.

How sad these stories have to make us, no matter how small the numbers may be. Somewhere, there is a man who cannot get along well enough with a woman to marry and stay married. Somewhere else, there is a woman who cannot get along well enough with a man to marry and stay married. Each of them now wants a child, who will have to live with them. However much we may pity the man and the woman, we must pity the c

I have recently had occasion to talk with some men about one of the biggest problems in marriages, and biggest causes of divorces and affairs. The problem, put simply, is unhappiness.

When we get married, we often have the idea that our married life will be one of constant joy. That is what we are told, anyway. "The Joys of Wedded Bliss" is a frequent theme of wedding homilies. Marriage is "given" to us, we are told, to bring us joy and fulfillment. "It is not good that the man should be alone," we are told again and again (forgetting that no one is ever alone in our modern world). Each of us promises to love and honor and cherish the other. 

Then, life intervenes. 

The concept of a seven-year itch is an old one. The idea is that at around that time, marriage ceases to be the joy we were all told it would be, at least on a 24/7 basis. This has a lot to do with children, but also with other things that complicate our lives. When we are first married, everything is new and interesting. After seven years, there is not a lot new anymore about our spouse. Our jobs tend to be more demanding. Our children are now around and take up a lot of our time. Wives, in particular, tend to focus much more on their children and husbands feel left out, unloved. Sometimes, the wife feels unloved as well. 

We take nice photos of smiling wives and husbands and children, but the next day we have to get up and fix meals and go to work and do laundry. 

At some point, each partner will realize that he or she is unhappy. I do not mean just "kind of unhappy," but really and seriously unhappy. Their home life is not satisfying. Their sex life is not satisfying. They get very little attention from their spouse. They seem to spend so much money on this whole "family" thing and get very little out of it, they think.

They often leave at these times. They are so unhappy that they believe that the wedding was a lie and the marriage was a lie and that no one loves them anymore. They want something more. So, they leave. They blow up the life of their spouse (who may have been very happy). They blow up their own lives. They want happiness more than they want to stay married. 

I can tell you all kinds of Hallmark Card junk about marriage, but here is the reality. You are married. One of the keys to surviving bad times (and unhappy times are bad times) is to remember that you are married. The option of "I will leave and be happy" is not an option. In the absence of adultery or abuse (and inattention is not abuse), you are married. 

A person who has a disability is in an interesting spot. He can spend his whole life being bitter about his disability or he can accept the reality of the disability and seek happiness anyway. If he chooses to be bitter, to live his life dreaming of what it would be like not to be disabled, then he will never be happy. The disability is what it is. 

As much as you might dislike the comparison, marriage is the same. You are married. That is the end of that issue. There is no option of divorce. There is no "if I left her" option. There is no "if I left him" option. You are married. You begin your life, every day, with that understanding. I will find happiness within the reality of my marriage because I am married. I am not a child to take back my promises from long ago. I am a man and I live within the life I have built. 

When you find yourself unhappy in your marriage, remember that the solution is not leaving the marriage. The solution is fixing your life. The solution is understanding that you are not married because you "made a mistake," but that you are where you are for good reasons. God is sovereign. You are precisely where you are to be. 

Leaving is not the answer for an unhappy married person. Leaving is never the answer, in the absence of adultery or abuse. 

The answer is trusting in God and recommitting yourself to the person to whom you are married.  
In talking with husbands, I am struck by how little they realize about one of the great difficulties with being a wife, especially a "stay at home" wife. You see, wives do not know what we (husbands) are thinking. 

Men and women tend to be very different in responding to issues. Women like to "talk things out." Men do not. Women seek wisdom in conversations, in sharing, in listening to each other's ideas. Men do not. Men just think about things. Men prefer to consider issues privately and to speak only when they have an answer or, if pressed, only when they realize they have no answer. Women, therefore, often talk about options that even they reject, whereas men think of such conversations as a waste of time. 

For wives, this is a big problem, because you never know what he is thinking. You may think you know. Our culture is filled with the idea that we "really know" what other people are thinking. This is false. Scripture warns us of this reality. "Who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?" 1 Cor. 2:11. We may have some idea about what someone else is thinking, but we do not know. 

And he won't tell you what he is thinking. Asking him "what are you thinking" is not going to get you a truthful answer, because once you ask the question, he is then thinking about your question. 

I think this is a real challenge for wives. So much of your life is dependent upon your husband (just as his is dependent upon you). Loving your husband means living, every day, with this little bit of a lack of knowledge. You will catch yourself trying to guess what he is thinking and often judging what you think he is thinking. I remember my wife once accusing me of looking at another woman inappropriately and I was puzzled because I could not remember the other woman even being in the room. I was looking at something else where she happened to be. 

But how was my wife to know that? And how could I possibly convince her of it?

Loving anyone requires us to accept that we do not know what they are thinking. It doesn't matter how many clever shows we have watched, or how much "Oprah" we have seen, or what the latest magazine article says, you really don't know. And he does not know what you are thinking either. 

Every day, you live with a man you do not fully understand. This is one of the great mysteries of marriage. It requires patience, including the patience that allows each of us to have our own thoughts. It requires faith that God is sovereign and that He is in control of what happens to us. It requires love, to accept and serve someone as fallible and as secret as our partner in life.   
Weddings are kind of amazing. This has not always been true, of course. There was a time, not so long ago, when "big weddings" were events for rich people. Now, it seems that everyone must have a big wedding. Even people marrying for the third or fourth time want the whole thing done "right."

I wonder about how we got here. Until the middle of the last century (the 1900's, for those who have forgotten), weddings were simple affairs for almost everyone. The bride would wear her nicest dress, the groom would wear his suit, and the family and friends would all gather. The minister officiated in the church attended by one of the two parties (usually the bride). Very simple.

Rich people, of course, had very different weddings. They had expensive gowns and catered receptions. But they were rich. They did not have these things to impress anyone, but just because that was what they did.

Now, almost everyone wants a big wedding. More accurately, women seem to want big weddings. It is "their day," we are endlessly told. To this end, their fathers are expected to spend thousands of dollars, proving how they "love" their little girl. It is really rather sad.

After all, the services are all pretty much alike. The cliches are the same. People light the "unity candle," which is kind of cute but not very meaningful on any real level. Often, they will have "communion" with just the married couple, which is really odd given that it is called "communion" because it is supposed to be of all believers, but I digress.

The key is that the wedding itself does not really mean anything. The wedding I attended this weekend was, without question, the finest ceremony of any kind I have ever attended. The church was beautiful, the dresses were beautiful, the reception was as perfect as anything can be. The couple looked beautiful. Everything was perfect.

Yet, I wondered. They are married now and, once the ceremony is over, they are just as married (and no more married) than any other couple. Everyone had fun and the economy was nicely stimulated, but, at the end, it is still a young man and a young woman beginning an immense task.

I hope someone told them about all this. I hope that someone, at some time, said to them that they should think very seriously about the whole situation, not just love the wedding. They have good parents and good ministers and I am pretty sure someone talked to them. They seemed to take it all very well.

I hope they know how important this all is. I hope that all the cliches of the service actually meant something to them. I hope they understand that all the noise and bands and crowds will do them no good when they hit their first difficult situation.

I am always thankful for my own wedding. My bride did it all. We had a small wedding, in her small church, with family and friends. Our reception was a pot-luck brought by her family and friends. Our "honeymoon" was moving into our new place. Our photographer was her uncle (we never even look at the pictures). Everything in our wedding said "we are starting a normal life together." I am glad of all that.

A beautiful wedding is a lot of fun. I enjoyed this weekend's wedding as much as any I have attended, except for two. First, my own wedding. Second, the one wedding I performed. In that wedding, the bride and groom decided to forego the usual cliches and have a church celebration of their marriage, and it was beautiful of them to do so.

I love a nice wedding. I hope it will be the start of a wonderful relationship.
Last night, my wife and I attended a wedding rehearsal dinner for the daughter of a close friend. At some point, of course, people got up to give toasts and tell stories. I did not say anything because I am not a close friend of the young people. But if I had, I think I would have said something like this:

Our God is an amazing God. All that He does is beyond our full understanding. We see the complexities and beauties of His creation everywhere we look. From the mountains, to the oceans, to the trees, to the leaves on the trees, each thing is complex, subtle, beautifully arranged. Even in small things, His hand always leaves marks of His love for us. As we peel an orange, we find segments and segments within segments, all there by His grace.

He does the same thing in the marriages He has given us. Those of us here, who have been married many years, can tell you this. He has created each of you, filled with your own thoughts and your own ideas, your own wants and your own needs. And, now, He brings the two of you together in a married couple.

You think, sitting here, that you know what this marriage will bring. You believe that you know the one you love so well that nothing will surprise you. But God always surprises you. For a Creator who lavished such care on oranges and leaves, imagine the care He has lavished on each of you.

Tomorrow evening, at your wedding, His creative powers will be shown again in you. You will learn so much more than you know now about each other. In years to come, it will seem, looking back, that you knew nothing on your wedding day. The depths of who you are, and Who He is, will amaze you.

In 30 years, and I speak from experience, you will be amazed at what God has wrought.

In the book "The Magician's Nephew," CS Lewis tells of a boy and girl who observe the creation of the world of Narnia. It is a beautiful story, filled with amazement and even fear, as life comes from nothing.

Tonight, we, your friends, are like that boy and girl. We stand and watch as God creates a new thing, a living, breathing, relationship like nothing that ever existed before. To Him, therefore, and to you, we raise a toast. To new life and to new lives. May God bless you as you begin yours.
For a lot of us, marriage represented a kind of "fixed state" into which we were entering. We knew our parent's marriages, or so we thought, and they seemed pretty stable. Whether good or bad, they looked stable to us. We did not think of ourselves as changing and we certainly did not think our new spouse was going to change, so everything would be "just like today."

We learned, within a few weeks at least, that this was not true. Your suddenly sexual relationship alone made a big difference, if you were celibate until marriage, but everything changed. You suddenly lived together and saw each other all the time. You saw your spouse not just when they were ready to be seen, but all the time. Things change. 

Getting used to that change is sort of the center part of being married. You come to realize that all the "stable" marriages you saw when you were young only looked stable. They were actually dynamic relationships, changing all the time. The people who had you as a baby (when they were 25 or so) were very different from the people who raised you (in their 30's) and the people who hold your children as their grandchildren (in their 50's). 

That is kind of what it is all about. I realized, the other day, that I actually do not even remember the details of my marriage relationship from 20 years ago. I cannot remember the tones of voice that seemed so important at the time. I don't remember how much we laughed, or cried, or just sat silent. I remember some events, but the day to day experience of the marriage is not something easy to remember. (What I do remember, I do not trust. I know how memory clouds things.)

So, lots of things change. Everything, in fact, changes. You change. He changes. Your situations change. Everything changes.

Yet, still, there is something that must be said. I remember more than you might think. I do not remember all the little things of my life, but I remember my wife. I remember how she looked when I married her. I remember how she looked on our first night together. I remember how much I loved her then, knowing her only a very little compared to now. Sometimes, when I look at her now, I see the girl I married, as she was when I married her. I cannot look at myself and see myself as a young man, but I can look at her and remember her as a young wife.

Everything changes and we deal with those changes. We grow and our love grows and we have hard times. Sometimes, it seems that the changes may overwhelm us.

But, if we stay together, we build something worth having. Through all the changes, if we hold to each other, we end up with something that cannot be broken.
Right now, my life is going pretty well (except for money, but why be depressing now). I am enjoying my life. One of the things I do when I enjoy something is I smile. I also laugh. I enjoy things, I smile, and I laugh. 

This drives my wife crazy. To her, laughing is what you do when something is funny. When she hears a laugh (even when she sees a smile), she assumes that I am "laughing at" something. If I am laughing because of how much I love her, she assumes I am "laughing at" her and is offended. 

Is that about as good an example of human relationships as you can find? I laugh because I am happy and in love with her. My wife remains a beautiful woman and I am happy to be married ot her. I sometimes see her and just smile at the pleasure of her presence. She interprets this as being unloving. AARGH!

How often this is how our lives go. Everyone is doing something logical and reasonable and kind, but it is not perceived that way by everyone. I was raised in a happy family where smiling and laughing were how we related. She was raised in an unhappy family where negative attitudes and judgment were frequent. Her response to my laughing is as automatic as my laughing is. She is being reasonable, I am being reasonable.
Going forward in your life, be very careful about how you interpret what your husband does. Remember that his life was not like yours before you were married. No matter how long you have been married, he is not exactly like you. He may not mean what you think he means. 

So, how am I supposed to deal with this? I don't know. I enjoy my life and I love my wife and would not know how to stop smiling and laughing. The trouble is that I really do love her and am happy to be with her. 

Smiling and laughing is pretty much a natural response. :)