Friday, June 29, 2007

The first twenty years

Phil Ryken wrote an exellent piece, reflecting on the first 20 years of his marriage to his wife, Lisa. I was surprised and amused by our similarities! (So much so that I emailed the link to my wife so that she could get a chuckle). The most important similarity was how Ryken closed his reflection:

If there is one practical principle that Lisa and I would insist on for marriage it is the absolute necessity of resolving any conflicts the same day they occur. We have taken Paul’s words to the Ephesians very literally: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). In order to prevent Satan from ever getting the chance to divide our partnership, we have sometimes stayed up late into the night. But in twenty years, by the grace of God, we have never gone to bed without being totally reconciled.

In nearly 14 years of marriage, my wife and I have followed this same principle. It made for some late nights (2 or 3 in the morning; yikes!). And yet, I think it has been important for us/me to pursue repentance and reconcilation so that we/I would not grow bitter. The other key principle has been the verse at the end of Ephesians 4: "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another just as Christ has forgiven you" (4:32). Extending forgivenness freely and maintaining tender-heartedness toward each other, especially when we've sinned against each other, has been hugely important for us as well.


Vitamin Z said...

Interesting thoughts Sean. My wife and I have considered this text and choose not to follow it literally. Obviously the point of the text is not that we "don't let the sun go down on our anger" meaning, if the sun goes down at 5:30 pm in Dec and you are still angry, then you are in sin, but rather, resolve conflicts as soon as possible!

What my wife and I have found (and counsel young couples in) is that sometimes a conflict at 2am is just going to not go anywhere positive due to tiredness, thus sleep is the exact thing your conflict needs for some clear thinking and repentance in the morning. Over and over again we have seen this to be true. Oftentimes we wake up in the morning and find ourselves saying "what were we even fighting about?"
For sure we try to resolve, but there are times when you just need to go to bed and talk in the morning. This is not the norm for us, but it's our style. Everyone is different I think though and we can't make hard and fast rules with this one other than the Biblical principle to resolve "as far as it depends on you".

Just my take. I would love your thoughts.

nickg said... is unfathomable to me that y'all have been able to meet this standard for so many years. And for Dr. Ryken to be able to use the phrase "totally reconciled"--Wow. It's not that I don't believe you both, but I just cannot even conceive of how such a goal would be attempted in our marriage. My wife and I process conflict in completely different ways. Personally, I would prefer to talk out conflict immediately. My wife, however, needs time to consider the situation and her response to it (both expressed and internal). There was a time early on in our marriage when I would often try to force the issue, in order to try to live up to this principle. But not only did it not work, it also always made things worse.

Part of the problem is, it is not wrong to be angry at sin. In fact, anger at sin is righteous. So, if I have sinned against my wife, and not repented, then it is not necessarily wrong for my wife to be angry about it. Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently sanctified enough that I always fully repent each night for that day's sins. So, bless her for the way her response to my sin will not allow me to remain in unrepentance--even if it isn't until a night or a day or more later.

I guess I'm more or less agreeing with Z that I think Paul's intent is to say to resolve conflict quickly. I think even in Paul's letters we see him express anger toward people for things they must have done previous to that day.

What I find interesting is, I cannot remember a single instance when I have heard Eph 4:26 applied to any relationship other than marriage. Yet Paul isn't at all explicitly speaking about marriage in that passage. In the preceding verse, he is talking about interactions with one's "neighbor." I suppose that one's spouse is one's most immediate neighbor, and the one who is usually most accessible at sunset. But still, how come nobody applies this principle "strictly" with all relationships in the church, as the context seems to indicate that Paul is actually talking about? Maybe I'm just sheltered and preachers do it all the time, or maybe I've just missed that day when my own pastors or teachers have applied it that way. I just find it interesting, and a bit strange. Maybe it's just as unfathomable to most people how such a standard could apply to all relationships in the church as it is to me how it could apply in my marriage. Too bad that just because something is unfathomable, it doesn't mean that we (or I) are not still called, by God's grace, to strive for it. But thank God for the Gospel!

Anonymous said...

excellent comments. i have long thought this text was over interpreted/applied by many preachers.

as for this kind of marriage (total reconciliation every night), i think it a rarity even among christians. it is also the kind of thing that can discourage many who are struggling to hear this sort of near-perfect example held up as normative.

sometimes preachers can be real friends of Job in these things if they are not careful.

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hmm. I'm a little puzzled by these reactions; maybe I'm missing something. I wasn't making this a principle for anyone per (nor do I think Phil Ryken was either). I was simply observing that there was a great deal of similiarity in the way the Rykens and Lucases process relational conflict.

As Vitamin Z and nickg both note--there are different ways of processing conflict and dealing with sin and disagreement; Ephesians 4:26-32 deals with the "new man" life learned from Christ and not specifically with marriage (although it seems like it would be hard to exclude marriage from this text; and marriage would be the most obvious venue to deal wtih these issues); and that anger is not necessarily sinful--sin is sinful and is what needs to be dealt with. All true.

That being said, I've done enough marriage counseling to know that people who are unwilling to process conflict (by claming up, bailing out, etc.) or who are unwilling to seek forgiveness or extend forgiveness will not have a sustainable or satisfying marriage. I think all the commenting folks would agree on that. The reason I posted on this was because the way we (i.e. Rykens and Lucases) process that conflict and seek forgiveness and reconcilation was amazingly similar. sml

nickg said...

I do agree.


Dr. Ryken said, "If there is one practical principle that Lisa and I would insist on for marriage it is the absolute necessity of resolving any conflicts the same day they occur."

Vitamin Z said...


I agree as well. I think the only reason I commented was because when my wife and I were first married we had a mentor couple that told us to be sure to resolve all conflicts before you go to sleep, no matter what. We tried this, but often found that sleep sometimes was exactly what our conflict needed! Sleep-deprivation alters one's worldview, I believe, thus, it's a wisdom issue here, not a Biblical law issue. Yes and Amen to not bottling this up and actually dealing with conflict as quickly as possible!