by Shane Fookes, MA MDiv, Registered Counseling Associate
Couples are often surprised (and rather disappointed) when, after they detail out their pain and struggle, I reply with something like, “Sounds like your marriage is working!”
When I reply this way, I’m not taking their pain and struggle lightly. Rather, I’m inviting them to see their pain and struggle differently. It’s not that I’m some kind of masochist who enjoys pain. I just know that people seldom change and mature without pain and struggle. When a couple is actually brave enough to reach out for help during such a time, I have great hope for them!
This is the 5th and final post in this Balanced Marriage blog series. The first post introduced and expanded on the work of Dr. David Schnarch and his “Crucible 4 Points of Balance.” The second post examined the first point of balance: a Solid, Flexible Self. The third post considered the second point of balance: Quiet Mind and Calm Heart. The fourth post described the third point of balance: Grounded Responding. This post introduces Schnarch’s fourth point of balance: Meaningful Endurance.
We live in a culture that emphasizes immediate and short-term benefits for our choices. We regularly hear messages like “do what makes you happy” and “if you don’t like what you have, toss it and get something new.” This cultural message goes against what is observably true about how life actually works. It’s also contrary to what we read in the Bible (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:3-4).
Whether we like it or not, pain and suffering are a part of marriage! It’s not a matter of if you’ll get hurt, but when.
The question is: what do we do with the pain?
Simply put, we can let pain debilitate us or mature us. From psychology, we’ve learned the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It describes how a person becomes debilitated after prolonged stressful and traumatic events. Interestingly, not everyone experiences PTSD after difficult events. Rather than being debilitated, some people grow stronger. This “post-traumatic strength” is also known as resilience. One of the most important aspects of someone with resilience is the ability to make meaning out of their pain. This is what is meant by Meaningful Endurance.
Meaningful Endurance involves willfully tolerating discomfort for growth. When you think about it, this is something required for mastering anything in life. You cannot develop a new skill, gain knowledge, or fine-tune your abilities without Meaningful Endurance. You engage in Meaningful Endurance when you are able to say and live out the following sentence:
“I choose to endure _______ because I want _________.”
Meaningful Endurance is not merely stubbornly persevering nor turning a blind eye to problems. It is not about developing a high pain tolerance or settling for a lousy relationship. Meaningful Endurance is about willfully choosing actions and responses based on your freely chosen values, even when it hurts. When you do so you become stronger. You increase your capacity to live out your values. A meaningful life requires the ability to persevere in hope while enduring hardship. I don’t like that answer. I just know it to be true!
Meaningful Endurance is built into the biblical concept of covenant relationship.
A covenant relationship is built on promise rather than performance; on choice rather than requirement. It offers a love that flows from the character of the person offering it. And it’s the kind of love God offers. Exodus 34 provides one picture of this when God established a covenant relationship with the people of Israel. It comes out when God introduces himself to Moses:
Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Exodus 34:5-6
That’s God saying: this is who I am. And this is what I do because of who I am. Unfailing love. Faithfulness. Mercy. Compassion. Slow anger. We see these same qualities in Jesus. Jesus loved us and died for us before we got our act together, before we had anything to offer. He loves us because he chooses to out of the overflow of his goodness and kindness.
That same kind of love is necessary to meaningfully endure the inevitable hardships that come with any marriage.
Consider Online Therapy in Oregon for Christian Marriage Counseling
Our Clackamas and Beaverton-based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:
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Other Mental Health Services at Life Discovery Counseling in Oregon
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About the Author
Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Registerred Counseling Associate. He served as a pastor for 17 years and is still involved in leading churches. He writes about marriage and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.