While most of you know that I’m the pastor at Canyon Springs Church, you may not know that I have another job too. I officiate a lot of wedding ceremonies in my spare time; in fact, they call me the San Diego Wedding Guy. Google it and you’ll see. I performed 42 weddings last year; that’s a lot of weddings, but it’s how I help my kids get through college.  When I do a wedding I like to talk about the couple’s history:  how they met, how they got engaged, what they like about each other.  In the course of my many years I’ve heard some strange stories.  Let me give you a few:

  • Felix and Noreen met at a condo barbecue.  They hit it off right away.  Only one problem.  Noreen lived in San Diego and Felix lived in Lyon, France.  I’ve heard of long distance romance but that is extreme.   I married them a couple of weeks ago.
  • I did a wedding for a couple who met trying out for American Idol. After Simon made fun of both of them in their auditions, they drown their sorrow in tequila and pizza and fell in love.
  • I did a wedding for a couple that met on the 15 freeway in different cars.  Somehow he was able to get her phone number driving 75 miles per hour on the freeway.  (I just pray that isn’t any of my children’s love story.)
  • The craziest love story I ever heard was from a couple I married last July.  They met one night at a bar.  As they talked they found out that they had both been to the Rivera Hotel in Palm Springs the weekend before.  He had taken a funny picture of a buddy of his at the Rivera and when he pulled out his phone to show it to her, she was in the picture photo bombing.

I do lots of weddings.  I hear lots of love stories.  I hear lots of different vows.  But no matter how different the stories, there is always one vow that is made at every wedding.  The phrasing changes slightly, but at every wedding I hear couples say these words: “I will love you as long as we both shall live.”

Everyone who gets married says it, but let me ask you a question: What are the odds?  What are the odds that they will love each other as long as they both shall live?  Everyone of them believes it when they say it, but will it happen?  What are the odds they make it to “as long as we both shall live?”

In the United States, researchers estimate that 40%–50% of all first marriages, and 60% of second marriages, will end in divorce.

But even if your marriage doesn’t end in divorce, there is still failure involved in every marriage.  The percentage of married people who respond that their marriages are “very happy” has gradually declined over the last four decades.  The most recent studies show that 63.1% of men and 60.7% of women classify their marriages as such. There are all kinds of marriage fails, so many that there is no way that you can avoid them.  Marriage includes financial fails and communication fails and insensitivity fails and you-hurt-my-feelings fails.  Each one of these fails can erode our marital happiness.

As I’ve discussed in some of my previous posts this month, failure is inevitable. We are missing the mark if we try not to fail. Our goal shouldn’t be to never fail; it should be to fail forward. To fail and get back up.   There’s a verse in the Bible that represents this concept perfectly:

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13,14

No where is this more important than in our marriage.  We will fail. But we can’t give up. We have to forget what is behind.  Forget the past mistakes.  Forget who our spouse used to be. We have to press ahead. Allow God to do a new thing in our marriages.

The Word

Today we are going to look at a biblical example of a marriage that was based on failure.  Let me start by saying this:  You don’t have to be married to learn from this post.  If you’re not married yet, you will be.  If you have been married and are no longer, 1) you’ll be glad I’m telling other people these things that you may have experienced the hard way and 2) you never know when you’re going to be back at the altar.  Plus, these principles work for all relationships not just marriage; we just happen to be using the example of marriage today.

Today we are going to look at a marriage that God himself arranged. If your marriage was directly arranged by God, you probably think it should be like one of those perfectly scripted TV marriages like Mike and Carol Brady or Rob and Laura Petri or Weezie and George Jefferson. I know most of you reading this have no idea who I’m talking about, but trust me those marriages could only have existed on TV and trust me when I say that they are nothing like this one that carried God’s seal of approval. Look with me at Hosea 1:

1 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel: 2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” Hosea 1:1,2

“Go marry a promiscuous woman.” Did God just tell Hosea to “go marry a promiscuous woman?” Yes…yes, he did and in case you are wondering and as we’ll see later, he wasn’t just referring to a woman who had been around.  God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute.  And this isn’t Julie Roberts in pretty woman.  Hollywood can romanticize anything but there is nothing romantic about the life of a prostitute.  99% of the time this is not a chosen profession.  It’s either forced by financial circumstances, usually starvation, or a woman is sold into slavery.  In our world today there are as many as 46 million slaves and 22% of those are sex slaves.  Most likely, this is the kind of woman God is asking Hosea to marry.

Why would God have Hosea marry a woman like this?  Let me give you the backstory.  Hosea is a prophet and he lived during a time with the people of Israel had turned their back on God.  God had saved them from slavery and brought them prosperity, and they had turned their back on him and were serving another god called Baal.  Hosea’s marriage is an example of what the people of Israel had done to God. They were about as faithful as a prostitute.    So let’s meet this bride of Hosea’s.  Look at verse 3:

3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Hosea 1:3

When I started dating I made a pact with myself to never marry a woman named Gomer.   Hosea met Gomer and they did what a lot of us do after we get married: they had children. They had three children and God himself named them. Are you ready for more questionable names? Hosea and Gomer’s children were named Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, for reasons too complicated to explain here, though if you are reading along in your Bible and would like some clarification on why God sounds so mean (he’s not, by the way), post a comment and I’ll be happy to give you my take on what’s going on.

So God asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, which Hosea faithfully did, God blessed their marriage with 3 healthy children (though they didn’t have the best names); is this the happy ending they Hosea and Gomer were praying for? Not so much. In Hosea Chapter 3 we learn just how unfaithful Gomer really was:

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” Hosea 3:1-3

This is how we know Gomer is a prostitute:  Hosea had to buy her back to bring her home.

Of all of the kinds of marriages God uses this one as an example.  This is the one he chooses to teach us with.  As I have studied this story, this last week there are 4 messages I think God wants us to hear from it.  It deals with 4 failures that are a threat to all of our relationships:

1) A successful relationship cannot fail to forgive

In this story God doesn’t just ask Hosea to forgive. He asks him to forgive the hardest thing to forgive in a marriage:  unfaithfulness.  As I read this story, I wondered what happened between chapter 1 and chapter 3?  In chapter 1, Hosea rescues this woman from the sex slave trade and they start a family.  Seems like life is good.  What happened in those next two chapters?

  • Did they grow apart?
  • Did Gomer get bored with being a housewife?
  • Was she angry that Hosea gave all her kids weird names? (I don’t think it was that. If you’re a woman named Gomer, you can’t complain about weird baby names.)

There are all kinds of reasons why a person chooses an affair I found a list of the top reasons why people have an affair in Psychology Today:

  • Lack of sexual satisfaction in your primary relationship.
  • Lack of emotional satisfaction in your primary relationship.
  • Wanting emotional validation from someone else.
  • Falling out of love with your partner.
  • Your wanting to seek revenge.

I don’t know why Gomer ran away from Hosea, but here’s what I can guarantee you: It brought both of them tremendous hurt and pain.  I’ve dealt with lots of couples who’ve experienced affairs.  For some reason people come to me when they’ve cheated and when they’ve been cheated on. I’ve talked to a lot of people on both ends of the infidelity stick and I can tell you one thing, no one in this situation feels happy or fulfilled or justified or relieved. The only thing anyone involved in infidelity, and I mean anyone– the cheater, the cheated on, certainly the children, and lets not forget, the infamous third-party to the cheating– feels is pain. And from what I understand, it is pain of the most devastating variety and pain that can last for years, regardless of whether you decide to end the marriage or to stay.

Hosea felt all of it. But what does God ask him to do?  Forgive.  Accept her back.  Put the family back together.  Now listen, if your partner has had an affair, I’m not saying you have to stay.  Jesus didn’t say you have to stay.  Look up what Jesus says in Matthew 19.  But I am saying you have to forgive.

If you don’t forgive not only will it destroy whatever relationship you’re in, it will destroy you.  It’s hurts your self esteem, raises your anxiety, hurts your relationships, even damages your health.  There are studies that show that when you don’t forgive, your blood pressure is higher and your immune system is damaged. Anne Lamott put it like this: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

[bctt tweet=”“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Anne Lamott” username=”canyon_springs”]

2) A successful relationship cannot fail to believe the best

God allowed Hosea to see good in Gomer when no one else could.  He wants us to do the same in our relationships.

There was a study done on successful marriages in the book One Thing You Need to Know, by Marcus Buckingham.  It’s a business leadership book, but in it they did a study on what makes marriage successful.  They took couples that have been together for over 10 years and who were experiencing a joyful marriage.  Coming into this study they had an idea about what they would find.  They had already done a study of unhappy marriages and in unhappy couples they found that there that there were huge misunderstandings between the two parties about what each other was like.  When they were dating they thought that there were this, when they really turned out to be that.  Consequently, researchers thought that when they interviewed happy couples that they would find that happy couples had a good grasp of who their spouse really was.  That these couples would know each other and would do really well on the old game show, “The Newlywed Game.”  But what they found was not what they expected.

They discovered that happy couples actually held just as unrealistic views of each other as unhappy couples.  They learned this by asking each member of the couple to fill out a series of questions. They asked them to answer the questionnaire twice: once about themselves and once about their spouse. What they found in a happy marriage is that in nearly every case, she rated him higher in every category than he rated himself.  With the men it was the same: he rated her higher than she rated herself.  They found that these couples were just as blind in love as the unhappy couples but in an idealized way and this positive illusion created this uphill spiral of love.

Here is one key to a successful marriage.  Believe the best in the people around you.  Believe the best in your spouse. Believe the best in your kids. Believe the best in your co-workers.

3) A successful relationship cannot fail to prioritize the right things

I end every wedding I ever do with this last phrase: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man or woman not separate.”  When we read these verses we tend to think that they are talking about men and women who might separate us by luring us into an affair and truly, that is a danger.  For men, when the passions fade in a marriage, it’s super easy to start looking to fulfill those passions on a computer screen or a movie or another woman at the office or in the gym.  For women, when distance enters a relationship and they aren’t getting the emotional and communication connection that they need, they tend to look outside to someone who will value them and tell them that they are pretty.  In our culture there are any number of men and women who are more than willing to step in and break up a marriage.

But if you ask me, other men and women and computers and movies are not the biggest danger of splitting marriages.  In my opinion, the people most likely to take down your marriage and separate you from your spouse are already living in your home and they might not even be as tall as your belly button.  They are your own kids and as much as we love them, they can wreak havoc on a marriage.  We get so focused on grades and sports and singing lessons and dance lessons and Tai Kwon Do that our spouse loses priority.

We don’t know much about Hosea and Gomer but this we do know: they had three kids. Three strangely named kids granted but three kids just the same.  Perhaps in all the hustle and all the hassle, Hosea and Gomer lost track of what was important…each other.

If you are currently married and have kids, I want to challenge you to do something that will make your marriage better and provide a better home for your children.  From time to time completely neglect your kids. Find a sitter. Go away for an overnight.  Plan a second honeymoon.  I’m not saying leave your kids with just any one you happen to meet on the street, but don’t forget to prioritize each other.

Okay, I have one more failure you have to overcome.  All of the others have been for all our relationship, but this one is marriage specific.

4) A successful marriage cannot fail to understand the secrets of sex

I want to close with the sex talk.  Clearly sex was at the center of the issues between Hosea and Gomer.  It might be at the center of your marriage issues as well and even if it’s not now, it will be.  So I want to give you the sex talk.  I give this talk to every couple that comes into my office for pre-marital counseling.  It’s the last thing I tell them.  Do I have your attention? Okay, here goes:

You have to understand that men and women feel connected in different ways.  Wives tend to feel connected when they are in communication.  Husbands feel connected when they have sex.  So typically, this is what happens. The wife is saying, “talk to me, talk to me, talk to me” and the husband is saying, “Come to bed with me, come to bed with me.”

Husbands, if you want to have more sex, the key is not asking more.  You’ve tried that.  It doesn’t work.  They key is staying in communication.  Listen and connect with your wife.  Even if the story is the same over and over and over. She feels close when you listen. When you don’t try to solve, when you just listen.  You want more sex, listen more.

Ladies, just because your husband wants to go to bed all the time doesn’t mean he’s an animal.  That’s just how he connects.  That’s how he feels close.  Don’t wait for the planets to align to be intimate.  Guys are very visually oriented and live in a world where there are sexual images everywhere: on computers, on TV, in magazines, even on the phones we carry in our pockets.  When you keep your distance, you are sending your husband out into a very sexually oriented world unarmed.  Kevin Leman put it like this. “For a man, sex is the great problem solver.  If he had a bad day, sex makes it disappear.”

Now what makes this difficult is that sex is the most important thing to a husband, but not a wife.  Check this out.  A recent Lewis-Harris national poll surveyed woman, asking how they ranked various things in their life and sex was fourteenth.  Do you know what was thirteenth? Gardening.  I can’t speak for my wife but I will say this: She hates gardening.

God put it like this.

3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I Corinthians 7:3-5

For my marriage to work, I have to understand what my wife needs and my wife needs to understand what I need.  Your focus isn’t you, it’s your spouse. Guys will give love to get sex.  Women will give sex to get love.

Brittany Wong is the divorce editor at the Huffington Post and she’s often asked by people if their sex life is normal.  “Forget about ‘normal.’ ‘Normal’ is a setting on the washing machine, nothing more. What’s most important is that you learn to have empathy for your partner and accept whatever their needs might be, even if they are different than your own,”

Failure is inevitable, but in our marriages, if nowhere else, we can’t give up; we must continue to fail forward. Til next time.