One of my more humorous professors in seminary said, in regard to his own marriage, that he had never considered divorce, but murder – that was another matter. As students, we all got a good laugh, but our professor was making a salient point. Even the best of marriages is an ongoing challenge and requires intentional work. Whether we are single or married, our tendency is to either cynically devalue marriage as a downer or idolize it as the path to ultimate happiness. The Holy Scripture wisely avoids both polarities and instead offers a hopeful realism about marriage.
With the start of a new year, one of my most heartfelt prayers is that our marriages would grow and flourish. So what makes a flourishing marriage? Recently I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by University of Virginia sociology professor, Dr. Brad Wilcox, who is one of the leading researchers on marriage in America. Dr. Wilcox has done extensive empirical research of marriage across diverse incomes, educational levels, and ethnicities. The results have been recently published in his book, Soul Mates.
Research points to the importance of the religious component of marriage. While there are many factors that contribute to a deepening and fulfilling marriage, such as economic stability, wise financial management, and effective interpersonal communication skills, Dr. Wilcox points to two other factors that make a huge difference. Can you guess what they are? The first factor is couples that regularly attend worship together. The second factor is couples that pray together.
Dr. Wilcox asserts that if these two factors are in place, marriage satisfaction and family health rise and divorce rates plummet. I know many marriages in our church family are struggling and in need of a fresh dose of encouragement and hope. If you are married, may I encourage you to renew your commitment to regularly pray together and make church attendance a higher priority? I am confident both of these spiritual disciplines will foster your intimacy with Christ, as well as with each other. If your marriage is in a difficult place or you sense a marital tune-up is in order, please take the step to seek out professional help. Our pastoral staff is eager to refer you to one of many excellent professional Christian counselors in our city.
In a cultural moment where marriage is being redefined and increasingly questioned, may we be a local church where marriages truly flourish. This may be our most compelling gospel witness to a skeptical, yet watching, world.