Scores of young couples today think that once their wedding day arrives — their work is essentially over.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as a smart new book makes clear — as well as so much more. In “Are We There Yet?” authors Paul Chappell and Terrie Chappell of Lancaster, California, take readers through the “long road trip” of marriage — in the best possible sense. The relationship is a journey, an experience and an opportunity for tremendous growth, not a mere label or “status.” It’s a way of life, not a passing phase. And it’s a communion with God for Christian couples, during which men and women can “grow as a couple” and even shed some baggage along the way, as the book demonstrates through practical advice and vivid anecdotes.
Dr. Paul Chappell is the senior pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and the president of West Coast Baptist College, while his wife, Terrie Chappell, leads the church’s women’s ministry and is a conference speaker. The Chappells have been married for 36 years and have four married children and nine grandchildren.
LifeZette interviewed Dr. Paul Chappell via email for his insights into the best ways to create and build a strong marriage today, as couples face a myriad of challenges — and also for his thoughts on how to be sure God remains a key part of that relationship and journey.
Question: Marriage is sometimes a hard, even painful journey — yet one that’s ultimately worth the trouble. What must newly married couples or those contemplating marriage especially keep in mind?
Answer: Many couples think of marriage as a destination, as Terrie and I share in our book. These couples think that once the wedding is over, they’ve arrived and can now settle into the rest of their lives. The reality is, marriage is more of a journey. It is an ongoing process of learning to understand and love your spouse as you draw closer to one another over the years.
Yes, there are bumps in the road and detours along the way. But overall, marriage really is an awesome journey. None of us have “arrived.” But when you take two people who are committed to the Lord and to one another, and have surrendered to follow what God says about marriage, there’s no telling where that marriage can go.
And if I could add a word here to the one whose spouse doesn’t know the Lord or doesn’t seem to be as interested in working at this marriage journey: Remember that the larger journey of the Christian life is growing in our relationship with God. Part of growing in a relationship with the Lord is growing in the role of husband or wife. So don’t give up. God can use your commitment to Him and to your spouse to touch your spouse’s heart along the way.
Q: Patience is a virtue — never more true than with marriage. Why is it important to forgive and be patient with our partners as we move through the journey together?
A: The short answer is because none of us are perfect! Seriously, you can go through marriage holding onto every offense your spouse commits against you — and in doing so, your relationship only gets heavier and heavier. Or — you can choose to grow in patience and learn to forgive, and travel much, much lighter.
It’s important to be a good “forgiver,” as we share in our book. It’s a two-way street, and it makes a difference in a marriage.
Q: How can couples ensure that God is part of the union on an ongoing and meaningful basis, not just on the wedding day?
A: God designed marriage to be an ongoing weaving together of two lives. This is why couples who have been married for several decades (and have continued to grow in their relationship) have become so close that they really know one another. Sometimes it even seems like they are each other — a union, not separate units — in their daily living.
The most significant ways this intertwining of souls takes place is through spiritual growth together. And you’re right: It’s not just the one-time moment at the wedding. It is in the ongoing habits carried out day after day: praying together, reading God’s Word together, worshipping together, serving together, and living out God’s will with one another.
Q: What about these lines from your book? Share some insight into this sentiment: “Times of trial have the potential to make or break a marriage. On one hand, they can drive us to the Lord and to each other … On the other hand, we may respond wrongly to trial and reject God’s grace and allow the stress to drive us away from each other.”
A: I love the quote by Hudson Taylor: “It doesn’t matter how great the pressure is; what matters is where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord.” This is true in our relationship with the Lord but also true in our relationship with our spouse. When you’re in a time of trial, there are always extra stresses.
If a couple isn’t careful and intentional, that stress can actually become a wedge between them. But if they instead make a conscious choice to let that stress drive them closer to the Lord as they pray together and work together as a team, the trial can make them stronger.
We’ve seen this in our marriage over the years and in our children’s marriages, as they’ve gone through cancer, serious surgery for their own children, and more. And we’ve also seen it in couples in our church who have become closer than ever through the trials of life.
Q: Speaking of children, once the little ones come along, couples find they’re often driven apart by stresses on their time and their resources. How can married couples remain close and dedicated to one another no matter how much they’re juggling — which can be a great deal?
A: Practical, thoughtful advice here is really needed. It begins with identifying your priorities. No husband and wife shares the exact same responsibilities in every facet of life. However, their highest two or three priorities had better be the same if they expect to keep their lives connected. These would be their relationship with the Lord, with one another, and then perhaps as parents or grandparents, and on from there with their individual responsibilities.
“No husband and wife shares the exact same responsibilities in every facet of life.”
After establishing these priorities, it is important couples carve out time to purposefully connect and, as we call it in the book, “sync their itineraries.” Some of the best ways to do this are building into your routines times when you daily, weekly, and seasonally connect. For example, you may commit to sharing at least one meal together each day, a weekly date, and periodic times to get away and focus on one another. The bottom line is that it takes intention, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Q: And yet today’s often crass culture doesn’t help couples remain dedicated to each other — the culture actually often works against a dedicated union.
A: One of the tragic casualties of our culture’s insistence on sexualizing everything is that it has removed the sacredness of marital intimacy. God designed this intimacy to be not only pleasurable, but sacred and honorable. So one of the most important parts of keeping a dedicated union is guarding one’s purity — both physically and mentally. In our marriage counseling experience, we’ve often encountered pornography as an enemy to purity in marriage. Porn isn’t just personally harmful; it’s hurtful and degrading to one’s spouse.
In one chapter of our book, called “Booking a Room,” we discuss purity — including suggesting resources for guarding the mind and gaining freedom. But we look at it in the larger context of three underlying values that must be present for a marriage to enjoy the kind of intimacy God designed: purity, passion and love. All three are important, and all three are addressed throughout Scripture.
Q: Any other advice you’d like to share about the importance of nurturing and keeping a strong marriage?
A: If you think of this relationship as a journey, it’s not a stretch at all to compare God’s Word to a road map or a GPS guide. Our problem isn’t that God hasn’t given us answers — but that we tend to think we’ll be fine without the map.
Some Christians assume the Bible is great for “spiritual” advice — like church and prayer — but has little to say about the issues we deal with on a daily basis. The truth is, the Bible addresses every practical area of life, including marriage. That’s why Terrie and I are excited about our new book. We shared many personal illustrations and emphasized practical applications throughout, yet the book really is Bible-based counsel. It’s the kind of counsel we’ve given couples now for over 30 years in pastoral ministry.
Yes, marriage is a journey — but God has also provided direction for this journey. Couples should seek out and follow His direction from His Word.
“Are We There Yet?” by Paul and Terrie Chappell, was just published on Oct. 17, 2017 (Striving Together Publications).