Family Meeting

Family Meeting

Every once in a while, Laura and I stumble into something that ends up being a tremendous blessing to our marriage.  As boring as it sounds, a weekly “family meeting” is one of those things.  For the record, the boys don’t participate!  But we both do and we’ve come to see it as a hugely valuable part of our week.

To be honest, we see the value so clearly because of the years of marriage we had without this kind of regular touch point.  We were chronically over scheduled, setting up conflicting meetings or not having enough time for ourselves.  There were times when Laura felt like she really didn’t know where we were financially because I do the majority of that work around the house.  It never felt like we had space to discuss major decisions – and, no, trying to work everything out in a series of texts throughout the day doesn’t count as “discussing.”  It was a recipe for frustration.  Even worse, those conversations would often spill into “date night.”  So, what should have been a fun, romantic chance to connect turned into a planning meeting!  Not cool.

In an attempt to regain control of our lives, work more as a team and help each other make better decisions, we started setting aside one hour a week to sit down in the evening after the boys are asleep (well, at least in bed!) and plan out our lives.  We pray together and then we hit on three major points:

  • Our finances.  This is usually just a quick update.  But it’s also a place to discuss unexpected expenses, larger purchases or adjusting our budget.
  • Our schedules.  This is the main event.  We’re constantly working to protect white space, to ask ourselves if we’re living out our priorities and setting realistic expectations for our week.  We both have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew – this is a little forced accountability.
  • Other decisions.  This could be anything from finding a pre-school for Jack, to thinking about a vacation, to checking in on how the other is doing spiritually.

I know many of us have an instinctively negative reaction to meetings.  You do your best to avoid them at work and now I’m trying to get you to add one into your home!  I get it.  That’s how I felt for a really long time.  But, the cost of not having this kind of regular check-in is so high in terms of wasted time, energy and emotion.  If nothing else, try this for a month and see how it goes.  My guess is it’ll become a regular part of your week and marriage.

When Marriage Is Miserable

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There are days when being married is just downright miserable.

That’s true for even the healthiest, most God honoring marriages in the church.  If you go into marriage thinking it’s going to be an uninterrupted symphony of laughter, joy, sex and perfect holiday memories, you’re going to be disappointed.  And if no one tells you marriage is designed to expose your sin, teach you about grace and make you more like Jesus, you’ll bail when it gets hard.  Or, you’ll stay and be miserable.

As we talked about on Sunday at Restoration City, God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16, NASB)  Even in circumstances where divorce is permissible, like sexual infidelity, it isn’t required or even preferred.  This means the church should be in the business of saving marriages.  But if we look at the divorce rates within the church, it’s clear that the strategy of prohibiting divorce and shaming those who are divorced isn’t working.  We need to find ways of upholding the Scripture’s teaching while building into the marriages in our churches.

So, what would I say to a couple trapped in a miserable marriage?  Let me offer three thoughts that work on bad days, bad seasons and even the days when you want to throw in the towel.

Look To Yourself

Nothing is easier than blaming your spouse for everything that’s wrong in your marriage.  You know them better than anyone else on the planet, including all of their sins, struggles and shortcomings.  So, it becomes really easy to pin the whole mess on them.  If he would just get in shape and earn more money, we would be happy.  If she would just spend less and have more sex, we would be happy.

But what if we were more willing to look to ourselves first and our spouses second.  Of course they aren’t perfect.  But neither are we.  Where is your selfishness, pride and lack of grace the real issue?  What could you change about you?

I wonder how many marriages could be saved by praying Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Look to God

God created marriage to make the gospel visible in our world. (Eph. 5:22-27).  There’s simply no way to do that without His grace and power.  And nothing accesses the grace and power of God like prayer.  Psalm 105:4, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”  Simply put, the power of God is found in the presence of God.

Couples who won’t pray together are hiding from the only One who can change hearts, work miracles and heal deep wounds of the soul.  Please don’t say you are doing everything possible to improve your marriage if you aren’t taking the time to pray for and with each other.

Look to Others

Careful with this one.  I’m not talking about texting the friend who always takes your side.  And I’m definitely not talking about calling your mom to complain about your spouse!  I’m talking about asking other couples, members of your Community Group or pastors to walk alongside of you.

There’s everything right with asking for help, seeking wise counsel and asking other couples to speak into your situation.  Seeing a counselor isn’t taboo.  Scheduling an appointment with a pastor who loves you isn’t a sign you failed.  Reading a book on marriage doesn’t show that you’re inept.

And, in some circumstances, seeking outside help is absolutely essential. Any form of abuse or physical safety requires outside help.  So do most mental health, chemical dependency and addiction issues.  Don’t allow fear to trap you into fighting on your own.

I’m not naive enough to think those three suggestions will turn every marriage around in three days.  Sometimes restoration takes months or years.  Sometimes it never happens.  But God didn’t design you to be trapped in a miserable marriage.  He called You to experience Him in deep and mysterious ways through the joys and struggles of marriage.

Life’s Great Juggling Act

jugglingA friend texted me the other day to ask how I was doing.  My response was a pretty accurate summary of how I feel most days, “You know – just trying to be a good husband, father and pastor all at the same time. Feel like I usually get two of the three right any given day. Would love to figure out how to do all three!”  God has entrusted me with three main responsibilities in life: being Laura’s husband, Jack and Aidan’s dad and the Pastor of Restoration City Church.  It’s a constant juggling act and, truth be told, I only have the ability to keep two balls in the air at any one time.

That’s always bad news for at least one ball.  Some weeks, I neglect the church for the sake of my wife and kids.  Other weeks, I neglect my wife for the sake of the church and kids.  Some weeks, it’s the kids who get put on the back burner.  Trust me, I would love to serve all three groups well at the same time.  I just can’t.

Maybe you feel the same way?

What I need to be reminded of on a daily basis is that real power in life is found just on the other side of “I can’t.”  When I stop at “I can’t”, life seems hopeless.  My response to my friend should have included one more line. “But God can.”  It’s pride and self reliance that makes us think the answer is found in improving our juggling skills.  I realize now, more than any other time in my life, that only God can give me the power to live the life I want.  I dream of being a great husband, dad and pastor.  But I’ll never get there in my own strength.  It’s only through the power of God in my life that it’s possible.

God knows we can’t live this life without Him.  That’s why He’s given us the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (Jn.14:16)  God has placed the Helper we need deep inside our souls.

Stop trying to keep all the balls in the air by yourself.  You can’t.  Balls drop.  People get hurt.  You end up defeated, frustrated and depressed.

But there’s more power in you than you can image.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rm. 8:11)  There’s a life giving, resurrection Spirit inside of you.  He’s the hope and strength you and I need for today.

What are the primary responsibilities and relationships God has entrusted to you?  Are you carrying them all well?  Are you willing to allow God to supply you with the power you need?

The Marriage Gap

IMG_2526Over the weekend, I had the honor of officiating the wedding of a young couple that Laura and I care about very much.  It was a beautiful day celebrating what God has done in bringing them together and praying for all He will do through their now joined lives.  It’s always fun watching people cross the divide from singleness to marriage.

I just wish the divide wasn’t so wide in the church.

Just to make it personal, the greatest segregation I see at Restoration City is between married couples and single adults.  Sometimes it feels like we live in two different worlds.  Married people hang out with other married people and talk about married people things.  Singles hang out with other single people and talk about single people things.  Just like the rest of the world.  And we all miss out.

What if the church became a place that narrowed the divide, not widened it?  We have so much to learn from each other and so many way to bless and encourage one another.  Consider just a few:

  • Single young adults need to be exposed to healthy, Christ centered marriages and families.  In a culture that increasingly tells young singles to avoid or delay marriage and the resulting loss of freedom, we need to create spaces where people see marriage is actually a good and desirable thing.  Married people, you have the ability to bless and serve singles simply by inviting them over for dinner.  Also, the home cooking will be much appreciated!
  • Married couples with children have a huge need for time together to invest in their marriage.  Singles, you have the ability to bless a young family beyond belief by babysitting for a few hours.  Two hours of your time would pour so much life into young parents.
  • Lifelong singles are able to follow the words of Paul and have an undivided focus on the things of the Lord.  Your singleness isn’t a curse from God.  It may be a blessing that allows you to be on the the greatest contributors to the church. (1 Cor. 7:32)  Speak into the lives of the next generation, shape ministries and know that we are all tremendously grateful to have you in our midst.  You aren’t a second class citizen, you are a vital part of the body of Christ.
  • Married people get trapped in a bubble and think only other married people understand their struggles and temptations.  True, to an extent.  But more than empathy, marriages need biblical truth and singles are certainly able to offer that.  Married people could also use a few friends to remind them that life doesn’t have to shut down at 9PM all the time!
  • Married couples, when you’re real about your journey, your struggles, your joys and your disappointments in marriage, you give singles an accurate picture of marriage rather than the silly nonsense flowing from pop culture.

This is one of the primary reasons we are committed to co-ed, multigenerational community groups.  We want marrieds and singles to interact, to form friendships and to encourage one another and to learn from one another.

Are you living exclusively on one side of the divide?  Then break out, reach out and see how much you could learn from the wonderful people on the other side.

Team McGowan

Team McGowanOf all the t-shirts I own, this is one of my favorites even though I can’t say I’ve ever worn it out of the house.  If anything, it’s one of those shirts that means so much there’s no chance I’m wearing it to the gym.

Five years ago, Laura and I were going through Premarital Counseling with an amazing couple, Carol and Mark Hernandez.  They prayed with us, poured into us, facilitated great conversations and loved us through the ups and downs of the torturous season known as engagement.  Right before our wedding, they gave both of us a t-shirt that simply said Team McGowan.  The point was simple – our lives were about to be joined together and we needed to remember that we were a team.

On the eve of my wedding, I didn’t understand how profound the phrase Team McGowan would become in my life and our marriage.  I was totally in love with this girl, she had agreed to spend the rest of her life with me and I figured operating as a team would always be obvious.  Not true.  If anything, I’m amazed by just how quickly our sinful flesh forgets we’re a team.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s taking care of the house, running errands, raising kids, planting a church or navigating the daily ins and outs of life, it can be easy to forget your marriage is the most intimate and important team you’ll ever join.

Genesis 1:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  I love that ESV translates the word “cleave” as “hold fast.”  That’s such a good picture of marriage at times, especially when things are hard.  Hold fast.  Be a team.  Don’t turn on one another.  Help one another.  Lift one another.  Encourage one another.  Pray with and for one another.  You’re a team.