In concert with my 25th anniversary of pastoral ministry is my 30th anniversary of marriage to Carolyn. Like pastoral ministry, marriage is a wonderful calling with seasons of great joy and great trial. The challenging times for us were the first year of marriage, the first year with two small children, the teenage rebellion years, and nowadays, the empty nest…or “emptying” nest (my kids are in and out post-college as they pursue grad school, etc.).
Thank the Lord for the Guardrails
I’ve been a motorcyclist for two decades. For years people asked, “How did you convince your wife to let you get a motorcycle?” That question presumes a bunch of things, not the least of which is that my wife likes me a lot. My general response is Carolyn understands that, by nature, I’m a risk taker, and this is a risk option preferable to other things.
One of my regular mind-clearing activities is to ride the mountain roads of southern California. The pavement on these tours twists and turns, and along the way, as you ascend and descend, there are scenic overlooks of the valleys below. Every so often, I’ll catch myself looking at the vistas when I should be paying attention to the road and a couple of times I’ve veered out of my lane doing so.
You don’t want to get into a wreck on most mountain roads as there is no place to go but straight down. In many places, what keeps a person from plunging to their death, if they do slide out of control, is the guardrails. But not all winding mountain roads have guardrails, and there are many motorcyclists who have plummeted down mountainsides when they’ve lost control.
Every marriage has seasons when one or both spouses is really unhappy. During those times when one feels neglected, lonely, or disconnected, there’s a danger another person could step into a role designed exclusively for a spouse. If not a person, then maybe illicit fantasies or pornography. To protect your marriage and your soul from devastation, one must put guardrails in place.
Guarding Your Space
What are my guardrails? First, I don’t meet one-on-one with women outside of the church building unless my wife knows about it and signs off on it. I also pay attention when my wife’s radar goes off about someone and she very directly tells me to never be alone with them. Additionally, I never meet non-staff women at the church if no one else is in the building. My marriage is my first priority, even over pastoring others. Nowhere was this guardrail more critical than when I was a young married pastor doing ministry on a college campus.
Guarding Your Eyes
A second guardrail is internet accountability software which notifies my accountability partners if I’m getting close to drifting into that lane. So sensitive is this filter that when I was researching sex addiction online it sent an alert, which prompted a welcome phone call from a friend. We live in a world of unprecedented sexual temptation. If you have genuine friends to whom you can pour out your heart, let them help you set that guardrail firmly in place to protect your thoughts, heart, and marriage.
Guarding Your Tongue
My final guardrail may sound simplistic, but it is effective. Carolyn and I committed to each other early in our marriage to never speak the word “divorce” in our home. When we’ve had heated arguments over the years, we both knew it would be a major relational betrayal to use the word “divorce” in a sentence, let alone threaten or suggest it. From our perspective, if we never say it, we will likely never do it.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” – Proverbs 4:23-27
What are your guardrails for marriage? Have you and your spouse talked through what they should be? Do you see keeping your marriage safe as more important than reaching others? If you haven’t already discussed these types of questions, consider them as your next topic for date-night. The heavy conversation is worth preventing either of you from plummeting down the mountainside.