Marriage counseling is its own animal. While it comes with blessings and burdens that are altogether different from other forms of counseling, there are common strands that I’ve come to anticipate when I come alongside most couples.
I’ll look at the husband and ask him, “What is God’s purpose for you as a husband?” This question is generally met with a blank stare or some convoluted response that doesn’t quite stick the landing. Same goes for the wife. But if I look to either and ask them, “What is your love language,” I get a response before I finish the question.
Why is that?
Painting with a broad brush, we tend to follow desires rather than calling. We witness this very early in life. Tell your three-year-old to clean up the playroom and you’ll see whether he’s more inclined to follow Christ’s calling for him as outlined in Ephesians 6:1 or his own innate desires. I’m guessing you (as the parent) didn’t need to cultivate his desire to play in the playroom rather than clean the playroom—that came free-of-charge.
Calling, on the other hand, needs to be cultivated. For an example, look no further than our own sybaritic Samson: the desire-driven Judge. His mother, apart from the company of her husband, had the rare privilege of being handed their son’s commission by the angel of the Lord:
For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. – Judges 13:5, emphasis added
There it is: Samson was called to be a catalytic figure against the oppression of the Philistines. Unfortunately, his mama left that part out when recounting the angelic interaction to her husband. When the angel of the Lord revisited the parents-to-be, he was careful to point that out:
Manoah [Samson’s father] said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?” So the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said… let her observe all that I commanded.” – Judges 13:12-14
In other words, “she left that part out…” All indications within Samson’s narrative would lead us to the conclusion that this calling was never revealed to Samson. He lived a life led by his own innate desires rather than his God-given calling.
God is Gracious
Not knowing his calling didn’t mean Samson failed to fulfill his calling. The Lord still used him to “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines,” though this was in spite of his decisions rather than in concert with them. Samson systematically abandoned each facet of his Nazarite vow throughout his short-lived life, culminating at his final act. Blind, enslaved, and an object of utter scorn (by Philistines and Israelites alike), his final bout of unhuman strength was expended in personal vengeance. Yet God used this and other selfish acts throughout his life to quell the persecution of the Philistines.
Samson had no clue as to why God had endowed him with such incredible power. He spent his life using it for his own gain, following selfish desire over selfless service. Yet God was gracious—to Samson and the Israelites, allowing His purposes to be carried out irrespective of human failings.
How many men and women approach the marriage altar with little-to-no understanding of their God-given calling as husbands and wives? Apart from this key element, couples are left to follow in the outsized footsteps of the directionless Judge. In other words, they wind up navigating their marriage by the compass of their feelings (read: “love language”)—a journey that often emulates Samson’s tragic narrative.
It doesn’t need to be this way. It ought not be this way.
God has clearly commissioned and mapped out His purpose for marriage. One of the goals set forth in marriage counseling is to ensure I (the counselor) do not embody the failings of Samson, leading them to chase selfish desire. I’m called to give clear direction, as provided in Scripture.
In the next installment, we’ll look at what that calling in marriage is, and we’ll hear it from the single guy: If Paul Was Your Marriage Counselor…