We are starting another summer reading series going through Paul Tripp’s book What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. I highly recommend this book for any married, engaged, or dating couple. Paul Tripp brings a wealth of wisdom from years of marriage counseling.
Chapter 1: “What Did You Expect?”
Paul Tripp begins this first chapter with the title of the book, and it is an appropriate title for the way he frames the book. I enjoy how he interlaces stories from his marriage counseling experience with practical, hit you in the forehead biblical wisdom. It all seems so simple and easy, yet Tripp does not mince words about how difficult marriage is, often comparing it to war.
In this first chapter Tripp addresses a common theme of couples who seek his counsel– unrealistic expectations. Immediately following this intro Tripp exhorts the proper use of Scripture. The bible is not a self-help guide and Tripp warns of the consequences in using it as such. “The bible isn’t an encyclopedia; it is a story, the great origin-to-destiny story of redemption…there is a vast amount of biblical information about marriage not found in the marriage passages.” The reason for this Tripp candidly addresses later in the fact that “we live in a world that is still sadly and terribly broken. Your marriage will not escape its brokenness.” Simply we must use all of Scripture in our marriages because it is a union of two sinners, and thus a war. I also enjoy Tripps use of allegory and in this first chapter he compares affection to a great meal. In this he demonstrates how affection can blind us from reality (strife and difficulties). Ignoring reality to maintain romance leads to disasterous results.
Tripp’s section on “prepared spontaneity” is gold. This is easily demonstrated by the fact there is more highlighter on my pages than plain text. One statement I really found helpful:
“It’s not just the prediction of potential problems that people haven’t taken seriously, but the message of promised provision as well. Prepared spontaneity is not just about being aware of what you are going to face and therefore being ready to face it. It is also about knowing what you have been given so that you can face it with practical courage and hope.”
Much of the advice Tripp gives on marriage easily transitions to parenting as well, (in addition to simply living a Christian life) as good marriage advice tends to do. A biblically centered book should transcend the isolated topic it attempts to address since it should ultimately address the condition of sin, which all of us can gain wisdom from– single, married, or parent. Marriage, as Tripp is about to address, is a tool God uses to help us in our sin and sanctification.
Tripp’s marriage examples highlight the fact a bad marriage doesn’t have to look like a bad marriage. It’s a challenge to “experience what God had in mind when he created the union in the first place.” I think Lauren F. Winner has some thoughts on this phenomenon in her book entitled Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity:
“We have understandably absorbed the story our surrounding culture so forcefully tells us, trading our vision of community for American notions of individuals and free agents… The bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what’s going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals.”
Tripp dissects the “essential wisdom perspectives scripture gives us that enables realistic expectation in marriage” into three main concepts.
1. “You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world.”
“Even though you face things that make no sense to you, there is meaning and purpose to everything you face. I am persuaded that understanding your fallen world and God’s purpose for keeping you in it is foundational to building a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.There is no better window on what we face in the here-and-now world in which we live than the descriptive words that the Bible uses: ‘grieved,’ ‘trials,’ and ‘tested.'”
Marriage is a tool God uses to test us, “not like in an exam. No it means ‘tempered’ or ‘refined.'” God has our good in mind; “He intended to use the difficulties you face to do something in you that couldn’t be done any other way.” Life is not about our personal happiness, and marriage just amplifies this fact. Tripp calls this our “personal happiness paradigm.” This causes me to recall C.S. Lewis describing happiness in God in his book The Weight of Glory:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I think what Tripp is getting at in the conclusion of this first expectation is the more Christlike we become the better life gets. Not because it gets easier, (it most certainly will be harder) but because life becomes better understood. Through the lens of Scripture we come to understand the world and our marriage in light of God’s wisdom and understanding, not our own. This is a good thing.
2. “You are a sinner married to a sinner”
“The reason we turn moments of ministry into moments of anger is that we tend to personalize what is not personal“ (author’s emphasis). Again, this is true and amplified with children and parenting. We must be careful internalizing our spouse’s sin as something personal. Would we not want the patience and understanding we extend ourselves in our mind come our way via our spouse? Tripp is not excusing sin, but focuses on the realization we will encounter sin at some point in marriage and when that time comes we should deal with it in a Godly manner– letting it be a time of discipleship and sanctification. Tripp warns when we “personalize what is not personal you tend to be adversarial in your response” (author’s emphasis). When this is how marriage operates “we settle for quick situational solutions that do not get to the heart of the matter.” This is right where Satan wants our relationship. The quick response seems to keep the peace and be healthy, but compounds the problem instead of addressing the cause. When your relationship is only this deep it is rooted in itself and not in Christ, and is destined to fail (whether that is divorce or simply the marriages Tripp highlighted earlier in the chapter, it will not experience the fullness achievable with Christ). We need to, as Paul commends in Galatians 5, to keep in step with the Spirit, bearing fruits of the Spirit, especially kindness, gentleness, patience, and self-control.
3. “God is Faithful, Powerful, and Willing”
Thankfully there is hope. “We are not left to our own resources. The God who determined your address lives there with you and is committed to giving you everything you need.” The key there is NEED. God knows we are weak vessels. The bible is chock full of God using weak vessels for His glory.
“So, when you are sinned against or when the fallen world breaks your door down, don’t lash out or run away. Stand in your weakness and confusion and say, ‘I am not alone. God is with me, and he is faithful, powerful, and willing.’ You can be realistic and hopeful at the very same time. Realistic expectations are not about hope without honesty, and they are not about honesty without hope. Realism is found at the intersection of unabashed honesty and uncompromising hope. God’s Word and God’s grace make both possible in your marriage. Are your expectations for your marriage realistic?”