What Did You Expect Book Cover

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?”

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3 Responses to Reading Through What Did You Expect

  1. Grant Berthold says:

    I also agree that Tripp’s section on prepared spontaneity was gold. A couple of my favorite quotes from that section were:

    “You can be ready for things that you had no idea would come your way. In fact, I am persuaded that this is one of the main functions of Scripture….Here’s how it works: if we have taken in what the Bible says about God, ourselves, life, sin, and the surrounding world, we are ready to deal spontaneously with things we didn’t know we would be dealing with.”

    That’s pretty much the power of the Gospel right there. Not only did Christ come and rescue us while we were sinners and clothed us with His righteousness, but He gave us EVERYTHING we need to re-present Him in every situation. When you really think about that, it’s mind boggling! I don’t HAVE to sin in any situation that I’m being presented with because I’ve been given every grace that I need for that moment. Of course, that only comes through the power of the Word as Tripp said. O that we as Christians would know what we have been given through the Word and let it transform us!

    My other favorite quote from that section was this:

    “More couples than I can number have been surprised that their marriage needs the regular rescue of grace. And because they did not take the Bible seriously, they were caught short in that moment, when the rubber meets the road in daily life, where grace was their only hope.”

    This is so key. Realizing that grace is our only hope truly is our only hope. So often do I try to live this Christian life on my own effort to only fall short. Receiving His grace and giving His grace to others is essential. I think what makes that hard for me is that I so strongly want to accomplish things on my own making it hard to just put my faith in God’s grace.

    A few comments regarding his three points at the end of the chapter:

    -Tripp states in the second section,

    “Now, when you personalize what is not personal you tend to be adversarial in your response. When that happens, what motivates you is not the spiritual need in your spouse that God has revealed but your spouse’s offense against you, your schedule, your peace, etc.”

    I love that Tripp pointed out (indirectly) that when we have been sinned against, our response should be love for them. I would say that even if the sin was 100% personal and aimed to hurt you, your response should still be the spiritual need in your spouse. After all, in that moment they are just a deceived child of God not living in the grace God has provided. How easily we are offended when we have no right to be! Imagine a world where Christians were not concerned about their own “rights” and truly loved others in the midst of being sinned against. How brightly would the Gospel shine in this fallen world!

    -Lastly, I think we must meditate on what he said in the third section: “The God who determined your address lives there with you and is committed to giving you everything you need.” We have all we need in Christ. Let us pray for deeper revelation in this truth that we may be his hands and feet to our spouse and to this world.

  2. Danielle Cook says:

    It’s hard to add anything to what’s already been said, I echo all of it! Here are tid bits of my thoughts and favorites. My favorite quote from the prepared spontaneity was about one of the main functions of Scripture,

    “It enables us to be prepared to decide, think, desire, act, and speak well in a world in which we aren’t sovereign.”

    This was so encouraging and a great reminder that by soaking ourselves in Scripture we are well equipped, able to prepare our reactions to things that are bound to happen in our lives. This also ties very well with when Tripp says later in the chapter,

    “The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse –weak and failing.”

    SO encouraging to know that David and Ruth and Paul shouldn’t be on the pedestal I constantly put them on, but rather they were right beside me, broken and in need of a lasting hope. Instead of getting frustrated for what they’re not, I need to encourage others to keep pursuing the God that shaped the people of the Bible into the mighties they are. We need a “regular rescue of grace.”

    By far one of my favorite quotes of this chapter was:

    “God loves your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change. So, he will cause you to see, hear, and experience your spouse’s need for change so that you can be an agent of his rescue.”

    I thought this was applicable in all life not just marriage. It’s exciting to know that I’m included in another’s rescue. Sometimes I get caught up in, well yes, you think he’s great, but you haven’t seen what I’ve seen or she’s wonderful on the outside but boy can she be unpleasant in this experience. I see, I hear, I experience all for showing God’s glory. For exercising His love. For displaying His transformation in my life. On the flip side, I am so grateful and appreciative of the “agents” in my life that have to see, hear, and experience MY need for change. I can easily point a finger, but boy do I bring a lot to the table as well!

    • Carl says:

      Danielle, the last part of your comment reminds me of a warning once described to me about the danger of romanticising what it may be like with someone else. It always seems greener when looking at someone else, but that’s only because you haven’t stepped in and screwed it all up. We can look longingly because we view from afar- we view that person not as a relationship with the messiness we would introduce, but as another thing to obtain to make us happy. When we rely on people to ultimately make us happy we will ultimately be disappointed.