Whether your marriage is on the brink of divorce or humming along pretty well, it’s worth reading books, taking classes, or attending conferences and retreats on marriage. In the years when things were terrible in my marriage, such resources kept my head above water and my commitment firm. Now, they help us fine-tune our marriage machine.
Last Friday evening and Saturday, Spock and I attended the Spark Marriage Conference hosted by Lakewood Church.* I was particularly interested in this one because Emerson Eggerichs was a keynote speaker, and I had recently reviewed and written about his Love & Respect book.
Since I doubt you were there, here are my top ten takeaways from the Spark Marriage Conference.
1. People are hungry for marriage education and encouragement.
Lakewood’s a big church, so a large attendance isn’t surprising. But as I looked over the crowd, I realized I’ve never been to a poorly attended marriage class or event, as long it was publicized enough for couples to know about it. Marriage books do well in bookstores, marriage ministries are popular, and online marriage advice is voraciously consumed.
People want to know how make their marriages stay together and be better. But instead of letting them wander around grasping at advice here and there, let’s introduce all those hungering people to God, the ultimate relationship expert. And those of us who know Him, let’s learn His design, study His ways, ask for His guidance.People want to know how make their marriages stay together and be better. Christians, let's introduce all those hungering people to God, the ultimate relationship expert. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
2. Yes, Christians can publicly talk about sex.
Of course, if I didn’t believe that, my ministry would be over tomorrow. But I’ve heard from a lot of people through the years saying church leaders never mention sex. Yet with all those people in attendance, author and speaker DeVon Franklin addressed conflict over sexual intimacy in marriage: “In my experience, sometimes there’s a difference in sex drive.” No one freaked out; in fact, they clearly agreed.
Then DeVon shared what he learned about how his behavior contributed to the mismatch of desire in his marriage. As he said, “if I’m not transparent, we can’t get transformed.” That’s what I believe so many Christian couples ache for: transparency about sexual intimacy challenges and how we can best address them in godly and realistic ways.So many Christian couples ache for transparency about sexual intimacy challenges and how we can best address them in godly and realistic ways. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
3. Our marriages don’t always turn out as expected.
Sometimes I think I’m a strong person, and then I come across people like Jay and Katherine Wolf. They told their compelling story of heartache, loss, and struggle, as well as God’s presence in their darkest moments. Here’s just a snippet of what they went through:
Katherine Wolf’s vivacity was palpable, despite telling her story from a wheelchair that her husband had pushed onto the stage. But she was authentic in reminding us that our marriages can face trials we never anticipated and can only get through with the strength of Christ.
4. Let’s get real: Lots of us screwed up.
It was refreshing to hear comedy team Richard and Sheri Bright talk about their sordid past and coming to Christ. They did so in a humorous way, like admitting they’d been married for 40 years…if you count all their marriages together. The Brights were not Christians when they met and married, but came to Jesus two years after “shacking up” and fighting so much that he once screwed the front door shut so she couldn’t get in. They showed courage in sharing their past sin and what they went through to build a better relationship.
Likewise, a few years ago, I started to raise my hand in Bible class and confess that sometimes this Christian life ain’t so easy-peasy. Rather than getting flak for admitting I’m not a squeaky-clean church member, others acknowledged their own baggage and current struggles. We’ve got to let people in our midst confess we haven’t arrived, we all need a Savior, and sometimes our marriages are a mess.
5. God can reshape our lives into something beautiful.
Piggybacking on the last two points, my marriage and my life took detours from where I should have been or wanted to be. But I was reminded that whatever we go through, wherever we are, God can bring goodness into our lives…if we surrender to the Potter’s hands.
Illustrating this point, DeVon Franklin referenced Jeremiah 18:1-6, which reads:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.“
So your marriage didn’t turn out like you thought. God can still mold it into something beautiful. How is God wanting to reshape your marriage? How is He longing to reshape you as a spouse?How is God wanting to reshape your marriage? How is He longing to reshape you as a spouse? @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
6. We’re all still a work in progress.
Speaking of confessions, Spock and I argued…on the way to a marriage conference. Oh, the irony! Saturday morning, we drove from our side of town through busy Houston traffic to reach the event’s location. For most of the way, Google Maps was our guide. But the app didn’t tell us where the right parking garage was. I instructed my husband to turn right, he turned at the wrong right, and the next thing I knew we were blaming each other for the mistake. *facepalm*
If you’ve got marriage all figured out and never have any conflict, fantastic for you! And also, why are you here reading my blog? Or any marriage blog? Why aren’t writing The Definitive Marriage Guide, or How I Got My Spouse to Accept How Perfect I Am? For the rest of us, yeah, we’re going to mess up. We know it, our Father knows it. We just have to be willing to admit it when it happens. Sure enough, Spock and I apologized to one another and made up. It’s all good now.
7. Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand.
Spock and I were both sorry for the spat we had on the way to the marriage conference. So it was easy to forgive. But something did happen at the conference that bugged me, and my disagreement with it is one of the takeaways. During one prayer, the leader prayed for those who had experienced affairs. I didn’t record what was said, but this is a loose rendering: “For those in marriages impacted by adultery, we pray that the spouse who did not participate in the affair will forgive. Help them, Father, to forgive and not let that fester in their marriage.”
Look, I’m in favor of forgiveness! But too often, we have shifted the burden of an affair or other betrayal in marriage to the other spouse needing to forgive. As if that is The Thing that creates a barrier to healing. Why wasn’t more time dedicated to praying the adulterer would come completely clean, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, avoid temptation, find accountability? When we own where we’ve gone wrong in our marriage, that paves the way for forgiveness and restoration. Let’s pray for that.
8. Check generalizations about marriage with your own spouse.
I’ve talked about the trouble of stereotypes in marriage books, and I was thrilled to hear Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn, the authors of For Women Only and For Men Only, begin their talk with a caveat: Whenever they report what men and women said, you should ask your own spouse, “Is this true?” The Feldhahns pointed out if they say 75% of men feel X, by definition that means 25% of men didn’t feel X. And the same for their research on women.
We’ve found this to be so true in our own marriage. For instance, we fit some stereotypes—like I’m more auditory, he’s more visual; I’m more emotional, he’s more logical; I’m more talkative, he’s on a restrictive word diet. But we go against generalizations in other ways, like I’m the higher-drive spouse and, if I had to choose, I’d rather be respected than loved. Whatever you learn about gender and marriage, even here on my blog, don’t just assume it represents your spouse perfectly. Ask if it’s true for them.Whatever you learn about gender and marriage, even here on my blog, don't just assume it represents your spouse perfectly. Ask if it's true for them. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
9. Marriage insight should never be used to force your way.
Yep, one of the reasons I attended the Spark Marriage Conference was to hear what Emerson Eggerichs is saying in person these days. While I still have a couple of issues with things he said, it was rather balanced in addressing both men and women (reinforcing my belief that Eggerichs should update Love & Respect with a new edition). It was particularly refreshing, however, to hear him state very clearly that the perspective he shares about men and women should never be used as a club against your spouse.
Eggerichs reiterated that if you stomp all over your spouse’s need (love or respect) to get your need met (respect or love), you’ve missed the whole point. The goal should be not getting what you deserve from your spouse but discovering what you can give them—how you can meet your mate’s emotional need. Yes, you can explain yourself, but demands and abuse are not in line with God’s view of marriage.
Side note: I cringe when a husband writes me and says he keeps forwarding my articles to his wife in a forceful attempt to get more sex. Please don’t use my materials as a cattle prod to push your spouse into giving you what you want. Invite them into the conversation and then listen and love.
10. Shaunti Feldhahn agreed to be on our podcast!
I really enjoyed hearing from Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn, who presented their research findings and marriage insight with authenticity and encouragement. What they shared was great for launching Is this true for you? conversations with your mate. But before yesterday, I was already a fan, having read many of Shaunti’s books. In fact, the book table only had one book I hadn’t read, so I bought it to be signed by her.
And while I had the chance, I mentioned our podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, and she joyously agreed to come on sometime! I don’t know when that will be, but make sure you’re subscribed to us on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever podcast app you use (I use Pocket Casts) and/or follow our blog.
Got any questions for me about the conference?
*Lakewood Church is the home of Joel Osteen ministries. I’m not a fan of Osteen and disagree with his prosperity gospel, but I was impressed by how much Scripture and prayer were shared during the conference and the church seems to have an active marriage ministry.
14 thoughts on “10 Takeaways from the Spark Marriage Conference”
wow,, this is really good.
I grew up in a broken family, didn’t meet my birth father until I was 32. I grew up in a turbulent environment. Where a minor hick-up or disagreement of ideology (big or small) between a parent and a step parent was magnified into a major crisis, though I’ve witnessed much worse in other families.
I believe marriage counseling sometimes begin at birth based on early childhood development on how parents are mentoring them to treat others. How parents navigate through a “snag”, they are essentially teaching by example to their own kids.
These kids grow up into adults, not knowing how to conduct themselves as a spouse, parent or even an employee.
If I hadn’t prayed and meditated to God for guidance and to learn to love and start to be a caring communicator , I know I would be worse off (I still have a ways to go on communicating and being a better spouse)
My spouse and I didn’t quit on each other and I suspect those that attended the Spark Marriage Conference weren’t ready to throw in the towel in their relationships, hopefully their marriages strengthened and experienced more “Spark”.
I’ll admit, I like Joel Osteen’s preaching, especially in the way he uses scripture to teach how to treat and love others. One can mentally prosper in life without being financially wealthy.
I will admit however, it does turn me off when any wealthy preacher focus on financial wealth and the bible which sometimes it appears they are wanting Sunday giving to increase.
Was defrauding/refusal/hoarding/gatekeeping covered? Or even mentioned?
Obviously didn’t make “the top ten” HA!
If not, then another wasted opportunity to make a real difference.
Cannot cover one “side” without the other.
Yes, it was mentioned, just not in that “here, let me hammer your head with this” way. There was discussion of sexual desire differences and working those out, as well as meeting your spouse’s emotional needs, which would include sexual intimacy.
But if it’s not good enough unless your spouse is bashed for their behavior, I do wonder how the rest of the relationship is and if that’s contributing to a lack of intimacy.
Mind you, I have said that sexual deprivation is a sin, but it matters how we approach the one we love about something we’d love to do with them.
It is reassuring to know some churches are really trying hard to find ways to make marriages stronger. My question for you, in all that you have seen and heard from readers, and from other churches or bloggers, why does the church push quick forgiveness when it comes to adultery? Is it because they hate the idea of divorce even when biblically justifies? Is it because primarily it is the women who have been sinned against and the male leadership has difficulty confronting the moral failure of the man? I’m not trying to accuse I am just truly curious. And by the way I know far too often when women are the adulterous partner the husband is also pushed to forgive right away. It just baffles me. We as a church community don’t do it for other sins. We don’t push a family to forgive and reconcile with someone who murdered a family member. Yet we do it for sexual sins. When I read this portion of your evaluation my heart wept. Especially since Jesus understood the horror of adultery. The proof of his understanding is his allowance for divorce. Yet the church pushes forgiveness and reconciliation. I have had many non Christian friends who point to that attitude as a reason why they could never “attend a church”. They know what God says about divorce and adultery and then they watch the church push a different narrative.
Honestly, I’ve heard the church pushing for forgiveness for all kinds of things — from adultery to abuse to, yes, murder. And I don’t disagree with that stance theologically. We do want to be a place where forgiveness is generously given. That’s what Jesus talked about with his 70×7 reference (Matthew 18:21-22). But we jump to the forgiveness part so quickly that we downplay the importance of other virtues like mourning over sin, repentance, restitution, and restoration. I honestly think Christians who push forgiveness come from a good place, wanting to see resolution and peace for the one wrong, but it’s at best misguided and more often attacking the victim.
We need to remember how much God impressed on his people that we needed to care for the oppressed. Those are the people for whom we should have mercy and on behalf of whom we should want justice.
I understand that most of the times it comes from a good place. To be fair the only times I have seen quick forgiveness pushed in church is in connection to sexual sin in marriage. I guess I wonder why we don’t recognize that you can show grace and forgive but not necessarily restore the relationship to what it was before the affair etc. I had a pastor tell me that forgiveness doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for sin. That sometimes the consequence is the marriage can’t be restored.
It sounds like overall it was a good conference. Hopefully more churches will host events like this one so more people can be reached.
My marriage always been good. We’ve been in loved each other since high school. Every facet has been good and godly and when we have differences we’ve been diligent and worked through to solve only by God’s grace not by our skill. We’ve seen the powerful hand of God over and over. Everything has been wonderful… except sex.
For years, to me, sex has been from tasteless to painful. And my husband didn’t know because I didn’t tell a word. But in the air was a sour unspoken problem, somehow he wasn’t happy in that area. Finally last year I couldn’t take it no more and started to pray about it, to research and finally confessed to him. It’s been a year of mixed tears and improvement, slow but good. I can tell now if I thought my marriage was good before, now I can tell it’s turning in an awesome sexy fairy tale.
So my question is this. You wrote about sex saving your marriage. And you wrote about rushing forgiveness instead of accountability or grieving first. And the balance between love and respect. So, we have a few married friends with their marriage in crisis. Lack of sex is one of the symptoms but not the main issue. Do you think is good to a couple with other troubles try to solve sex first? (To make them both feel better to strive in other issues) or Do you you think sex should be a bonus? (Like when marriage gets better sex will be obviously better, it was not my case, though) or where is best to start the healing: in bed or outside bed? I mean What is the place of sex while solving other conflicts in marriage?
Thanks a lot.
Ps. I will love to hear Shaunti with all of you at the podcast!!
As for your questions, I think it depends on the situation and the challenges the couple is facing. For instance, if part of the challenge is persistent porn use, then you can’t rush sexual intimacy without addressing that larger issue. But if the big issue is finances, and sex is also not great, then why not go ahead and work on the sex piece as well, which will make you feel more connected to your spouse and maybe help you get through the financial issues?
There’s some discernment involved in what to work on first and/or whether you can work on two or more issues simultaneously. My general belief is that you shouldn’t ignore any aspect of intimacy that you can work on now. But even in that sentence, the word “can” carries a lot of weight.
I loved reading your takeaways from the conference. Especially the second one about Christians actually talking about sex. It’s so notoriously awkward to be the first to start the conversation, but someone needs to. (Thanks btw)
I would love to hear you talk more about the second half of that point. “If I’m not transparent, we can’t get transformed.” Could you expound on what that means/looks like to you?
Good question, Melanie! I would mean transparent about sex according to God’s design, not transparent about the details of anyone’s private sexual intimacy. We should be able to discuss what sex should look like, what the challenges are, and biblical ways to address them. That’s what I hope I do here on my blog. At least, I try. Blessings!
Thanks J! My husband and I both see such a need for that kind of transparency. Having come from very conservative backgrounds, my husband actually went to a pastor once with a book on intimacy to ask a question. The pastor saw him coming, got an alarmed expression on his face, and hurried him into the office, peeking around to make sure no one saw. Because of a book that was about intimacy in marriage. Nothing remotely inappropriate.
Unfortunately this attitude of secrecy, while well intended, leaves struggling couples feeling alone, unable to reach out for help, and frustrated in marriage. We want to help undo that way of thinking too, as you are working to do. Blessings to you as well!
Well said! And I never get that fear really, because God wasn’t afraid to talk about sex, so why should we be?
Thanks! The fear has been a struggle for me because it’s been engrained in a way. Blogging certainly is helping me move past it though, especially as I have begun to account how much God really does talk about it, as you said. I think the enemy would like us to keep it shrouded in secrecy. I’ve discovered that privacy and secrecy are two very different things.
Privacy guards what is good and sacred. Secrecy hides shame.
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