A few weeks ago, I joined the ranks of the Mud Brothers. I knowingly and willingly participated in 10ish miles of physical exertion in the Texas heat.
The next day, I joined the ranks of the disciples and fought with all of my might not to preach about the race from which my body was still in shock. I was slated to preach on marriage, so I fought the corny urges inside of me to make trite, but memorable illustrations drawing from my recent and absurd Tough Mudder race and applying them to our earthly marriages and only mentioned the race once (maybe twice…).
So I nearly succeeded in sticking to the point of the sermon, but alas, I cannot help myself. Yes…these are lame. No…I can’t help it. What follows are a few things I learned about marriage while running Tough Mudder.
Know why you're running.
At the starting line, temperatures in the high 80’s, surrounded by people who were so clearly in better physical condition than I was, I stopped to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It was a great question. It really is a crazy thing to do: sign up for a 12 mile race in which you are certain to not just physical exertion and cardiovascular exercise, but actual physical pain. There I was, waiting with about 200 other people (in the 11:40 time slot) and I needed to know why. The best answer I could come up with was, “my friends wanted me to.” Deep breath. Hoo-ah. Peer pressure won.
When you’re doing anything that costs you, a good question to ask is “Why am I doing this?”
Married people, you are in the middle of a race that will hurt. No question. Why bother? Because when you run with all your might, when you give your life away for the good of another, when you choose the hard road, you look like God and he gets glory. Why get married? Why stay married? God gets glory when you give yourself away.
Don't obsess, prepare.
Before the race, I ran a fair bit. I did pushups and pull-ups and triceps dips. I pushed myself and was in better shape than I’ve ever been for the race. I knew it would be hard and there would be obstacles. But as the day approached, I resisted the urge to look at pictures of these obstacles. In my mind, if I was prepared, the challenges would take care of themselves, I would deal with them as they came. But if I obsessed about the obstacles, how I would go about each one etc, then I would probably have just never gone. I needed to prepare, but obsessing would have been a deal breaker. I would have never done it.
Not-yet-married people and married people alike, don’t obsess. Prepare. You don’t need to know what the rest of your life is going to look like. You don’t need to have your game plan for every life decision. It will never go the way you think it will. You don’t need to think of all the things that might go wrong. You need to prepare. Practice the art of losing yourself, denying yourself. Practice dying with life-giving loving. You are going to face things that are hard, but if your heart is ready, you’ll have a pretty big head-start.
Don't run alone. It's not fun and its not safe.
I ran/walked/crawled/swam/laid-on-the-ground-in-exhaustion with a team. This was a very good thing for multiple reasons.
First, Don’t run alone. It’s not safe. Although as I previously stated, I am in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, I am still not in very good shape at all. I ran with other people because I had no chance of finishing that race on my own. There was a wall to climb over. TWELVE FEET TALL. I could not, by sheer will-power hoist my portly self over that wall. I needed help. I had a team. Some of them were more nimble and made it on their own through some of the events. But everyone there got help at some point. Everyone there gave help at some point. We needed each other.
Second, Don’t run alone. It’s not fun. Being the more “physically challenged” in the group, there were a couple of times during which I carried the burden of “bringing up the rear”. (Read “gasping for breath and waving the others to go ahead”) A few times I walked as the team kept up a more nimble pace. It was boring. And I can tell you, they were good team mates. They didn’t leave me behind. They waited for me. Encouraged me. And at the end of the day, we stood together, mud-soaked and crowned with our orange headbands of honor.
So, married people. Don’t be married alone. It’s not safe. It’s not fun.
First, don’t run alone. It’s not safe! A newly joined, one-flesh union will quickly get disoriented and discouraged. “This isn’t what I thought it’d be.” “You aren’t the person I thought you were.” And when those moments happen, you will need encouragement from others. You’ll need to be reminded that your marriage isn’t for you, but for God’s glory. You’ll need to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient for your hardships. You’ll need other people in the church to push you over the walls of marriage. To encourage you when you get tired, and carry you when you’re on the verge of collapse. Christian community is indispensible to Christian marriage.
Second, don’t run alone, It’s not fun! Marriage is an awesome and fun thing. It’s a relationship that is impossible to duplicate, but it is also a relationship that is meant to be shared. Run this race with other married couples, singles, older people and younger people. The bride of Christ is diverse for a reason. Enjoy others. Be encouraged by the community God has brought around you. Go on double dates. Have people over for dinner. It’s more fun. I promise.
Knowing you're going to get electrocuted, and being electrocuted are two different things.
If people know one thing about the Tough Mudder race, it’s this, you are going to be electrocuted. Multiple times. On purpose. This is one of the most difficult things to explain to others about the Tough Mudder race. Why would someone do that to themselves. Honestly, as long as it’s hypothetical…it’s not so bad. I know that at some point in the future I will endure pain for a second. No big deal. I can handle it.
Fast forward to 9.9 miles into a 10 mile race. I am staring into the final obstacle a muddy pit with hundreds of hot wires hanging down, like the jelly-fish on Finding Nemo. This is gonna hurt. Deep breath. BAM. 4 shocks…keep running. ZAP. 2 more. Almost there…(I’ve fallen twice)…who cares what it looks like…just get me out of here! Three more hits as I exit the “Electric Shock Therapy”. That hurt. I turn around and cheer on my team and watch them fall and flail like I did. We come out on the other side and ran through the finish line, crowned with orange headbands. It hurt, but it was over. A drink. A protein bar. A shower. Then Home. Hallelujah.
So married people, knowing you are going to face trials in your marriage is a lot different than ACTUALLY facing them. Nearly weds and newly weds are fun to watch. So very optimistic in their assessment of their future. Confident their feelings will never fade. Confident that the excitement is permanent and the romance waterproof.
They may know that marriage isn’t easy…but any problems they may face are a long way off and they seem doable.
But when you’re there, staring at the bad news. A miscarriage. Unfaithfulness. Coldness. Financial ruin. Irreconcilable differences. Deep breath. It hurts, but keep running. It doesn’t feel like you thought it would, but your savior fought through ultimate pain so that you could bear this fleeting pain. When marriage feels like dying, remember that the Groom died for his Bride. He did it to show us how so that the world would know that love is not a fleeting feeling in your chest. It is running, eyes wide open, into pain for the glory of God and the love of our spouse. We do this for the joy set before us. The joy of the finish when the mud gets cleaned off, the wounds get healed and we get far more than an orange head-band. We get a crown of righteousness and an inheritance that will never fade. We get bodies that don’t wear out and relationships that never strain. We get to go home. Hallelujah.