To achieve a good marriage, God’s plan will give you good directions

One of my wife Terrie’s favorite travel stories took place well before GPS units and smartphones were around. We were visiting New York City with another couple and had rented a car. The ladies were sitting in the back seat and the men in the front, with me driving. We were headed to a meeting and enjoying the iconic landmarks along the way.

When we noticed we were seeing the same landmarks multiple times, it became apparent that we didn’t know the way. Finally, after several pointed hints from the back seat, I pulled in to a gas station to ask for directions.

We two men talked to someone outside pumping gas. The ladies could see from our informant’s gestures that he felt confident as he gave directions, and they could see us nodding as we listened.

We got back in the car, however, and my friend and I asked each other in unison, “What did he say?” As it turned out, the man who gave us directions didn’t know much English. Neither of us wanted to say that we couldn’t understand, so instead, we both nodded along, assuming the other really did understand.

That scenario is a picture of so many couples in our culture. When it comes to marriage, couples often know they are not where they want to be – and nowhere near where they dreamed that marriage would take them. But when they look for help, they get input from sources who give garbled directions and mixed messages.

Our culture is, at best, confused on the meaning and significance of marriage and relationships. It’s amazing to me, for instance, that in the same month our culture praised the late Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who objectified women, we condemned film producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has been accused by more than 90 women of sexual assault or harassment and is being investigated by police in New York, California and Britain.

In reality, the stories of both men are many shades of deplorable and tragic. But to add insult to injury, recall that several months previous the “celebrity story” dominating the news was how ridiculous it was for Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to have lunch alone with a woman other than his wife.

Apparently, objectifying women is OK, taking advantage of them is bad (as long as it’s in real life and not in a movie you pay to watch), but setting personal guidelines to protect the sanctity of your own marriage is also bad.

Hollywood, media and our culture provide conflicting directions. And couples who base their relationship on these sources are sure to become confused. We simply can’t follow a sloppy map and be surprised when it leads us to a different destination than we wanted to go.

At some point, you have to wonder. What was so bad about God’s plan for marriage? God created marriage to be awesome. In the actual words of Genesis, he made it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

And in the very first wedding ceremony of human history, God gave specific, not-difficult-to-understand directions for marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:18–24). This passage is so significant that Jesus quoted from it and the apostle Paul referenced it. The directions it gives for marriage are simple, and you can remember them with three rhyming words—leave, cleave and weave.

Leave: When a couple begins a marriage, they are establishing a new identity together. And that necessitates  leaving previous problems, identities and hang-ups behind – both physically and emotionally. This doesn’t mean that the bride and groom have lost their personal identities. It simply means they are leaving their previous family units and their identities as separate from each other to create a new home in which they are inseparably joined.

Cleave: God designed marriage to be a relationship where partners cleave to one another – like glue, they are united. To cleave to one another with total acceptance and unconditional love for each another. The world believes that couples who stay married 50, 60 and 70 years must have been perfect for each other – that their success is rooted in the fact that they were two lucky people who found their soul mates and that the rest of us mortals are foolish to insist on cleaving to one another during times of pain or difficulty.

The world is wrong. Marriage, as God designed it, carries a commitment to cleave – to hold onto your spouse. Obviously, there are times when one spouse makes wrong decisions and walks away from an innocent party. But when two people focus on the same person – the Lord Jesus – they also draw close to one another and gain strength to keep their commitment to each other.

Weave: In one sense, becoming “one flesh” refers to physical intimacy. But in a larger sense, this is where the real work of marriage comes in. It is the intertwining of lives that happens over time. Marital intimacy is a gift of God, the physical celebration of oneness and unity. But the weaving of two lives together is more than physical. It takes place through daily decisions to pursue your spouse’s heart, to draw near to each other in acceptance, to entwine your lives around each other.

Every journey needs a map. And when it comes to marriage, the truth is, your source of directions matters. A couple that follows Hollywood’s map should not be surprised when they have a Hollywood-typical marriage – outwardly glamorous, but inwardly hollow.

What better map to follow than from the originator of marriage? When you take two people who are committed to one another and are daily drawing nearer to the Lord, there is an ongoing pattern of growth. This isn’t the result of one day, but of habits carried out day after day as together they walk through life and strengthen their relationship.

When it comes to the journey of marriage, none of us has “arrived.” It’s a lifelong journey that includes detours, bumps, mistakes and growth. But when you are following the Lord and his directions for marriage, it really is an awesome journey.

Dr. Paul Chappell is the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and the president of West Coast Baptist College in Southern California. He is releasing a new book on marriage this fall titled Are We There Yet? Follow him on Twitter @PaulChappell and find him on Facebook.