John Markum

Nothing Worthwhile…

As long as I’ve been a pastor, and well before that, I’ve held this statement as a core conviction:

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

It’s nothing original, to be sure. But it has guided me through a lot of life’s difficulties. I assume a few things to be generally true about everyone:

  • We all want to matter, to someone and something.
  • We all want to enjoy success.
  • We all want deep, meaningful relationships.
  • We all want some degree of peace, happiness, and pleasure.

The struggles of life often leave us pushing against our aspirations. “Mattering” to anyone or anything is largely out of our direct control. Success is like dopamine – it feels good, we crave more, and only end up chasing the next “hit” that satisfies for a moment, only to leave us with more craving. People and relationships are definitely the best part of life… but unfortunately, they’re also the worst! Nothing can hurt us like other humans. All of the things promising happiness, peace, pleasure all tend to over-sell and under-deliver.

So where does that leave us…

Everything comes at a price. As my Dad would emphatically remind me growing up, there’s no such thing as free. Even the “free” gift of God – salvation to all the human race who believe on the name of Jesus, isn’t truly free – just free to us! Our salvation cost Christ His very life, and the weight of the sin of humanity. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

That tells me that – to God – we were worthwhile. We were worth redeeming. You are worthwhile. The pain you’re going through in life right now, is evidence that there is a battle to be fought and won in your life. I know it’s hard! It’s not suppose to be easy. Not if it matters.

All the struggles I described earlier are not wrong, inherently. You should seek to matter. You should try to make a difference. Success in life, work, school, health, finances is a good thing. Relationships are certainly worthwhile! But they all cost something. They cost time, focus, thought, energy, money, friendships, “other” opportunities, and the list goes on.

And then it gets more difficult! Because you and I are finite human beings. So if I pursue financial or professional success at all cost, I may one day realize that it cost me my marriage. If I pursue building a ministry while neglecting my own spiritual, mental, and emotional health – it may cost me a dark bout with depression. It’s like we only get a certain budget of energy, time, focus, and talent. And once we’ve spent our budget, whatever is left on our list of goals ambitions gets the scraps.

Which leads me to a few questions:

  1. What is the difficult, worthwhile thing you’ve been avoiding doing?
  2. If people are the most worthwhile/difficult thing in life, what relationships do you need to invest more into?
  3. What do you need to let go of that is necessary but still difficult?
  4. Are you willing to pay the price for what you’re seeking to achieve this year?
  5. How would you prioritize your “budget”? Consider marriage, education, friendships, faith, physical health, finances, kids, etc.
  6. How do you keep the harmony between all of these things?

Married and Unsatisfied

You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…

Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.

A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:

  • The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
  • One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
  • There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…

But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.

Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.

Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.

Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.

Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.

Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.

Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.

May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.

Pastor John

Date Night Ideas

Here’s a quick run through of date night ideas. My wife and I actually use these. And with it being close to Christmas, maybe there’s a few good ideas you can turn into a gift…

Cheap/Basically Free:

  • Netflix and Chill. Come on it had to be here! My wife and I like to watch a favorite series and eat ice cream in bed.
  • Interview Questions. This is fun, and can be done in combination with almost any other date ideas. We ask each other questions, specifically intended to find out more about each other – and we still do this after 15+ years of marriage! We’re still discovering more and more about each other, and loving very step along the way. Some of our responses have changed over the years also. Don’t know what to ask? Start here.
  • 2-player video games. We’ve been playing Overcooked on Nintendo Switch lately and it’s a blast!
  • Nice Dinner at home. I love to cook, so I’ll occasionally grab a couple steaks, or scallops, or mussels, and cook up a simple, quick, elegant meal for just the two of us. There’s something intimate about cooking together.
  • Cleaning Party. Ok, no lie, this is nowhere near my first choice. I’d much rather “Netflix and Chill”! But we get some needed things done around the house, and that makes both of us feel more romantic.
  • Run errands together. We hear couples complain about never having enough time together. So turn ordinary things into a date! Buying groceries? Get a coffee together and make it a date!
  • Coffee and Prayer. I’m trying to do better at this. With 4 kids and a constantly busy house, there’s plenty to interrupt us. But we try to consistently have some regular morning time to pray for each other… over a cup of home made coffee.
  • Board/Card Games. These are so fun together, but also a great idea for family nights. We like Sushi Go, Game of Life, Ultimate Werewolf, and, yes… Exploding Kittens.
  • Overnight date at Home. This one’s for all the married with kids folks! We have a few other trusted families who we swap off watching our children overnight with about once a month to every other month. Our kids get to have sleepovers, and so do we with each other.

Moderate Cost:

  • Dance Lessons. Contrary to my Baptist roots, dancing is fun, romantic, and not inherently evil. There’s a great little affordable class you can do together in-home here!
  • New restaurant. We love to eat out, and we’re very adventurous with trying new foods/cuisines. We’ve got a favorite ramen joint, Ethiopian spots, plenty of Indian, Korean, phò, and of course Mexican options all around us. More importantly, we love experiencing them together.
  • Night at a nearby hotel. Occasionally, we’ll take a night out – in or near our own town! It’s like getting away but with far less travel time. And for the cost of a single hotel night, it’s pretty fun.
  • Art Gallery. We’ve only gone to a few art galleries, but have had a lot of fun each time! These are reasonably affordable trips, and this is another good family “date” for kids in many cases.
  • Comedy Show. These can be tough to find decently clean shows, but we recently went to Gabriel Iglesias and LOVED him. Hilarious, and decent.
  • Nearby travels. We have the good fortune of living in the SF Bay Area, and we’re surrounded by lots of great date day options that amount to a day trip. We’ve toured San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Downtown San Jose, Willow Glen, Fremont, and several other parts of our greater Bay Area just to discover people and places together.
  • Fire pit. We have a enough yard space to enjoy a fire pit. It’s perfect for cuddling, talking, and enjoy a drink or meal, and just unplugging from all the other distractions for a bit. This is the one we use. We paid less, and we’ve had it for years.

Special Occasions/Pricey:

  • Michelin Star Chef. As a big food nerd, I found out there was a 3-star chef nearby that I was dying to visit. We saved a considerable amount of money for this trip, but enjoyed what is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We’ll share the memories of that meal for the rest of our lives. WORTH IT.
  • Hawaii. We went here for our 13th Anniversary a few years ago. As an Army brat growing up, I lived on Oahu for 3 years, and already knew several “must do” stops. But we spent half the trip on Kauai and just relaxed. Maui and the “Big Island” are also great. Lanai is tiny!
  • Missions Trip. We recently went to Kenya together and got to serve some missionaries and Kenyan pastors. It was a joy to serve together, and reminded both of us of what our marriage is centered around.
  • Family Reunion. My extended family is literally spread coast-to-coast. We had a big family reunion a year ago and reconvened with most of them in Oklahoma where my parents live. The trip there and back was as rewarding as the time with our relatives.
  • Conference/Retreat. We’ve both spoke at different conferences, and have attended dozens more. Some were focused on ministry, our marriage, or just a getaway with other couples. They are all rewarding and great to experience together.
  • Special Experience. We have loved some of the wine tours around us. We’ve gone fishing together on charter boats,
  • Visit another part of the world. We’ve got more travel plans. I promised my wife when I married her that I’d take her to Ireland. So Ive got plan that out soon! We’ve been to Germany, and hope to also go to A few tropical places sooner rather than later.

This is just a simple kick-starter list – the point obviously is to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company and building intimacy. What are some other favorite married date ideas you’ve enjoyed with your spouse? Anything I should have added?

Pastor John

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