During college I was privileged to study abroad in Germany for a year. Besides the benefit of being able to study the language, culture and history of my host country, we foreigners got the added benefit of footloose and fancy free weekends to flitter about Europe on a moment’s notice. What was even better, was that Germany’s semesters were scheduled in such a way that after four months of intense study, the students got two months off. Now, if you were a native, you used those two months to prepare your end of the semester research paper. But if you were an exchange student like us, those two months translated into “Euro-rail Pass and the Mediterranean — Here we come!”
So at the price of just a few dollars (this was shortly after the Iron Curtain fell and traveling throughout Eastern Europe was dirt cheap), my friends and I boarded a train for a two month stint throughout Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy & Austria. A lot happened on that journey, but one of the places I remember most was Greece and the indelible vision of the Parthenon. I don’t know if it was the size of the Acropolis itself, or simply the tranquil feeling I got while contemplating my existence in that time and place, but the experience was nothing less than awe-inspiring.
The structure itself was surprisingly dilapidated, yet the massive columns that supported the Parthenon, which somehow had managed to hold up the entablature for hundreds of years, still stood strong.
In today’s age, no iconic structure comes under more attack than marriage itself. And if you think finding the “right” spouse is hard, wait until you have to figure out what to do with that spouse once you finally get him! Add to that the countless choices you must make together along the way to ensure a strong and healthy relationship that will stand the test of time, and you’re in for an adventure to say the least!
Yet, many couples we counsel struggle to agree even on what should be the simplest of decisions.
- What time should we put the kids to bed?
- How much money should we save each paycheck?
- Should we go over to my mom’s or yours on Christmas?
And with each passive choice made, with each decision made by one person with out the agreement of the other, we default to the inevitable “shotgun” approach. Point. Aim. Shoot — and hope that you hit some decision–any decision. Unfortunately, that kind of approach leads to what our mentor Tim Storey, calls “almost living.”
What we’ve found over the years, however, is that sound decision making, the kind that propels your life forward with purpose and in peace, relies on decision making pillars — principles which will keep your life stable and strong even during the most difficult and trying times, and which will allow for proper communication of the most important factors to consider in hopes of coming to the right conclusions.
So when an opportunity or decision comes your way, how do you and your spouse come to a conclusion regarding if, and how, to proceed? Over the years, Lucas and I have relied heavily on these four questions to guide us in every decision we’ve ever made.
1.) Does this opportunity fall in line with the goals we have for our marriage?
Each year Lucas and I sit down and discuss the milestones we want to achieve that year. We talk about the relationships we want to further, the places we want to go, the events we want to lead & sponsor, how we want to grow as a couple and as individuals, and everything in between. This process has helped us out significantly in determining throughout the course of the year, which opportunities to pursue and which to pass on. If the opportunity that presents itself, doesn’t move us closer to these goals, then we might either pass on it altogether, or at least “put it on the shelf” for further discussion.
2.) Does this opportunity fit within our budget?
Perhaps the opportunity that has presented itself fits directly in line with one or more of the goals you & your spouse have for your family. Great, right? Not so fast. You must then ask yourselves, “Can we afford this?” Now, it’s easy when couples reach this question to put the axe down on a lot of great opportunities. But don’t succumb to this temptation! Instead of asking if you can afford it, ask yourself, “How can we afford this?” Reframing this question actually activates your thinking skills and opens up your mind to discover other ways to achieve your desires.
When considering “cost”, you might even need to take the business approach and think, “What is the long term opportunity cost to our family, if we don’t do this?” Lucas and I came across this problem early on in our marriage when we lived in Ohio. When we initially moved, we had some challenges finding jobs that would pay the bills and allow for the flexibility for us to attend ministry school. Since I was a teacher, I applied for any position I could, and even got offered a few. The only glitch was, the positions offered weren’t in my area of certification, so in order to accept the position, I also had to simultaneously enroll in courses in that subject matter. At that time we were only living on our savings, so we couldn’t really afford to pay for additional college courses, so for 6 months I turned down a lot of offers. Then once our savings was gone and I still had no job, it finally dawned on me that if I had taken those jobs six months ago, the money I made from the regular income of that job would have more than paid for the courses I was required to take.
3.) Does this opportunity support or jeopardize your marriage/family?
This seems like a simple enough question to answer, doesn’t it? Wrong. Being able to have the transparency and honesty in your marriage to talk about whether or not the opportunities you (and/or your spouse) want to pursue will jeopardize your marriage can be some of the most difficult conversations you will ever have.
On one occasion, Lucas was offered an opportunity to travel and speak at a church several hundred miles away, from a woman whom he had met on a mission trip. Being that this was one of his first real invitations to do what he loved, and that the church was offering to pay not only for his expenses but also an honorarium, made the deal that much more enticing. But after asking a few more questions and having some open discussions about it, we realized that in spite of the financial opportunity it would afford, we didn’t really feel like moving forward with the offer was very safe for our marriage, so he declined. Not more than a few months later, the church suffered a “split” lead by, none other than, this woman.
4.) Does this opportunity fit within your schedule?
Families are just busy these days, aren’t they? With all the amenities that modern life affords and gadgets that are supposed to save us time, it seems like we have less time today than we ever did before! So a big question you must ask yourself when making decisions is, “Can we fit this in our schedule?” Now, just like in our previous question about finances, you might have to consider the ramifications of not adding this event into your schedule, and it is certainly possible that you might need to cut out some activities, in order to make room for new ones.
One of our good friends Max Smith follows this slogan – “No passion. No time.” If you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing, do you really want to carve out precious time to force it into your schedule? Why not open your schedule up for things that give you pleasure, inspire you, grow the bond between you and your family? Sometimes we have to move our schedule around to make things fit, but if moving that item around (usually because we feel obligated to do so) causes too much divergence from our scheduled routine, then we steer clear of it!
One final litmus test, we always follow, which in actuality trumps all others is this:
Are you being forced to make the decision quickly?
Now some people would look at our lives and all that we do and assume that we never give a thought at all to how quickly we make decisions. Part of that comes from the ground work we have laid in our marriage for the past 13 years, which allows us to maneuver through the opportunities that come our way using these principles, which then leads to decisions that can be made quickly, efficiently and with confidence.
On the other hand, some opportunities present themselves in such a way that on the surface seem to fall in line with every principle listed above. But if we are required to “act now”, or coerced to move so we don’t “miss this opportunity,” our answer is always a resounding, “No.”
I pray that as you seek to apply these decision making pillars, you will strengthen your marriage so that will stand the test of time.