Sunday, July 29, 2012

“The 50 Year Letter” by Garris Elkins

About 20 years ago I changed how I counsel couples who come to me wanting to get married.  I used to struggle with why I didn’t like the more academic approach of having couples read books and take tests to direct their new relationship. There is really nothing wrong with this approach – it just didn’t fit with me.

The change that came 20 years ago arrived as a word from the Lord to me, “Have them write a letter of what they want this relationship to become in 50 years and I will give them the desires of their hearts.”

Right after that word came, I had a couple come in for marriage counseling and I shared with them how the Lord had changed my approach to our time together.  At the end of our first meeting, I asked the couple to craft a single page letter to share with me what they desired to take place in their marriage in the coming 50 years.  For our next meeting I asked them to bring their completed 50 Year Letter. 

At our next meeting, I asked for my copy of their letter and quietly read it to myself as the couple watched.  Like all couples in love, they were holding hands and making eyes at each other. After reading the letter I thanked them and asked them to schedule three more appointments with me.

When this young couple left my office, I reread the letter and highlighted the areas they wrote about – love, communication, family, finances, dreams, ministry and so on.  For the next few months as we met together, I unpacked each of their desires and added personal and biblical insight.  They eventually got married and began to live out what was written in their 50 Year Letter.

The assignment I gave to this couple, and to many more like them over the years, was to keep this letter in a safe place and bring it out each anniversary and read it aloud together.  When they finish reading it each year, I asked them to then ask each other where they were in comparison to the desires expressed in their 50 Year Letter. My hope was that each year the letter would become a yearly marriage tune up or, if needed, it could become a call for a major overhaul. 

God enjoys giving us the desires of our hearts.  There is a condition in His giving us our desires – we must first delight ourselves in Him.  Delighting in the Lord means that His values become our values and what makes Him happy makes us happy.  

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Our delighting in God precedes His giving us the desires of our heart.

Now, when I meet a young couple to counsel them for the first time, before I give them their writing assignment, I share how God feels about marriage and how much He wants their marriage to succeed.  It is from the desire of God’s heart towards them that a delight in Him emerges.  A God-directed passion and a delighting in God together is where growth as a couple takes place. This is why I believe God changed how I counsel couples wanting to get married.

In my office file cabinet is a section filled with 50 Year Letters written by many couples over the last 20 years.  From time-to-time I take out some of the letters and pray for the couples. I pray that the passion they had for each other in the beginning, and the delight they shared together in the Lord, would be burning stronger than ever with each passing anniversary as they read their 50 Year Letter.

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