Just as we had done in our individual lives, together we actively and intentionally put our marriage under the Lordship of Jesus and began with the right foundation. We didn’t just invite the living God into our well-intentioned plans, we gave Him permission to show us His plan for our life together, and as He did, we stepped into it. It was a huge relief to know that God was in control and that we could trust Him in all things. At times when finances were tight, parenting was difficult, or family members didn’t agree with our decisions, we were tempted to take back the reins and rely on our own limited strength and resources. On those occasions, we reminded one another that unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers (no matter how hard we work!), labor in vain (Ps 127:1). Anyone who has been married more than five years can tell you that physical and sexual attraction, compatibility, and common interests (which are all parts of the house, but not the foundation) are not enough to sustain and deepen a marriage. When, notify the storms of life come, and we are pushed beyond our human strength and understanding, we will discover whether the foundation of our marriage has been built upon the rock or shifting sands.
We implemented some very practical ways to keep God at the center and to express our trust in Him. We made sure that personal prayer and the sacraments were an integral part of each day and week. As our family grew and my life with small children was quite consuming, Peter made sure I had time for uninterrupted personal prayer and Scripture study. We encouraged one another to seek out support from the broader Catholic community through men’s and women’s groups and mentorship from older married people. Our continued growth as disciples, as a married couple, and as parents showed us how necessary were the other people in our lives(usually older and wiser), who could offer guidance and prayer. This required humility, and it was never easy to disclose mistakes, marital conflict, or a struggling child, but when we chose to submit ourselves to the help and wise counsel of others, God always provided what we needed. We were shaping our marriage and family together as a couple, but we didn’t want to just make it up as we went along. So, we relied on the wisdom of Scripture and the teaching of the Catholic Church, even when it was difficult or contrary to those around us. We chose to not use contraception and instead practiced Natural Family Planning. We prayerfully considered how many children to have and when to have them, and always remained open to new life. We chose to honor the Lord’s Day every Sunday. Mass was non-negotiable, regardless of other important activities (even sports!), and we took intentional time together as a family to rest and relax. Practical expressions of the decision to put Christ first unfolded as our family grew (see Chapter Four) and we often needed to renew our commitment to give everything to God.
We had an opportunity to entrust our lives and our future more deeply to the Lord when our kids began attending Catholic school. We stood at a crossroads; should I (Peter) continue working full-time in Catholic ministry (which wasn’t very lucrative), or pursue a secular job that provided more money for our growing family? As I prayed, I sensed the Lord’s love and blessing in either choice. But God made it clear to me that what was driving me was fear and a lack of trust in His provision. As Debbie and I took time together and separately to pray more about this, the Lord began to reveal to us His faithfulness and provision in concrete ways. Within a few weeks, we received significant sums of money from three separate people—money we didn’t ask for. One night shortly after receiving these gifts and the answer to our prayers, we went downstairs to a small room designated for prayer. We knelt together and placed before the Lord our wallets, house and car keys, a family photo—things that were symbolic of our life together. We prayed, “Lord, we trust you. Once again, we put our whole life under your Lordship and we give you permission to lead and guide us. Everything we have belongs to you, we are just stewards of what you’ve given us.” Our four children all received Catholic school and college educations, and we are still working full-time in ministry. God has abundantly provided for all our needs as we have sought first His kingdom.
We believe that every family should have their own motto that articulates their identity and motivates their decisions. Ours is taken from St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:9: “We make it our aim to please the Lord.” This sounds like a noble yet abstract ideal, yet we quickly discovered that making it our aim to please the Lord had some very practical implications in our marriage and family.
One of the memorable examples that set the tone for our married life came shortly after our honeymoon. I came home one evening and Debbie was upset with me about something, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Back then, we didn’t know how to communicate very well when we were angry or upset with each other. Her tendency was to get quiet and my approach was, “If you have something to say, just say it!” I was an insecure, newly married guy and in my frustration, I blew up and yelled at Debbie. Then I went for a walk, and when I returned she was asleep. I went to bed thinking self-righteously, “Hey it’s her fault, not mine.” I had an inkling that I should try to do something to repair the damage, but I held fast to my desire to be right. The next morning, I got up early to pray, and I sensed the Lord telling me, “Peter, you can’t talk to Debbie just anyway you want. She is my daughter. It’s okay to get angry, but don’t shout and call names because it is hurtful.” I sensed the Lord instructing me to go upstairs and ask Debbie to forgive me. My first response was, “No way, it’s not my fault.” But I felt the gentle, loving presence of the Holy Spirit pressing in on me and reminding me of the Scripture passage that says, “Be angry but do not sin” (Eph4:26). I asked Deb to forgive me, which she did. We both repented for treating each other in ways that were not loving and did not please God. We took out index cards and wrote down our “do’s” and “don’ts” based on Scripture for handling the conflicts that would inevitably come. We agreed to learn how to express our anger in healthier ways by not screaming, calling names, or shutting the other out, to quickly repair our rifts and offenses through forgiveness, to not “let the sun go down on our anger” and to honor and respect one another, particularly in the area of speech (Eph 4:26). That important lesson early on became the foundation for not only how we related to each other, but for modeling to and teaching our children. Our aim wasn’t just to please ourselves, or even one another, but to please the Lord.
PETER HERBECK is the Executive Vice President and Director of Missions for Renewal Ministries. Peter is the co-host of the weekly television show The Choices We Face and the host of the daily radio show Fire on the Earth. He is a frequent conference speaker and is the author of When the Spirit Comes in Power and co-author of When the Spirit Speaks and Touched by God’s Word, with his wife Debbie. Peter holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota and an MA in Theology from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
DEBRA HERBECK is the Founder and Executive Director of Pine Hills Girls’ Camp and is also the Founder and Leader of Be Love Revolution, a ministry that exists to help young women encounter Christ and be His love to all they meet. Debbie has written several books and is a frequent author and speaker for Blessed Is She and contributing writer for Undone: Freeing Your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame. Debbie and Peter live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have four children and ten grandchildren.
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Ask any married couple about the challenges of sharing life together and you’ll hear a litany of interpersonal issues. Communication, wounds, and hardships can weigh heavily on husbands and wives. Today, add the external pressures from living in a hostile, anti-Christian, anti-family culture. Without a firm foundation, couples can collapse under these difficulties.
The good news is that through the Sacrament of Marriage God gives husbands and wives all the grace they need to overcome even the insurmountable. Drawing from the wisdom gained from their own thirty-five years of marriage, Peter and Debra Herbeck guide couples in strengthening their bond of marriage through the limitless grace offered to all by Christ.
In Lessons from the School of Love: Cultivating a Christ-Centered Marriage, fortify your marriage with encouragement and scriptural wisdom as you learn how to approach your spouse with the love and respect that will transform their heart—and your own!