"I think when people first get married, it’s a natural process to turn towards each other and tune out the rest of life," says Pam*, who’s been married seven years. "But," she continues, "it’s also a natural thing to start looking outward again once you’ve had some time together."

When life gets busy and your schedules fill up, it’s easy to get a routine of you, your spouse and your family, and forget about the larger community of friends around you. Gary Chapman, in his book The Four Seasons of Marriage, writes, "Marriage doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It affects everyone who is closely associated with a couple." And it’s up to you to make that effect a positive or a negative one, which means it’s also up to you not to let those friendships fall by the wayside.

What about those people you can lean on in your darkest hours? Are there friends in your life whose burdens you can help bear (Galatians 6:2)? Those with whom you can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

Counsellor and author Debra K. Fileta explains the importance of having more than one significant relationship in your life: "It’s time to recognize and then to invest in the people God has surrounded us with. People who will encourage us, build us up and call us out when we need to be corrected."

And as a couple, the need for those relationships is even greater. "If a couple wants to run the marriage race well," marriage and family expert Laird Crump writes, "they need to develop meaningful relationships with other couples who are moving in a positive direction." He adds that this doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful friendships with single people, but to be supported and encouraged as a couple, having other Christian couples walk alongside you is a huge gift.

The call of community is synonymous with our call of servanthood

Rick Warren writes, "Remember, God shaped you for service, not for self-centeredness. Without a servant’s heart, you will be tempted to misuse your shape for personal gain. You will also be tempted to use it as an excuse to exempt yourself from meeting some needs."

Mindy*, who recently celebrated her second anniversary with her husband Dan*, says, "I think many of us forget the point of being married. We are here to serve God and, when we are married, God entrusts both of us to serve Him and serve His people."

It’s of course easy to get caught up in the "self-serving culture" we live in, Warren notes, but that’s the very reason having a heart turned to service is so important.

"As we grow busy with our family, we may have less time with friends, but at the same time it is the truth that we can’t just live and grow with our family," Mindy goes on to say. God’s community is larger than just you and your spouse – and when you both turn your hearts of service to God, the impact is that much more.

Mindy’s grandparents, for example, had a large, close-knit group of friends as a couple. When her grandmother passed away years before her grandfather, that group of friends was there for him in a real and powerful way. "I am sure he felt lonely once in a while," she says, "but because he opened up his heart to his community, I didn’t see loneliness in his eyes. Even on his 75th birthday, many of his friends still came and celebrated with him." This image of community in action is something Mindy takes to heart in her own walk and in her own marriage.

"We are designed by God to give and to share," she says. We’re not called to enrich our lives selfishly; we’re called to pour out His love to those around us and to share the joy, the peace and the burdens that life brings.

Chapman writes, "From a biblical perspective, the purpose of life is not to accomplish our own objectives. The purpose of life is to know God and to bring glory and honor to his name. For most people, marriage enhances the possibility of achieving this objective."

Supporting one another through the seasons of marriage

Every marriage, Chapman explains, goes through different seasons – a life-giving spring, a contented summer, a struggling fall and a cold winter. "A winter marriage," he writes, "often makes couples desperate enough to break out of their silent suffering and seek the help of a counsellor, pastor, or trusted friend." And on the other side of the seasonal spectrum, a summer marriage often lasts as a result of, among other things, "the support of Christian friends and family."

A couple who is struggling through a winter, for example, could benefit enormously from the lifeline of a strong group of friends. And a couple basking in the summer of their marriage could be that lifeline, fulfilling the call in Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another."

And when that first couple has taken steps out of a winter and into a spring or even a summer, the encouragement they can then offer other couples is invaluable. Warren asks, "Could it be that the part of your marriage you regret or resent the most – that which you’ve wanted to hide or forget – is the very thing God wants to use as your ministry to help and encourage others sharing the same struggle?" After all, he explains, "Who could better help somebody recover from the pain of an addiction, a business failure, or a prodigal child than a couple who has been through these things and emerged with godly insights?"

The true essence of community

Community isn’t just a place where you live or a few recognizable faces you see. Author Don Eberly writes that "the real essence of community is organic and intangible, built on bonds of trust, shared values and mutual obligation." Even more than that, community is Christianity in action. It’s one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4).

"Together we have committed ourselves to seek and follow God’s plan for our lives," Chapman writes. "We help each other to use these abilities to serve God and to promote good in the world. As we do this, our lives point others to God and we accomplish our highest end. Our marriage relationship enhances the effectiveness with which we serve God."

The apostle Peter puts it this way: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10). And when you use the gifts God has given you as a couple, the friendships you make and the roots you have in a community provide an irreplaceable system of support.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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