Yesterday was our 33rd wedding anniversary and we didn’t do anything to celebrate it. It may be that we are tired or too busy, or maybe it is that we are just content in the midst of the middle ages. Either way, I know I can’t imagine myself without my usually sane business partner, beloved wife and mother of our three kids, dear Beth. My brother nicely wrote recently about not even remembering when he didn’t have such a soul mate as his wife (he’s been married longer than me) and I understood exactly. We are blessed.
I am going to suggest that some of the health of our relatively happy marriage comes from reading good books on all sorts of topics. Early on in our young adulthood, fired up about social change and God’s Kingdom and relevant ministry and intimate community with like-minded friends, we read about all sorts of things, curious and veracious about God’s care for all of life, how our deepest convictions about the reign of the Triune God might be lived out in our broken world. That we chose early on not to fixate on our marriage, but to ponder the meaning of Matthew 6:33—seeking first and only God’s Kingdom—seems to have be a helpful approach. In the heyday of the “relationship” emphasis of the 80s, with everybody talking about co-dependency and recovery and hurts and issues (some of which was genuine and healthy) we sometimes feared that we were missing something. Were their deep dark secrets we were suppressing?
Do you know that scene in the old Woody Allen movie where he stops a cheery, obviously in love couple on the street? He asks them the secret to their joyful unity and one replies something like “Well, I’m just shallow and don’t have very much deep stuff to think about” and the other says something like, “Yeah, me too.” We kinda felt like that sometimes. Maybe we were happy because we just weren’t working at our marriage all that much.
Still, thinking and reading widely has been helpful. We are sometimes asked for our favorite books for couples, and of course our answer varies depending on the faith, lifestyle, age of the couples, and how deep or academic they want things to be. (And maybe something like Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution is the jolt they need to take up the cares of others for a season, losing themselves to find themselves, you know.) Yet, there are a few we come back to over and over, writing to friends and customers who inquire about the best books for either pre-marital reading or for ordinary marriage renewal. These aren’t for those in deep trouble, and aren’t scholarly. We have books on the tough stuff, recovery from infidelity, books about domestic violence, authors who help those with sexual problems or resources for counselors. Call us or hit the inquiry tab up above if you want to talk about other related issues.
Here then, are a few we find ourselves recommending.
Stuff about forgiveness and communication, mostly. Many have said it is their all time favorite book on marriage and has had such enduring appeal I think I want to call it a classic. Good discussion guide in the back. A wonderful, wonderful book. (Look for his new one soon, by the way; Letters From the Land of Cancer.)
Intimate Mystery: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage Dan
Allander & Tremper Longman (IVP) $13.00 I really loved their bigger book based on
Genesis (Intimate Allies) which uses a “case study” approach of
marriage problems, and then referring back to the “original plan” in
Genesis, but it maybe was a bit much for most folks. This newer one is
fabulous, and useful since it is more slim. It uses the framework of “leaving
and cleaving” and it is wonderful to see an amazing counselor and a top Bible scholar working
together like this. It is well written and yet very clear. There are a set of separate
Bible study guides for each chapter, which now, in the paperback, are included
in the back of the book making it really useful to have. (You can still get the study guides separately, though.) There is a 6-session DVD, too ($30.00) which is very well done–short clips to generate conversation in groups, bits of Dan Allander teaching, interviews with couples.
Excellent, solid, beautiful stuff. (By the way, these are the guys that are interview in the recent Donald Miller Convergence DVD project I wrote about the other day.) Highly recommended.
Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before (Or After) You Marry Les & Leslie Parrot (Zondervan) $14.99 Well, this may not seem to be for old-timers, but it is still surprisingly
insightful, as a great refresher. These two are very sharp (and yes, those are their names so stop snickering!) I’d recommend anything they do—and
they do a lot! Love Lists [$14.99] is simple: it offers a list of things couples should do every day, stuff they should do once a week or so, a monthly list, and some recommendations for a “yearly check-up.” Very nice idea, eh? There is a man’s Bible study guide and a woman’s, too, for Saving Your Marriage which is
helpful. It is a bit more psychological, self-helpy and practical so I’d recommend it
be coupled with some sort of substantial theology of marriage for a sound
foundational framework. Still, they pick the key topics of handlng money,
sexuality, communication and such and give great advice. There is a newer one entitled Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts that, it seems to me, would make essential reading for those considering re-marriage. Another good one from them is called I Love You More: How Everyday Problems Can Strengthen Your Marriage (Zondervan; $12.99) and covers a range of family issues, personal problems, particular struggles, with testimonials and case studies of those who made their way through matters as painful as infertility, handicapped kids, sexual infidelity, money problems, spiritual differences, and so forth. Les and Leslie. Read ’em and learn.
Mike Mason (Multnomah) $13.99 Contemplative, rich, thoughtful, deeply spiritual, quite
lovely and one of our personal favorites. Eloquent and elegant, a bit mystical and moving, so therefore not for
everyone who isn’t used to books about the inner life. A true favorite of many, though; there is nothing like it! Beth and I both have thought it to be our favorite (at one point or another, I think) and we’ve given it as a wedding gift. I suspect that many of our best customers will find it extraordinary and a real find, for its insight, theology, and well-crafted prose. You might as well just buy an extra copy or two now as you will want to share it.
Many sorts of folks have said this is the best thing they’ve read on marriage, so we really do commend it. A forward by J.I. Packer is very nicely done. Mason has several other well-written books, too, which are really worth reading, including the recently re-issued set of short fiction stories, The Furniture of Heaven. Nice.
Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99 This, too, attempts to offer more than a self-help approach, pondering instead the “reason for” and
“meaning of” our unions, somewhat like Mike Mason, but not quite as deep or richly mystical. Still, this is a
wonderful look at the deeper theological and spiritual nature of marriage. His
tag line is “what if marriage wasn’t to make us happy, but make us holy.”
Whew. Still, he’s not a heavy writer, he tells nice stories, even writes with delightful joy and good humor. There is also a
companion called Devotions for the Sacred Marriage ($14.99 hardcover) which is a nice addition, or a nice gift. By the way, Gary, who we have met, and who Publisher’s Weekly once called “the evangelical Henri Nouwen”, has earned his way on to my list of authors that I will read anything he writes. His last, Holy Available, on being shaped into the image of Christ, was excellent. His newest is called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good, which looks fabulous and I am eager to get to it.) He has also written the excellent
Sacred Parenting and Devotions for Sacred Parenting which,
like the marriage ones, bring a nice blend of philosophic/spiritual insight and
practical, inspiring, and very helpful stories.
Parenting in a Changing World Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (IVP) $23.00. Beth and I heard Mary lecture a time or two in the early 80s, and devoured her book when it first came out. (We ended up being mentioned in her serious sequel to G&G on masculinity, My Brothers Keeper? [$17.99] which is vastly under-read, in my view. It is amazing!) If couples
don’t get the gender roles stuff fundamentally right, there will be troubles…as an evangelical feminist who works in the social sciences, and sees/ thinks through the broad lenses of a Christian worldview (shaped by the very shape of the Biblical narrative itself—good creation, turned ugly from, but being restored in Christ) she is to be trusted. We think it is
wise and thoughtful, but, admittedly, a bit serious and broad-rnaging for some
folks. I do think it is one of the most important books we’ve ever read! Skip those handy evangelical books saying simplistic things like “she wants love, he wants respect” or the wildly confused and confusing Wild at Heart. Start here. By the way, her much-anticipated book about gender in C.S. Lewis, and how the old chap changed after he married, will be out in the new year. It is called A Sword Between the Sexes: C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates. I’ve read some of it and it is truly a major, significant work.)
Pre-Modern Perspctive for a Post-Christian World Alice Mathews
& M. Gay Hubbard (Baker) $18.99 One of the best overviews, theological, rich,
foundational from an egalitarian perspective. I like the way the title echoes the view that God had something in mind in the beginning, and that we moderns may have need to ancient wisdom applied in fresh ways. Again, this is not a self-help book,
really, so some couples might balk. Most BookNotes readers long for the more foundational work, though, and this offers a wonderful framework for further, more practical stuff. Still, what is more practical than getting the foundation right? This is sadly out of print, but we have a few left.
Have you had certain books on marriage that have proven to be especially helpful? That you find to be richly written, to be recommended for thoughtful readers? Do you and your faith community talk about this stuff much? If you are unmarried, do you ever read books about gender and relationships? (We have lists for singles, too, by the way, and a book list on dating sorts of things…give a shout if we can send any suggestions.) I haven’t listed a lot of important, useful ones that we carry….what are your top few? Let us know! Thanks.