What you are about to read are the 10 things I desire to bring to the woman I marry and the 10 things I hope to receive from the woman I marry. Sharing this publicly is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been about things so intimate. When someone very special recently asked me what my values for marriage are, this is what emerged from my heart. These expressions come from the position of a committed Christ-follower that is deeply engaged in kingdom-centered business and ministry. These values will give you a glimpse into the heart of a kingdom man that is a work in progress. The crucible for my marriage values is the pain of a marriage that didn’t work out in my younger years and the joy of a 20-year marriage that was cut short by breast cancer a year ago. Writing down these personal values was the first step in opening my heart up to the possibility that I could love again. My love and passion for marriage will become evident as you read the words below. And, I think you will also sense my commitment to be a man that is constantly growing and learning in the way I love and live. These are values I hold to, but also aspire to.
The 20 points below were initially meant to be a condensed simple statement of my marriage values, but they grew into more of a marriage manifesto in that they capture what I believe, who I am and what I desire in marriage. My reason for sharing this with you is that I believe it could prove helpful as you prepare for a vibrant marriage or seek to grow in your current marriage.
For those who are interested, you can find more of my personal journey and some ideas about how these thoughts could benefit you after the manifesto below.
The Marriage Manifesto by Reed Grafke
Part 1: 10 things I want to bring to the woman I marry?
One: Love: Learning to love well has been my life’s quest for 25 years.) In marriage, authentic love is the wellspring of passion, intimacy and romance. It casts down fear and opens up layers of freedom previously unreachable. True love is never, never selfish and is always focused on the best interests of the other. It is tender, encouraging and empowering, and even inspiring. Capacity for love is not a gift and will not grow unless we are intentional about it. It is something we have to learn, often through hardship and God’s gentle instruction, but also through desire. Love demands everything from us. It is not about what we get, but what we give. Our capacity to love another deeply flows out of the depths of our love life with God. When I imagine myself standing before God in eternity, I think the first thing He will say to me is: Reed, did you learn how to love?
Two: Friendship: The friendship aspect of marriage cannot be overestimated. (Living in deep friendship is one of my 3 life goals.) (In John 15, Jesus says to his disciples, “From henceforth, I call you no more servants, but friends.”) Jesus brings us through the door of service into the place of friendship, and then through the door of friendship into the place of true agape love. Ultimately, we become the bride of Christ, but leading up to that we become His friend and that is the place where He shares His secrets with us as John also says (“as my friends, I will tell you my secrets”). This is the pattern of every Kingdom disciple and should be the path of every marriage.
You can’t go from serving one another into true Kingdom love without passing through the door of friendship. In the Song of Songs, as the Shulamite woman is falling in love and is being pursued by her lover in a very romantic dance that includes several stages of intimate love, she warns her closest friends 3 times about the danger of entering into love without your heart being prepared as she says: “I charge you, oh daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases (or until you are prepared to pay the price to keep it).” Friendship is what prepares us to love deeply. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay on friendship says that friendship requires two primary things in near equal proportions: Truth and Tenderness. Too much of either makes for an unhealthy friendship. We also learn how to be truthful and tender as we pass through the friendship room into the place of love and it becomes the foundation for a deeper Kingdom love. Even secular people have figured this out. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said that the first time, she married for love, the second time for money and the third time for companionship (friendship). Even when you are flowing in pure and holy Kingdom love, you still have the joy of serving one another and the pleasure of walking in deep friendship. Love is a living growing thing, there are no experts, only practitioners.
Three: Protection: First, I want to protect my bride’s heart, but I also want to fight for her dreams, desires and destiny. I am protective of the heart of every woman I know and care about, but will be even more so of the one God entrusts to me. I think the main thing a Kingdom man has to fight for in his lover is her destiny…that is to create an environment of beauty and security that enables her to find her true identity and Kingdom destiny as a woman. This is empowering to both parties as nothing can make a man’s heart come alive like a woman that is soaring in her calling.
Four: Provision: it is the joy of my heart to work hard and to provide as much financial security for my family as humanly possible by the grace of God. However, providing security for my mate’s heart and providing a secure, communicative emotional and spiritual environment where her dreams and destiny can be realized is equally, if not more important. As a young man, I thought making lots of money would create security, but as I have grown, I realize security can only truly come from God. My job as a man is to love my wife well and to work hard and sow seeds in good soil and His job is to give the increase. The security I can bring to my mate is not dependent on how much money I am making, but on me working and abiding in His will and in His faithful provision. There is no real security apart from being centered in God’s will.
Figuring out the financial provision piece in a marriage can be one of the most fun adventures. When both spouses share in the responsibilities of provision it is an exciting dance of partnering with God to accomplish His destiny for them. God has an amazing way of providing for what He calls us to do. Far too many marriages suffer because they pray to their checkbook and ask their bank account if they can do things. (“I would love to go to Italy for our anniversary, but we can’t afford it.”) I think the better way is to seek God for direction as a team and when He leads you to do something bigger than your bank account, you both just smile at Him and say, yes Lord, it is sure going to be fun to see how You provide for this. I plan to work hard and sow seeds and live generously for the rest of my life and believe God with my mate to meet our needs and for Him to do exceedingly abundant above all we could ever ask or think.
Five: Elimination of shame: Shame is the archenemy of a healthy marriage and of Kingdom joy. People that live in the past will always fall short of their glorious destiny. Both parties in marriage must sense the 100% approval of their mate. Shame is the result of feeling like you have disappointed your lover or God or others and it is not fully forgiven or the slate has not been wiped clean by the power of the cross. The removal of every trace of shame in a marriage is the equivalent of giving sight to the blind.
Six: Spiritual leadership: The authority to lead is generated from time in the presence of God. They said of Jesus: He speaks as one with authority, not as the scribes. In a vibrant Kingdom marriage, both parties are captured by the loving leadership of the Holy Spirit and get to fully express it in a joyful dance of shared leadership. Each person has respected authority over their own domains—the places where God has trained them, but there is nothing so freeing to the heart as being radically loved and supported in your pursuit of the perfect will of God.
In any expression of life—family, work, ministry—the one whom God has given authority to lead will never build anything Kingdom by demanding loyalty, but only by inspiring it. Spiritual direction and big picture decisions require agreement and synchronization and are made effortlessly when both hearts are submitted to Jesus’ lordship. Neither party in a Kingdom marriage should fear making a decision on their own when necessary and when they do, they should know and trust that they will have the full backing of their lover whether it was a good or bad decision. This is where inspired loyalty comes into play. No woman should have any paralysis as she navigates through her own calling and discovers her own destiny each day. She should have the confidence in her husband’s love that she can seek his wisdom as needed and decide for herself how best to move forward in her own domain.
Another archenemy of Kingdom marriage is control and micro management. This is equivalent to committing murder in a marriage because of the way it kills the heart. The spiritual leadership I would seek to bring to my life partner would flow from a genuine relationship with Father, Son and Spirit and would be tender and seek to inspire rather than demand. I would also highly value the areas of our marriage where she takes the lead over that which is her primary domain. The goal would be that there are two hearts fully alive without shame or hesitancy following the Lamb wherever He leads.
The word submission is greatly abused in many families and religious cultures. What it means to me in the context of marriage is that we submit to one another in the area of that person’s mission or where they have authority. True biblical submission can be deciphered by examining the word: “sub”–to come under and support; “mission”–assignments, calling, gifting. Combining these two concepts takes us to the Kingdom application of submission: I am coming under and supporting you in your assignment, mission and gifting and vice versa. Creating an environment of shared leadership and mutual submission is the ideal.
Seven: Physical love and intimacy: This is as important a part of marriage as all the rest. It ranges from affectionate touch and holding hands to kissing, sex and communication. In order for there to be full expression and freedom, both parties must have dealt with any baggage from prior relationships and have similar values for all types of intimacy. Without going into detail, mutual pleasure and satisfaction must be the starting place for every aspect of physical intimacy. There are many types of intimacy that do not require physical touch such as deep conversation or worshipping or praying together. But, even here, touch can make the expressions more rich and beautiful.
Eight: Joy centeredness: (the second of my 3 life goals): Joy is a rare spiritual fruit amongst believers in our society. I plan to live and die a joyful man and for joy to be one legacy I leave behind. Joy is the result of a transparent and vulnerable life. An egotist can never be joyful. It’s the fruit of trust and laying your life at Jesus’ feet and of a happy relationship in God. Joy has a few archenemies like selfish ambition, unforgiveness, and shame. Deep, natural, steady joy is the byproduct of a life consecrated to Jesus. As the ancient monks learned, it is even possible to be joyful without sex, but as they found out you at least need beer.
Nine: Presence of God-centered: (#3 of 3 of my life goals): I am a man who loves God’s presence, but I’m becoming a man who cannot live without God’s presence. Intimacy with him in his presence is my true north and filter for measuring everything I do. Will a new direction or relationship draw me deeper into His presence or allow me to express more of His presence or will it be a distraction? Learning the secrets of His presence is a life’s quest. For example, when you feel the slightest twinge or whisper of God’s presence during the day, it is an invitation to engage in intimacy for that moment that must be respected, appreciated and captured. The only proper response is to stop what we are doing and be fully present in the moment. If I say that I will pick this back up later it never works because I just tried to put God on my schedule instead of aligning with His
My desire for my wife would be that we spend daily time in God’s presence together whenever possible whether in worship, prayer, writing or enjoying creation, or adventure or just hanging out, or with friends and family. God’s presence releases power in our lives and when that power flows from deep intimacy it has eternal impact on everyone around us. Power is meant to flow from us and through us to the degree that we can stand in His presence. Besides, why live any other way when in His presence is where we find the fullness of joy that is beyond description and full of glory.
Ten: Passion and adventure: Religion stole these two things away from me for nearly 20 years. I will never again live without them and I will seek to inspire the woman I marry to live her life so full of passion and joy that she will dare greatly in the adventures God has designed for her and us. The above 9 points are foundational to making an adventuresome marriage actually work. The fruit of these character traits is that we get to actually live the adventuresome life God promised. I guess if I have a dream here, it is that I will marry a woman so in tune with God and me that discovering the uncharted territory of Kingdom marriage will be our greatest adventure and that we can experience countless adventures built on this foundation.
End of Part 1
This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of the work God has been doing in me for years to train me in marriage. Much more could be said under each point.
Part two: 10 things I desire from the woman I marry
One: Unbridled love: To have all the love, passion and energy I have to give reciprocated in terms of physical affection, thoughtfulness, and romance. In my wildest dreams and deepest desires, I imagine being married to a woman who is fully and passionately and radiantly abandoned to God and who with the same energy and passion loves me. In a word, I want to cherish and be cherished. I want a nothing held back, blow your hair back, passionate, affectionate romance that is rooted in true spiritual love.
Two: Loves God’s Kingdom: Seeks first the kingdom of God, desires to grow as a Kingdom woman and experience Kingdom adventure.
Three: Honor and Respect: are like fuel on the fire of a man’s soul. When a man receives these from the woman he loves, he can conquer the world. They are not to be lightly given and must be earned by the man, but since every man I know is not perfect, we have to have a sufficient measure of honor and respect in our current state of maturity. This does not come natural for many women and they tend to mother their husbands. When a man, despite his immaturity, is giving his whole heart to grow and be the man God made him to be, he needs a wife that honors and respects him for his pursuit of God even though he has a lot of rough edges that God has not fixed so far in his journey.
Four: Faith (fearlessness): Perfect love casts down fear. A woman that moves in faith (not fear) is a warrior/partner with her husband and nothing can stand in the way of their prayers and actions together. Fear affects every aspect of life. We never fully overcome it, but it should be treated as an enemy.
Five: Joyfulness of Heart: for joy to be her true north; for joy to be the default position of her heart whether in public or private.
Six: Playfulness of Spirit: Without this, we can take ourselves too serious. God has been playful with me in many interactions. Even when He corrects me, there is a playful grace in it and I feel His love. Have you ever thought about God as wild and playful??? What does He do for fun??? Like any parent, He enjoys playing with his kids. He is not just concerned with our growth; He also cares about our joy and fun.
Seven: Passionate and Adventuresome: These qualities are like the sun and the moon. They light up the day and night and affect every aspect of our world and create the rhythms and tides of a joyful romance. There are equally important things that provide the foundations of marriage, but these provide the locomotion. Even God can’t steer a stationary vehicle. I envision such a loving marriage that my wife literally soars in her passions and joys in adventure and laughs in the face of adversity.
Eight: Love of the Outdoors: enjoys lots of the same leisure activities. This may not sound like it should be a big deal to me, but it is because I have seen too many couples grow apart when they take too much leisure time away from each other. Besides, I want to spend as much time as I can with the one I love most – whether in ministry, business, sports, exercise, travel, work, play or other adventures. The more we can be outside the better. (Another discovery I’ve made is that I love doing projects with the one I love, whether it’s building or fixing or designing or writing or something else creative.)
Nine: Love to Travel: experience the beauty of other cultures. We live in an amazing and beautiful world filled with unique and beautiful people and cultures that I would delight to experience with my lover. Plus, we carry in us the power to shift culture and transform nations and that is hard to do when we stay at home. Of course, travel is not always about comfort or pleasure and mission trips to developing countries give something back to us when we go.
Ten: Rest: Knows how to relax and rest; can experience deep contentment when doing nothing together; can enjoy a healthy rhythm in work, life, play (Mt 11:28-30) in the Message bible is one of my life verses that describes what I’m trying to say:
Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Back Story: I’m the guy that married too young and too soon after becoming a Christ follower. Without the benefit of any role models to teach me what a good husband or even a good man was, I made a disaster of my first marriage. Even though I became a Christ follower in my late teens, I did everything imaginable wrong and ultimately lost my marriage after 8 years because of my own sin, stubbornness and immaturity. Though I started my career in business, it was the way I handled my calling to ministry that ultimately played a huge role in destroying my marriage.
Over the 12 years following my divorce, I stayed in ministry, but mostly in an administrative capacity while I worked through a lot of my brokenness and received healing. Finding a joyfully married spiritual father to mentor me played a huge role in re-shaping my marriage values. During this season, I Inadvertently became a student of marriage and found myself looking for models of kingdom marriage that I could aspire to. They were hard to find. At age 40, I suppose enough rough edges were knocked off of me that God decided to trust me with one of his special daughters. I courted and married Monette who was the most passionate, secure and adventuresome woman I had ever met. We had a beautiful adventuresome marriage that was idyllic in many ways for nearly 20 years. After 16 years together, we encountered stage 4 breast cancer and ultimately lost the battle in February 2018. Having been her primary caregiver for nearly four years, I was a mess. I had lost my way and found myself crying out to the Lord for help and direction. In this desperate state, I felt like He said to me: Don’t do anything for the next year except focus on getting healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually.
During this journey toward wholeness, I have lost 50lbs and I’m in the best shape of my life. My spiritual passion and vision are steadily and increasingly being restored through God’s grace and the help of some great friends and counselors plus I’m getting healthier emotionally every day. As the capacity to love began growing in my heart again, I was inspired by a dear friend to write down the 10 things I would bring to the woman I marry and the 10 things I would hope for from the woman I marry. When I dipped my toe into this river and began writing down my marriage values and desires, I was drawn into such a beautiful place of revelation and understanding that I ended up writing what became the personal marriage manifesto above. As I mentioned, this is not a theological work and your values will likely be very different.
As a student of marriage, I have interviewed believing couples in Christian ministry and business around the world, looking for vibrancy, synergism, joyfulness and effectiveness in the Kingdom. When I was a pastor, I got certified with Prepare- Enrich to do pre-marital counseling and thoroughly enjoyed helping couples get off to a healthy start. I have also performed many wedding ceremonies and helped prepare couples of all ages for marriage. The values in this manifesto are the culmination of what I learned through my own brokenness and joys in marriage and through a lot of experience with the marriages of others. These are the core marriage values that I espouse to personally. They are my desires and hopes, but in no way are they a checklist for me that I would expect someone to conform to.
Going through this writing process turned out to be a very healthy experience. The primary reason I am sharing this publicly is that I believe this exercise could be invaluable for those preparing for marriage or who would like to be married. It can even be a meaningful exercise for married couples. After reading the marriage manifesto, if you decide to go for it, take a week or a month and write your values down privately and prayerfully, but wait to show it to your spouse or potential spouse until you are both ready to take the time to go through each point together one at a time.
When writing this I bumped into some of the untamed frontiers in my life where I am still under construction as a man. In articulating these marriage values, I realized that I am not yet the man I desire to be, nor do I expect God to bring me a woman who is mature in each of the things I desire from her. However, by marrying a woman who knows my desires and shares her values with me, I believe we will continue to mature in them together in the context of marriage as we seek to bring out the best in each other.
When I am coaching a single man of any age, I always remind them that if they want to marry an awesome woman, they must become an awesome man. There are many reasons to develop good character but getting yourself ready for marriage should be near the top of your list. Since who we marry will have greater impact on our future and destiny than any other decision we make, it makes sense to think that God is at work in us, preparing us for one of His amazing daughters or sons. I am convinced by this exercise that we really have no idea just how deeply God has been preparing us for an awesome marriage until we articulate the values He has been building in our hearts.
When writing your marriage values, avoid the temptation to sugar coat or to try and impress. This is not an exercise where you are trying to win a person’s heart by portraying yourself as someone you are not. It was important to me to be honest about my deepest desires, but I only focused on those values that God has been working into my character and life for many years.
There are many great tools available to help us prepare for marriage and for building healthy marriages. The most helpful book I have read on marriage is “Cherish” by Gary Thomas. I won’t do pre-marriage or marriage counseling again unless the couple has first read this book.
All the best in your journey to a healthy marriage.