Curing the Itch Mites
Marlene: We learned all about itch mites when we hosted a wedding reception in Chicago for Mark and Vanessa who had gotten married in California two weeks earlier. Some friends offered to let us have the reception in their backyard, a large area with some beautiful oak trees. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and warm with a just little breeze. Everyone had a great time. We set up tables under the oak trees so that people could take advantage of the shade. Vanessa got to meet many of our friends, and we had the privilege of introducing her to them. In every way, it was a perfect day.
Ray: That changed a few hours later when many of the people who attended the reception noticed that their legs and arms were beginning to itch. Within 24 hours red welts appeared. What happened? Where did they come from?
Marlene: My arms and legs were covered with red welts.
Ray: And so were mine.
Marlene: That night when we turned on the TV, we learned that Chicago had been invaded by microscopic creatures called “itch mites.” In this case, the oakleaf itch mite.
Ray: Here are quotes from two different news stories: “Mite bites cause extremely itchy red welts, usually on the upper body. Hundreds of people have visited local emergency rooms.”
Marlene: “Scientists believe the mites originally came from Central Europe. They can travel on flying insects or drift on wind currents because they’re invisible to us. They float in the wind and can pass through window screens and loosely woven clothing. “
Ray: “You can’t feel its bite. But within 10 to 16 hours, a pimple-like welt forms. It lasts about two weeks.”
Marlene: Here’s what amazed us. No one noticed anything during the reception. We didn’t see any flies or mosquitoes or bugs of any kind. The itch mites float through the air, attach to your body, and then they bite you. But they are so small that you don’t see or feel anything. The real impact isn’t felt until hours later.
Ray: And there isn’t really anything you can do once you’ve been bitten.
Marlene: Except try not to scratch.
Ray: If you scratch, they itch even more.
Marlene: Itch mites are like life itself.
Ray: The biggest problems are the ones you can’t see coming.
Marlene: And they usually start off as small things.
Ray: So what exactly are we talking about? Several years ago the University of Louisville did a study called “Social Allergies in Romantic Relationships.” Researchers demonstrated that there is a connection between “nasty habits and nasty divorce.”
Marlene: Seemingly insignificant behaviors can have devastating long-term consequences. Little things left unattended can cause real trouble in the long run.
A Handful of Itch Mites
Ray: Here are some examples of marital itch mites. Some of these come from the study I just mentioned, others come from the Internet, and we’ve thrown in a few of our own:
Marlene: Failing to hang up towels,
Ray: Not replacing an empty toilet roll,
Marlene: Changing preset controls on the car stereo,
Ray: Not picking up after yourself,
Marlene: Packing too many items when you travel,
Ray: Leaving the cap off the toothpaste,
Marlene: Encouraging your basset hounds to jump on the couch,
Ray: Exaggerating when you tell stories,
Marlene: Watching too much football,
Ray: Wearing wrinkled shirts,
Marlene: Wearing socks to bed,
Ray: Refusing to say “I was wrong.”
Marlene: Asking, “What’s for dinner?” and then making a face,
Ray: Flipping through the TV channels too fast,
Marlene: Leaving water all over the bathroom floor after a shower,
Ray: Not filling up the car when you said you would,
Marlene: Leaving empty cups and glasses all over the house,
Ray: Failing to unload the dishwasher …
Marlene: While leaving piles of unwashed dishes on top of it,
Ray: Letting the bed go unmade all day long,
Marlene: Making your spouse the butt of your jokes,
Ray: Tuning out while your wife is talking to you,
Marlene: Reading the newspaper and then leaving it in a big pile by the recliner,
Ray: Eating chocolate chips with milk and then dropping the chips on the floor and not picking them up,
Marlene: Spending too much time on the computer,
Ray: Reading emails while talking to your spouse,
Marlene: Being unable to read a map correctly,
Ray: Looking away when you are talking to others,
Marlene: Talking to yourself in public,
Ray: Slurping your soup,
Marlene: Eating all the chocolate cake in one night after your wife worked hard to bake it for you,
Ray: Finishing his sentences,
Marlene: Not cleaning your facial hair out of the sink after shaving,
Ray: “Wet towels on the bathroom floor cause minor irritation, but the reaction gets stronger each time it happens,” commented chief researcher, Michael Cunningham. Here is what they found. Irritating behavior becomes more irksome over time. The report says that these “social allergies are like “pebbles in the shoe.”
Marlene: Some of you may be married to a living, breathing itch mite.
Ray: And you are probably an itch mite yourself from time to time.
Marlene: By the way, did you know there is a name for this? It’s called MAD—Minor Annoyance Disorder. Some of us have MAD marriages that may become bad marriages if we don’t do something about it.
Ray: The drip-drip-drip of these marital “itch mites” can cause permanent damage if they aren’t dealt with.
Marlene: How can we cure the marriage itch mites? Here are a few ideas.
Ray: Remember that marriage is the very close union of two sinners who are still far from perfect. Even though we are new creations in Christ, we aren’t perfected yet. And most of us aren’t very close. Where two sinners live together, you are bound to have friction.
Marlene: Try thanking God for the things that irritate you. God uses that friction for a purpose. You must need it or God wouldn’t allow it in your life.
Ray: Pick your battles carefully. Not every hill is worth dying on.
Marlene: Some things are never going to change.
Ray: But sometimes he just needs to be informed in a sweet way that he would look better if he didn’t wear those dark green pants that are scraggly-looking even though he loves them.
Marlene: Give God time to work things out. You can’t change another person’s heart. Only God can do that.
Ray: Remember that marriage is one of God’s major tools for your sanctification. Look at the “itch mites” as a gift from God.
Marlene: Don’t be a grievance-keeper. Ask God to give you amnesia about some things.
Ray: When you are wrong, admit it.
Marlene: Ask God to help you become a speedy forgiver.
Ray: Years ago a wise man told me that when it comes to resolving conflicts, “the first price you pay is always the cheapest.” We tend to ignore problems because we think if we ignore them, they will go away. But that almost never happens. The price for solving relational problems always goes up.
Marlene: And that explains why some seemingly good marriages end in divorce. At the first problems are small so the couple decides to ignore them. Then they get bigger and become more painful to resolve so they are never faced.
Ray: Finally the price for solving them becomes so great that divorce is easier than dealing with the pain.
Marlene: Itch mites don’t cause divorce, but they can contribute to it. They constitute a kind of low-grade fever in a marriage that may result in a full-blown disease that requires intensive care.
Memorize These Verses
Ray: Here are three verses to memorize:
Marlene: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” Ephesians 4:29. The word translated “corrupt” was used for decaying flesh, rotten fish or rotten fruit. The meaning is, “Don’t let any putrid words come out of your mouth.” Or we might say in street lingo, “No trash talk!”
Ray: The Greek construction of verse 29 is a bit unusual. The verse opens with a Greek word that means “all, each, every.” The word meaning “no” occurs later in the verse. That gives a particular emphasis to his words:
Marlene: Every critical comment that comes out of your mouth … not!
Ray: Every filthy word that comes out of your mouth … not!
Marlene: Every harsh word that comes out of your mouth … not!
Ray: Every cheap shot that comes out of your mouth … not!
Marlene: Every bit of gossip that comes out of your mouth … not!
Ray: Why is this so important? Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Every time you open your mouth either life or death comes out. The Bible speaks of the throat as an “open grave” (Romans 3:13). When there is death on the inside, it will eventually show up in your words.
Marlene: Ephesians 4:29 offers a Christian alternative:
Ray: First, we are to speak good words that build up instead of tearing down.
Marlene: Second, we are to speak words that minister grace to those who hear them.
Ray: And we are to do it all the time and in every circumstance. We are to speak good words that bring grace according to the need of the moment.
Marlene: Here is the teaching of the verse put very simply:
Together: Every word … all good … all grace … all the time.
Ray: Here’s the third verse: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). And here’s a simple interpretation of that verse:
Together: Be QUICK to forgive the STUPID things other people do.
Marlene: The word “deeply” might be better translated “fervently.” It means “stretched-out love.” It’s what happens when your child does wrong and you stretch out your arms to embrace them…
Ray: It’s love that goes on and on and on. We must make that sort of effort because true love is difficult. It costs something. Once you really get to know another person, real love means going to the wall for them, stretching to the limit, putting yourself in a place where you can be hurt. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis describes it this way:
Marlene: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Wrap it carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in a casket of your own selfishness. There it will not be broken.”
Ray: To love is to open yourself up to the possibility of being deeply hurt which is why Peter says, “Above all, love each other deeply.” There’s a reason for this command. We are to love each other with a stretched-out love because “love covers a multitude of sins.”
Marlene: Every time someone wrongs me I have two choices. I can deal with it, forgive it, cover it and move on, or I can drag that person through the mud and in hatred stir up all kinds of dissension. The meaning is—love refuses to wash its dirty laundry in public.
Ray: Love handles it privately, it goes out of its way to veil sin, to treat it discreetly. It is exactly the opposite of hatred that exposes weakness and humiliates someone else. Love deals with sin publicly only as a last resort.
Marlene: First there is love, then there is forgiveness, then there is silence. Love has a short memory and sealed lips. We need to hear this word because others will indeed fail us a “multitude” of times.
Ray: Love isn’t surprised when close friends fail, isn’t surprised when promises aren’t kept, isn’t surprised when others write unkind letters, and isn’t surprised when we are criticized unfairly.
Marlene: Fervent love expects others to fail, expects to be hurt and expects to be used unfairly. It goes on loving anyway.
Ray: In the first session I told you that when I officiate at a wedding, with the happy couple standing in front of me, I often think, “They don’t have a clue.” How could they? We didn’t have a clue when we got married.
Marlene: You learn so much in just the first few weeks, and still you don’t know much at all. And even after a few years, you’re still learning and growing. We have been married for 33 years, and we’re learning all the time. No one really “has a clue” when they get married. We’re not experts on marriage, but we are certain about this much. If your marriage is going to succeed, love will have to cover a multitude of sins.
Ray: How do you cure the itch mites? There is one main answer:
Together: Don’t let things build up between you.
Marlene: Have you heard of Peter Jenkins? He’s the man who walked across America. When he had finished his trip, someone asked him if he ever felt like quitting. He said, Yes, he felt that way many times. What was it that made him feel like quitting? The high mountains? The searing sun? The lonely nights? The possibility of danger? No, none of that. It was the sand in his shoes. That made him want to quit. The application to marriage is obvious. It’s not the big things that kill a relationship. It’s the little things–the sand in the shoes–that we neglect to take care of.
Ray: The Bible has an important word to say on this subject. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are angry.” That means there is a divine time limit on your anger.
Marlene: What you think about as you are going to sleep becomes a part of your subconscious. Little things become big, irritations become annoyances, and annoyances become sore spots.
Ray: Over time, sore spots become open wounds of bitterness. The infection spreads until it controls your whole life. By that time, your marriage is in real trouble. All because you let little things buid up between you.
Marlene: What happened? Verse 27 says “And do not give the devil a foothold.” The word “foothold” means “a place of authority.” By not dealing with your grievances biblically, you allow Satan an opportunity to gain a place of authority in your life. He gains a place in your spirit from which to attack you emotionally. He causes you to feel bitter and angry even when you want to be set free from those destructive emotions. Or he causes you to give in to fear instead of confidently trusting in God. Or he causes you to turn to lustful thoughts instead of walking in purity.
Ray: These things happen because we let the sand get in our shoes. Little molehills of irritation not dealt with soon become big mountains of bitterness. So make it a priority to deal with the little things, before those little things become big.
How to Have a Happy 50th Anniversary
Marlene: But the negative is not the whole story. Several years ago a friend gave us this quote–"Marriage can either be like prison or like Disneyland. It has a wall of boundaries. To some people those boundaries are like a wall of prison bars. But to others they hold all that is dear.” There in a nutshell is the whole case for lifetime commitment. For those who are married, within the walls of a lifetime commitment is everything that is dear. God designed it to be that way.
Ray: Let’s wrap up this talk—and the whole conference–with some practical advice for couples who want to have a happy 50th Anniversary.
Marlene: 1. Thank God for what he has given you. Commitment is possible when we believe in the goodness of God. And it is almost impossible when you doubt his goodness. There is a direct theological link between what you believe about God and having a happy 50th anniversary. If you doubt this, check it out for yourself. The next time you go to a 50th anniversary party, listen to the couple talk about their years together. Was it an endurance contest or do they look back on their half-century together with joy?
Ray: The couples that come to their 50th anniversary filled with joy do so because all through the years they believed deeply in the goodness of God. They saw his fingerprints everywhere, even in the darkest moments. They felt that God had brought them together and that he would keep them together no matter what happened. No matter how difficult the path, they never gave up believing that God truly did have a wonderful plan for their life together.
Marlene: 2. Take time to praise each other. This is absolutely crucial. The presence or absence of public praise is one of the clearest signs of marital happiness or marital discord.
Here are a few phrases of praise to get you thinking in the right direction:
Marlene: You look great tonight.
Ray: That was a wonderful meal.
Marlene: Thank you for not getting mad at me.
Ray: You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.
Marlene: You’re a super listener.
Ray: I really appreciate the way you spend time with my parents.
Marlene: Thanks for being honest with me.
Ray: That’s a great idea.
Marlene: I enjoy spending time with you.
Ray: Congratulations! I’m taking you out to dinner to celebrate.
Marlene: Before I met you, my life was boring.
Ray: So what if they didn’t like your idea? I thought it was great.
Marlene: You’re a big help around the house.
Ray: I love you.
Marlene: You’re the best husband in the whole world.
Ray: I hope our boys marry girls just like their mother.
Marlene: I bought this just for you. I hope you like it.
Ray: I’m looking forward to growing old with you.
Marlene: You deserve a kiss.
Ray: I’m so proud of you.
Marlene: You’ve got a great sense of humor.
Ray: You are the reason I’m excited about the future.
Marlene: That’s a great idea. How did you think of it?
Ray: I’m the luckiest man in the whole world.
Marlene: Somebody ought to make a movie of our marriage. It would make a great romantic comedy.
Ray: You’re more beautiful today than you were the day we got married.
Marlene: I’m so glad God brought us together.
Ray: Have I told you lately how much I love you?
Marlene: 3. Remember that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’ve ever done any running, you know there’s a big difference between the hundred yard dash and the marathon. The difference is about 26 miles. For the hundred yard dash you get out of the blocks and run as fast as you can. The race is over in 10 seconds. But you can’t do that in a marathon. If you start out sprinting, you’ll never finish. You have to pace yourself.
Ray: That’s what marriage is like. It’s a marathon that lasts a lifetime. If you’re going to make it, you’ve got to pace yourself. Too many couples expect too much too soon.
Marlene: Do not despair if you are going through a difficult period right now. It doesn’t mean your marriage is going to end. You don’t have to get a divorce. You will need patience to work things out. You may need to talk to someone who can give you some guidance with your problems. But that’s nothing to be ashamed about. If you need help, get it.
Ray: Don’t let your embarrassment stop you from saving your marriage. There are hundreds–no, thousands or even tens of thousands–of Christian couples whose marriages have survived periods of real difficulty. Many of them have emerged stronger than ever.
Marlene: Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. Just because you stumble, it doesn’t mean you are out of the race.
The Closest Thing to Heaven
For many couples, the first few years of marriage are quite difficult. It’s one adjustment after another.
Ray: He hogs the blankets.
Marlene: She hogs the bathroom.
Ray: He leaves his underwear hanging on the chair.
Marlene: She leaves her stockings hanging in the shower.
Ray: And all those quirks that used to seem so cute, in the grind of daily life just seem like … quirks.
Marlene: It does get better.
Ray: But you may have to wait a few years.
Marlene: And you have to work at it. It will never be perfect. But marriage can be wonderful.
Ray: It’s the closest thing to heaven most of us will ever experience until we finally get there ourselves.
Marlene: Marriage is a gift from God.
Ray: And a good marriage is one of God’s best gifts.
Marlene: When you follow God’s instructions it gets better and better as the years go by. Despite what some would have us believe, it is possible to be married and happy for a lifetime.
The Heroes Among Us
Ray: Who are the heroes of today? They are the men and women who have made a lifetime commitment to one another. Look around you.
Marlene: There are heroes in our midst, carefully disguised as ordinary people. All around us are husbands and wives–in every size and shape and color, young and old, from every walk of life–who have made a commitment and have decided to stick with it.
Ray: It is possible to be married and happy for a lifetime. And it is not only possible, it is worth the effort that a good marriage requires. No one ever said being married was easy, but the good things in life never are.
Marlene: We may win no medals for staying married in an age of divorce, but that doesn’t matter.
Ray: Staying married to someone you love is its own reward.
Marlene: And lest we forget, a special reward is promised to those who are faithful to the end.
Ray: Since marriage was God’s idea, those who live by his rules will never be disappointed.
Marlene: That may not answer every question, but it ought to be enough to keep us happy and married for many years to come.
Ray: So who are the heroes today?
Together: You are!!!!
Marlene: Thank you for coming.
Ray: And listening.
Marlene: And laughing.
Ray: Thanks for teaching us about ditch flowers.
Marlene: Thanks to Dave and Connie for showing us how to win the Newlywed Game.
Ray: Thanks to the Voices of Victory,
Marlene: Thanks to Mike and Amy Bush,
Ray: Thanks for doing your homework—and your extra credit.
Marlene: Thanks for “lean forward, lean backwards, to the left, to the right,”
Ray: Thanks for late-night charades and dominoes,
Marlene: Thanks for holding hands and snuggling together,
Ray: Thanks for sharing your stories,
Marlene: And your tears,
Ray: And your hopes and dreams
Marlene: We’re leaving encouraged after this weekend.
Ray: And we hope you are too.
A Prayer for God’s Blessing
Marlene: As we come to the end of this Couples Conference, we invite you to join hands as husband and wife as we pray together.Ray: Our Heavenly Father, today we celebrate your goodness and your grace.
Marlene: To you alone belongs all the praise and honor.
Ray: We give thanks for every marriage represented here today. Thank you bringing each couple together in your good plan.
Marlene: Thank you for newlyweds who celebrate with us. May their joy increase as the years pass.
Ray: Thank you for those who have been married 20-30-40-50 years. It is only by your kindness that we have come this far together.
Marlene: Father, we lift up those who are struggling in their marriage. Touch them with your Spirit, open their eyes to see what is at stake, help them not to give up but to trust you for better things.
Ray: May we all go forth from this place to serve the Lord together.
Marlene: May our days be filled with joy as we let our light shine for you.
Ray: Grant that through our marriages, you receive great honor.
Marlene: Help us to make Jesus beautiful by the way we love each other.
Ray: We pray the blessing of Psalm 128 upon each couple here:
Marlene: Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways.
Ray: You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Marlene: Your wife will be like a fruitful vine; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.
Ray: Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
Marlene: May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
Ray: and may you live to see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.
Marlene: Thank you for your love and kindness to all of us.
Ray: Your grace amazes us.
Marlene: May we serve the Lord together joyfully as long as we both shall live.
Ray: And when the time to leave this life comes, may we come to that moment still together, still in love, still believing in the promise of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Together: We pray all these things in the Strong Name of Jesus, Amen.
- Listen to this sermon (35:34)
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Couples Conference 2007
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