Our memories can play tricks on our minds, and if we’re not careful, we can grow in dissatisfaction for the life we have while giving unmerited honor to a past that we revised to fit the cravings of our hearts. Learning how to capture these rogue thoughts and submitting them to the obedience of Christ is crucial.
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Biff had an active sex life during his college years. One of his relationships lasted for two years. Her name was Marge. Many people assumed that Biff would marry Marge.
After he graduated and took a job in another city, his pace of life picked up, and Marge slowly drifted from his mind and his life. Enter Mable. Once he settled into his new career, new apartment, and became more of a local, he eventually began to think about companionship again.
Mable was a colleague and though he was initially turned off by her, being with her each day softened his heart toward her. Mable liked him from the beginning and was persistent in her sly way about getting that first date.
Biff did not have a long line of girls seeking him out, so he went on another date with Mable. And then another, and another. Though he wasn’t that interested in her, it was something to do, and she was a girl.
Before long people were making similar assumptions as they did with Biff and Marge. Biff didn’t mind. He loved the idea of romance and fun because it brought back memories of a good time in his life, a carefree time.
And Mable was better than nothing. Living in an apartment alone was never that appealing anyway. So, he hung with her. Soon they became inseparable, and he even started liking her.
Five Years Later
Biff and Mable were married. They stayed in their careers and were working long hours. They eventually bought a fixer-upper. They put off children, saying they were not ready for the “next big step.”
Unbeknownst to Mable, Biff’s commitment to her was not that deep. He “loved” her, but was more committed to his job than his wife. The somewhat sweet things he initially liked about Mable were becoming annoyances. But because of his lack of commitment, he could mostly put the disappointment and irritants out of his mind.
Besides, he had a fall-back plan. He loved his job and was on the rise—a promising new star in his company. Deep down, though, he was not happy, especially with Mable. It is one thing to date, but he never realized the commitment and the ever-present attachment of marriage. Even with all of these good things coming his way through his job, there was a growing emptiness along with a desire for “less attachment” to his wife.
Biff was set-up for personal struggle:
- He had a superficial commitment to his wife.
- Without a deep commitment, there was a magnification of her annoyances.
- His job was fun, but not satisfying.
- Because he broke his relationship with Marge due to the move, her “perfect ways” remained alluring.
Biff was a Christian, and he knew even though he was self-centered, God was somewhere in his mess, and it was wrong to struggle the way he did. So he went to his pastor to get help for the secret thoughts that he could not shake. He gave his pastor the scoop, and his pastor began to address some of the significant areas in his life that needed to change.
Doctrine of Sin in Relationships
Often when a person dies young or younger than expected, that person can become “fixed in time” as a perfect individual. JFK was such a person. His life was cut short, and to many people, he is one of those “near perfect” American icons.
People ignore his womanizing and poor politics. He was on the move, up and coming, and then suddenly, by an assassin’s bullet, time froze him tragically. Because of his death and a lack of technology that was unable to tell the whole story of JFK, many remember him as a somewhat perfect, iconic person.
That happens when we “freeze people in time,” and their true selves do not become known or popularized. Marge was like this to Biff. She was his “frozen lover in time” because of their innocuous break-up and permanent separation.
Biff “froze Marge” in his mind. They had a fun-filled relationship that was mostly problem free because they were in college, drinking in the party scene, rocking out at football games, and enjoying timely breaks from each other.
Biff had his life, and Marge had hers. They came together for two to six hours a day, but not every day, and when they did come together, they had fun. The life he lived with Marge was not the real world. The life he lives with Mable is the real world. With Marge, it was a fantasy. With Mable, it is a reality. Biff finds it more comfortable to live in his imagination than his present reality.
And because he terminated his relationship with Marge, they did not “go the distance” by entering into the challenges of relationship building through marriage. Thus, all of his memories are good, which is why they are so appealing.
If he truly understood the doctrine of sin, he would know that Marge is a sinner too. Just because what they did as friends and how they went about doing it, did not challenge their patience or love for each other, it does not mean that Marge is the better gal. Both Marge and Mable are sinners, along with Biff. It’s not as perfect as he would like to believe.
This scenario is the temptation with many men and women in troubled marriages or marriages struggling due to past romantic memories. They either think about a previous relationship or dream about a future one and begin to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.
They blind themselves to the statistical reality that second and third marriages are more than likely to end in divorce than their first one. In such cases, their view of sin is corrupted by their lust for self-centered relational gratification.
Lack of Relational Aggression
Whenever a person struggles with past thoughts, in the way that Biff was, it’s a “sure-fire clue” that there is a lack of aggressive, other-centeredness in the current relationship. Biff’s pastor pointed this out to him. Biff knew it, but he was not willing to be honest about how he presented his thought life to his pastor. He liked Marge better because of how she made him feel.
Let’s think about the gospel for a minute: suppose Christ picked who He wanted to be with based on how the person made Him feel (Romans 5:8). If so, there would be no gospel. He would be like all of the other gods from all of the different religions: we would have to merit His love.
Biff’s marriage is like all the other religions: his wife has to win his heart, rather than Biff winning his wife’s heart. The gospel is the opposite of how Biff functions in his marriage. Christ won our hearts rather than expecting us to make Him happy first.
Christ had “relational aggression” because it was not about what He could get out of the relationship primarily, but what He could pour into the relationship. This perspective is not how Biff thinks. I know, I know: he says, “I love Mable.” To a degree and in his own way, he does. But he does not love her “according to the gospel.” That is why her “annoyances” are so annoying to him.
- He has forgotten that Marge is a sinner too.
- He has forgotten how Christ loved him.
Our minds are not victims that hold us captive. We choose what we put into them. Biff centers his mind in a fantasy that satisfies him while he lives with a woman who cannot compete with his memories. (What he is doing is the essence and the snare of pornography for a man. Porn is mostly a fantasy world of the mind, where perfect people, with ideal bodies, perform for the addict.)
Biff has not been careful with his thought life. He finds himself slipping away to that fantasy world, even during board meetings. As time goes by, he grows in his disdain and acceptance of the real people in his world, especially the imperfect ones who are the closest to him. This problem is why Biff needs to shake himself violently while reorienting his mind back to the gospel.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
Biff has set-up rivals in his mind: Marge and Mable. The former one he likes and the latter one he is growing in resentment. The bad news here is that the latter one is his wife. He needs to repent. One of the ways he can change is by reading the rest of the Philippian text from (above) where it talks about how the gospel came to become just like us to save us from our sins (Philippians 2:5-11).
Biff needs to spend every day of his life asking the Father to purge his mind of self-centered thinking and to give him an affection for his wife. He needs to fall in love with his wife the right way. The only way he can do this is by first coming to terms with the gospel.
- What did Christ do for you?
- Did you deserve what He did for you?
- Why did He do what He did for you?
- Ask God to give you the empowering grace to do for your wife what Christ did for you.
Our thoughts are not accurate. We skew our views. How many times have you been in a situation where you were recounting the history and someone else, who happened to be with you during that moment, had a different perspective than you?
We should approach the historical moments in our lives with humility. Let me make two simple statements—universal truths—to help you to get your mind around this idea of historical revision:
You are not omniscient – Though this may be disarming to you, it is true. You do not know everything. Only God knows everything. Biff thinks things would have been different with Marge.
What Can Be Known
Biff is wrong—dead wrong. Biff and Marge are sinners. There would have been their unique version of dysfunction in their relationship if they were married.
You are not infallible – You are fallible in your thinking. What you thought was right, may not have been correct. You and I view things through a skewed lens, and we will always skew it to our advantage.
If we consistently seek our advantage in things, don’t you think it would also be true in how we interpret things? Of course, it would. We are loyalists who are loyal to ourselves. This self-centered realism will affect how you believe about your past.
I remember several years ago having a conversation with my brother about our childhood. It was interesting to hear his perspective. At one moment in our conversation, I thought to myself, “Was he even in my childhood?” The way he talked about our life together and the way I thought about our life together were, at times, not on the same planet.
Here’s the point for Biff: he needs to hold his past humbly and with suspicion. The humble heart holds things loosely. The proud heart is inflexible. To be rigid in your past thoughts can lead you into a mental trap.
The Will of God
The only way you can know with absolute assurance the will of God is by looking in the rearview mirror. What I mean is that you cannot understand what God’s will is for the future, but you can know what it is by looking at what has happened.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. – James 4:13-17
The future is unclear, but the past is specific, and we now know that God wanted Biff to marry Mable. How do we know this? Because he did marry her. I do not know all the particulars regarding how he came to that decision, but I do know he came to it, and that is God’s will for his life.
Dreaming, hoping, thinking, and maybe even strategizing about another relationship is arrogance and blatant dismissal of God’s will for Biff’s life. He needs to know this, and he needs to respond to God through humble repentance. God led him to Mable.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. – James 4:17
If he will humble himself to these truths and mightily pursue God and his wife, he will begin to experience a change in his thought life (Matthew 22:36-40). He will “fall in biblical love” with her, which starts on his knees, in his closet, as he pleads with the Lord to give him deep affection for Mable.
It will be vital for his pastor to address the secret motives of his heart. There will be levels of dishonesty, hypocrisy, and cravings that will keep him “hooked on a feeling” from his past that he does not want to let go. Gollum called it his “precious.” In his heart of hearts, Gollum did not want to let go of the ring of power.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8