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The Oxygen Mask

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“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” — Psalm 127:1

You’ve flown on airliners—and no doubt recall the flight attendant reminding you that “if there is a drop in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down. Pull it towards you, etc. etc. etc. and oxygen will begin flowing even if the bag does not inflate.” Something like that. Then the important reminder—“if you are traveling with small children, remember to put the oxygen mask on you first, and then put it on your children.” This seems counter-intuitive, but the point is—oxygen-starved parents cannot help their children.

We recently returned from being with military members at a marriage conference. There we saw active-duty service members, along with a thousand other attendees at a Weekend to Remember, spending time to focus on their marriages. . . in some cases, to “pull down the oxygen mask.”

It all made me reflect on a conversation I had with an Air Force wife a couple of years ago. She was concerned with the growing trend of child-centered marriages, and felt like too many of her friends were neglecting the priority of their marriage—making the husband-wife relationship the center based upon God’s purpose for oneness. Besides being impressed with the maturity of this young wife with three small children, I knew that she was speaking the truth because we all have seen it. It’s so easy in our society to focus on meeting the needs of our kids while neglecting what really makes a family healthy—the Christ-centered marriage.

This particular Air Force wife followed up our conversation by mailing me a newspaper column from John Rosemond, a family psychologist in North Carolina. Printed on December 14, 2004, it is entitled “Marriage, not children, is a family’s center.” Here is some of what Dr. Rosemond wrote in his article:

Today’s all-too-typical child is prevented from learning what marriage is all about by well-intentioned parents who rarely act from within the roles of husband and wife; rather, they act almost exclusively from within the roles of mother and father. This is, after all, the new American ideal, based in large part on the nefarious modern notion that the more attention you pay to, the more involved you are with, and the more you do for your child, the better a parent you are. . . . .If you want more proof of why the husband-wife relationship should trump that of parent and child, consider this unarguable proposition: Nothing makes a child feel more insecure than the feeling that his parents’ relationship is shaky, that it might come undone at any moment. It follows that nothing makes a child feel more secure than knowing his parents’ relationship, while not perfect, is strong enough to endure any hardship, any disagreement.

What does “keeping your marriage the priority” look like during a deployment? Of course staying connected to the kids is of utmost importance, but staying connected with your spouse comes first. That will translate into security at the deepest levels– for when there is love and respect between a husband and a wife, a child cannot help but feel like there is hope that everything is going to be all right, no matter what.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider asking your spouse—“Sweetheart, how can I make sure that you feel important to me while I’m gone?”. . . . or “how can I make sure that you feel important to me while you’re gone?”
  • Pray and ask God for sensitivity to your spouse and their needs while you are apart. After all, God made them and they are His gift to you—so it follows that He would know what would help keep you close.
  • Communicate. . .communicate. . .communicate—in whatever way works for you. If emailing is good—or phone calls—or letters—keep it coming! Obviously this will change with duty assignments, but the goal is to stay connected! Be creative—which is another thing you could pray about.
  • Study. Deployments are a unique time to perhaps focus on your relationship in a way that could be viewed as an opportunity. There are so many good Christian books on marriage. A good one to start with is The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. We also know of chaplains who are leading Bible studies on marriage during deployment so that the time apart can be a time of growth in spite of the distance. Our favorite marriage Bible study series is HomeBuilders—and they are “deployment-friendly.” For more information, see “Resources” on MilitaryReadyFamily.org.
  • Understand “The Triangle”—probably the most important concept of all. Here’s how it works: Picture a triangle with the lower left point labeled “husband” and the lower right point labeled “wife.” At the apex is God. Follow the left line upward to symbolize the husband growing closer to God. Follow the right line upward to symbolize the wife growing closer to God. As a husband grows closer to God, and the wife grows closer to God, what happens? They grow closer to one another! It never fails. The Holy Spirit brings a couple closer together in spite of hardship, and sometimes because of it.
  • Consider attending a Weekend to Remember before you deploy, or right after you return. Here are some comments from our recent event:

“Allowed me to reconnect with my husband after a long deployment, without the kids.”
“We rebuilt bridges, refocused our marriage. The highlight was the intimate conversations with my wife, reconnecting.”

“Gave us time alone to refocus before deploying.”

These conferences are held all over the country, and almost every weekend.  See “Events” on MilitaryReadyFamily.org will give you more information about the military scholarships offered to these rich marriage getaways.

These are just a few suggestions. Perhaps you can think of more—and we would certainly encourage that. Marriage is a precious gift, but it takes work even under the best of circumstances. The legacy of a loving home starts with the commitment of a husband and wife to each other and to their Lord. Don’t leave home without it!

Questions to share:

1. Does your spouse know how important they are to you? Perhaps this would be a good time to express that in a personal way.

2. Think of two specific things that you are grateful for in your marriage. Thank God for His gift of your spouse, and then thank them for their commitment to you.

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