I enjoy football too, and there is something that always drives me crazy: when your team is leading, their opponent has the ball, the game is winding down - and your team goes into the (dreaded) PREVENT DEFENSE. It’s a scheme that is supposed to “bend but not break;” it is designed to preserve the win. What it really does is let the opposition march down the field 10-15 yards at a time, giving them a shot to win. While it is meant to prevent the other team from scoring, it manages to let them get into position to do just that! My dad and I always said (in venom-dripping tones of anger and disgust) that “all the prevent defense prevents... IS YOU FROM WINNING.”
Both of these examples highlight an important truth in sport, in life, and in relationships. When you play “not to lose,” it’s nearly impossible to win. The lack of commitment kills the chance to succeed. The Israelites played not to lose against Goliath, and how’d that work? They were shamed by a boy who played to win, a boy who had faith that with God, he could not fail. Playing not to lose acknowledges losing as a possibility or, put another way, it shows a lack of faith in your ability to win. Focusing on the negative can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
God has a plan for our marriages, and that plan is definitely for both spouses “to win.” However we, as the players, need to implement his plan, make it a reality. Luckily for us, the whole game plan is laid out in the Bible, from the Song of Solomon to Ephesians, Psalms to 1 Corinthians. That’s not to say it’s easy. Often we think that we can do things our way and still have it work. Despite being implored to not rely on our own understanding, or to be wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:5,7) we still believe we know better than our creator. We know we are called to forgive but we don’t want to seem weak, so we withhold forgiveness. We hold grudges thinking to punish those who hurt us. We know we are called to love unconditionally as Jesus loved us, but we want what we want, so we make our affection conditional (often without even informing our spouse of what those conditions are). What we are called to do is the opposite. To approach our marriage not for what we can get from it, from our spouse, but what we can give. We need to go out of our way to learn everything about our spouses, and with that knowledge choose to love them like they need, like only we can. What we need to do is believe that God’s promises are real. We need to believe that doing marriage God’s way will lead to our unions being blessed.
The things we are called to do are risky. They make us vulnerable, and open the very real possibility that we will get hurt. If our efforts are not being reciprocated, it can be draining. Paul tells us though, Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9) When we try to protect ourselves, we hold back. We aren’t completely committed. In so doing we fall short of God’s plan. It’s playing not to lose. And we won’t win.