The honeymoon is over; you move into your first apartment or home together and start unpacking your baggage while you begin your lives together as husband and wife. But do you really unpack all your baggage? Far too many husbands and wives tend not to unpack everything. I’m sure pictures are hung, clothes are put away and the rest of your house is put in order, but that’s not the baggage I’m talking about. The baggage I’m talking about is usually tuck way back as far in your closet that you can put it or should I say that closet in the back of your mind. You know the one that you don’t like to open or talk about. After all, we are starting a new life together and we don’t want to burden our spouse with things that are long gone and don’t have any effect on the here and now. Sadly, this is how many couples start their marriage and this is why some marriages end. Communication breaks down because there is some unresolved baggage from before you were married that you were unwilling to share with the one you chose to spend your life with. It might be that you didn’t think it was a big deal or maybe you just want to forget about it. You just want to ignore it and let it go – that may be easier said then done for some. The baggage you bring into a marriage is different for everyone and some handle it a lot better than others. Yet, for some this baggage can be paralyzing at times.
Let’s face it – marriage is not all sex, romance and starring deeply into each other’s eyes. Far too many times our baggage from years past can come bursting out. Things from our past; you know, those things that we may have forgotten or tried to forget about can rear their ugly head. Whether you want to admit it or not, everyone brings baggage into a marriage. Some have more than others but everyone has something from their past that can and often does affect their marriage in one-way or another.
Truth be known, this section has been a challenge – or at least to me it has. I am not necessarily talking about writing or putting this section together. As it is, I have plenty of baggage myself and God has given me plenty to think about on this subject. For me at least, my baggage has been tucked back in the back of my closet without a single thought of ever opening it. Although, I think some of it has been open throughout the years and Sandy knew all about it but as for myself, I never really stopped to face some of it head on. It’s not that I think I have to confront anyone for things from my past. Instead, I needed to come to terms that those past experiences have affected me more than I would want to admit and then make a decision to do something about it.
Those who have known me for most of my life also know some of my story. Let’s just say that growing up and even up to just a few years ago when my father past – well, I always thought that if you looked up dysfunctional in the dictionary that you would find a picture of our family; although I’m sure others my say that they can claim the same thing. Hearing others stories over the years, I have found that my story is considered to be normal. It is unfortunate that I say it is normal because that means dysfunctional and blended or split families are considered normal as divorce grows and simply living together becomes even more popular.
I’m sure some who know us would never guess about any baggage I may have carried for so many years, yet others I’m sure knew. Even a former pastor at our church just looked at me after I told him a little about my side of the family and said “I can’t believe you said that with such a straight face”. You see, the junk in our lives can start to become so normal that after a while we can start to become numb to its affects which is quite often a type of coping mechanism. I may have even discussed some of my baggage from the past with my wife but working on this study has caused me to start looking closer at how the past may have affected me and caused me to take a deeper look at what I never wanted to see again. Although, maybe that is all part of God’s plan for me and why I felt led to do this. I came to a point where I thought I was done with this study and was ready to pass it on to a few that I have asked to preview and proof read it for me. Then I felt the nudge that I believe God often gives us but too often we ignore or simply don’t hear because we aren’t listening – I needed to face my own baggage and be willing to share more of my story. I needed to, if I dare, be vulnerable. Something I think most would agree is tuff to do.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD.
“They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.”
Let’s begin by saying that no one is a mistake no matter what your circumstances are and that God has a plan for you. Knowing that God has a plan for us should give us hope but I think far too often we start to believe the lies that satan has told us over all the years. Some of you know the lies I’m talking about. Maybe you think no one will ever love you or that you will never measure up or you are not good enough no matter what you do. You see, satan has a plan also and his plan includes filling our lives with lies. These lies build up over the years and for many become the baggage they bring into a marriage and then they just try to just shove it into the back of the closet never to be seen again. The problem is that even though you think the baggage is hidden, it never truly is and when we try to keep it a secret – what we really are doing is giving those lie’s more power over our thoughts and eventually our actions. Proverbs 23:7 KJV tells us “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” So, you see, the battle with satan is quite often fought in your mind and our hearts. What we think, the battle that goes on in our mind, will affect our heart or feelings and everything about our life which in turn will eventually affect the lives of those we love.
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 6:12 NLT
So, as you can see - often - well, actually quite often or most of the time, our fight is not with those we love; those within our marriage and family. Our true battle, our struggle with our baggage is with satan and it begins with all the lies he has told us over the years. For some this is amplified by years of physical, emotional or mental abuse from those they should have been able to trust. Yes, satan uses his lies to keep us captive. There is some great news though; there is hope. The verses in Jeremiah weren't written specifically about this subject but they still ring true. Remember Jeremiah 29:11 – God has a plan for us and since He knows the future and He is in control; this should give us hope. If you continue into verse 12 – 14 you will find the following promise “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” What a promise, what hope we can have if we seek after God to help us overcome all those lies satan has told us for the past 10, 20, 30, 40 or maybe 50 plus years. God is there and wants to help. This may mean that we need to turn to Him every day, or maybe every hour, or maybe even every minute when you are struggling hard. The key is to not give up and to not get discourage. You may have believed some of these lies for years so don’t expect that you will get over it in a day. Can it happen? Yes, but often it can be a slow process – sometimes very slow.
So why share some of my baggage? Like most, I put my baggage aside or at least tried to put it aside or down play it before I was even married. Then when I did get married there were distractions that helped to keep it at bay so that I didn’t have to face things that had built up over the years. This is different for everyone – some may go through similar events in their lives and not have much baggage at all while others have a closet full. That is not to say that any one person is better than another. God has simply given them the ability to deal with situations in a different manner. So, to be honest – for me at least, I think I need to stop keeping secrets and letting satan’s lies have power over my life. Satan loves to hide in the shadows and in the lies and doesn’t like to be exposed for what he is, a liar and a thief who is stealing your joy in life. What we need to do is claim the promise of the end of our captivity by wholeheartedly seeking God.
Another reason I feel I need to share is the lie satan tells us that everyone else has it all together and we are the only one who struggles with this baggage we have been carrying around. I want everyone who reads this and thinks they struggle alone to know one thing for certain --- you are not alone. There are plenty of others who, if they admitted it, quite often struggle just like you do. Unfortunately, we too often believe satan’s lie and never share with those around us for fear of rejection or judgment. We can look around at everyone else and think that they have it all together, yet at the same time they may be looking at you thinking the same thing. We have a tendency to put on a strong front to those around us when inside we are falling apart. To believe that we alone are struggling while everyone else has it together is a lie and you can have hope. I want to encourage those who struggle to never give up, never surrender and never let go of that hope. God has a plan for you. A plan for good and not disaster – a plan that gives you hope for the future. I would also encourage you to seek out those around you that can help support you and hold you accountable when needed. We are social beings and were not meant to do this alone but fear starts and that is one of the first things we try to do. The lie that “I can handle this alone” or “I can overcome this temptation by myself” can keep us in a vicious never-ending cycle of failure and regret. Often, we need to stop relying on ourselves and lean on God. After all, He may have placed someone in your life to be the support you need and have been looking for.
For me, one of my bags that I have been carrying around for 40 to 50 years is that as a child I never truly felt loved and accepted. Does that mean I wasn’t loved as a child? Of course not, but this is a time when those lies of satan can cause the most damage and can last a lifetime if not dealt with. It may even be that I was loved and didn’t recognize. Maybe the love I experienced was in a language I couldn’t understand. Quite often this search for love turns into something that we keep chasing for most of our lives. And yes, maybe we chase because we aren’t sure what it should really look like. I’m talking about an unconditional non-judgmental love – a love I have come to know that only God can give. To me, my wife is the closest to God’s love that I have ever seen or known. Yet at times even that has been hard for me to believe or has felt foreign to me because I wasn’t sure what it should look like. Thinking about it, this might even explain why I always would make the comment “define love” whenever I heard someone talking about it. This search for love is a battle satan isn’t afraid to fight with us and most likely he started telling you the lies when you were young. Maybe for you, the family life was great but school was a struggle. After all, kids can be cruel. If this is one you struggle with, it may be as simple as satan knowing where you are venerable and he’s not afraid to attack you there.
One that I think piggy backs off of searching for love or acceptance is that of low self-esteem or that of having a lack of self-worth. Actually, for me, this one has been one of the hardest. When growing up, what is it that children want from their parents? I think most would like the approval, acceptance or encouragement of their parents. Maybe a little pat on the back and a “good job” – they simply want to please their mom and dad. I’m sitting here trying to think of a time when I received this but I can’t right now – or at least from those I thought I needed to hear it from. Again, don’t misunderstand me; I may have received encouragement and praise when I was young but let’s face it – sometimes we tend to focus on the negative more than the positive.
Even as a young child, I remember dad sending us to his work truck to get a tool for him only to be told we brought the wrong one. No explanation of what it should even look like, just disappointment that we couldn’t get it right. It may seem small to an adult but to a child constant disappointment can have a lasting effect. Later at a high school basketball game; making my first basket – boy the coach was sure excited for me. It seemed as if he had been hoping for that shot for quite some time. At home, no good job; it was more of “I don’t know why you’re even going out for the team – it’s not like you’ll get to play”. My senior year I was going to try for a class office. Of course, I was told I didn’t have a chance anyway so why not try for senior class president. So, I did --- and I won – still nothing. Then graduation day came and I graduated as senior class president and a member of the national honor society along with several other awards. Did I hear congratulations? Not that I can remember. My dad didn’t say anything and about all I remember my mom saying was “you know, if you studied a little harder you could have been a straight A student.” This I already knew but by then didn’t seem to care. By that time, to me at least, it still wouldn’t have been good enough so why try. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to bash my parents here. I have come to realize over the years that they may have done the best they knew how and it’s not my place to judge them. I only have control over how I react and how I learn or don’t learn from past experiences. I’ve also come to realize or believe that my parents had their own baggage that they may never have wanted to open. And yes, I have feared over the years that I may have made some of the same mistakes with my own children simply because I didn’t want to face how my past may have affected me.
This issue of self-worth or lack of self-worth has been a tough one for me. Always feeling like I don’t measure up and never will no matter what I do. This one even affects my wife. I can see the disappointment on her face when she tries to give me a compliment or a ‘job well done’ only to have me deny it or flat out reject that what she is saying is true when I know that all she wants to hear is “thank you”. This is something I have been trying to work on for years and still it is hard – sometimes harder than other times. See, I had believed satan’s lies for way to long and the longer you buy into his lies, the harder it can be to break free. Too often we look for our self-worth in the wrong places. We look to our parents, our spouse, our peers or what society as a whole says. What we need to do is start getting our self worth from where it really comes from.
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 NLT
Knowing that we are made in God’s image and therefore share many of his characteristics provides a solid basis for self-worth. Our value or worth is not based on possessions, achievements, physical attractiveness, or public acclaim. Instead, it is based on being made in God’s image. Because we bear God’s image, we can feel positive about ourselves. Criticizing or downgrading ourselves is criticizing what God has made and the abilities he has given us. I did a Google search recently and came across an article on a web page called Got Questions.org. The question was “What does the Bible say about self-worth?” I want to share their answer with you because I found it encouraging.
“The Bible actually has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:26-27 says we are made in His image, the very image of God. Psalm 139:13-16 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and all the days of our lives were written in God’s book before we were ever born, confirming God’s prior knowledge and plan for our lives. Ephesians 1:4 says God chose His children before the foundations of the earth were ever formed, and in Ephesians 1:13-14 we’re told we are God’s own possession, chosen for the praise of His glory, and that we have an inheritance in heaven with Him as His children.
But notice the wording in each of the above phrases: “are made,” “are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “were written,” “God chose His children,” “we are God’s own possession,” and “we have an inheritance.” These phrases all have one thing in common: they are things done to us or for us by God. These are not things we have done for ourselves, nor have we earned or deserved them. We are, in fact, merely the recipients of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, we can conclude that our worth is not really of the “self” at all; rather, it is worth given to us by God. We are of inestimable value to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy—the death of His Son on the cross.
The Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In fact, we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). What worth is there in dead things? None. God imputed to us His own righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) not because we were worthy of it, but because we were unworthy, unlovable, and unable to make ourselves worthy in any way. But—and here’s the miracle—He actually loved us in spite of our condition (John 3:16), and because He did, we now have infinite worth.
John 1:12 tells us that to those who received Christ and believed in His name, God gave the right to become His children. First John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re really worth as children of the most high God.
Our self-worth is too often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. The one, true authority on our self-worth is Jesus Christ, and since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we really are.”
Did you get that last little bit? Too often our self-worth is based on what we think other people think of us. We can spend a lifetime trying to please everyone around us and at one time or another; we will fall short and disappoint everyone. Yet Christ died for us, He gave up everything just for you and for me even though we are not perfect. That should be our standard of how valuable we are. We don’t always live up to what we think we should. Yet, Christ still did what He did despite our failure.
So here is the last baggage I am going to open. One I wish I had never seen and one I would never wish on anyone. I have never shared this much because shame is also a powerful tool that satan uses. A few do know though, including my wife. This is how I know she truly loves me – when I told her; she never once judged or condemned me. She simply accepted me for who I was and at times has been my compass, keeping me going in the right direction. You see --- when I was a teenager, I was exposed to pornography. This is something that can so easily warp your sense of love and sex or at least love and sex the way God designed it. This can cause damage that can easily last a lifetime, especially at a young age. I remember when my two boys were teens, my concern and my prayer was that they would not be exposed to this and that they would be protected from it and not have to face the damage it can do. Even so-called experts give advice to couples that watching porn can help spice things up in a marriage that appears to have lost its passion. This is so far from the truth because it only does more damage than good. The world tells you lies that this will help but in reality, all it does is distort the truth and destroy relationships. So many people hide in fear that others will find out who they really are while others feel only shame of what they have done. Again, this is satan using lies to hold you captive. Sometime the only way to be free is expose those lies to someone who can hold you accountable and help pick you up and encourage you when you fall short.
Who we become is created from the experiences of our life including all of our baggage. These struggles can hold someone back from pursuing dreams or living a fulfilling life. Some may be searching for love while others struggle with self-worth, pornography or other things that can end marriages simply because they feel as if they never measure up to what their spouse wants or deserves. This self-image issue is thrown at us from a very early age through TV, movies, magazines, advertising and quite often the words that are spoken to us by our parents, siblings and peers. In today's world the pressure is even greater as the Internet has made everything available with the click of a mouse. Children can even learn their self-image from watching their parents. Think about it, looking in a mirror are you critical about how you look? Now think again, did you son or daughter see you putting yourself down? Maybe your hair never goes how it should or you keep talking about that little bit of weight you can never get rid of. Let’s be careful because they quite often learn from watching and listening to us.
We don’t want to admit it but we all bring baggage into a marriage. It may be the result of a broken family, being the victim of a crime or abuse as a child, exposure to sex at way too early of an age either physically or through pornography. It may be alcoholism, drug addiction or even with social media the way it is today, I would dare to say a digital addiction. It is as if people are looking for validation through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. You may feel as if you have made a mistake and you don’t deserve forgiveness or love as you continue to hold yourself guilty over and over. You may have failed before and because of that experience you are not trusting to leave yourself vulnerable to your spouse. There may even be other reasons why you feel that need to be in control, to never let your guard down and so you never truly open up completely with your spouse.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
Hebrews 4:13 NLT
Think about it – nothing is hidden from God. In a way this should give us the freedom to come to God in a way that we may have not experienced before. We can approach Him in prayer with a freedom that we don’t have to try to hide behind the right spiritual talk. The feeling that we need to say the right thing or that we need to feel a certain way. Instead, we can approach God as we really are, feeling how you really feel and needing what you really need. See, He already knows all about you so you can just be real with Him. He doesn’t just look at what you have done alone; He looks at who you are and who you can be. God doesn’t see us the way the world does - 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT says “…..The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God already knows your struggles and loves you anyway. That’s not a free pass but it does allow us to freely approach Him and bare our unedited disappointments, struggles and fears, along with our joys, hopes and dreams.
If you were asked ‘who are you?’ what would you give for an answer? Most look at who they are the way that the world sees you. Some are defined by what you do for a living; a doctor, a baker or a stay-at-home mom, while others are defined by the mistakes they make; an alcoholic, thief or liar. In reality, none of this defines who you really are. All it does is tell what you do of have done, not who you are as a person.
Just remember - we are made in God’s Image
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
We were created in God’s image. He knew us before we were ever born as He knit us together, just as He wanted. The fact that God did this for each and every one of us gives us value, no matter of our past. Our value is not determined by looks, intelligence or popularity but by a God who loves us and made us in His image, His perfect image.
We need to remember that whatever the baggage we have, it was not God’s plan. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve first sinned and because of that sometimes, bad things happen. These negative events are the things that we have a tendency to remember even more than the positive. They can have such an effect on us that it can take a long time to build someone’s self-image back up.
Knowing that we were made in God’s image is one thing but applying that knowledge to our own self-image can be a difficult task. Even simple things like ‘I just need to lose these last 5 to 10 pounds can stick with a person because even after that weight is gone, the body part still doesn’t look the way we want. People are going to surgeons every day to “make them beautiful” in their eyes but ask another and they would say the person was beautiful to begin with. What we need to do is ask God to help us see ourselves as He does. To overcome this baggage, these struggles that we have or will bring into this marriage, we must first be able to recognize them and admit that they are real. It’s not always easy, but ignoring the baggage will only give it more power. To bring it into the light can help take away the power it has over you.
If you haven’t talked with your spouse or future spouse about your baggage, I would like to encourage you to do this. God created man and woman not just to populate the earth, but also to be helpers for each other, to lift each other up and to encourage each other, God created the man and woman to complete the other so they may be one and may be whole. Remember, you two are one. This is a great thing because this means you have a support system and you should be able to tell the other one anything with out feeling judgment and being condemned. In the same way you have the privilege of being a support system for your spouse.
I think we all have a bag or two that we don’t want to look at ourselves let alone have anyone else see what is inside. The bags themselves can have a variety of tags and satan often uses shame, low self-esteem and fear of rejection to get us to work at keeping these bags a secret – hidden from others, even our spouse. What we often overlook or just don’t realize is that by keeping them a secret, we allow them to have power over us. Satan will use all kinds of lies to attack us. This is one of his specialties and quite often he will start when we are young, impressionable and vulnerable. He is relentless and far too often we buy into his lies and after a while it is hard, very hard to break free. Some can work the rest of their lives and still struggle. How about making today the day you start breaking free from these lies and start to live the life God intended.
Some may be thinking right now that I have spent quite a bit of time talking about this baggage thing and you would be right. In reality, I believe this is so important and more relevant to so many couples in ways that they may not even realize. Many problems in marriages, if looked at closer, can be traced back to unfinished issues from either your spouse or your own past. If everything you do needs to be perfect – why? If you have a hard time trusting – why? Do you need to always be in control of everything all the time – why? Do you struggle over and over with a particular issue – why? Simply ignoring our past, our baggage, will not make it go away and will not help with the future. Just brushing aside your spouse's baggage will not be healthy for your marriage in the long run. These are real issues that make or break a marriage for some and for others that struggle can simply keep you from having the best and happiest marriage you can. So, yes, I encourage you to face your baggage head on. Not by yourself though. Remember, the two of you are one and when you add Christ into your marriage there is nothing you can’t face together.
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
It is time to fight against these lies that satan has been telling you all these years. Honestly, this is why it has taken 2 years to complete this study. The main study came together in a very short time because at the time I was focused only on what I felt God was telling me. Yes, it has evolved but go back to the beginning of the study – all the way back to the introduction. If you remember, Sandy and I had finally asked each other “who are we, that we should lead couples”. You see, satan knows where to hit us – he knows how to make us struggle and he is not afraid to use everything at his disposal. For me, that meant at times I have struggled with feelings of being inadequate to complete the task and of shame or guilt simply for struggling when I thought I shouldn’t. The thing is that satan knows that if he can control your thoughts – he can control your life. As Christians, there may be times when we need to simply decide to believe God even when our faith is struggling. We may need to take that leap of faith even though those lies in our head are telling us something completely different. Your mind is a battlefield and satan is pulling out all the artillery he can – go to God’s word and your spouse and others if you need to for help in order to fight the good fight. We can be free of satan’s lies. That does not mean he will not attack but we can be free.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Here is something to consider – recently I was watching a broadcast from Rockford First - now called City First. This is a large church in Rockford Illinois that broadcast their sermon several times throughout the week. The Pastor put up a quote on the screen:
Things do not happen to you;
Things happen for you.
You see, we will have trouble – the Bible tells us that, but things don’t necessarily happen to you so you can simply have a pity party. Instead, they happen for you to help you grow. It is our choice on how we will react to them. Are we going to sit around and have that pity party or are we going to bring it to Jesus, lean on Him for his strength and ask Him for the wisdom to overcome. Everything that happens to you is in reality a chance for you to learn and grow.
What are some of the circumstances or experiences from your past that have impacted you both positively and negatively
What kind of issues or baggage have your past experience caused you to bring into your marriage? You may also want to include positive traits that past experiences have taught you and how they have changed you.
How do you feel your past experiences have affected your marriage, either positive, negative or both?
Have you shared or talked with your spouse or future spouse about any insecurities or issues you may have with your self-image? Why or why not?
What are one or two pieces of baggage that I need to talk with my spouse about? (Remember – no judgment – no condemning when they come to you. You are each other’s support system. You two are ‘ONE’)
Who are you? Take some time to define who you are. Then define who your spouse is. Come together as a couple and share your answers with each other. Open your hearts and be vulnerable and real with each other. Allow them to hear who you think you are and listen when they tell you who they think you are. It may surprise you to see how others see you.