Thoughts and attitudes are like the engine of a train and our emotions and behavior are like the caboose.
Thoughts help form and determine your attitudes toward marriage. They determine how you feel about your mate as well as how you feel about being married in general. Thoughts can inspire hope – or take it away. Changing the way you think is like a locomotive that switches tracks and heads in a new direction, taking the rest of the train – behavior, actions, and habits – right along with it.
Paul obviously didn't have a train in mind when he offered his heart-felt instructions to the Christians in Rome – but it's still a useful metaphor. Pleading with the Romans to change their thoughts and actions, he said, "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. . . . Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . . Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment" (Romans 12:1–3).
The apostle is speaking about a major mind shift here. The word transform comes from the same basic root for the English word metamorphosis. As larvae go through a radical change to become butterflies, so must we sometimes radically change our minds in order to have a healthy faith and marriage.
When we do make this change, we will not think of ourselves higher than we should (v. 3), and our judgments (perceptions, beliefs, conclusions, attitudes) will be sober, clear, and accurate. Transforming our thinking can lead us to the right behaviors (vv. 9–21). The right behavior will then lead to the outcomes we want such as peace, intimacy, and oneness. The more we understand this principle, the more positive impact it will have on our relationships.
One of my good friends, Dr. Gary Rosberg, is one of the most spiritual men I know. When I grow up I want to be just like him. Whenever we're together, talk on the phone, correspond by e-mail, or chat after I finish a radio interview on his show, the last thing he always says to me is, "Hey Mitch, guard your heart, brother." This is another way of saying, "Be very careful to protect your mind from the wrong stuff. Put the right things in your mind. Protect it. Shield it from the bad influences." Just recently, after the birth of my first grandchild, Gary's message to me was: "Mitch, guard your heart, brother. The stakes just got higher."
I know Gary means for me to guard my heart in every area of life, including my relationship with Rhonda. Like a computer, if I put the right things into my mind, the right things will likely come out. Gary understands this. He knows that if my thinking is on track, then the rest of my life will be too.
Our Creator commands spouses – particularly husbands – to guard their hearts and thinking so that they do not forsake the wife of their youth (Malachi 2:14–16). God is serious about how we think and behave in our marriage. We should be too.
Sure, our actions may be due to "unthinking" habits we've fallen into. You may leave the bathroom messy every day without even thinking about it. Just part of the routine, right?
But if you really reflect on that habit, you may discover that there was a particular thought, belief, value, or idea that led you to the action – or at minimum maintained it. Maybe you thought at some time previously, I did this before I was married, so I should be able to keep on doing it. Or, What's the big deal? I'll clean up later, but now I'm in a hurry.
Sometimes, though, our distorted thinking can lead to consequences much more severe than squabbles about bathrooms.