More on Marriage: Interview with Johnathan & Toni Alvarado, authors of Let’s Stay Together

In my last post, I reflected upon my role as pastor in relation to marriage and divorce.  In some ways, I’m continuing that reflection with what I offer you in this post.

I read Let’s Stay Together this year.  It’s by two of my mentors, Bishop Johnathan Alvarado and his wife and colleague, Dr. Toni Alvarado.  I asked them a few questions about their book, which I commend to you if you’re interested in marriage, interested in getting married, or serious about strengthening yourself in relation to a long-term committed relationship.  As I’ve told them, I am thankful for their willingness to teach others about marriage, to mentor me and my wife in our marriage, as well as their hard work in living what they say.  I’m realistic but I hold them to a high bar, which they, by grace, reach gracefully.

1)      What motivated you to write Let’s Stay Together?

We have been concerned with the rising divorce rate within the body of Christ.  We noticed that divorces were not remanded to the ranks of the laity exclusively but even amongst the clergy and leaders within the body of Christ divorce seems to be recurring and even acceptable.  Let’s Stay Together is an attempt to stop the hemorrhage and provide strategies and solutions for longevity and success in marriage. Further, we carry a burden to prepare singles who are desirous of marriage for healthy and productive relationships.

 2)      Your commitment to marriage shines in this book.  At the same time, you counsel couples and you see the hardships people face when trying to live out their marital vows in our society.  How do you maintain your conviction that “divorce was not an option” when that option is so accessible?

We maintain that conviction because we believe that the biblical mandate for marriage carries with it the ability to fulfill its requisites.  Second, we understand that strong marriages are the building blocks for a society.  Not only do we purport that it is a Christian mandate but also it is a necessary institution for the continuance of any civil society.  Finally, the divorced persons with whom we have spoken and/or counseled have consistently confirmed our suspicions that divorce is not all that it’s cracked up to be!  There are those who after having read our book have testified that if they had only known to apply some of the skills that we enumerate, they would have never divorced in the first place. 

 3)      In what ways can a couple mature their beliefs about the long-term covenant of marriage before getting married?

We are strong advocates for pre-marital counseling.  In our contemporary culture, people do more to get a “drivers license” than they do to get a “marriage license.”  In our premarital counseling, not only do couples learn skills that give them the opportunity to have a good marriage but they also get first hand exposure to what a healthy marriage could look like.  The combination of information and impartation gives premarital couples a foundation for marital success.

 4)      You are leaders.  Are their any specific ways leaders are vulnerable to marital failure?

Yes.  Public leaders are particularly vulnerable to marital failure precisely because of the public nature of the lives that they lead.  The pressure of genuinely trying to be a healthy example to others adds a dimension to the marital relationship that must be managed with skill and prudence.  Most couples do not divorce because of a lack of love, but rather they divorce because they lack the skills necessary to stay married, especially while living in the public eye.  We address this in the chapter of the book entitled: “Mega business, career, and ministry requires a mega-marriage.”

5)      One reason I wanted to interview you was to ask you this question.  How have divorces by significant leaders (e.g., Al and Tipper Gore) and celebrity figures in our country informed and challenged how readers hear your relationship strategies?  Does the ease with which many people approach marital dissolution, or not being married for that matter, change how you engage with couples who desire healthy marriages?

We live in an age where the media no longer reflects the common life of the people but rather it frames and crafts the lives that we live.  The media moguls are both predictive and determinative as to how we will live.  Because of this, public figures have more influence on public life than they realize.  When public figures and “leaders” within our society dismiss their marriages without so much as a tear it tacitly gives others the permission or even the encouragement to do the same.  It does change the way in which we have to counsel and instruct intended couples and married couples.  We have to teach them to be counter-cultural if they are going to be successful in their marriages.  

 6)      This is a book about marriage, but a lot of people aren’t married.  And might not get married.  Is there something in this book for them, and if so, what might they find?

While this book is specifically couched in the context of marriage, it is principally a book of relationship strategies.  In the book, we teach strategies that can be beneficial to any relationship.  In any relationship two people have to be able to communicate effectively so we teach principles of good communication.  In every relationship some conflict will arise therefore we teach principles of negotiation for positive resolution.  We believe that this book has something for everyone, not just married couples.  As a matter of fact, our singles are purchasing and enjoying reading the book at least as much as our married and intended couples!

 7)      What are one or two things you want readers to takeaway from Let’s Stay Together?

Here they are: 

  • We want our readers to take away the passion that we have for being married.  We endeavor, through our candid examples and transparent anecdotes to be as forthcoming and genuine as possible while simultaneously painting a realistic picture of the work involved in having a good marriage.  We believe that marriage is viable, beneficial, and worth the effort it takes to enjoy life together. 

 

  • For our readers who may be unmarried, we desire to inspire, encourage, and to demonstrate to them that in spite of all of the negativity that is so aggrandized, marriage still works.  The skills that we teach will enhance their lives and every relationship that they may have. 

 

  • Finally, we want every reader to take away the knowledge and tools to build a strong, vibrant, and successful marriage.  It is our hope that everyone who reads this work will discover the blessings of life together, just as we have. 

8)     How can readers of this blog learn about your book and the other dozen things you do?

The book can be purcashed on our website.  Of course they can find us on our blog and at the following links:
www.totalgrace.org
www.mskfoundation.org
www.beulah.org

Til Death Do Us Part

Our church staff engaged in a round of emailed conversation a few weeks ago when one of us forwarded a question this brother raised.  Another coworker asked if anyone knew the questioner.  I chimed in that I did, that I served as his premarital counselor, in fact.  I could already tell that this was going somewhere: I was about to be somebody’s punchline. 

Indeed, our lead pastor replied that something was amiss with the couples I had been working with.  A few weeks prior, he informed me of my “first divorce,” the first time a couple whose marriage I officiated ended in divorce.  Of course, that conversation was serious.  In this emailed case, he was suggesting that my track record was not good.  He was being playful.

But it stung.  It still stings.

Any pastor paying attention to his congregation takes notice when a couple is in trouble.  If the pastor doesn’t, he or she should look to another type of work.  Leaders care when marriages experience trouble or falter.  Some of our best work is done in crisis.  I know we have limits, but there’s much room for grace when trouble fills a person’s life.

Nonetheless, my own small record, if I can call it that, has me thinking hard about my role in people’s lives and about the community’s role in helping sustain relationships when possible.  It’s not always possible, I know.  But I’m thinking that I shouldn’t lead people in taking vows when and if I cannot be in the immediate community who will help that couple live those big words.  That’s the idea behind the ceremony being led by a pastor, in a church, after all.

Leading a couple in vow-taking is a joy and a responsibility.  It’s fun to see a pair in love, standing before me with nothing but bliss in front of them, to look at them and to know some–again, some–of the things that will work against that bliss.  It’s a responsibility I enjoy, living with them, side by side in the faith community, as they push their feet to keep up to those uttered promises. 

In my congregation, a lot of people get married and leave.  They graduate from school and go off to some place else.  It’s a part of our mission to do with those good folks what we can, but we know that many of them will leave.  In some cases that means “marrying them off” and watching them go to (hopefully) other communities of faith where they will be supported.  But my first divorce has me considering how to approach my pastoral responsibility.  

It’s why I don’t officiate just anybody’s wedding in the first place.  I’m not a service provider.  I’m selective.  Because I’m a pastor.  But this sting is bothering me.  It has me thinking about what I’ll say to the next pair who sends an email looking for an officiating minister–and I’m always thinking about this.

Not everybody’s married, but we all know that relative divorce, don’t we?  You know a friend or a person you trust or a person you believed with all your heart would maintain a successful, enduring marriage.  You have an example or two, an up close one, that makes you wonder about marriage and divorce, that makes you ask questions about things you once assumed.

So I ask you: Has divorce made you do something differently, made you see something differently?  What can you share?