How do I Teach My Kids God’s Ideas on Marriage? Sam Allberry
If you're starting to talk to your kids about God's design for marriage when they're preteens or teens—you might be too late. Author and pastor Sam Allberry knows parents need key discussions with kids about the ways God's ideas for marriage get it right—and he's authored a children's book to generate the conversations you need.
If marriage points to Christ and the church, then maybe anniversaries are more significant than weddings. Because anyone can make a promise, but not everyone keeps a promise. And it's the keeping of the promise that really points to the faithfulness of Christ to His people. -- Sam Allberry
About the Guest
- Connect with Sam Allberry at samallberry.com or on Instagram @samallberry
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Author and pastor Sam Allberry knows parents need key discussions with kids about the ways God’s design and ideas for marriage get it right.
How do I Teach My Kids God’s Ideas on Marriage? Sam Allberry
Sam: If marriage points to Christ and the church, then maybe anniversaries are more significant than weddings. Because anyone can make a promise, but not everyone keeps a promise. And it's the keeping of the promise that really points to the faithfulness of Christ to His people.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Alright, so I just had this crazy thought. A Beach Boys song just came to my head.
Ann: Beach Boys, what are we doing right now?
Dave: Do you remember this? [singing] Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long. It’s a song about marriage. It's a song about wouldn't it be nice if we were married, and I was thinking—
Ann: I thought it was about surfing. [Laughter]
Dave: The Beach Boys have a lot of songs about surfing, but this one’s about marriage. Honey, I'm disappointed you don't know the lyrics to Wouldn't It Be Nice. But anyway, the only reason it came to my mind is, I was thinking, “Wouldn't it be nice if there were a children's book about the purpose of marriage?
Ann: Wouldn't it, though?
Dave: I mean, it's a crazy way to introduce this topic, but there is a children's book now. I think it's the only one that's out there about marriage.
Ann: I feel like this is the first book on this topic for kids. I think it's really needed. As a parent, if my kids were little, I would go out and buy this book. We already have it, and I'm going to read this to our grandkids.
Dave: Yes, it's called God’s Signpost and we've got the author, Sam Allberry, in the studio at FamilyLife Today. Welcome, Sam.
Sam: It's good to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Ann: This is fun to have Sam because Sam, you're an author, you're a theologian—
Dave: —pastor, preacher.
Ann: Sam, did you ever think you'd write a kid’s book?
Sam: No, I never thought I'd write a book. [Laughter]
Ann: How did this one come about?
Sam: Yes, so I've done a lot of ministry around the area of sexuality; had lots of parents saying to me, “How do I talk to my children about same-sex relationships and what the Bible teaches?” And normally in my head, my answer is, “There are probably conversations that need to have already happened at a much younger age about what marriage is and what marriage is for.” Conversations where you can give a positive vision of marriage, and then that way when their kids grow up, discover certain prohibitions, they've got a positive framework to put those prohibitions into.
So that then made me think, “Well, we need some kind of resource for young children on what marriage is.” The world is very interested in discipling our kids, so we need to be, as Christians, making every effort to help people see the goodness of God at that young age. If you’re convinced God is good, you can cope with the things He says no to, but if that foundation isn't in place, that's going to be a more precarious process.
Dave: How did you come up with the concept God’s Signpost: How Marriage Points Us to God's Love?
Sam: Well, I've talked for years about how marriage is meant to point to Christ and the Church, as we see in the Ephesians 5, and when I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to do a children's book, my dear friends Ray and Jani Ortlund had their 50th wedding anniversary. I was in the UK at the time, but I remember messaging them and saying, “Congratulations! Happy Anniversary,” and I found myself saying in my message, “If marriage points to Christ and the Church, then maybe anniversaries are more significant than weddings, because anyone can make a promise, but not everyone keeps a promise. And it's the keeping of the promise that really points to the faithfulness of Christ to His people.”
Once I’d sent that message, I thought, “Oh, maybe that's going to be the story, that it's going to be about a 50th wedding anniversary.”
Ann: I love it. Tell us about their characters.
Sam: Some of it, a bit of it, is sort of biographical. I used to love it when I was a little boy going to visit my Nana and Pop.
Ann: I wondered, because I told Dave, “I bet this is Sam's upbringing.”
Sam: Oh, totally.
Ann: It was.
Sam: They lived at the coast as well, which helped. They had the seaside and everything else; that's not a bad attraction for a young kid. But I remember we would go there; we'd be in the car, and I remember my brother and I were—the first time we would pass a sign that had the name of their town, we would get excited and kind of nudge each other go, “We're nearly there. We're nearly there.” My Nana was—always made amazing cakes, so a lot of this is autobiographical.
Sam: I was just remembering the excitement of that. I remember my grandparents having their 50th wedding anniversary. In that case, we hosted the party at our house and made it a big surprise thing for them and invited all of their old friends and all of that kind of thing.
So yes; it's about these two kids, Ethan and Lila, who are off to visit Nana and Pop. They're used to going there, but this time they go there and there's lots of other people. People are bringing gifts. People are congratulating.
Ann: But Sam, the biggest thing is the cake isn't there.
Sam: Yes, it's not the regular cake.
Ann: Is it strawberry?
Sam: Strawberry tower cake, I think it is. It’s in the book.
Dave: You think? You wrote it. [Laughter]
Sam: I know, but I’ve got a bad memory. [Laughter] Anyway, yes, it's different. The cake’s not there. There's a different cake. Everyone is congratulating their grandparents, and they’re thinking “What do you congratulate grandparents on? They've not had another kid. They haven't started a new job,” and so they begin to realize it's their 50th wedding anniversary. And that leads to them having this conversation with their Nana about how marriage points to Jesus. It's fun.
Dave: Well, you know, I think a lot of listeners don't even know that signpost. They don't really know that's one of the major purposes of marriage.
Ann: We didn’t.
Dave: Help explain the theology behind that. Yes, when we went to the—
Ann: We were like, “Oh, marriage is going to be awesome. You're going to make me so happy.”
Dave: You didn’t have to tell the world our story. [Laughter] We could have kept that part a secret. But yes, we didn't know. We thought what everybody thinks: “I'm marrying her because she's going to make me happy, and she's marrying me because I'm going to make her even more happy.” And when that didn't happen, we thought, “There's got to be something—something else—marriage is about.” So, develop that a little bit, because that's the foundation of this children's book.
Sam: It really is. We see, I think, three broad purposes for marriage in the Bible. One is procreation. Obviously, in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, the one flesh union is more about the kind of unity and deep fellowship of the husband and wife. It's a form of profound union. Even that phrase “one flesh” speaks of a very deep bond. But we also see, as scripture unfolds, this union of a man and a woman that we first encounter in Genesis 2.
It’s page two of the Bible [when] this kicks in. That becomes a picture of the union of heaven and earth through Jesus. Because God goes on to reveal Himself as a husband. He makes lavish covenant promises. His people are referred to as His bride; sadly, often His unfaithful bride in the Old Testament. When Jesus arrives, among the other things that He calls Himself, He refers to Himself as the bridegroom. He said, “The bridegroom is with you now.” And there are passages many of us will know in the New Testament that talk about our faith in marital terms.
And then Paul famously says in Ephesians 5—he's talking to husbands and wives, and he says—"Guys, this is actually about Christ and the Church.” And then obviously, at the climax of the Bible is the wedding of the Lamb and His bride the Church. So, marriage has always been in the Bible. It's this whole Bible way of helping us understand and act out something of the love God has shown us in Jesus. Our marriages are meant to be a means of deep companionship and union. By being so, they're also meant to be a pointer to the ultimate marriage, which is between Jesus and His Church.
So as a pastor, I get to [perform] weddings occasionally. I love doing that. You get the best—the best!—view of the whole thing. [Laughter] You get to see the bride coming down. You get to see the look of kind of shock on the part of the groom that the bride actually did show up. But one of the things I love saying to the couple on their wedding day is, “Your marriage is going to disappoint you, and it's supposed to. It's not going to be the thing that fulfills you. It's pointing to the thing that can fulfill you. It's a great gift of God. But in and of itself, it's not the ultimate thing. It's the penultimate thing.”
And you know, even the best—you know a very dear friend of mine is in his 70s. I remember him saying of his marriage, “My marriage is so much better than I deserved or expected, but it's still not enough.” Christ is the bridegroom. He's the one who actually fulfills our deepest longings and desires. He's the one that we are created to be in that covenant love relationship with, which is a beautiful truth.
It's helped me as a single man to view my singleness in a healthy perspective because Jesus says, in the age to come, we won't marry. We will have Him in His fullness. We won't need the signpost anymore. And it's helped me to think, “Okay, well my singleness is a way of living now as we all shall be then.” That actually Jesus is sufficient for that. Marriage is meant to show us the shape of the gospel; that covenant love between the bridegroom and the bride.
Ann: I like that you're getting that across to kids. Jesus is the greatest of hopes, but when you're in a situation that feels painful, we look at so many other people's lives and assume they’re so much better off than we are. Did you have a marriage like that that you saw someone model Christ in the church?
Sam: I've seen some beautiful marriages close up. And it's beautiful for the fact that it is imperfect. Yes, because if we only kept the promises because we felt like it 24/7, that would still be great, but the fact that people hang in there even when it's difficult. You know, you think of the patience Christ has with us day-to-day with our minds and hearts constantly straying from Him, and He's so patient with us.
Well, one of the most important things I put in that book is where the Nana says, “God is better at this than we are. He's better at keeping promises. He's better at being patient than we are, so we can trust Him fully. That's where our hope is.”
Ann: Your Nana and your Pop, are they still living?
Sam: They're not. No, my Nana, she died about 30 years ago. My Pop only died a couple of years ago.
Sam: He was over 100 when he died.
Ann: Wow. And what about your mom and dad? Are they still married?
Sam: They are, yes, [a] wonderful marriage. Yes, they're wonderful. I remember during the pandemic, you know with all the lockdowns going on in the UK, I'm being concerned for my parents as I was concerned for anyone, to check [that] everyone was okay, but I never worried about them getting on because they genuinely like each other. They're good friends to each other.
Sam: I never worried about the fact that they were stuck with just each other. There were other married couples I was more worried about. [Laughter] I was thinking, “How's this going to affect you both being kind of locked into the house together for such a long time?” But they are a wonderful example of a healthy marriage.
Dave: Well, you know one of the things as I read your book, even last night, Sam, was, I was thinking there are so many books about relationships and marriage that kids get; sort of the “I'm going to marry my Prince,” “My Princess is going to [bring] happily ever after.” I mean, we grow up—Ann has said many times, “I grew up thinking that's what marriage will be.”
Dave: And then when it wasn't—
Sam: The whole “wrong” thing, right?
Dave: Yes, exactly. It's just like—I remember one time—you know because we go into marriage thinking, “This person is going to make me happy.” And of course, there should be some happiness there; but I remember years ago, years ago, decades ago, announcing on a Sunday, as I was finishing some sermon: “Hey, next week, we’re starting a marriage series. I call it this: Now that you Married the Wrong Person. Come back next week, [Laughter] bring your friends or whatever.”
And I remember walking out in the lobby and people said, “Oh man, can't wait for next week.” And I’d say, “What? Why?” And they said, “Because I did.” I said, “No, no, no.” But they resonated with that thought. And we always say, “You didn't marry the wrong person. You're looking in the wrong place, because you're trying to find life here and you find life here.” That's what our whole ministry is with Vertical Marriage. That's what you actually get into already—
Dave: —with little toddlers. And I'm thinking, “What a beautiful concept that they're just going to get some of it, but they're starting to grasp at five, six, three, four, [or] ten years old, “This isn't what marriage is about. It's a signpost.”
Sam: Yes, I hope so, because that will potentially shield them from all kinds of false ideas, false hopes, lies about where fulfillment is going to be found; what marriage even is, because in our culture, we have such a different definition of marriage to the one the Bible gives us.
Ann: What do you think the culture's definition is today?
Sam: I think marriage effectively is a flexible, romantic contract. For as long as I'm feeling romantically fulfilled in you, and you're feeling romantically fulfilled in me, we'll stick together. But the moment either of us isn't, we have an out. It's been like you were articulating earlier: “You're there to make me happy. I'm there to make you happy. If that works, great. If it doesn't, no worries. We'll just abandon it.”
Dave: “I married the wrong person, because somebody else will make me happy. I just got the wrong one, the wrong car, the wrong house.”
Sam: “I am happy, but I think I could be happier—"
Sam: “—with a different person.” And it's all about, am I feeling romantically fulfilled? Which is why weddings so often are a celebration of romantic fulfillment more than they are a kind of declaration of covenant love. As someone who officiates, one of my conditions now is I say to couples, “I'd rather you didn't write your own vows.” Because almost always, the vows they write are about how they feel right now.
Sam: We get that. It's your wedding day. We know you're into each other. [Laughter] We don't need 15 verses of bad poetry to get that. We want to know what you're promising.
Ann: Oh, that's so good.
Sam: Because that's what the marriage vows are for. It's what you're promising rather than how you're feeling right now. Hopefully you're feeling something positive right now, don't get me wrong.
Ann: But we were sitting at a wedding, and even to know what a vow is, when you make a vow or a promise. There was a couple. He was saying—he would use the word “vow.” “I vow that every day I walk in the door I will find you and kiss you.” And I'm going through this list of things, “I vow that no one will ever come before you.” And I'm sitting there thinking, “Nope, nope.” You know, “Nope, that's not going to happen.” And I'm thinking, “Man, what you're saying today, these are heavy things.” There is just not a word like the word “covenant.” Explain, as a pastor, what does that mean that we're making a covenant?
Sam: Yes, “covenant” is such a rich, rich word in the Bible, and it's got all the formality of a contract, and it's something that is formal and binding. And yet, it is so personal. It's far more relational. I've heard it being described as, “It's more formal than a contract,” but it's far more relational than just a declaration of love. It's both of those things all wrapped up together. In the case of the covenants God makes with us, it's a declaration. It's an unconditional declaration of how He's going to love us. And that the marriage vows—the kind of historic marriage service—is a wonderful rehearsal of the gospel. You've got the—there's a reason the groom's already at the church. There's a reason the groom got there first and got everything ready.
Ann: Oh, what is that?
Sam: Because Christ has gone before us and prepared a place for us. There's a reason why, in the choreography of the wedding ceremony, the bride turns up at the door dressed in white, and everyone, every head, swings around and goes, “Whoa,” because we will be presented as pure and spotless before the bridegroom on that last day. There's a reason we make the vows that we do make in a normal wedding service. You know, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and health ‘til death us do part.” We're promising love that isn't going to be affected by circumstances. It's going to be unconditional. Even the bride taking the name of the groom points to what we have in Jesus. So, marriage is a wonderful picture of the gospel.
Dave: We say at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember®—in fact, we went to it as an engaged couple before we even knew what FamilyLife was, and [we] really thought, “We don't need this conference. We love each other.” [Laughter] And then we're pulling that manual out, you know, a month later, saying, “Oh, what does it say?” But we’ve taught it now over 30 years, and we say at the conference, “The first purpose of marriage is to mirror to the world the love of God.”
Sam: Yes, that’s wonderful.
Dave: It's your signpost. It's the same idea. Yes, a married couple, Ephesians 5; it mirrors, reflects, in some way to the world the gospel. And in some ways, you think, “Wow, that's really scary.” As a married couple, you think, “They're watching my marriage.” And the other side is: “That is an awesome calling. That it isn't just being happy, it is so much grander than that.” And we are called into that. And it's amazing to think you've tried to take that concept and put it in a children's book.
Dave: Way to go. God is a promise-making, promise-keeping God. That's at the heart of reality. It's why the right promise from the right person can make life worth living. And it is why broken promises are so profoundly painful in this world, because we're meant to live by promises, because God Himself is a God who makes promises.
Ann: Sam, I was thinking about, when I read this, a blended family. You know, they've been divorced, and they're reading this to their kids—
Dave: —or widowed.
Ann: Or widowed, yes. You know, as you read this and your kids are thinking, “But Mom, you didn't stay,” or “Dad, you didn't stay in your marriage.” How would you explain that?
Sam: You know, I try to cover that in the book as well because I try and sort of give permission for that reality to be the case; because there will be many homes in which this book is read that have had broken marriages, which is why the key message is less, “How are we doing at this?” and more “Isn't it great that God is the One who does this perfectly?”
Sam: He's better at this than we are. We don't always manage to keep our promises.
Ann: And we can say that as parents.
Sam: Yes, but God does. And even the healthy, happy marriage, the message will still be, “We're doing this really imperfectly. No marriage is the perfect signpost. None of us is all that we are meant to be. All of us have fallen short of this even if we've kept our marriage vows.” We end up being perfect, so I hope it will help cases where they're broken families, single parents, widowed, divorced, whatever it might be to realize, “Okay, well, the focus here isn't the signpost. It's the thing the signpost is pointing to.” And we can all get in on that.
Dave: You know, somebody said earlier, and it has stuck with me: “Weddings are important, anniversaries are even more important.” I mean, we celebrate the wedding, and we spend tens of thousands, some hundreds of thousands, on a day, and that's good for that, but the promise being kept year after year after year. I was thinking, “We should spend money on that!”
Ann: We should celebrate that in a big way, and I like the idea; I like that you're two little characters were there to celebrate as well. And so, to bring our kids into that and our grandkids into that is a beautiful idea for them to see, “I’m not perfect,” but a covenant being lived out before them.
Sam: Yes, and we want to celebrate it. I mean that's the other thing in the book. The idea for the party didn't come from Nana or Pop. It came from the community. They're saying, “We need to celebrate this.”
Sam: So, wherever we are in our own circumstances, whether we're married or not, whether our marriage is happy or not, if we see a faithful covenant being kept among us, we celebrate it.
Ann: That’s good.
Sam: We honor it and, when we have a couple that we know who reach the 50-year mark maybe through gritted teeth, maybe they limp across the line, we want to celebrate that. We want to honor that. That's no small thing.
Ann: It's a milestone.
Ann: And we encourage our listeners to make a big deal out of your anniversary. I would really suggest you pick up this book, because our kids need to know God’s reason in covenant, in marriage.
Shelby: You know, learning through failure is always something that hurts as we travel through it, but that hurt is what's necessary in order to develop maturity in us and cultivate wisdom. You know, the times that I've grown the most are when I've hurt the most, specifically through my chronic back pain. In times when I've hurt the most, God has used that to shape me into who He wants me to be. It's been hard, but it's been wonderful at the same time. You know, marriage can be that way. It can hurt a lot, but that's often what God uses in our lives to shape us into who He wants us to be.
I'm Shelby Abbott. You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sam Allberry on FamilyLife Today. Sam is the best, isn't he? And he's written a book called God's Signpost: How Marriage Points Us to God's Love. This is Sam's--actually his—first children's book, and it shows kids that marriage is a special sign that points to God's unique love for us, the kind of love that keeps on going no matter what.
You could pick up a copy of Sam's book by going to FamilyLifeToday.com and clicking on today's resources, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, obviously you hear us talk often about marriages and how that foundation affects everything else in our lives if you're married. We've said this before, but great marriages don't just happen; they're built with intentionality. FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaway has events all over the country this fall, and today is the last and final day to register for 50% off. You can jump on this chance to intentionally pull closer to each other and to God and get two registrations for the price of one right now at WeekendtoRemember.com.
Now, tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Ron Deal to talk about how stepdads are often unsung heroes. I know my stepdad was a hero in my life. We hope you'll join us for that show tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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