For much of our married lives my husband and I were immersed in an educational world where I found myself teaching a Personal Management course at a Christian university. Three days a week I could be found instructing college students in the art of ordering their private world. Two decades later I still find myself amused as I think of the exercises I had them work through in desperate hope I'd influence them with a means to be disciplined more than influence them with mischief to get disciplined. It may have been more of a vain hope than a desperate one, but that was irrelevant to me considering there was only one needful thing I was passionate about their understanding.
That one needful thing is the source of the incredible joy that fills my teacher's heart as I watch so many of those former students exiting their sovereignly-scheduled classrooms of ongoing education with their eyes fixed on the Master Teacher, even when his instruction has proved to be far more challenging than imagined. A privilege of immense joy because of knowing that Teacher, unlike this flawed one who stood before them, holds perfect knowledge and wisdom. And not just a Master Teacher who conveys truth with authority, but one who lovingly wraps each word with grace and pours it directly into the heart.
Of all the topics we discussed in that management class, the one that still guides my own life the most is the instruction on establishing a functional value system. On intentionally identifying and structuring values so that they aren't just verbalized, but wholly supported by thoughtful philosophy and realistic goals. Values that, by either deliberation or default, reflect what the heart truly treasures.
The honing of an intentional value system brings direction to every facet of our lives, but particularly to our relationships. I've found this to be especially true in regard to marriage. It's a shared value system, not shared interests and certainly not a shared personality, that has proven to be powerful in keeping my husband and me tightly bound together for thirty-five years. Having known each other since ninth grade, we enjoyed a friendship that allowed us to observe the treasure of each other's heart for many years before dating seriously. That was an unusual gift I don't take for granted, one that afforded us the luxury of entering our union with a knowledge of our values that ran far deeper than what was merely verbalized.
When we share a solid value system with someone, our hearts beat in sync with that person within the same chest of treasure. Even when that treasure houses smaller golden nuggets of differing interests and polarizing emotional responses, the riches that most strongly ignite passion and the glitter that most brightly illuminates the spirit will be the same. It glistens as a priceless treasure worth far more than its weight in gold, driving a mutual desire to preserve its shine.
Studies have found that one of the greatest contributing factors to mental and emotional health is value congruence. Value congruence is the extent to which a person's behavior adequately reflects their stated values. It flows out of a honed philosophy that's supported by thoughtful goals that ensure words align with actions. Without strong intention to operate otherwise, we will inevitably find ourselves vocalizing a hierarchy of values that remains largely incongruent with our behavior. It's a disparity that doesn't just cause personal conflict, it causes relational conflict.
As a Christian, honing an intentional value system that runs deeper than mere confession of faith is an essential part of growth in grace. Jesus was addressing value incongruence with the Pharisees with his referral to Isaiah's prophecy: "You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me." (Matt 15:8) We need to remain vigilant, because being a follower of Jesus doesn't exempt us from operating within an anemic value system where we honor God with words poorly supported by actions. The disparity doesn't mean that the spoken values aren't flowing from a redeemed heart with godly desires, it means that the heart is beating with fleshly desires that are greater.
It's a disparity that can find us saying we value kindness, when the reality is that we value control more. It can find us saying we value marriage, when we value money more; saying we value purity, when we value pleasure more; saying we value serving, when we value being served. It's a disparity that has us saying we value the Creator, when the reality is that we value his created blessing. It's a disparity that flows from an anemic value system that inevitably leaves the heart empty, making the pursuit of attention and acceptance or achievement and admiration our functioning treasure. An anemic value system that has making choices that belie the very values and virtues that we extol.
The fight for value congruence is at the heart of every Christian's sin struggle in this fallen world. God has graciously and lovingly made us his children, but there is a fight to live as his children of newfound wealth. Our flesh keeps reaching back for the scraps of our former orphaned world because we aren't convinced our Father's food is enough to satisfy. Sanctification is a process of having our impoverished pedestrian tastes honed to all that is heavenly rich. It's a process of learning to live in accordance with our stated value system that honors God with the declaration: "Whom have I in heaven but you? Earth has nothing I desire besides you! My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" (Psalm 73:25-26)
God delights in the humility and honesty of a pure heart that lovingly honors Him with more than mere words. As image bearers, it's why we also delight in the humility and honesty of someone's genuine love. Unlike superficial flirtations and flatteries that ensnare us with empty words, the treasure of functional values shines brightly with a truth that's illuminated from the heart. Truth from the heart that safely introduces itself as Integrity. Truth that wears no cloaked layers of darkness, no facade, no pretense. Truth that safely bears an undivided heart that pumps with the blood of a singular value system. Genuine love that is a delight to the soul!
Advice on navigating intimate relationships swirls as thick as thieves, but if any of it is captured let it be the fact that nothing we can know about another person is ever going to be as important as our identifying what is the actual wealth (not perceived) of our own functioning values. Because when that treasure is valuable enough to us, we'll take note when the gold and glitter that drives our passion isn't shared by another. When that treasure is valuable enough to us, we won't risk it being devalued. It will have us wisely trusting the Guard of our Heart to manage decisions entering into relationships, and trusting the Guide of our Life how to maneuver within them. Our sleepless Guard who keeps us safe in the night, and our sound Guide who moves us forward in the light.