Group Study Guide for
The Owner's Manual
by Harvey Yoder
See also Lasting Marriage in the MennoMedia online catalog.
|Introduction, Chapters 1 - 8||Chapters 9 - 18|
This guide is designed to encourage high levels of personal involvement and discussion by adult Sunday School and other young adult or couples’ groups. Leadership can be provided by any good facilitator, without him or her needing to be a marriage or relationship expert. Participants will learn much from each other about how to create and maintain good relationships, as well as from material in the book and in relevant scripture texts. For weekend retreats or other settings, any combination of chapters or sections of the book can be selected for study, in almost any order desired. Note: Material in the Appendixes can be downloaded and copied for personal and class use by going to flrc.org/lastingmarriage.
GOALS: We will... - gain valuable insights from the life experiences of other members of our group. - learn from the down-to-earth wisdom the Bible offers in this important area of our lives. - become more aware of the need to develop good support networks for our marriages and families. - benefit from the book’s help in preparing for marriage and repairing distressed relationships. - practice taking more personal responsibility, as in “What changes am I making to improve our relationship?” rather than focusing mostly on changes others should make.
INTRODUCTORY SESSION: Foreword and pp. 15-18: Some Operating Instructions.
Leader: This section provides an overview of basic themes in the book, and focuses on some of the basic controls necessary to keep relationships stable, safe and well maintained.
Scripture texts: Review Biblical texts on marriage in Appendix A
Opener (these need to be time-limited): Have an assigned couple share briefly the story of their engagement and marriage, and the preparation they had or did not have for their life together. (More time will be spent on this theme in Session 4)
- Have someone read the first paragraphs of John Drescher’s Foreword and have the group discuss the statement: “Often more time and effort is spent preparing to walk down the aisle than to walk through the rest of life together.” Do you agree or disagree? Ask, “What formal or other preparation did you have before you began your life together as married couples? Do you think more is needed? Of what kind?”
- Yoder notes that marriage may not be the best or only choice for everyone, that celibacy can also be an honorable and good choice. Do you agree or disagree that learning to be a satisfied single may be one of the best ways to prepare for being successfully married? Why, or why not, might this be the case? Do too many people marry because they can’t imagine being happy any other way? How can we better elevate singleness as being an equally worthy state, noting Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 7 and the priority Jesus seems to give to the Kingdom-of-God-family over the nuclear family?
- Note the paragraph beginning with Our higher brain. Discuss how this marvelous part of our bodies, the part that most distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creatures, might have much to do with what it means to be created in God’s image. Note that our minds are the origin of all of our actions and emotions, and that even what the Bible refers to our “heart” might best be thought of as what is in the innermost part of our God-given minds, our seat of consciousness. While the book’s focus, of course, is not about a scientific study of the brain but about two modes of responding and reacting, how might a better understanding of our neocortex and subcortex help us learn better ways of managing our behaviors? Compare brain illustrations on pp. 35 and 122.
SESSION 2: Chapter 1
Leader: The theme of this section is how powerfully we are influenced by the people who are a dominant part of the “at home” years of our lives, and how many of our behaviors and reactions are by rote, based on reactive habits learned in those formative early years.
Scripture texts: Psalm 78. Note how much space the Bible gives to the real life experiences of the ordinary people who are our biological and spiritual ancestors, and how (v. 2) these become parables we are to learn from, both from the good and the bad in their stories.
Opener: Have two partners (prepared ahead of time) briefly describe their families of origin and how they have affected their marriage.
- Do you agree or disagree with the idea that most of our behaviors “result from our simply repeating learned patterns from our past”? While this does not excuse bad behavior, might this help in taking others’ reactions less personally, as likely being more about them than about us?
- Review themes in Appendix B. What are some of the habits and beliefs we have learned in our families of origin that reflect our ancestors’ values and have shaped our own?
- Yoder reflects on how the tragedies and sadnesses experienced by his father’s family impacted him. What are some of the ongoing affects of your own families’ past losses and distresses?
- Discuss the last paragraph of the chapter. To what extent is our past “always present, always a significant part of our continued story”? What might be the value of each of us interviewing our parents, if still living, as well as other members of our extended families, to learn as much as we can about their history and ours, and to help us shape our future in a more conscious way?
SESSION 3: Chapter 2
Leader: This chapter and chapter 9 focus on a major theme of the book-- that many if not most problems in a marriage are not really marital in their origin, but result from unresolved personal distresses and misbehaviors we bring with us into our marriage. If you choose to do the “fishbowl” discussion below, you may want to devote the entire session to that.
Scripture texts: Review and discuss content of Appendix C.
Opener: Have an individual or couple reflect on which of the “fruit of the Spirit” they wish they could have better cultivated and demonstrated prior to and during their marriage, and the difference this could have made.
- Have someone read, then have the group discuss, the first two paragraphs in chapter
- How important is it to “bring an abundant supply of happiness and healthiness with us” when we marry? How do conditions like depression and anxiety negatively affect a relationship?
- Do a fishbowl discussion exercise, with women forming an inner circle to discuss what they value in a “good man,” and with men in an outer circle simply listening, with no comments or questions allowed except for those written out and handed to the discussion leader. Reverse the arrangement to have men discuss qualities they most appreciate in a good woman. This exercise could be planned for two separate sessions, with time for group conversation after each gender has had a turn being in the discussion circle.
SESSION 4: Chapter 3
Leader: This section focuses on the importance of good preparation for marriage, suggesting that we should offer more help in decision making to young couples even before their engagement.
Scripture texts: Read Proverbs 3:1-24 and reflect on the wisdom revealed in this scripture as applied to a people considering marriage.
Opener: Have a couple prepared to share some of their answers to the questions prepared for “To Knot or Not to Knot” panel members in Appendix D.
- What kind of differences do you feel can bless a relationship, and which ones are likely to test it (see pp. 126-127)? How have you affected by the minimizer-maximer or overfunctioner-underfunctioner phenomenon in your relationship? (Note that, depending on the issue, you may not always be in the same role).
- How might this group plan for and help plan for, and lead, a “To Knot or Not to Knot?” session for youth or young adults in your congregation? (This could be offered to teens or young adults whether they are in a dating relationship or not)
- What kind of “lower-brain-dominated thinking” might have gone into your deciding when or whom to marry? How did elements of the “romantic love myth” (p. 127) affect your decision?
SESSION 5: Chapter 4
Leader: This study focuses on ways couples can get their marriages off to blessed start by planning weddings that better reflect their faith and values.
Scripture texts:Reflect on Romans 12:1-3 and Colossians 3:16-17 and discuss what these texts may have to say about weddings and wedding planning.
Opener: Have a couple describe their wedding and what they most liked about it--as well as what they feel they would plan differently if they were doing it today.
- How would the alternative kind of wedding described in this chapter be accepted by members of your family and congregational family? Is the trend to ever more elaborate and expensive weddings desirable? Inevitable?
- Review material in Appendix E. What if anything could or should be done to make your congregation’s weddings and wedding receptions more worship-focused and Christ-centered rather than elaborate performances primarily spotlighting the bride and groom?
SESSION 6: Chapter 5
Leader: This session will draw attention to a topic Jesus addresses more often than almost any other, the responsible stewardship of money.
Scripture texts: Reflect on material in Appendix F.
Opener: Have two partners share their “money autobiographies” and how their experiences with finances have affected their relationship both positively and negatively.
- From the introductory material in chapter 5, as well as from your own experiences, what do you feel can make decisions about spending so difficult in a relationship?
- Which of Jesus’ teachings about money (Appendix F) have we most neglected or overlooked? How would our lives change if Jesus were our chief financial and investment advisor?
- Have the group discuss, and add to, the “practical tips on how to live more simply and justly” on pp. 42-43. Which of these may help most in achieving “more just and joyful living”?
- Share experiences with creating and following a household budget as advocated in the online resources listed at the end of the chapter.
SESSION 7: Chapter 6
Leader: This will be an opportunity to examine and promote a basic Christian value that is being increasingly questioned and tested in our culture--that of reserving sexual intimacy for marriage.
Scripture texts:Reflect on I Thessalonians 4:1-7 (note various renderings of verse 4), and Ephesians 5:1-18.
Opener: Have a couple share why and how they “waited until marriage” and the affect they feel that has had on their relationship.
- How does the mindset and practice of chastity undermine the greed-driven and consumer-based mentality of our culture?
- Because of the intensely bonding affect of sexual intimacy (no one ever forgets their first time), some have suggested that we think of premarital and extramarital sex as forms of premarital or polygamous marriage, and that the separations that follow be seen as a form of emotional divorce, a hurtful “tearing apart” of relationships. Agree or disagree?
- How might we help encourage our teens and young adults to commit to celibacy in preparation for a more satisfying and secure future sex life with their one and only? How can we offer help and hope to those who experience the regret of having been sexually active before “leaving and cleaving”? Discuss the possibility of having married couples share their stories with younger members of the congregation, candidly sharing how and why they see “waiting until Christmas” to be a wonderful and exciting choice.
SESSION 8: Chapter 7
Leader: This part of the book introduces practical ways to assure a lasting and satisfying marriage by paying attention to four areas of couple responsibility and growth.
Scripture texts: Read James 3:13-18 and discuss the nature of true wisdom as described in this text.
Opener: Have a couple talk about a time in their life when their marriage was saved or strengthened through some timely help and maintenance.
- Review the Mercedes-Benz story in the beginning of the chapter, then discuss the statement. “...somehow we’ve gotten the idea that the longer we are in a relationship, the less care it will need to keep it alive and thriving.”
- Review and discuss examples of various maintenance activities on page 52. Invite participants to raise hands or otherwise indicate how many of these simple practices they do on a regular basis.
- Note the diamond diagram as displayed on page 54 and review the descriptions of each area on page 53. Go to Appendix G, read the introduction and go over the pretest exercise together.
- For the coming week, encourage each couple to make a conscious effort to spend 80% of their time together in the “Problem-Free Area,” and to keep problems from intruding at those times.
SESSION 9: Chapter 8 The focus of this study is to help each couple expand and enrich their PFA, in
which they make valuable deposits in their “relationship account” and learn to avoid unnecessary withdrawals.
Leader: Read Philippians 4:4-9 and discuss how it applies to today’s topic.
Scripture texts: Have participants share what they have done in the past week and/or at other times in their lives to add to their PFA.
- Reflect on the typical behaviors you observe when you see married couples in a restaurant or other public place as compared to those of dating couples, then discuss the statement, “If we want the good things dating couples have, we have to do what dating couples do.” List these kinds of actions and attitudes to add to those on page 57 (these could be compiled for group members).
- Discuss the idea that while the PFA may seem to be the easiest aspect of a relationship to maintain, it is also the easiest to neglect, and may the first thing to go when couples begin to become highly problem-focused. Review and discuss the statement on page 50 that speaks to this.
- Discuss the list on pages 58-59 having to do with keeping all aspects of lovemaking in the PFA.
- Assign Appendix H as homework for the next session.