Towards Happily Ever After
If you’re married, you’ve probably found that being in this state exposes your sinfulness in a humbling way.
Listen to what James writes, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (4:1). Each of us is conflicted by all kinds of desires: we have our idols, ambitions, fears, and our stubborn determination to always be right. We still have that Edenic instinct to point away from ourselves and toward someone else as the problem.
This challenge comes to the fore in all kinds of marital situations. My wife came across a good line in the book, Is This It? by Rachel Jones. Apparently, she’s been asked many times to give marriage advice, like at bridal showers when everyone has to share words of wisdom with the excited bride. Jones gives this as her bit of standard advice, “Remember that there’s more than one way to load a dishwasher.” For it is true that the smallest thing can turn into a source of strife.
Why are you putting the plates in like that?!
When two people set out to build a life together, they soon discover that there is more than one way to do most things. This means that if a marriage is going to survive (and thrive) there is a real need to learn the give-and-take of compromise.
Sanctification through Marriage
It’s here that we see how God uses marriage as a life-long process of sanctification. Through marriage, God molds us, transforms us, helps us to grow into Christ. Because we’re having to do life together with another person, we face a daily battle to put to death our pride, our impatience, or our rudeness.
And when we are married, we get frequent practice in what it means to serve another person—to really serve them, putting their interests ahead of our own (Phil 2:1-5), and doing so cheerfully, constantly, lovingly.
As another growth area for sanctification, we get regular practice in what it means to forgive. We put today’s wrongs to one side, and try be ready to carry on again tomorrow.
Marriage is a long-term training ground where, by God’s grace, we gradually become more Christ-like. Over the years, you’ve learned what it takes to live at peace with each other.
For instance, you understand your spouse’s weaknesses in a comprehensive way. You know this, not ‘to push their buttons’ (you’d never do that, of course!), but to live with them more wisely. Just by the look on her face, or the tone of his voice, you know you’re going to need an extra dose of patience or to show a bit more tender love.
You learn these lessons through years of marriage, not backing away when it’s hard, but leaning in. And here we see what a beautiful thing it is to have made a vow to each other in God’s name.
In this permanence, there is freedom and safety.
You know that neither of you are going to walk away easily, but that you’ll keep working at it.
I realize that all this can sound very optimistic. The fact is, no marriage is perfect, even the ones that look like it on Sundays. Many marriages, even if a husband and wife are fully committed to staying together, can lose their sparkle.
Since the happy day of your wedding, you’ve collected a pile of troubles: illness, tension with the in-laws, or disappointment with the church. Maybe there’s been the blessing of children, but also the multiplication of children-related worries. You’ve learned difficult things about each other. But God is ready to show grace as you carry on in your commitment.
Looking for Longevity
So what should you do in order to keep going? If you know that you’re in it for the long haul, how can you strengthen your endurance?
First, commit your marriage to the Lord. In his wise providence the Father brought you together, and so He’ll help you to stay together. But you need to seek his help. Pray to him, and pray for each other, and pray together. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain (Ps 127).
Second, keep your love alive. Find ways to maintain affection, to keep alive your physical intimacy and emotional connection. It is good to know that Biblical marriage is resilient, for ‘many waters cannot quench love’ (Song 8:7). But make sure that you have the time and space and energy to savour your marriage as a gift from the Father.
Third, remember where you’ve come from. By God’s grace, you’ve grown since your wedding day. You have a collection of burdens now, but a bigger collection of joys. Page through your album of marriage memories and see how good the Lord has been.
Fourth, if you’re having problems, admit it and be humble enough to get help. Remember again that you’re in it for life. So think about how old you are now: If you’re going to be married for twenty more years, or thirty more, it’s worth the effort to try put things right, sooner rather than later. So share with godly friends, or talk to trusted church leaders. Be willing to be guided.
There are few things in the world worse than a bad marriage, and few things better than a good one.
Think about the kind of marriage you want for the rest of your life.
Husbands and wives, remember that God joined you together. For God always intended that marriage serve as a faint whisper of the eternal marriage. It is designed as a snapshot of something awesome, the relationship of Christ and his church.
For Jesus’s sake, God is the faithful husband to us, the one who loves us ‘for as long as we shall live’ and even beyond.