I have a really great marriage. I very, very rarely complain about my husband (except an occasional tease), and he always talks to everybody else about how great I am (which I cannot understand, but whatever). We’ve only been married 4.75 years and in a relationship for 2 before that, so I suppose we are still newbies. We aren’t 30 yet. (Side note: I tend to tell people when they ask my age that I’m “about 30.” I’m too embarrassed to admit how young I am.) People assume that young age means a person has no wisdom. That bothers me a bit, because I feel like we are really married. We own a home and have to budget very, very carefully. We have two children. We’ve both made really huge mistakes that could have seriously made us reconsider our commitment to each other. There are tons of tiny things about Husband that drive me nuts, and I’m sure it goes both ways. My sweet, strong hubby can be a bit out of touch with reality, he sometimes doesn’t think through his decisions completely, is rather messy and sloppy, and he can honestly be a bit naive about how the world really works. But he is so loving, so complimentary, so kind, so patient, so Godly, so others-centered, so helpful when I ask, so willing to learn and adjust and change and grow, such an incredible provider for our family, and so beautifully optimistic and hopeful. I am judgmental, narcissistic, holier-than-thou, smarter-than-thou, know-it-all, watch too too too much TV, and I have a tendency to make everything about how others can serve me instead of the other way around. But I am an excellent communicator, I am NEVER passive-aggressive (that wasn’t sarcasm, I promise! I seriously try to actually say what I mean!!), and I am very organized and an excellent cook and housekeeper. I have some kind of freaky, inherent understanding of exactly what to do with the children at (almost) all times. I am also good at music, which has nothing to do with our marriage except for the excessive amount of time we spend bursting into song. So we both have things working against us and things working for us. We haven’t had a ton of super major pain in our marriage, but we’re so very young and we haven’t seen much of life overall so far, I suppose. I can deal with our naiveté and ignorance most of the time. But BOY does it rub me the wrong way when people tell me, “Just wait; you’ll see what real marriage is soon enough.”
It may have only been 4.75 years (see how I take every month I can get?), but we are really married. Don’t try to tell me that real marriage is miserable. My judgmental, holier-than-thou, smarter-than-thou, know-it-all self will take me over for a minute and I might yell at you, to be honest. (Oh, I hate that part of myself!) But we are definitely really married, and it is definitely wonderful. But it’s also like super extremely very hard.
The thing that is hard about marriage is all of it. It is hard to combine lives with someone. It is hard to have someone depending on you all the time. It is hard when Husband’s mistakes affect me. It is hard when my mistakes affect him. It is hard to smile and be kind when I’ve had a terrible day and toddler poop got on me twice and my face is scratched from the fit he threw when his oatmeal was too hot. It is hard to say, “Yes, I’d love to help you,” and mean it when you’ve been working your tail off at work all day and you are immediately asked to do 12 things the moment you walk through the door. “I’m tired, too!” you want to scream. “Why can’t you just see where I need help and just do it instead of making me ask?” you want to shout. “Can’t you just, for once, please, for the love of all that is holy, remember to do the thing that I asked you to do six months ago so I don’t have to be a nag?” you want to cry out.
I honestly believe that marriages fail because we enter marriage thinking that the other person makes us so happy and we can’t live without him or her. I mean, that’s a nice thought, right? Someone is so important to you that you want to commit to being with him or her forever. You truly mean it. You really want that. You have dreams and goals and a vision of the cute little perfectly dressed kids eating the homemade-from-scratch mashed potatoes without making a mess laughing joyously with one another. Norman Rockwell, right? It’s going to be so wonderful, you think, with this blessed human by my side. I mean, I know he isn’t perfect, but he just makes me so happy!
The problem with this nice idea is that when we expect people to make us happy, they fail. Expecting people to continue to make us happy for all eternity puts an impossible standard on them that they can’t possibly live up to. It is unfair to expect of any human something that only God can do. We’re setting ourselves up for failure! Our spouses often can make us happy for a while, and then we suddenly start to see the real parts of their character. Husband sees my selfishness. He sees how I always have to be right. He sees how much I love myself more than him, more than our kids, more than God. It pains me to say these things because Little Miss Perfect over here likes to hide her imperfections from the general public and she doesn’t want to be vulnerable enough to admit it, but he sees them every single day just by living with me. I can totally see how that could make him jaded. I am not the woman he married. She was young and tiny with an unaltered-by-human-growth body. She was hopeful and silly and sweet and a little stupid. Now, she’s less young, a bit larger, and with a very altered body. She can be hopelessly mean. She is irresponsible. She is rude and self-seeking. She goes on crazy anger rants about all the bazillions of things that annoy her. She’s also strong. She can make good decisions. She’s responsible for basically the complete existence of two tiny (beautiful, wonderful) terror monsters who suck out her energy so that she doesn’t want to give any of it to him. I can see how she’d be frustrating in comparison to the sweet dreams of yesteryear. These changes are gradual, and that’s why people wake up one day and think that they can’t handle it anymore. Slowly, little by little, this person next to him has changed so completely that he can’t even recognize her. She doesn’t make him happy anymore, so why should he keep trying when it just isn’t working? (I’m using the male pronouns in this, but it goes both ways).
The thing is, happiness is a nice idea, but it is not something solid enough to base a life upon. Doesn’t everyone seem to know this in other areas? You can’t buy happiness. Money won’t make you happy. Stuff won’t make you happy. People seem to easily understand this, yet they get caught up believing that people will make them happy. The thing is, happiness itself is a silly thing to base your life on because it comes and goes like weather. You can’t trust happiness, and you can’t control it very well, and you certainly can’t control other people. Don’t depend on being happy as the goal of your life. So then, what should you base your life on?
A Christian marriage is based off of two principals. No, they aren’t the ones you think I’m going to say, about the husband being the boss and the wife being the doormat, which is how people tend to (incorrectly) interpret that passage in Ephesians. Here they are, though. The real ones. Are you ready? Can you handle it?
- Love God more than everything else. Love Him with all of your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. Love Him with all of your bones. Love Him with all of your brain. Love Him with all of your white blood cells. Love Him with all your Golgi bodies. (I love that word – Golgi bodies. I have no idea what they are – some part of a cell I think? I remember making a cake as a representation of a cell in 9th grade biology, but anyway, I digress.) Find whatever it is that you love more than everything else and kick it to the curb, because love HIM more than ANYTHING else. God wins. Always. He is number one. Find your fulfillment, your life purpose, your goals, your dreams in Him. He. Is. It. And do you know what is super cool about loving God the mostest in the wholest widest world? Somehow, God makes it so that there is still plenty of love for everyone else even if He is first place. Even if you think you’ve given every bit of love to Him. In fact, I’ve found that when He isn’t first place in my life, I never have enough love to go around, but when I get my priorities in line, suddenly there is plenty. Hello, loaves and fish.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your spouse as much as you love yourself. I would even argue it slightly further. Love your spouse more than you love yourself. Love your spouse with reckless, nonsensical abandon. Respect the person you committed to by deciding that his needs are more important than your own, or at least as important as your own. Respect the person you committed to by communicating with him or her exactly what you are feeling with no agenda, just grace and truth. Respect the person you are committed to by being open to that truth, allowing criticism when it means you’ll become more like Christ. Love him whether he deserves it or not. Love her when she doesn’t deserve it. Love him when he hasn’t said anything nice to you today. Love her even though she hasn’t smiled in a while. Love him when he goes to play on his phone in his room while you feed, bathe, change, clothe, and put to bed by yourself the children that you both made. Love her when she totally loses her cool and screams at you for playing on your phone even though you had a hard day and you just need a break. Love him even though his car smells like feet because he hasn’t cleaned it out in approximately 500 days. Love her even though she just brought up, AGAIN, that thing you did 5 years ago that you’ve been yelled at about 900 times already.
The basic idea of marriage in God’s eyes, from what I can gather from Scripture, is that in a marriage, you have entered a promise to act to your spouse like Jesus acted toward you. This is a much more sustaining idea upon which to base a life. Jesus carried your sin on His back. He did it once and for all – this truth doesn’t change or alter or fade away. He felt the weight of your neglect, snaps of impatience, unforgiveness, selfishness, immaturity, and unwillingness to help or change on his back as He carried YOUR cross up that hill. It should have been you. It should have been me. Oh, I am terribly, terribly guilty. He was tempted to be all the things we are. He was Man – something we are. But He wasn’t overcome by temptation. Sin didn’t win for Him. He was God – something we cannot be.
And then He died. He let sin win. He welcomed it and took it on. On purpose. Because love. But sin didn’t win for long. Because God. When God raised Him from the dead, he beat sin for good, and it doesn’t get to win ever again.
Now look, I am not Jesus, and Husband isn’t either. But oh, do we both want to look like Him. And oh, do we want sin to never win again. The coolest thing is that when we each love God first (1), He works on our hearts individually. He chisels out the parts of us that don’t look like Him. He changes us and adjusts our character to imitate His a little better. He helps us be ready for the exposure of that thing that we don’t want to admit, that thing we don’t want to change, that criticism that we can’t take. We both grow in this area as long as we’re striving to love God the most. This helps, because sin doesn’t win quite as often then.
Then come the times when sin gets us again because we are still on this earth where sin is the current ruler. This is where our Jesus-like love for each other (2) comes in. We can safely enter a place of total vulnerability with each other because when our nastiest, deepest, most selfish guts are exposed, the other person has the Jesus-love to practice. When Ryan (oh man, you know I’m getting real when I use his actual name) made a mistake that hurt us badly, I covered him. His wound-his infection-was showing, and because of what Christ has done, I covered him. My earthly version of covering wasn’t perfect. There were times of anger and frustration, and I’m sure he felt the guilt, but he was covered. He didn’t deserve even that. When I make Ryan feel worthless because I make snide comments about him being a joke and I act like I’m so much better than him, my wound-my infection-shows, and because of what Christ has done, he covers me. His earthly version of covering isn’t perfect, but I am covered. I don’t deserve even that. When I see my wounds that Ryan covers, those times when my poison could poison us both, but he covers it, forgives, loves anyway, I see how Christ loves me. It’s a pale, imperfect imitation because we are pale and imperfect. So I promise to practice this whenever I can. And Ryan has promised to practice Jesus-love whenever I can’t. For us, this goes both ways. Because the point of marriage isn’t happiness. It is to practice loving like Christ did, even when it can’t be perfect like His is. I think this is what Paul was actually getting at in verses 9-13 of that way-over-quoted-and-usually-completely-taken-out-of-context thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood things as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Someday, we’ll be in the presence of Christ. Interestingly, we won’t be married anymore, but instead we’ll stand before Christ in perfect union with each other, everyone else, and Him. The pale, imperfect versions of our earthly forgiveness will look silly to us, probably. But those pale, imperfect versions of love were practice for this ultimate, bright, glorious love that we’ll abide in for the rest of eternity. In these moments of painful growth on earth, where we are forced to cover each other despite our stronger wish for justice, we may not see happiness. But we will see purpose. And we will see joy.