Every marriage has its ups and downs, it’s bumps and lulls. I know ours has. Now, the good memories far outweigh the rough ones, but even the rough ones teach us so much, if we’ll just stick with it. Praise the Lord I have a husband that is willing to do just that.
About four and a half years into our marriage, we hit one of those tough places. There were long hours at work coupled with lack of job satisfaction, followed by a period of four months of being down to one income. This put a strain on our finances, as you can imagine, which strained us emotionally as well. At the same time, we had some very close friends move away–some across town and some across the country. And we couldn’t afford to go out to eat with those that were left, so we stayed in, feeling disconnected and discouraged.
But God’s grace shone through. Sooner or later, you choose to stop hashing out the same frustrations and bringing up the same hurtful topics of conversation…hopefully. You see that hardships are to refine us, like purifying gold in the furnace and pressurized coals becoming diamonds. Randy Alcorn, in his book If God is Good writes, “God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.” And when it’s just the two of you, you learn to talk about other things, about life, including hopes and dreams and wanting to be more like Christ.
During this down turn, a slightly-older-than-us couple in our church started getting to know us better, asking questions that were deeper than, “So, how are you?” We also joined a church volleyball league, and they “happened” to be two of the other players. They’re maybe 15 years older than us, but we clicked. As much as many may think I’m an extrovert, the truth is actually quite the opposite. She shared some of their struggles in the early years, and even later on in their marriage, and I found myself opening up to this dear Christian lady, and my husband was able to connect with her husband as well.
She would pray with me, and cry with me, and encourage me, and point me towards respecting my husband, no matter if I agreed with all of his choices or not. She showed me that the wife loves her husband BY respecting him. Some of it is earned, but some of it is given by choice, with or without merit. I’d get random “just checking in” emails or texts from her, saying she prayed for me and hoped I had a blessed day.
Over a year after this downturn, she still checks in. We’re all pretty busy, but she stopped me in the hall at church on Sunday and told me that if I ever needed her, she’d drop everything and come running. What a mentor! Just to know that someone’s watching out for you is a huge blessing and ray of sunshine!
Finally, we had the chance to sit down as couples and do dinner about a month ago. We breezed through the normal small talk and life updates, and then there was this dramatic conversation shift. They looked at us and said, “Bryan, how are you loving your wife? Melissa, how are you respecting your husband?” It was not as easy an exercise as you might think. We looked at each other, and answered. Both of our answers were “I try to love/respect my spouse by [fill in the blank].” It was a really good exercise, and it was nice to hear him say how he thought he was loving me and to tell him that I do respect him and that I’m trying to show him that. If you’re married and you’ve never done an exercise like that before, go for it; everyone’s answers will look somewhat different, but it’s a blessing to share and it actually grew our love and respect for one another even a bit more.
Another bit of advice they gave us was to always be reading books on marriage (obviously, not to the neglect of Scripture), and to never stop learning and loving (spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually). About this same time, a friend of mine, who is preparing for marriage, let me borrow a book he just read by Timothy and Kathy Keller called The Meaning of Marriage (244 pages plus notes; Dutton: NY, 2011). So I thought I’d right up some of my favorite quotes from the book and give a mini review.
Timothy Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NYC. This book is an excellent reference guide, a refreshing reminder, and I highly recommend it to those who are married, single, and “single-again” alike. It was thought provoking and biblically based.
Quoting C.S. Lewis, “Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling…of that something which you were born desiring…?” (p.10).
“God says, ‘I didn’t put a parent and a child in the Garden, I put a husband and a wife. When you marry your spouse, that must supersede all other relationships, even the parental relationship. Your spouse and your marriage must be the number one priority in your life.’ …No other human being should get more of your love, energy, industry, and commitment than your spouse” (p.127).
“Marriage is so much like salvation and our relationship with Christ that Paul says you can’t understand marriage without looking at the gospel” (p.130; see also Colossians 1:15ff and Ephesians 5:28).
“Ultimately, to know that the Lord of the universe loves you is the strongest foundation that any human being can have. A growing awareness of God’s love in Christ is the greatest reward. And yet we must not forget Adam in the garden. Though he had a perfect relationship with God, his humanity’s relational nature was designed also for human love. Your spouse’s love for you and Christ’s love work together in your life with powerful interaction” (pp.148-9).
“One of the most basic skills in marriage is the ability to tell the straight, unvarnished truth about what your spouse has done–and then, completely, unself-righteously, and joyously express forgiveness without a shred of superiority, without making the other person feel small. …What does it take to know the power of grace? First it takes humility” (p.165).
“Even the best marriage cannot by itself fill the void in our souls left by God. Without a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in the lives” (p.198).
“The kind of love that lasts a lifetime is not only a matter of the emotions. It has to be a commitment strong enough to move us to glad, non-begrudging, sacrificial service of another person even during the inevitable seasons when the emotions are dry or cold. That kind of love grows out of this comprehensive attraction to the person’s character, future, and mission in life” (p.213).
And finally, “seventeenth-century Christian poet George Herbert” is quoted in the epilogue on pages 237-8). I studied this poem in my British Literature courses in college and it was a fast favorite. In this poem, Love is Christ and the poet (or the reader) is the sinner that receives Love’s affection.
“Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here’;
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘ and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.”
For some additional resources on Marriage, our Pastor Dan Brooks of Heritage Bible Church, in Greer, SC, recently went through a series on Marriage that you may find helpful. They can be found at SermonAudio.com.