Archive | marriage

The Gospel and Traditional Marriage

Traditional marriage and evangelical celebrity culture have collided the last week. I often think that the evangelical church has missed some important needs and opportunities around the topic of marriage and its role in God’s kingdom. I hope to contribute something helpful here.

It probably goes without saying that not all government sanctioned marriages, traditional or non-traditional, reflect God’s good purposes for the institution. Note that I define traditional marriage more strictly than is often used in Christian circles, particularly in terms of politics. While true traditional Christian marriage is between a man and a woman, it is also a binding covenant. I write from the United States where no fault divorce was first introduced in California in 1970 and is available in most states with very short waiting periods. In that sense, I don’t think our nation has held to traditional Christian marriage for the majority of my life.

Consider the point of a contract. I could agree to pay a bank back for a home loan without entering a contract with them. They could give me the money, and I could start paying them back every month. But the point of the contract is two-fold. It provides security for the one loaning the money (and for the one paying it back). But how does it provide that security? Not by mere good will or affection but by binding the parties so that they can not default on their promise without severe consequences. When the going gets rough and I have a hard time making my house payment, the contract causes me to work hard to preserve the relationship. Get a second job. Receive financial counseling. Sell an extra vehicle. Eat ramen for a month. Whatever the sacrifice I have to make, the contractual obligations I have are incentive for doing the work necessary to keep the relationship.

This too is the point of the Christian marriage covenant. We gather witnesses before God as we make solemn vows of faithfulness until death do us part. We do so because this solemn commitment before God provides security to both parties, a security that is necessary for human flourishing in long term relationships. We all know someone who is insecure in a relationship. Most of us at some point have felt insecure in a relationship. It is very hard to live confidently in the world in a close but insecure relationship.

The point of marriage vows is to introduce security in the relationship through commitment in the image of God, who is eternally committed to His covenant with His people. Yet, many men and women in the church have experienced a harmful lack of commitment to covenant vows. This was a problem in Jesus’ day as well.

Matthew 19

3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

(Though in Scripture the issue was primarily men putting away the wife of their youth, women in many modern cultures have reached equality with man on this issue.)

The same men who would later throw the woman caught in adultery at Jesus’ feet to be stoned want to continue the practice of putting away a wife for any reason in this interaction with Jesus. Conservative Christians often mourn the acceptance of the label of marriage for civil unions between those of the same sex. But I wish we would spend equal or more energy discipling in the value of persevering in relationship when it is hard to honor covenants made before God. Our society has been harmed greatly by sexual promiscuity outside of marriage and the easy breaking of covenants in marriage. Because we haven’t understood or celebrated such traditional marriage, we have lost moral high ground to stand on other issues.

With a stricter definition of traditional marriage, a binding covenant that restrains a man and a woman in a family unit for life, there are two particular ways to approach the gospel and traditional marriage. First, the gospel is visible in traditional marriage. And second, the gospel is needed for traditional marriage.

The Gospel Visible in Traditional Marriage

Marriage was given by God to both accomplish His purposes and to give testimony of His relationship with His people. As to the first, I imagine that God could have set up His creation with only one gender, but He didn’t. He created two similar yet different genders, and He did so with a conversation within the Trinity of creating mankind, male and female, in His/Their image. There is something in the yin and yang, give and take, tug and pull of two different genders who think similarly about some things and very differently about others, who overlap in ways and are distinct in others, that was good and helpful for God’s purposes in creation. This yin and yang of two genders extends past marriage. Dads need daughters, moms need sons, sisters benefit from brothers, and grandsons from grandmothers. This extends to relationships in the church and work environment as well. There is benefit to two overlapping but different genders approaching a task together in God’s kingdom work.

Marriage between a man and a woman was also given as a visual testimony of the gospel. Paul says this explicitly in Ephesians 5. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives respect their husbands and align with their mission as the church aligns with Christ’s.

But these image-bearing purposes instituted before the Fall and the potential testimony of the gospel after the Fall show the utter need of the next point.

The Gospel Needed for It

Such image-bearing purposes and gospel testimony are impossible after the fall of man without a robust understanding and application of the gospel. After the fall of man, these differences between men and women which should have worked together for God’s holistic purposes instead cause chafing. They catch on each other instead of flowing smoothly in and out of each gender’s giftings. Frankly, apart from Christ it is much easier to be in close relationship with someone who thinks just like you.

Many who put away orthodox views of traditional marriage do so because it is hard. If, because of your personal inclinations you feel attracted physically or emotionally to the same sex, then enduring in such close relationship with someone of the opposite sex seems too hard to try. But for those who do feel attraction to the opposite sex, it remains hard, and the temptation to quit on the covenant commitment remains strong, whether you experience same sex attraction or not. We need more than idealistic notions of romance to sustain us in traditional marriage. We need hope from the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to know God’s good plans for man and woman in the garden and how Jesus equips us once more to be image-bearers of God. We need to understand the Creation Mandate of Genesis 2 and 3 and Jesus’ reclamation of it in the Great Commission of Matthew 28. We need inspiration through Jesus to persevere in something that gives testimony of Jesus’ love for His Bride not because it is easy but by the very fact that it is hard.

Of course there are circumstances that call for divorce, abuse and infidelity being the primary issues. Jesus allowed for divorce, but he limited it because He knew, when the going got tough and the bloom of the wife of their youth had worn off, those with power would try to get out of marriages because the grass seemed greener in someone else’s yard. Traditional marriage gives a testimony of the good news of Jesus and His love for us, His people. But it is also this very good news that is the singular hope we have to endure and even flourish in a relationship that by definition involves two different people coming together as one, with all the struggle and work involved.

Proverbs 5:18  Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.

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Withering Wives

I am noticing a concerning trend among friends and acquaintances in Christian marriages far and near. It’s what I call the Withering Wife.

Psalm 128 

1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! 

2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. 

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 

4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.

It’s the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first it was one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I can see her withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to furl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. Why stay engaged when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?

There are two things that contribute to this withering – active scorn and passive neglect by a husband. Some husbands freely communicate to their wives that they despise them. One friend shared with me how in the middle of a conversation in which her husband talked to her with scorn, he picked up the phone and completely changed his tone of voice to one of kindness and respect with the other party on the phone, and even in conflict at work on the phone, she heard a patient tone that he never used with her. She longed to hear him engage with her that way, but he felt free instead to despise and dismiss her with his tone of voice as well as his words. He talked to her in a way he would never use with anyone else.

There is also passive neglect. This is when a wife’s needs are simply ignored. The wife may share tearfully that she is struggling, and the husband shuts her down with his lack of response. Or he says they will talk later but never does. He communicates passively that her emotional struggles are not worth him engaging. He sees her struggling with the children, but he doesn’t actively step in. I ache watching loved ones demoralized by being in partnership with someone who sees them struggling day after day, but the only way to get them to engage is to have a near melt down.

On the flip side, I also note strong marriages among loved ones. I note particularly in these marriages that husbands NOTICE. They are proactive. Notice what, you may ask. What are they proactive about? Well, that depends on the marriage. That depends on their wife. Peter exhorts husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. In other words, understand your wife. Know her loves. Know her gifts. Know her needs. And your wife’s needs aren’t necessarily going to be the same as whatever illustration your pastor just gave in his sermon about his wife. The gospel is so needed here, because a wife’s needs can quickly feel threatening to a husband. A husband can’t find his identity in his wife any more than she can her husband. But if a husband is secure in Christ so that he does not feel threatened by his wife’s concerns, there is great room to know his wife even when her needs and gifts don’t at first fit a husband’s desires or expectations.

If you are at this crossroads, husbands, I wrote before on praying with your wives. This is such an easy, hopeful, helpful first step. Even if it’s just once a week on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ask your wife, “What’s burdening you right now? What can I be praying for you?” Then right there with her, pray about it. That is an incredible ministry of grace to her in that moment. It’s water for her withering vine. If it’s something about you that’s stressing her, well, pray honestly with her about it. If you as a couple have any kind of faith, you must believe that you access supernatural help in that moment.

I could give a second step (because there will very likely be some second step that needs to take place once you get up from prayer), but I think it’s better if I leave the second step to the Spirit who works after the first step in a couple’s heart according to their needs for their specific relationship.

This dynamic of course does not characterize all relationships. As I said, I know many great husbands of flourishing wives, and it is perhaps that I get to watch those healthy relationships that also helps me notice dysfunction in others. And there are wives who likely need to notice their husbands. But today, in case you haven’t considered this lately, husbands, I encourage you to look over at your wife and notice her. If she is withering, take the steps you need to stir up your own love and concern for her and then be a conduit of God’s grace to her that will revive her.

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The Value of Quiet Husbands

I have sometimes felt on the outside looking in when I read Christian books or listen to sermon series on marriage. They often talk of godly masculine leadership with imagery that leaves me thinking that all godly husbands will be out front publicly leading their family. Of course, these sermons are usually given by men who are comfortable standing in front of hundreds or thousands of people at a time. No wonder most of their illustrations reflect men out front in public settings.

Frankly, many more people know me in the larger Body of Christ than know my husband. I am sensitive at times – people are going to think that I “wear the pants in the family,” that I set the agenda in our family, that my husband is marginalized in a corner of our home while I pull the strings. No one who knows us personally thinks that, but I did hear once that a church staff member gossiped that we had moved on to a different church because my husband “lost control” of his wife. That seriously ticked me off. First, it was blatantly untrue in terms of the circumstances that caused us to move on. But second, who uses that kind of terminology?! The idea of Biblical submission is starkly different than control. Does anyone in the conservative church actually advocate that husbands “control” their wives? Ugh. I certainly hope not. Nevertheless, there seems to be a large segment of the Christian population that has little understanding of the value of quiet men in the Christian home, and I am grieved over the pressure they put on homes consisting of extrovert wives and introvert husbands.

There’s a new book that I appreciate called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer. 

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts….”

It is nice to see a larger movement afoot toward valuing the quiet person. But no one has ever had to talk me into valuing my husband. My dad was a man who did not say much, but what he did say was worth hearing. I recognized that quality in my husband very early on in our relationship. As someone who does say a lot, his ability to sit back, observe, and boil down a boat load of wisdom in one sentence attracted me even before our first date. I have only become increasingly in awe of his discernment as we have grown older together. In all avenues of life, he is a quiet man of influence. He also respects me and values my opinion. Because I well respect him, his respect of me means that much more to me.

It’s too bad that the larger evangelical movement seems to value loud, upfront leadership as a more masculine trait. I’m concerned that the result is that strong women who want a godly husband may not recognize the power and wisdom of the quiet guy observing the group from the sidelines. We mistakenly think he is not a player, not recognizing the God-given qualities that make him, not a player, but the more dignified role of a coach or referee. In a world of noise and a church of noise, it is good to value quiet men (and women) who observe well before they speak, and speak few words when they are ready to contribute. The church is wise to listen to their input.

Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

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Communication without Emotion

Communication with men in general and in marriage in particular can be hard for a girly girl. I’m not a girly girl in the traditional sense, though I have my moments evidenced by my doll collection in my guest bedroom. I have simple hair, don’t wear much makeup, and find shopping in a mall a torturous experience. But I was raised one of three daughters. Now as the lone female in a house of men, I have come to realize that the way women communicated with which I grew up is not the way men communicate in my home now. I am a girly girl in my communication at times. 

Women can be more subtle with each other. Maybe we shouldn’t be, but we can be and get away with it most times. We can drop a hint. We can suggest. We can put out a vibe. But that doesn’t work as well with men.

Many times, I have dropped hints and subtly suggested things in my home. And I am ignored! Which makes me angry!! Which causes me to say a lot more with a strident tone. Then I get a reaction, but it’s certainly not the one I wanted.

A couple of resources have come my way over the last year or so that have reinforced the value of simply saying exactly what I need or want, when I need or want it, without emotion. The without emotion part is crucial though extremely hard for me. When first practicing the suggestions on how to communicate with the men in my household, I initially got emotional over the fact that I had to state it so clearly without emotion. I want to be known and understood! Why do I have to say that I want X for my next birthday? I want someone who loves me to notice me looking at X with longing and who then tucks it away to surprise me with it at a later date. That seems so romantic. But I’m coming to value the fact that my husband needs me to clearly articulate what I need or want, because when I do clearly articulate it without an attached emotion that makes him feel shamed or guilted, he responds. Because he loves me. And his love for me is tangible when it’s accompanied by gratitude that I said exactly what I meant without a negative emotion attached to it.

I’m learning that dropping hints and putting out a vibe don’t work with men, at least the men in my house. I’m learning that if I can communicate my main points in two sentences, it is much more effective that communicating additional sub points of context and emotion with multiple paragraphs. Again, that’s hard because I want to be known and tend to process things by talking something through. I have to distinguish between wanting to communicate something specific to my husband and wanting to process through something with him. In the first case, I need to say exactly what I mean in as few sentences as possible without attached emotion. In the second, I need to let him know I just want to verbally process something and that I am not looking for him to do something or offer advice about what I need to do. Then I can process with him, with emotion, using multiple paragraphs describing the intricacies of my feelings on the subject. But he’s not on the defensive trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s just supposed to be listening. Then he can hug me at the end and have fulfilled what I needed of him. Oddly enough, he often has very good advice with that hug as well.

When we communicate clearly without emotion, we offer the best protection for ourselves from the kind of explosive anger and bitterness that shuts down communication altogether. The great Biblical characteristic of love to bring to each of these communications is that love is ever ready to believe the best of someone. Start your communication giving the benefit of the doubt in conversation. And then say what you mean. Don’t put out a vibe. Don’t drop hints. Don’t get distracted by tangents. Those can come later. But the big rocks of what you want to communicate will get lost if you add the others in too soon.

Matthew 5:37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ …

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Husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the Church

A few years ago, a friend shared with me the sacrificial love her husband had shown her early in their marriage as they encountered the effects of her sexual abuse as a child on their own sexual relationship in marriage. Her husband is a very physical, masculine pastor (I shouldn’t have to note that but do to pre-empt anyone who would write him off as less than a man). She had been sexually abused as a child and subsequently experienced fear and tension in sex with her husband their first year of marriage. Her husband talked with an older, wise counselor who encouraged him to love her unconditionally without pressure to have sex, building up a relationship with her that made her feel safe until she was ready to initiate in sex. She told me she didn’t even realize that he had stopped asking for sex, but several months later, it dawned on her, and when she asked him, he told her the counsel he had received and what he was trying to do. He hadn’t put pressure on her or put out the vibe that she was disappointing him sexually that entire time. It worked, and they eventually resumed a healthy sex life. It ministered great grace to her heart to see her husband’s sacrificial love for her and his willingness to lay down his longings because he didn’t want her to feel exploited by him as she did by her abuser. That story reminds me much of Ephesians 5’s exhortations of sacrificial love for husbands toward their wives. 

That husband endured a hard thing. It is not easy to love someone with such sacrifice. Actually, it would be more precise to say it is simply not easy to love someone. The term love when used as it is defined in I Corinthians 13 automatically implies sacrifice. We often qualify the term love with the adjective self-sacrificial. But when Paul (and Jesus) use the term, the self-sacrifice is understood. It’s part of the definition. “Love suffers long ….”

The love to which Paul calls husbands in Ephesians 5 is this kind of love. It’s not a manipulative kind of love. It’s a sacrificial love. I recognize well the difference because my husband loves me this way. It’s not so much big gifts, though I do like those. Gift-wrapped presents aren’t really sacrifices, per se. He’s being thoughtful in a low-level sense when he buys me a gift I like along with a sweet card. There’s a deeper, bigger sacrificial aspect of his love that I am coming to respect and value with maturity. I could give examples, but they would likely ring hollow because his expressions of that love towards me depend in many ways on ME. Authentic, biblical love towards you requires an understanding of you.

I Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

If you wonder what the “likewise” refers to, Peter says this in the previous chapter.

I Peter 2 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

In I Peter 3:7, Peter is basically saying to husbands to continue in the example of Christ. The specific practical application he gives to husbands of Christlikeness is living with their wives in an understanding way. He uses several key words. First, there’s understanding. It’s sometimes translated knowledge. It means understanding who she is, what makes her unique. It’s not what the husband WANTS her to be, but who she is herself. That’s why my practical examples of what this looks like in our home are irrelevant. So what if my husband is willing to take a week off work so I can go study whales? The larger question is what are your own wife’s giftings and burdens (for the occasional man who reads this blog)? What is important to her? What would help her flourish? For what does she deeply long? Nourishing the soul is of much greater value than symbolic gestures.

Second, Peter says to show her honor, which could also mean respect according to D. A. Carson. We often talk about Paul’s command for wives to respect their husbands. Respect is my husband’s love language, and I value Paul’s instructions to wives on the subject. Yet husbands too are called to respect/honor their wives. I gave this illustration on the blog and in my book when I wrote on wives respecting their husbands. An education professor during my undergraduate studies told of a junior high math teacher who, on the first day of class, mistook her students’ locker numbers for their IQ’s. For the entire school year, she treated the students as if they were only as smart as their locker numbers indicated. Sure enough, at the end of the year, they had consistently lived either up or down to her expectations. I know without a doubt that my husband’s respect for me and honor of me has affected me similarly.

Peter says that the woman’s position as the weaker vessel is crucial to this need for respect. Does he mean physical weakness? I don’t think so. It seems he’s referring to her role in marriage. If a wife willingly embraces submission to her husband, it puts her in a weaker, more vulnerable position in the home. Hence Peter’s serious warning—so your prayers, husbands, will not be hindered! She is a fellow heir of the grace of life deserving of your honor and respect because of all God says over her in Christ.

Wives, if you don’t feel this kind of love from your husband, you can still love him this way. Maybe you don’t feel loved by him at all. Or maybe the love he thinks he’s demonstrating seems to you more manipulative than sacrificial. Christ’s love for us is the gift that enables our love for Him and others. And your love can be a conduit of God’s grace to your husband. The commands of love and respect flow both ways, but each requires that someone start first.

Luke 6:31 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Reflections on 13 Years of Marriage

My pastor joked in a sermon last year that he had been married for 14 years, which his wife referred to as the best 10 years of her life. I can identify and wrote about it last year. We’ve now had 13 years of marriage, maybe 9 of which have been the best years of my life and 4 of which were the toughest (not necessarily consecutively). I have certainly learned that marriage is not the end all of the Christian woman’s life. It’s not the place to rest, to find fulfillment, and so forth. My husband isn’t the gospel. He’s not my savior. God is the gospel. Christ is my Savior. But it’s very easy to confuse the two in practical ways, and it messes up much in my head when I do.

As I’ve done the last two years, I’m thinking through the things I’ve learned (usually the hard way) about myself and my God through the institution of marriage. But first a disclaimer. I want to free anyone reading this from feeling constrained by what I share. I am not married to your husband, and if your husband is abusive and unloving, I don’t want my sharing to add an undue burden on your heart.

As for me, I thank God regularly that my husband loves and respects me. I know many beautiful women who love God who do not have that. My husband and I laugh together well (sharing a warped sense of humor). Yet even with much love and happy times, marriage is not for the faint of heart. I’ve learned that LOVE and GRACE are not simply feel good words to repeat occasionally during a wedding ceremony. They are instead words with great, deep practical meaning that are absolutely foundational to surviving any given day in a Christian marriage.

LOVE.

I can never meditate too long or too hard on the Biblical characteristics of love in I Corinthians 13. The term love in our culture is such a wimpy, needy word. But Biblical love is strong. Love suffers long, love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, love isn’t resentful, love is ever ready to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt. That last characteristic has become one of the most important ones to me. I have often assumed the worst of my husband and watched the light leave his eyes under my accusation. It’s never a good idea to assume anything in marriage. Ask straightforward questions if you need an answer. Don’t read into his answers (or lack thereof). Ask him what he means. In the early moments of a potentially serious conflict, I have come to respect the tremendous practical value of being ever ready to believe the best of this one to whom I am called to love as God, not my culture, defines the term. Many a conflict in our marriage has been diffused by this one simple principle.

GRACE.

Grace is powerful. I thought I was a gracious person when I got married. But I wasn’t really. I was nice. I was polite. I was generally kind and tried not to talk badly about others. While all good traits, that’s not Biblical grace. Biblical grace is letting go of your right to retribution and then returning good for evil. When I felt that I had been done wrong in marriage, I was not gracious about it at all. I’m not one to yell and scream, but I can definitely pout. I can put out the vibe that you have done me wrong as long as it takes until you make it right. God has taught me much through marriage of His grace to me and His demand that I show it to others. Nothing has transformed my marriage more than laying down my rights and bearing long in love, learning exactly what God means when He uses the term grace.

Grace beats the heck out of manipulation or guilt in terms of facilitating real reconciliation and change. Men are different from women, and it’s taken me years to fully understand how profound those differences are. Conflicts, some real and some just misunderstandings, are inevitable. Maturity in marriage is not that you stop having conflicts. Maturity is realizing how to handle conflicts Biblically. People think of grace as a wimpy laying down of your rights that makes you a doormat. But the truth is that while grace is definitely laying down your rights and not repaying in kind, if you do it from a position of strength in Christ, you are anything but a doormat. Unless Christ fits your definition of doormat. Grace is POWERFUL – it is miraculously life changing.

God has changed me much these last 13 years. He’s exposed a lot of sin and wrong thinking on my part, and He has taught me that the gospel is much deeper and meaningful to my marriage than I could have ever understood without walking this walk. God has been very kind to me in the gift of my husband. My husband sacrificially loves me as Christ does His church. I thank God for him daily. But marriage still disappoints me regularly, and there are an infinite number of things over which we can disagree and wound each other. I am very thankful for the gifts of Biblical grace and love, precious tools for enduring when marriage isn’t fun or fulfilling, and the miraculous way they transform situations that seem utterly irredeemable. Viewing my marriage through the lens of the gospel has been life changing. The gospel does indeed change everything, even marriage.

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Reflecting on a Bad Marriage Gone Good

I am sensitive to the variety of life stages among the readers of this blog. Some of you are married. Some happily. Some not. A lot of you are single—some longing for marriage, some content. Some of you have been abused by your husband. You placed your trust in him and he squandered it, wounding you deeply in the process. Some of you lost a beautiful love, and the pain of that loss is real every day. For all those reasons, I hesitate to post this. Yet, I think, even in light of the variety of our life experiences, it is ok, even good, to admit THIS DAY that God has given me a precious gift in my husband. I am a well-loved wife.

I have not always FELT well loved in my marriage. My experience has confirmed to me the value of Gary Chapman’s assessment of the Five Love Languages. My husband and I both fumbled our early years together. There were many mistakes. Many times, we projected onto each other what we THOUGHT was happening based on our own ignorant assumptions. We each brought our own baggage into the relationship and still must work not to project onto each other latent fears from our individual upbringings. But most of all, we were often oblivious to the other’s attempts to accommodate and serve each other. I need words of affirmation. My husband flourishes under acts of service. He served me well when I was sick, working hard to provide for our family. But it took YEARS for me to recognize that as manifestations of his love for me. He has since learned to speak words of affirmation to me. Tonight, he said some beautiful words to me that made me feel appreciated. Respected. Loved. After a hard day, worn out after house cleaning and child rearing, his words of affirmation and acknowledgement were very meaningful.

We are reaching the witching hours of marriage—we’ll be married 13 years this summer. And I am not ignorant of the marriage strains this stage of life puts on us both. But here are some principles that God has worked in my heart over the years to which I am looking for future hope.

1) Andy can’t meet my deep heart needs. There is a desire placed in me in creation for God, and the curse is that it gets misplaced on my husband with horrible results. This desire placed on my husband is insatiable. I have needs he simply does not have the resources to meet if he tried nonstop 24/7. And most men are not going to try nonstop 24/7.   Instead, I first acknowledge my very real needs. I really do need to feel loved, valued, and affirmed. I NEED that! And God, in Christ, has spoken over me great words of love, has spoken clearly of my value to Him (it cost Him His Son!!), and has affirmed me by naming me a co-heir with His Son. That is absolutely unbelievable. And in those moments when I do not feel valued or affirmed in my home, I flee to the throne room of God and bask for a while in His great love for me.

2) God’s most general instructions are the ones to which I need to flee when stress or conflict arise. Help. Love. Really, if I can’t figure out what to do or am stressed by conflicting obligations, I flee to the characteristics of the great Helper and I Cor. 13. I often get caught up in the details of life, and the more the details suck me in, the more pressure I feel in my marriage. The healthiest thing for me in those moments is to force myself to zoom out. Forget getting the laundry done and the kitchen cleaned. What does I Cor. 13 love look like right now? Kindness, patience, giving the benefit of the doubt, never giving up on him. How does being a strong helper created in the image of God inform what I do and do not do in this moment?

There are probably more principles that I could put forward. But these really are the two biggies for me right now. Poured over and flowing through every other response is great confidence in Biblical grace. Grace and love are the oil in the engine that keeps every other working part from friction. Grace gives me confidence that laying down my sword in a conflict, enduring in peace, and returning good for evil (real or perceived) is not a prescription for continuing abuse but God’s great plan for ending sin, conflict, and evil.

I’d like to end with the disclaimer I gave at the beginning. If you are not a well-loved wife, I hope these ideas still encourage you at some level. And remember that God has spoken the same words of belonging, love, and affirmation over you that He has over me. Whether you are loved on earth this way or not, you are most definitely loved this way in heaven.

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