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.
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 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.