As several of my daughter’s friends have recently become engaged or gotten married, I have looked back on my own marriage and considered what marriage has become in our society. Much lip service is given to marriage in our culture, but longevity is a rarity these days. It was once commonplace for marriages to last many decades; this is generally not the case any longer. The choice of a marriage partner (if people choose to marry at all) often appears to be based on physical attraction, financial stability, social prominence, or infatuation rather than on God’s Word or Wisdom on the subject. We live in a “try it before you buy it” culture, believing that this will tell us with certainty whether or not we are “compatible”. This is absolute folly.
God has always been extremely interested in, and concerned with, who we marry. Very few decisions in life are more important than the choice of marriage partner. The marriage between a man and a woman has concerns in both the spiritual and natural realms–neither operates independently of the other. The binding together of two hearts into one has eternal consequences; any children born have an eternal future. The partnership that begins on their wedding day has a specific purpose and plan for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
Much has been written and sung about the subject of love and marriage. Romance novels fill the shelves of countless bookstores while love songs are written for every musical genre. However, the love that holds a Godly marriage together is not merely an emotion; it is also an act of the will and a visible manifestation of God’s grace. This is not a commitment that should be entered into without the power of Christ resident in your heart. Marriage is not a relationship for the self-centered, immature, or self-absorbed. And yet, marriage, as portrayed in popular culture, is generally about what the other person does for you or gives to you. There seems to be little thought or emphasis on what might be required in return.
I have written previously about my rather unusual trip down the path to matrimony. In many ways, our relationship and engagement actually resembled the more traditional courtship model or arranged marriage. In retrospect, I believe it was a gift from God that events transpired the way that they did. The dating relationship prior to my engagement ended very badly, resulting in severe lack of trust in young men. This young man’s rejection left me feeling ugly, stupid, and worthless. Uncomfortable with being angry at him (because I loved him, after all), I turned the anger inward. I felt as if I couldn’t find any sure footing after the bottom dropped out of my life. I became irritable and prickly as I tried to protect my heart from further hurt. For a long time after the end of this relationship, I had absolutely no confidence in myself. I believed his rejection was indicative of my worth and value as a woman; the hurtful things he had said about my ”many deficiencies” were true. His assessment left me feeling bruised, bleeding, and raw. I do not believe that this response is an unusual one for most young women. It has parallels for young men, as well, in similar circumstances.
In reality, I did not make a wise choice in this young man and I did not first inquire of the Lord about him. While brilliant and supremely talented, his character was weak and his Christian faith was shallow. Initially, I thought he had it all. He was a double major in biology and chemistry with sights on medical school. He sang in the Chicago Symphony Chorus (unusual for college students) and was musically gifted. He was even what I considered to be “tall, dark, and handsome”. However, I now know that I was focusing on externals. Those areas that really mattered, character and faith, were not as strong as they should have been. The end results were predictable.
I am not sure that I would have allowed my heart to care that deeply again had my husband and I entered into a traditional dating relationship. His friendship became a safe haven. After two years of friendship and seeking the Lord in prayer, I was ready when he asked if I was willing to proceed in a different direction with our relationship and then to marry him. There were no flowers, no moonlight, no soft music, and no romance; just a telephone call that profoundly changed my life.
During our one year engagement, we saw each other three times (he was living in Boston and I was living in Chicago). Within a few days after we became engaged, he flew to Europe for an overseas study program for two months. Our first visit together as an engaged couple occurred when he came back. The next visit was at Thanksgiving when our families met for the first time. While similar in many ways, our families were very different in others. I was a city girl and my husband was a country boy. His family was quite rambunctious and casual, while mine was very prim and proper. To say that there were a number of interesting moments that weekend, would be an understatement.
Our final visit together before the wedding occurred about two months prior to the ceremony when my husband came to Chicago to move my household belongings out to Boston where we intended to live. I stayed in Chicago to finalize wedding arrangements and continue working before the ceremony there. About a week or so after he left, I was attending church on a Sunday morning, listening to a Mother’s Day sermon about marriage and family. It was then that the reality of what I was about to do hit me. I realized that the relationship I had with my soon-to-be-husband was nothing like what was being described. The only commonality I could see was that I had prayed about my choice. Even though I felt the Lord had spoken clearly to my heart that this was the young man I was to marry, at that moment it didn’t seem to be quite enough. I began to experience what author Patrick McManus calls a “full bore linear panic”. Fear overwhelmed me. It is the sheer mercy and grace of God that I acted with some wisdom instead of doing what I wanted to do: write him a “Dear John” letter breaking off the engagement, intending never to look back. This would have been an easy thing to do, as he lived a thousand miles away, except for the fact that he had most of my household goods with him! Instead, I picked up the telephone and told him how terrified I was. I asked him to talk me out of calling off the wedding. Other than saying: “I wish you had told me this before I moved all of your things out here.”, he began to talk to me, really talk to me. At the end of that conversation I was back on track, and after thirty-two years of married life, it is evident that I had clearly heard from God about this young man.
It was a full three months of married life before the love I had for him became what most people would consider the foundation of a marriage: “falling in love”. It was my husband’s constancy, his daily telling me that he loved me, his respect, care, and concern for me, along with his heart for the things of God, that taught me how to trust again. While I can’t speak for him and what he thought or felt during those early months of our marriage, for me, it was his faithfulness and strength of character which gave me the sense of safety and security I needed so that I could give him my heart.
Historically speaking , many marriages came about as ours did. Marriages were either arranged by parents or the result of a formal courtship (and sometimes both). The commonalities of family, faith, and social background were the foundational elements for the marriage contract. Couples learned to love each other over the course of their lives together. As depicted in the movie, “Fiddler on The Roof”, Tevye asks his wife Golde if she loves him. When she tells him that yes, she does, he says to her: “After twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.” The concept of “marrying for love” is a relatively recent invention. While I am not advocating you should marry someone who you do not love, a marriage based fundamentally on emotions or on physical attraction will have problems with longevity. Neither of these remain constant or stable over the long-term.
Much has been said about the hard work involved in maintaining a good marriage relationship. The real work in a marriage is not in dealing with our partner’s (supposed) faults, but in dealing with our own. Our manifested sin wrecks havoc in the lives of those who love us. The willingness to deal with our sin and to put another’s needs ahead of our own is never convenient or fun.
My husband and I have been incredibly blessed throughout the years to remain each other’s best friend. In fact, I believe that friendship and respect are far more foundational to a long-lasting marriage than almost anything else. The ability to laugh with each other about the same things further strengthens our relationship. We have tried not to take ourselves too seriously and have learned that if we feel hurtful words have been spoken, the other person likely never intended them to be hurtful at all. The willingness to extend forgiveness is essential for a strong and lasting marriage. We must be willing to be the first to forgive, even if we feel that we have done nothing wrong. This is not an easy task. When we are hurting, we are more likely to have thoughts of punishment rather than thoughts of forgiveness. When we extend the love of Christ to each other, our relationships will heal.
My husband will be the first to tell you that he believes he has many faults and short-comings. However, I told him several years ago that I would no longer believe that he had any faults. As far as I was concerned, from now on he would only have “charming eccentricities”. He has graciously returned the favor. It is amazing how this one small change in attitude has reaped such incredible benefits in our relationship. As we have worked diligently to bring out the best in each other, we have become stronger together than we ever were apart.
Few relationships or marriages escape without a few bumps along the road–many face major challenges. Ours has been no different. When we look to God for strength and wisdom, He keeps us secure as we face these tests to our faith and our relationship. It is likely that, over the remaining years of our married life, my husband and I will experience many more of these “bumps in the road”. As we keep our focus on Christ, as we actively work to become more like Him, and as we face these challenges together, we will become even stronger. Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us: “A threefold cord is not quickly broken”. A man, a woman, and God are an unbeatable combination. This is what God intended when He created Adam and Eve walking with them in the Garden of Eden. His purposes have never changed. The marriage relationship remains foundational to His plans for the advancement of His Kingdom on this earth.
Marriage has eternal value; it should never be entered into lightly or unadvisedly. This isn’t about our choice in the matter. His plans for us have been ordained since before the beginning of time. It seems prudent that we ask Him what He intends. And if, as it was for me, His choice does not initially appear exciting, we need to seek Him until we understand His purposes. If our foundations are in Him, if we are walking in obedience and in accordance with His Will, our marriages will stand the test of time. They will accomplish all that He intends. They will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.
“I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, the myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine and the box tree together, that they may see and know, and consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.” Isaiah 41:18-20 (NKJV)
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