After Sarah's lovely wedding day, we certainly find ourselves with love and romance on our minds around here! We all come into marriage with such high ideals. All the things we want to do; all the things we're determined we'll "never" do! Yet reality sets in somewhere around the 24 hour mark, doesn't it? When we realize after our beautiful day has come and gone, that we are still a sinful person, and now married to a sinful person ... will we find the popped bubble too much to bear and give up? Or trust in Christ's faithfulness to us, both as a strength and a model for our own lives?
Yet, I look back now and realize that the dreams where we build a family culture, life together, a home built on foundations of love and faith are the greatest work we can do in our lifetime. This precious work of life requires vision and an understanding of how to build a strong heritage over many years.
When Clay and I got married, we brought with us a lot of emotional baggage from our less- than-perfect backgrounds. We were immature, self-centered, and had personalities so different that we often rubbed each other the wrong way. Many of the relational habits we had developed were not healthy. And although we were committed Christians, still we hit some difficult times of conflict through the years. It is quite normal for young marrieds to have division and conflict. Becoming "one" takes years of rubbing off the rough edges, stretching and straining towards unselfishness when we feel that we personally want to be loved and served.
I was a passionate, relational, affectionate dreamer. I hate to say it, but I was confident that my "ways" were quite spiritual. Clay was introverted, rational, organized, practical, and also convinced that his way of seeing life was right. Those times of tension and conflict were the tests we had to pass: Would we remain committed to each other in spite of our differences? Did I understand that my loyalty to Clay, even when I felt distant, was an issue of faith between God and me? Would I, for the sake of my love and commitment to Christ, commit to serve Clay and act out of unconditional love?
Somewhere during those challenging times I realized that God is not so much concerned with my immediate gratification as he is with the development of my soul. God whispered to me as I prayed, "What if the one thing I asked you to do by faith was to be steadfast in choosing to stay committed and loyal to Clay? Would you worship me by choosing one day at a time to grow and to choose to love?"
I had a choice to trust God with my times when I felt isolated or lonely amidst the stresses and strains that come with marriage and family life. Seeking to trust God while learning to work with, love, and serve my committed but normal and all-too-human team members--children and husband--was quite stretching for me. I had a choice to trust God while hoping for a "Cinderella" marriage yet learning that it takes work to build intimacy, to live through memories and the work of getting through it together, through seasons that would tie our hearts together in the mutuality of shared life events.
Relationships are complex and in this world will never be perfect. We need to avoid thinking that our spouses are all good or all bad. Most of us are a mysterious mixture of each.
One day at a time, I would nurture and cultivate a life-giving and loving environment in our home out of obedience to my sweet Lord. After all, I had committed my life to him, and that included being faithful to Him through this holy commitment called marriage. Through each of these situations, God led me to understand more deeply and clearly the sacrifice of love, the power of unconditional acceptance and commitment that also defines God's love for me. Marriage was one of the biggest testing and training grounds for me, but by yielding to His ways little by little, year by year, I began to understand more of what it really meant to love. It was not just a feeling but a determination to serve, forgive, accept, move on, and seek peace.
Clay, too, had choices to make. He saw how critical my attitude was and how self-righteous I could be. Either he could give in to his frustration, blasting me with the reality of my immaturity and acting resentfully toward me, or he could be faithful to God and choose one conflict at a time, to be patient and long suffering with me.
We were committed to one another and our commitment drew each of us toward maturity. God slowly did heart surgery and showed us the story he wanted us to live, for Him, for our children and for the sake of being able to encourage others along the same road.
Of course, neither of us always responded to these tests perfectly. Sometimes we needed time to move through our differences and to absorb the stress of family and married life.
But we had decided that the bottom line to our family relationships was to forgive one another and to speak love and pray together before going to bed. We also taught our children that no matter what, we would be committed to them, and they would be trained to be faithful to one another as siblings. Forgiveness was spoken, prayer was made, peace was chosen as a way of life.
But now, having practiced faithfulness through the trials of those many seasons, our love is deeper and more sure. Now that I am more aware of my sin, I can't believe Clay put up with me! But having lived together through years of babies, moves, illnesses, catastrophes, financial pressures, and temptations, our love is all the more precious and of great value because it has been tested by fire.
It has become a treasure of a story through which we persevered through many diverse and demanding seasons. I find deep, fulfilling joy in knowing that we have made it through and in the process brought so much more worth to the marriage commitment of our lives. And now that my children are in a world where promiscuity, immorality, unfaithfulness, compromise is the norm on every front, they have deeply impressed in their psyches that marriage is to be honored, marriage covenants are to held as far as possible.
In a fallen world, many precious ones find themselves in heart-breaking circumstances in broken marriages, and find themselves alone. We are all broken and in need of the sweet mercy of Jesus. I understand that everyone's story is different and I have deep love and sympathy for anyone whose journey has brought such pain. Many sweet friends have lived through these very difficult times and I pray God's gracious love brings healing and comfort.
Yet, when, if we are able to follow God's ideals and stay the course of our marriages, we are building foundations where loyal love, and virtuous commitment can be a story lived out in real life to show the reality of God's unconditional, forever love for us.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. ~ Genesis 2:23-24
Marriage is meant to be a picture of the love Christ has for the church; His commitment and persevering faithfulness to us. He said He would never leave us or forsake us. He laid down his life for us. Jesus treasures marriage because it is the holy place where His love for the world is modeled by how we practice giving to one another and staying the course of our commitment. What might you do to strengthen your own marriage, today?