By our Heavenly Father and only because of God, only because of God. We’re like other couples. We do not get along perfectly; we do not go without arguments and, as I call them, fights, and heartache and pain and hurting each other. But a marriage is three of us. –Christian entertainer Barbara Mandrell, answering the question of why her marriage works
I’ve concluded that my wife has stayed with me for 30 years because she loves, and is obedient to, God.
That’s not to say she settled for hell or even purgatory when she said I Do back in 1987. I think I’ve been OK to live with, and have surely loved and cared for her. Not perfectly, but strongly and usually, which is less than great, but far from bad. So in marrying me she got something like a reasonably good deal on a used car – fairly reliable; dents and stains here and there; some mileage but functional; not flashy or awesome, but hey, it works.
Ah, but how your view on a reliable used car can change when you pass a 2017 Corvette Stingray on the street. Or a new Porsche, Camaro, whatever turns you on. Even if you don’t flash on a more impressive ride, you can’t help but get tired (at times) of the maintenance, predictability, and sameness of the old one.
Sustained intimacy guarantees a close-up of your mate’s flaws, a regular bout of power struggles as you navigate and negotiate domesticity, and a level of boredom which is inevitably the downside of security. Nice to be out of the stress of the dating game; great to have the Will It Ever Happen to Me question settled; boring to be plunked into the routines spouses are just about guaranteed to fall into. So OK, it’s work.
Pleasure, too, and lots of it. But between the times of emotional, physical, and spiritual pleasure marriage provides, there’s work. Work to sustain your end of the covenant; work to treat the marriage like a living thing needing regular investment and care; work to correct it when it’s off;work to keep in on track when it’s stable. And the motivation to do all that simply won’t come from the ongoing warm fuzzy you feel for your partner because (just ask any honest spouse) the warm fuzzy ain’t always warm and fuzzy.
At first it tends to be, and I won’t even try describing the high I felt 24/7 for at least the first three years of marriage; probably longer. Those days, I really think I responded more to the joy of our union than I worked to sustain it, because so little work was required. But kids come and grow, finances get more complex, responsibilities stretch and exhaust the best of us.
Most of all, there’s the challenge of being known thoroughly whether you like it or not, and of having your emotional defenses exposed and often overridden as you keep relating to someone who knows you way too well and, accordingly, can push all the right/wrong buttons, affecting you like no one’s ever been able to.
So what keeps some people from bailing out of all this while others stay put? I’m convinced it’s not love of spouse but love of God, and the obedience coming with love. Because the best of spouses –and I’ve unquestionably got the best – demands more than you can humanly offer. So when I read Paul’s bold assertion “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” I apply it to marriage.
As in, “I can do all things. I can stay faithful to one woman for life, no matter what temptations come along. I can pay attention to her, no matter how tired or distracted I am. I can keep working to provide for her, no matter how flakey I’d rather be. I can keep showing her affection and deference, when I’d prefer a selfish retreat into my own world. I can do all things through Christ.”
And, wonder of wonders, so can she. She can be my loving wife when so many other options look so much better, applying herself daily to our partnership, not because I’m such a prize and therefore I keep her inspired and pumped, but rather because her relationship with God thrives. Through it, she’s given a capacity to love and care for me which transcends human ability, and testifies to the All Things through Christ principle.
As long as my partner loves Him, she’ll love me. No wonder I’m so comforted to see her studying the Bible in her office, or listening to podcasts by Christian teachers, or talking about something new the Lord has just shown her.
Because when she does I can listen closely, smile, nod, and say under my breath, Keep it up, Baby. Just keep loving Him, and He’ll give you the ability to keep on loving me.
All things through Christ, even the All Things wrapped up 30 years ago in those I Do’s we said so confidently, never knowing how much they’d really require of us.
Nice deal. Comforting, too, this Valentines Days.