I remember, in the early years, how one look from Edric, a side glance stolen across a room, or his dimpled smile breaking across his face, would make my heart beat fast with girlish excitement. I remember the moment he first reached for my hand, as we watched a play, and the timing was both awkward and wonderful. Our first kiss, though untimely for having shared it too soon, was on a field, under the stars, like something you would have read in a sappy novel. He claims that I initiated but I am pretty sure he made the first move. (I wasn’t the kind of girl to volunteer a kiss first!)
Did I feel love? I most certainly thought I did. Yet it was merely a shadow of the unexplored and undiscovered depths of real love, God’s love.
To be honest, I never really perceived marriage accurately until a few years ago. It took reading and re-reading God’s Word countless times as well as good books written by godly authors, to recognize that my concept of love in marriage wasn’t as holy and sacred as it ought to have been.
“It’s about the gospel,” as Tim Keller said.
“It’s the doing of God and the display of God,” as John Piper claimed.
Even the Apostle Paul explained, “This mystery is great, and it pertains to Christ and the church.”
Simply put by my husband, Edric, “It’s about serving the other and giving to the other the way Christ serves and gives Himself to us.”
No other human relationship tests the gospel as much as a marriage does. To be confronted by each other’s hideous flaws and remarkable differences on a daily basis; to be vulnerable and honest about desiring the other but not always receiving what we hope to; to witness physical strength wane and beauty fade; to weather the harsh realities of life, be it financial stress, physical ailments, or relationship problems…these ought to prevent us from saying, “I will still love you, we are in this together,” unless our understanding and commitment to love is loftier and greater than the wearying and disappointing aspects of our marriages.
I don’t think we miss out on God’s best for us in marriage because we marry the wrong persons. I think we miss out on God’s best for us in marriage because we have a flawed concept of love that never matures into the kind of love that mirrors Christ and His church, the gospel. We quit too soon, act in accordance with our selfishness, or refuse to change due to pride. How can any stitching of our souls, the weaving together of our histories, and oneness of person ever occur if we keep looking for an exit (emotional or physical) and pull away every time there is conflict and disappointment?
The answer is it won’t happen. We will continue believing that the romantic stage is the best stage there is, and trade the possibility of swimming in the immeasurable and unfathomable depths of Christ’s love for repeat experiences of what remains but a measly foretaste.
We have to stick around for the great stuff.
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
Since I was battling my monthly period pains yesterday, I couldn’t accompany Edric and the kids to the office, where our children have all their weekly classes. Edric was sympathetic and let me rest all day. As he left for work with all the kids in tow, he announced, “If you need me, anytime of the day, just call me and I will drop everything for you!”
I know he can exaggerate as the passionately intense person he is, but I know he meant what he said. The truancy of it still speaks to my heart. After years of marriage to this man, I am confident, probably more than ever before, that Edric is there for me. It’s not because I’m such a deserving wife. (These past few days I was rather abrasive and not as sweet as I ought to have been. Yet, Edric forgave me each time I asked for an apology for my tone or manner, and he chose to respond with grace.)
Edric is there for me NOT because of who I am or what I offer him. Clearly, I’m not always lovable! Instead he understands and embraces what marriage is. It’s a Christ-centered, other-focused relationship where the gospel is lived out each day, where two people sacrifice and serve one another through every season, for better or for worse.
During these occasions of the month, he sacrifices for me, without expecting anything in return because I am not in a state to reciprocate by way of affection, service, or affording him good company. Usually, I am buried under blankets and pillows trying to sleep the pain away. His care and thoughtfulness, even the way he checks on me in the middle of the night, inspire me to be a better wife, a better person.
Here’s the amazing thing about the gospel. It takes just one person to live it out in a marriage for the other to be transformed by it. Why? Because God’s love channeled through us has the power to effect change. My example was a simplistic one…Edric serving me while I am not well. Yet there are more serious cases of broken marriages where the Christ-like response of a spouse becomes the catalyst for positive change in the heart of the offending spouse.
My good friend and sister in the Lord, Elaine, is a testament to this. She could’ve left her marriage, given the hurts from infidelity and betrayal that she suffered in it. If anyone had an excuse to exit, it would’ve been her. And yet she found the Lord and was made whole by His love. She discovered that God hates divorce and wanted her to forgive her husband, as well as to stay committed to loving her husband. Although it was difficult and humbling, she forgave him. Today, her marriage is restored. It continues to heal from the wounds of the past, but it’s as if God gave her a new husband, a transformed man who is teaching God’s Word, using his musical talents for His glory, and seeking after Him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. They team up to counsel other couples, and they very often resemble two people who are head over heels for one another.
There is no other explanation for this miracle except that God did something through Elaine that caused her husband to pay attention to his spiritual condition and to change. I often think of their example because we who go through less hardship and heartache in our marriages are not so resilient. We fail to believe that God can do the impossible in our marriages.
If the aim of marriage was personal happiness and fulfillment then I get it, of course we would want out at the point where we are too tired and worn out to give anymore. Yet that’s the very point when we must recognize that we cannot give because we aren’t the inexhaustible source of love. Only God is.
So, do we have God? Is He Lord and Savior of our lives? If He is, then marriage is not, “What’s in it for me? But how can I live out the gospel to my spouse? How can I serve and give to my spouse in such a way that he or she sees Christ’s love in me and wants Christ in me?”
Then we need to pray, “Lord, anoint me with your supernatural capacity to do this!”
“and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” 2 Corinthians 5:15
The wonderful bonus is this, as my father likes to say, “If you reject God’s will and pursue personal happiness, you will have neither God or happiness in the end. But if you pursue God’s will over personal happiness, you will have both God and happiness in the end.”
What is God’s will for our marriages? That we live out the gospel through loving, serving, and giving to our spouses.
“F OR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32