I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve spent way too much of my married life trying to change my husband.
We’ve known each other for well over a decade now and have been married for 8 years, and I love him more than I’ve ever loved anybody in my entire life. But if you asked me what I wish he did differently, I could come up with a list really quickly.
All of us grew up doing things a certain way, and although we may not always say it, we intrinsically believe that ‘our way’ is the best way. But sometimes, it isn’t. Human relationships, and marriage in particular, have this curious way of drawing out our flaws, of revealing the parts of your person that God wants to lovingly chisel away.
Marriage in particular is one of the most intense ways God makes us more like Him: He takes two jagged-edged sinners and uses each of them to refine and smooth the hard edges off of the other. Marriage is NOT putting on the most attractive version of yourself, playing immature games with each other, and only looking to the other person for what you can get from them. Marriage is two people committing to out-serve each other for the rest of their lives. It’s reprogramming your brain to instinctively strive for what’s best for the other person first, instead of putting yourself and your needs first. Mike Mason’s quote from The Mystery of Marriage is absolutely spot-on:
“What is most unique about the tenacious fidelity of marriage is that it allows for such a really brutal amount of ‘sharpening’ to take place, yet in the gentlest way imaginable. Who ever heard of being sharpened against a warm, familiar body of loved flesh? Only the Lord could have devised such an awesomely tender and heartwarming means for men and women to be made into swords. Yet for all its gentleness, marriage is still a fire and a sword itself, a fire which brands, and a sword which inflicts a wound far deeper than any arrow of Cupid. For it is a wound in a person’s pride, in a place which cannot be healed, and from the moment a man and woman first stand transfixed in one another’s light they will begin to feel this wound of marriage opening up in them. The Lord God made woman out of part of man’s side and closed up the place with flesh, but in marriage He reopens this empty, aching place in man and begins the process of putting the woman back again, if not literally IN the side, then certainly AT it: permanently there, intrusively there, a sudden lifelong resident of a space which until that point the man will have considered to be his own private territory, even his own body. But in marriage he will cleave to the woman, and the woman to him, the way his own flesh cleaves to his own bones. Just so, says the Lord, do I Myself desire to invade your deepest privacy, binding you to me all your life long and even into eternity with cords of blood.”
I think the reason I didn’t see my selfishness as clearly prior to marriage is because I was playing a game. The “Look How Great I Am” game. I never would have admitted it out loud, but I was basically just trying to impress Daniel with all of my *amazing* qualities, and it wasn’t until getting married that I realized how little I actually had to offer. My good qualities weren’t nearly as good as I thought they were, and my bad qualities were a lot worse than I thought they were.
Before marriage, I had never had to be that deeply vulnerable with anyone. Sure, I opened up to my girlfriends and shared my joys, sorrows, and sins with them, but they weren’t as strongly affected by them the way Daniel is. The mirror of your spouse is often the hardest to look into, because (in a healthy marriage) that person isn’t your enemy. It’s your best friend, your person, pointing out your weaknesses. They are directly impacted by your selfishness in a way that no one else in your life is.
The really beautiful thing is that because of Jesus, I don’t have to fear that kind of vulnerability. I am fully seen, fully understood, fully known – and yet still fully loved. Daniel is a tangible piece of God’s unchanging love for me, and when he tells me he loves me, it means infinitely more now than it did on our wedding day. I have done things that have really hurt him, and the fact that he still says “I love you” and means it, in spite of my bad choices and unkind words…well, nothing can top that. And I know that Daniel’s love for me is a tiny match flame compared to the blazing forest fire of love that God has for me.
In one of my favorite books, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller describes this mystery of being fully known and fully loved in perfect detail:
“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us.”
When God shows us the depths of His love for us, it gives a whole new meaning to our human relationships and lays out the map for how we are supposed to love each other. He is the perfect example for us, loving us IN SPITE of the fact that we have done nothing to earn His love, and can’t ever earn it. Loving someone because of what they have done for you is shallow and worthless compared to loving someone because of what God has done for you. That kind of love will change the world, my friends.