“I suspect that in every good marriage,
 there are times when love seems to be over”
—Madeleine L’Engle

Over the years, I’ve had women confess to me some of their secret thoughts about marriage:
If he died I could start over.
If he cheated that could justify a divorce.
If he left me, I could fall in love with someone else.
I assured them that they were not alone. I had also, at times, gotten so desperate that I felt hopeless. For me, it was slightly more shallow. It wasn’t the big mistakes—adultery, financial trouble, emotional abuse—it was the shoes on the floor for the tenth time after I’ve asked that they be put away. The evenings spent side-by-side on the computer without talking. The angry arguments over who is sacrificing more. It was a sense of insecurity in my marriage. Why isn’t my husband pursuing me like he did when we dated? Why do we treat each other like this? 
It wasn’t the big things. It was the tiny and very regular unkindnesses, the small acts of selfishness, the minuscule moments missed that were destroying me.
Frankly, I just didn’t LIKE marriage. 
In her bible study Living Free, Beth Moore writes, “I am convinced that God would rather hear our honest pleas for more of what we lack than a host of pious platitudes from an unbelieving heart.”
Before I dug into other’s attitudes, I really needed to face my own.  I needed to confess what I lacked (to God, to myself, and eventually to Kevin), and I needed to take a step back and determine why it even mattered that we stayed married—no, not just staying married—but why did it matter that I enjoy my marriage?

Here are some things that were/are important to me:
  •  Our Future Children. I wanted my kids (my imaginary boy and girl) to see their parents – not always in perfect harmony- but at least enjoying love, seeing examples of kindness and patience and thoughtfulness, and even playfulness.  
  • Our Own Souls. I am not exactly sure what God wanted out of my marriage. But I was certain it wasn’t throwing water bottles and insulting each other’s dreams. For the sake of our own existence, we needed to learn to enjoy our day-to-day commitment to one another. 
  • The Gospel.Even early on in marriage, before Kevin was a pastor, ministry mattered to us. We wanted people around us to experience God’s love and freedom. We wanted people to feel welcomed by us. So if they looked at our marriage, I didn’t want them to see God as aggressive, hateful, or just sterile. I wanted our marriage to represent Something or Someone loving, joyful, and passionate.  
  • Our Vows. We made freaking vows. Not promises on a piece of paper that could be ripped up[1], but vows before God, before our friends and family. We vowed to stay together through it all. And not just physical sickness and health, but in the sick and healthy times of our relationship.

I realized that I needed a new vision for my marriage.

Ephesians 5 is probably the most well-known scripture on marriage (besides the beautiful verses on love in 1st Corinthians 13). It’s also one of the most controversial. It says this:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husband as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. â€œFor this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

I have a good husband, who is as imperfect as I am, but loyal and faithful and most importantly, mine. When I am told in scripture to submit to him, I admit that my body recoils a bit. But, I believe that my submission (meaning my respect and willingness to put him first) is my gift to him. It is a powerful thing to give this gift away, and I don’t just give it to anyone. I give it (imperfectly) to the man described above, who is attempting (imperfectly) to love me like Christ loved the church–by offering his life for me.  

Each role in marriage is one of submission, sacrifice, and self-dying. That type of emptying love is a mystery, but it is a picture how Jesus loves His people.   

But, what truly changed my heart about marriage wasn’t even Ephesians 5. It was actually something Kevin pointed out to me (and trust me, he likes to remind me of his genius in this moment whenever he can). We were discussing marriage one day and reading the above verses, when Kevin said, “But don’t stop there. Let’s keep reading.”

Here is what never gets spoken about at wedding ceremonies, and what God used to give me a new vision for marriage: Ephesians 6–the next chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church which says, 

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” 

See, our marriages matter because they represent Jesus and the church, but they also matter because our marriages are weapons in this dark world against evil and injustice. Our struggles in marriage are not just against each other; we fight a spiritual battle against forces that seek to make us focus on ourselves and destroy our marriages, because it is THEN that Jesus’s perfect and self-sacrificing love for His church looks flawed, screwed up, and inconsistent — both to our marriage partner and to the watching world.

I began to understand that marriage isn’t even about my personal happiness. Marriage is my opportunity to be a minister to my husband, to help him be more complete, to encourage him to be more like Jesus. His role is the same. Marriage is a mirror held up to the other, revealing the ugliness, the selfishness, and the sinfulness, so that we can grow. 

Marriage is the work of becoming less, so that we can actually become more. 

And in so doing, our marriages can be a light in each other’s darkness. We can embody beauty-from-ashes for one another. 

I’m a pretty emotional person. (Poor Kevin.) But I am also very practical and I still needed to figure out what to do to change my attitude.  Again, let me reassure you, I still have to adjust my attitude regularly, because at the end of the day what I really needed (and daily need still) was for God to change my heart. There were also some things that Kevin needed to do, because as it turns out, I wasn’t alone in the bad attitude department.

It’s timely that it is Lent. In his poem on Easter, John Updike writes

“Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
Faded credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door…”

I’m trying desperately not to quote Rhianna here. (What would John Updike think about that?) But, I found love in a hopeless place. God helped me walk through the door of my own sinfulness, and come out brighter. 

I am thankful to God for reaching down to earth, for becoming flesh, for experiencing darkness in its fullness, so that He could light it on fire.

I know Valentine’s can be a sensitive day. If you are hurting today, in marriage, in singleness, in anyway, please know that I am praying for you. I’m praying that you sense God’s closeness to your brokenheartedness.  

More on what Kevin and I began to do later….

Next up, another guest blogger writes about how her marriage overcame an addiction to pornography in Caught.

[1] I went to a Christian college where we had to sign a “pledge” stating that we’d obey the rules, etc. Each year, I’d sign mine in pencil. If it was in pencil, I thought, I could erase it in my mind. The pledge counted for nothing. I wanted my vows to be more. 

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