Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
My wife and i are really different from each other.
I mean, we both have brown eyes, and my hair used to be brown like hers, but outside of some things like that, and the obvious male/female distinctions, (yes, despite what some might say, they do still exist) we are vastly different. She likes some of the same music i do, but on road trips, we usually keep the iPhones unplugged from the sound system in our car, or on the rare occasion we listen to music, regardless of whose playlist is on, we toss the other an occasional bone, but end up hitting the ‘next’ button…a lot.
She loves word games, Words with Friends and Scrabble on her phone. I, on the other hand, am so bad at those things, and so disinterested that the one time she and i played each other, she ended up using the app on both phones and basically played against herself just so the game would be sightly interesting. (Me: ‘CAT for four points…good enough!’ Her: ‘If only there were two Qs i could play QUINQUEVALENT here for 600!’)
She admits to being a risk-taker, and i like to keep both feet on the ground. I’m chipper in the mornings and she’s whatever the extreme opposite of chipper is. (Google some and insert one here if you like. I’m not gonna choose one, and put it in print because of this next difference.)
She’s confrontational and i am decidedly not.
Her ideal Saturday is to be outside working and mine is to be outside, laying on my back in a swimming pool, which we no longer have. I sing and she claims to have gotten ‘kicked out of Glee Club’ in 9th grade, scarring her for life. She is a great dancer and i can make people who claim to have two left feet look like Bruno Mars. We both love good coffee, but i take mine black and she drinks hers ‘light tan.’
In spite of all these differences, and there are dozens more i won’t bore you with, we get along.
It’s not that we’ve stumbled on some magic formula, or read enough marriage books or attended seminars…although those things are great and i encourage you to take advantage of them. But for us, most of the time, it’s because we choose to get along. I love her and accept her for who she is, and she loves me. We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies because we know that in the long run, those little things don’t really matter.
It hasn’t always been this way, and it has really taken time, prayer and realizing what God wants us to model for our children, and the outside world, in our marriage, to try to do these things.
In scripture, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage should work in Ephesians 5:22-28.
I love the way The Message puts it in modern terms: “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.”
We were out at dinner one night, years ago (this predated Angie learning how to cook, you can read the story of that HERE) and saw an older couple sitting silently at their table, not speaking a word to each other while they waited on the meal to arrive. (This was before restaurants had TVs plastered on the walls or anyone had cellphones and the distractions they provide.) It was heartbreaking to see them, maybe married for many years, probably empty nesters who felt like they had absolutely nothing to say to each other.
We made a promise to each other, right then and there that we would not end up that way. Over the years, we’ve known many married couples who lived under the same roof, went to dinner occasionally, didn’t really fight, but weren’t really ‘married’ in the real sense of the word—they just sort of co-existed.
There’s a huge difference in ‘married’ and simply ‘not divorced.’
It hasn’t been easy. Both of us, over the years, have dug extreme potholes in our marriage. (Not the little annoying kind, either. I’m guilty of some major, Van Zandt County ‘break an axel’ ones.)
About a year in, she had some major abandonment issues from her past (her dad, her first husband) that she’d never really dealt with in a healthy way. Her reaction was to push me, as her husband, to see if i was going to leave, too.
After a while, in my own immaturity, my answer was ‘sure—if things stay like this, i will.’
Things really didn’t get a whole lot better until she did a book study at our old church called Experiencing God by a man named Henry Blackaby. It wasn’t marriage-specific, but about what Christian faith is supposed to look like in our lives. It completely changed her perspective on who God was and how, as a believer, she was supposed to live it out. Her angry reactions began to be replaced by kindness.
She began to realize that i, as a human, was going to fail her…repeatedly. I was supposed to represent Jesus to her, as my bride, and love her the way He loves the church, but if her faith was put in me to do that, she was going to lead a life of constant disappointment.
She started to see Christ as her true, unfailing husband, one who would never leave or forsake her (Deuteronomy 31:6) and me, not as some knight in shining armor that rescued her from the life she’d been living before we met, but as a flawed, fallible man that she was supposed to model the Church to, in our marriage. She began to serve me, not out of obligation or as something that builds up resentment, but as an outpouring of her love for God.
When i saw her starting to change, it made me want to do the same.
At some point, we have to understand that our marriage vows aren’t written in chalk, but are more like tattoos. It may fade a little, but it’s never completely going away. At times you may regret the fact that it’s there and think it’s a mistake, but you deal with it, embrace it and come to see it as a part of who you are.
Choose to love. Make the daily choice to put God first, your spouse second, and other things (kids, job, etc.) in their proper places. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure. Learn how to resolve conflict in a Biblical way. Fight with each other against the outside forces that want to destroy your marriage instead of against each other. Engage that little ‘mouth filter’ we all have, but sometimes decline to use, when the temptation to be critical comes rising to the surface.
CS Lewis said it this way, “feelings come and go…but, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.”
Make a vow to your significant other to not end up like that couple in the restaurant, or if you see your marriage headed that way, stop and be a servant to your spouse, as Jesus would do. Define your marriage by the things you have in common, instead of your differences. Pray with one another. Fight for your marriage.
Ephesians 5 says your marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church to the outside world. What kind of portrait are you painting?