A marriage made in the trenches

“If I weren’t a follower of Christ, I would have divorced you by now.”

That’s what my wife told me a few months back. How’s that for a picture of the Christian family?

Truth be told, our life is crazy. The past few years have felt like a whirlwind. Some of the most chaotic years for any family are when the house is full of young kids. Add to that a struggle with leukemia while entering a ministry role for which you feel completely inadequate, and you’ve got a recipe for crazy.

But that’s where we were. It was the middle of the school year, and every day felt the same: Wake up in a hurry, throw some food down the kids throats, make sure their pants are buttoned, shuffle out the door, get to work, spend the day worried about 100 different things, rush home for a quick dinner, help with homework, bath, stories, and bed, then get ready to start over. I knew things weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible either.

I’ve learned that a silent truce is way more dangerous than a full-fledged shouting match.

We had gotten the kids down and were in a mild argument over something that doesn’t matter – just being short with each other. (When you’re stressed, little things tend to bother you. And we were bothered about many things.)

As a parent with young kids, the moment when your kids go to bed is incredible. You don’t realize how tired your ears are, or how much energy you’ve spent, until you sit in silence. Your body goes limp and you don’t want to move or think or breathe. Truth be told, you don’t want to expend an ounce of energy - or a joule, or whatever they use to measure energy. But loving another person always takes energy. It takes initiative. I was in a pattern of not initiating.

After a few seconds of tense silence, Karen said, “I’m not happy. I don’t know what we’re gonna do, but this isn’t working. If I weren’t a follower of Christ, I would have divorced you by now. There isn’t enough here (in our relationship) to keep me here.”

I was floored. We’d never had a conversation like this. I never imagined we would. But here we were.

Let me be clear: Karen was not threatening to leave me. Just the opposite, in fact. She was declaring the unconditional commitment she had made to me before God – a commitment that would hold fast through difficult times. She was loving me enough to tell me something that hurt deeply but that I desperately needed to hear.

I had forgotten some foundational realities about marriage. And God was reminding me through the wonderful words of my wife.

Being a parent is one of the great joys of my life, but it is a great danger as well. We parents can become so engrossed in that role that all other roles become obsolete. My identity first as a child of God and as a husband to Karen must come before my identity as father to Jude, Owen, and Charlotte. The pyramid will crumble if I turn it upside down.

Maybe you’re in a similar place, so overwhelmed by some urgent responsibilities that you’re neglecting more foundational ones. In those moments of chaos, it is of utmost importance that we center ourselves around God’s Word. Regarding the importance of marriage, there is no more helpful passage than Ephesians 5:21-33. You can read it now if you like.

This passage reminds me of something really important: my marriage is a picture of God’s love for me.

Here’s what I mean:

1. Marriage shows us a love that submits.

God has called me to humility in marriage because He has shown humility to me in Christ. As a husband, God commands me to live for the benefit of my wife rather than expect her to live for me. This is why Karen’s statement to me was so powerful that night. She said, “If I was in this for me, I’d leave. But I’m not in this for me. I’m in this because I have committed to love you through every season of the soul.” And that’s the same thing Jesus has told all of us. 

2. Marriage shows us a love that transforms.

Jesus commits Himself radically to us when we are still His enemies. He loves us, not because of who we are, but who we will be when He is done transforming us. Marriage tells that same story. We have the opportunity to say to our spouse, “I know you, and I love you anyway." And that type of undeserved love always transforms us.

Marriage is a furnace. It tests us and refines us. This process is difficult but essential.

3. Marriage shows us a love that lasts.

Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus will remain faithful to His church until He presents us to God as a radiant bride. That means His love remains to the end, even when it’s inconvenient, heartbreaking, or costly.

My wife shows me what God is like. She doesn’t love me with the cheap, shiny, short-term, self-serving, microwavable, consumer love of which our world has had its fill. Her love is stronger and truer and deeper than that. 

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Paul the Apostle, Ephesians 3:17-19)