Today's My Anniversary! (Here's the BEST Lesson I've Learned about Marriage)
My marriage was a fairytale...
Until the day it became my worst nightmare.
The details about how we had ended up in that awful season are a post for another day. I do not mean to leave you out of the loop. I simply want you to know that I when I sit to write these words, I am not writing about something of which I am vaguely aware. I have sat in that dark place – when you question all the things that you once thought were fixed and sure – and I’ve felt pain that I thought would swallow me whole.
Within my own journey of healing, God has been faithful – not in the way I thought He would or the way I wanted – but it has never been His job to do what I thought was best. His ways have always been better than mine, because His purposes are always better. And that truth was one that I had to learn in those dark days: my thoughts surrounding marriage wasn’t the way He thought about marriage. I was off balance. I was functioning in the extreme. Not that I was functioning within the extremity of laziness, dishonor, anger, or selfishness. Instead, it was the opposite extreme, over-glorifying marriage itself.
When I first got married, I would say, “I’m not in this for mediocre. I want to build a marriage worth living for.” I believed that having a great marriage was my calling and what would bring God the most glory. Somehow, along the way, having a great marriage became the prize, like a trophy to display. It is true that marriage will require specific work, but God never intended us to work within marriage so that marriage itself would be glorified. Instead, glorifying God by doing the work of God is the goal. Marriage is just one of the many tools that some of us will use to accomplish that goal.
What if I told you that I had worked for years to save money to buy a car? Every time I brought home a paycheck, I would dump it all into buying accessories and upgrades for my car. I would care for it, admire it, talk about the best features of my car, and perhaps even teach others how they too can work, own, and care for their own cars. But, what if I never drove it? What if it never carried me to my job, or my kids to their appointments, or to the grocery store for food? What if I wasted all my time and energy making the car better, only to neglect its real purpose as a tool to accomplish all the larger goals in life? You would think I had lost my mind.
In all our teaching surrounding romantic relationships, I think we errantly place an emphasis on having a great marriage as the goal, as if that is the finish line. But, for all my searching, I cannot find any Biblical premise to support that line of thought. Eve was given to Adam as a “helpmate” because God had already established the goal of marriage. God instructed the first husband and wife to use their union to accomplish His purpose (Gen. 1:28), not as a trophy. Marriage was purposeful from the Beginning, and Paul reminds us of this when he says that marriage is like a yoke. It is a tool that God gives some of His people in order to accomplish the true end goal: glorifying God. Marriage isn’t the goal – God’s glory is the goal.
I would venture so far as to say that because we “oversell” marriage as a prize to be earned, we are culpable in the disintegration of the training of Believers in accomplishing purposeful work for the Lord. If great marriages are the most important goal, then we begin to neglect intentionally investing into women and men who are single after college, turning Singles Ministry into a cleaned-up version of “The Bachelorette”. (I’ve met more than a few single men and women who bemoan the “meat-market” feel of their church’s singles ministry. And then, we wonder why college kids leave the Church..? Maybe it’s because they know there’s not much to come back to – unless, of course, they’re married.) If we’ve forgotten that the goal is God’s glory – period - then how can we come alongside and support those who are not married yet…or perhaps ever – in living and working well towards that goal? Trust me, they can smell a fake a mile away (It’s kinda why I admire them so much.) Do I need to even bring up the fact that Jesus was single???? Let’s be blunt: if marriage was a status to be reached, or a goal to achieve, then Jesus would have done it and talked about it.
Furthermore, this unbalanced teaching (implied or explicit) litters our pews with the barren wastelands of marriages that mimic oxen gone astray – without a purpose & listless (Prov. 20:4). The fields of the world are unplowed, unsown, and unfruitful. “The harvest is white” but where are the workers?? They are like oxen who put on the yoke but won’t pull the plow, convinced that the harvest has already been gathered, and they have already earned their award. Honestly, no matter how many times you polish a yoke, it doesn’t bring in the harvest. You have to actually make it move – using the yoke as it was designed: to plow through the soil.
In both cases, we are missing the chance to equip people to walk into their calling to work towards the magnification of God’s Name. The world is missing out on modern-day Pauls, Ruths, and Priscilla and Aquillas, who by their obedience to the ways of God, will fulfill the work of proclaiming the Lord – whether single or married. Perhaps, if “marriage” wasn’t elevated as a trophy, then it wouldn’t appear to be the end goal; and maybe everyone could step more fully into their calling to make much of Jesus wherever they are.
A balanced perspective on marriage is for all of us, because we are all workers in a field that is “white with harvest”. Some of us must bear the weight of the yoke of marriage, with all that it entails. Others of us must bear the weight of singleness, with all that it entails. In both cases, we are working towards the glory of God, and we will all require the help of the Good Shepherd who promises to “never leave us or forsake us” (Heb. 13:5).
I am thankful that He has never left me, and that He showed me that I had been working towards the wrong goal. I was a foolish ox, admiring the yoke and neglecting its purpose. Marriage itself had claimed the highest pedestal in my heart, and the truth about pedestals is: the only way off is down, and everything else besides God will eventually fall.
God’s commands to honor, submit, love, respect, and serve are not some sort of tv infomercial “guaranteed to give you a great marriage in 30 days or less!” For those who are not married, the commands sound the same and look a little different in practice, but they are still accomplishing the same thing: they are instructions on how to wear whatever yoke we have been given, so that the work of the Lord is accomplished. A wise and caring shepherd trains his oxen for the yoke so that they are made ready for the tasks ahead. Their obedience to His instructions is not a means of control or a way of earning a reward. Instead, they are the instructions on how to wear the yoke to best prevent blisters, sores, and needless wear and tear, while we do the work before us.
Did this realignment in thinking miraculously heal my heart and mend my marriage? Absolutely not. However, it was necessary to learn. It was the beginning of deconstructing what had become an unbalanced way of looking at marriage. Orienting my mind on how marriage accurately fits into God’s design, allowed me to re-align my heart upon the Good Shepherd and the tasks ahead. When I keep these things in their proper balance, I can tend to the work the way God intended.
Today, my husband and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. As I look forward, I simply plan to keep walking and working, using whatever tools God provides, and hoping that I will decrease, and that God will increase, because that’s the goal.
And no matter what field you or I are working in or what tools the Good Shepherd has provided for us to accomplish His work, I continue to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:28) and that above all else, “there will be good return for their work” (Eccl. 4:9).