“Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us” Hosea 6:1
Marriage is hard, and complicated, and made up of two sinners sharing a tight space! I have been married for 36 years. He’s “the one” because of our covenantal commitment we made on August 16, 1980. I once heard it said, if you wonder if you married the right person: check the name on your marriage license. However, I love my man, and through thick and thin I am blessed that God is allowing me to walk through life on this earth with him. He loves me, prays for me and points me to jesus. Although our love for one another is rich and deep and growing, the most important marriage-sustainer in us is the rooted spiritual foundation for our relationship.
I have many dear friends who love Jesus and whose marriages have not survived. I am sad for them, but this really isn’t about marriage vs. divorce. This is about the work Jesus did in me. The funny thing, the ‘works’ not ever over. He continually shows Clint and I that loving one another doesn’t always come with passion, and romance, and candle-lit diners. One of our favorite sentiments is from Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us happy?” God has done some of His most transforming work in my own heart through the institution of marriage. Marriage can teach us to love God and others well. Marriage exposes sin, and Gary even calls marriage a spiritual discipline. Clint likes to tell couples, “you don’t fall in love, you dig your way in.”
I entered into my marriage with unrealistic expectations. Marriage was my idea of happily-ever-after. Long strolls in the moonlight, snuggles on the couch, happy, happy romance! For years I’d dreamed and planned. Yes, a Christ-centered marriage was important, but in reality I had no idea what “Christ’-centered” truly meant. I knew marriage was a beautiful gift from God, but I had no clear understanding that He ‘d actually designed marriage to reflect and display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people. So without fear I raced into marriage ready to begin the life of
After a bumpy 6 years, a realization that “marriage is NOT what I had envisioned” had overshadowed my heart. But in 1986, Clint and I moved far away from friends and family so he could go to flight school and I held out hope that this would turn things around. We were prodding along out of sheer stubbornness and a massive dose of God’s grace. Clint was enjoying a huge amount of success, but I still struggled with everything: my weight, infertility, frustrated expectations, not enough money, spending too much money, loneliness, and overall dissatisfaction.
One long weekend when Clint was going to be out of town, I was left on base with the other Officers wives. Most of them were not Christians and I was appalled at some of their conversations. However, God was using those lost women to reveal my own sin. I went home and got out an old book, Creative Counterpart : Becoming the Woman, Wife, and Mother You Have Longed To Be by Linda Dillow. (It was the first topical bible study I’d done as a wife and I remembered it showing me the type of wife I desired to be.) That weekend God exposed my need of some massive heart and life changes. He began to show me the way to have a great marriage was by not focusing on marriage, but on Him. God’s purpose for marriage: to reflect His glory. There was little in my life that was reflecting God to these women, and I needed radical change. I had no idea that God was preparing me for the battle of a lifetime. (John 10:10) For 6 years the enemy wanted me to believe my marriage was the problem, when in reality it was the idol of my marriage. Clint was not my enemy, and the problem was a spiritual one. (Ephesians 6:12-13) God needed to shatter my marriage and all my idea of marriage so that He could restore it into a glorious refection of Himself. He was calling me to “Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.” Hosea 6:1
I’d made an idol out of Clint and my fairytale images of marriage, even in what a Christ-like marriage should “look” like. I had placed too much pressure on Clint to “complete me” and make me well. That week I really dove into God’s word and began to recognize the biblical truth that would transform me and help grow a picture of the gospel through our marriage. Not only was God working on my spiritual changes, He was showing me practical outward changes. I watched my calorie intake, cleaned and organized the house, thought of tangible ways I could encourage Clint as his helpmate. I fixed his favorite meatloaf meal, and waited for him to return to the base Sunday evening. He retuned home very late, and had to be back with his unit the next morning before I woke. I was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be around to see the transforming work God had begun in me, but I had a great amount of Holy Spirit empowered strength during that time. (Romans 8:11) God was supplying the strength I would need to successfully battle for our marriages. The difficulties I was about to face forced me on my knees and to seek God’s face. In doing so, I got to grow closer to my Jesus; the ONE who never leaves, or fails or betrays. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5b-6)
In the past 30 years, we have faced many trials, seasons of hot love and chilly indifference, but God has continued to grow our love. He has deepened our covenant to one another by teaching us His covenant-keeping love. Knowing Him in our hearts and then reflecting Him in our actions towards one another has been our priority. We fail all the time, but He sustains us. When I hear young wives struggle with love and marriage being “so hard” I remind them of the death of Christ for His church, His bride. That hard death was the ultimate expression of love, which is the ultimate expression of God’s glory.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis’s writes, “True love, real life-long love, marriage love; is not two people staring deeply into each others eyes. That is Eros. That is lust. It always burns hot and it usually dies young. True love, fidelity love, is two people with the same vision, same worldview, same goals, having the same view of marriage. Nothing is more important short of having the same view of Christ.”
Clint and I hold tightly to the Biblical vision for marriage. We are thrilled that He is letting us grow old together. Whether it is in a season that is satisfying or strenuous, marriage can cause you walk with God more closely than you ever dreamed; a successful one actually requires that you walk close with God. Whether you are seeking-marriage, sustaining-marriage or in the fight of saving-marriage, the essential part of your God-centered marriages rests on “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). God did not design marriage for self-fulfillment but to reflect His selflessness and service to others. Marriage is gratifying but it is hard and the difficult times are meant to transform you into His likeness. And, Christian marriages should be salt, seasoning the world around us with the flavor Christ! (2 Corinthians 2:15) Marriage is a beautiful gift, but it’s not God. I remember when God shattered ours and made it into something beautiful.
*The last two photos were provided by Allyson Bird of Allyson Neely Photography