This week Steve and I are reflecting back on the years we’ve been married. It’s hard for us to believe that we were married 49 years ago this week. Sometimes we’ve wondered if we could make it. But we hung in there, leaned in, and worked things out so we could. And we have to tell you that it has been worth every effort we’ve put into getting here.
At times it has been an up and down, roller coaster “ride.” But over all, it has been a great one. We LOVE being married to each other. So one of our goals is to work on “today.” That is why it is called the present. Each day is a gift—no matter our age, no matter our stage of marriage.
We’ve come to believe all the more that marriage is a school. The wedding is the first day of kindergarten. The wedding starts our journey into learning in how to make our marriage work. We THINK when we marry that we have a good sense of understanding how to make our marriages good ones. But that’s all an illusion. Growing a good marriage is not as easy as we think it will be! That’s for sure!
I remember something author/missionary, Elisabeth Elliot said on one of her radio programs. She had just attended a wedding ceremony of a young couple she knew. As the bride and groom were walking down the aisle she reflected. “Do they even have a clue as to all of the challenges they will have before them?” And of course the answer is: No! Who does? But prayerfully they both have the commitment, strength of character and spiritual fortitude to persevere through the many trials that will hit them. As someone once said, “Getting married is the boldest and most idealistic thing most of us will ever do.” And to that we say, AMEN!
Steve and I are now in the “graduate school” stage of our marriage. We’ve learned a lot; but we sure haven’t learned all we should. We totally agree with something author/counselor Joshua Pease wrote:
“Marriage creates a climate where this love gets put to the greatest test. The problem is that love must be acquired. Katherine Ann Porter writes, ‘love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.’ Love is not a natural response that gushes out of us unbidden. Infatuation sometimes does that—at the beginning of a relationship, at least—but hate is always ready to naturally spring forth, like the ‘Old Faithful’ geyser at Yellowstone National Park. Christian love, on the other hand, must be chased after, aspired to, and practiced. It is hewn out of the daily experiences of routine tasks, practical service, and common conversation.” (From his article, “Love Isn’t Natural, it’s Something We Learn”)
That has certainly been true in our marriage. And it’s true in so many marriages we have witnessed. It takes real intentionality to step out of the infatuation stage to grow our marriages, as God would have us. In order for us to do that, we need to develop servant hearts. We need to embrace Jesus and His plan for our lives. We must never forget that we are not islands unto ourselves. God put us here for a purpose. And part of that purpose is to positively effect many lives.
Our Mission/Purpose Together
And after we marry, our purpose must embrace both of us in the mission of our life together. Plus it involves the consideration of others God has placed around us. All of this will look different in each stage we enter in our married life.
“When we focus outside our marriage, we end up strengthening our marriage. The before-you-have-kids years and the empty-nest years provide particularly wonderful opportunities to ‘recalibrate’ and rebuild your marriage on the back of shared mission. Whether you seek to become the sports/coaching couple, the Bible study leading couple, the local school mentors couple, or the hiking club couple, using extra time for a divine purpose refuels marriage, passion, appreciation, and fulfillment. It can revolutionize your relationship. You know you can’t ‘re-create’ the initial infatuation you felt years ago, but you can create the even more powerful bond of purpose and spiritual mission.
“A woman once told me, ‘Over ten years of marriage, I have found that when my husband and I focus on our own needs, and whether they’re being met, our marriage begins to self-destruct. But when we are ministering together, we experience, to the greatest extent we’ve known, that ‘the two shall become one.’ Look outside your marriage and build your relationship with renewed joint purpose.” (Gary Thomas, from his article, What Mission is Your Marriage Called to?)
We continually tell married couples not to wait until their kids are grown before you grow your relationship with each other. Take care of your children… yes! But also make the effort to grow with each other so you don’t lose each other along the way. And keep in front of you the goal of your “joint purpose” of your life here on earth.
Reflecting Back to More We’ve Learned
That is all part of what we’ve learned in this school of marriage. In addition, there are 3 other things we want to share here to encourage you to adopt in the love story of your marriage.
The first is:
• Grow your marriage relationship—who you are as a married couple as Christ leads. Plus grow in your personal life with Jesus.
But make sure your personal growth does not threaten your married relationship. They go hand in hand. Your personal relationship with the Lord should help you to grow to be the best you that is possible; and it should help you to grow to be the best spouse that is possible. God designed marriage to work that way as we work out God’s plan within marriage.
Your spouse may or may not help you to be as good of a spouse as you can be; but nonetheless, lean upon giving your best—whatever the circumstances. We’re told in the Bible, “As far as it depends on you live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) That can certainly be a challenge at times! But with the Bible as a guide use all the resources God shows you to “walk in love” as “imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We hope that your spouse helps you to live up to your potential in every aspect of your life; and that you do the same for him or her. But even so, we still hold a personal responsibility for our individual growth and our part of our growth in our married life.
Standing As One Before God
When I stand before God some day, Steve will not be standing with me. God will be focusing on me—not anyone else. God is not going to listen to me whine that “I would have done this if Steve would have done that.” Or: “I wouldn’t have done this if Steve wouldn’t have done that.” At that point God will most likely say, “I’ll deal with Steve later; what about what you have and haven’t done?” And Steve won’t get away with, “But Lord—it’s that woman you gave me! That’s why I did that.” That excuse didn’t work with God in the Garden of Eden; and it won’t work today! God “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
So please know that you bear a personal responsibility for all that you do or don’t put into your marriage relationship.
• Do all you can to Reveal & Reflect the Heart of Christ within your marriage.
Yes, we’ve said that many times. But it’s true. Hopefully, your spouse will do his or her part too. But make it your mission to reveal and reflect the heart of Christ in all you do within your marriage nonetheless. Do it for God, do it for you, and do it for others. You never know who is looking.
We’ve been told by a number of people that they’ve been watching us, and how we interact with each other. We didn’t even know they were watching; but they were. And thankfully, they have shared with us that what they saw helped them in their marriage and in their relationship with God. The principle is: “If God can do that for you; I have hope that He can do that for us too.”
We love something that broadcaster/author Brant Hansen said in his book, “Unoffendable”:
“One evening, standing by the pond, a tipsy Finnish guy (he and his wife were drinking while moving out, tired of the inhospitable hood) told me—I swear I’m not making this up—‘I’ve looked outside and seen your family. I’ve watched you. And when I see your family, I don’t even know why, but I think about God.’”
We should live our lives so God can use it to draw others to Himself.
“Ask yourself, ‘Does my marriage qualify as a role model?’ What can you begin doing to have it stand out in a way that would make others around you see your marriage and want to emulate it? Are you praying and thinking about ways you can do these things? The sooner we realize we’re called to be examples in our marriages, the sooner we will begin working harder at following God’s script and seeing our marriages grow in new ways.” (H. Norman Wright)
That’s difficult; but it isn’t impossible. All things are possible when God is included in the 3-strand cord of your marriage. (See: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.)
And here’s the last important point we want to emphasize as we reflect back on our marriage:
• Christians Should Have the Best Marriages Possible!
Sadly, many of us fail at doing that. But it isn’t because it isn’t possible. It’s just that we don’t take advantage of all that God makes available to us to grow our marriages. After all, who can teach us how to love each other any better than our God, whose very name means LOVE?
Steve and I didn’t always get that. We missed seeing the importance of making that our goal. And as a result, we missed out on some great opportunities. We could have benefitted from doing things God’s way, and others could have benefited as they witnessed the ways in which we interacted with each other in loving, godly ways.
We thank God though that He eventually woke us up to see this truth: Christians SHOULD have the best marriages possible. If you haven’t been growing your marriage in that direction, you can start today. Don’t let that stop you. Today can be a new beginning for you. Make that your goal. Start on your knees with each other with God. And then stand and walk with each other as you follow Jesus. You may fall flat on your face at times in living this principle out in your marriage. But the goal is to fall forward to the extent that you get up and work at it again—giving God the lead.
And don’t dwell too long on the damage you did to each other and to your family in the past. Pray, repent—truly repent, forgive, ask for forgiveness, and do all that God shows you to do in each of these areas of your married life as you walk forward.
Surrendering Your Marriage to Jesus
Also, as it concerns your children (and others who saw how you used to interact with each other)… remember:
“You can’t erase all that your kids witnessed when they were growing up [or up to this point in their lives]. But you can still demonstrate the difference Jesus makes in a marriage when we re-surrender our lives to him, orient ourselves once again around loving Him and then loving each other, choose to make our marriage more of a priority, and pray that we can give our children and grandchildren an inspiring picture of mature love. Whether your children are still at home or now just occasionally come to visit, more than they need a hot meal and clean sheets, they need to see the power of a God-centered, God-empowered mature love.
“We might wish we could have done better for our children in years past, but we can create a certain kind of marriage that will be the only kind of marriage our grandchildren will ever know we had, the kind they will celebrate and remember long after we’re gone.” (Gary Thomas, from his article, “Your Marriage is About So Much More Than You”)
That’s our goal. As we’re reflecting back, this is our prayer for us and for you:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all …so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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