Marriage -- 31 Years after our First Fight
Jeff and I have been married for 31 years. It seems like fifteen. The first fifteen we started over every year. Our anniversary would roll around on May 17th and we'd sit at a restaurant and rehash the good, the bad, and the ugly we'd lived together over the past year. Then we would reaffirm our love and commitment and give it another try.
Marriage often starts with a misguided and mostly unconscious attempt to have another meet our needs in a relationship of intimacy that we assume will be deeply gratifying for both parties. Because who wouldn't want life to be exactly like we envision it should be?
Marriage, we are told, is about giving and taking—compromise, right? Jeff and I had our first after marriage fight in the car driving across the 430-bridge. It was a heated debate over the definition of the word compromise. I said compromise meant meeting in the middle in order to come to a decision both parties could agree on. He said compromising was letting go of tightly held principles. I realized soon enough he wasn't coming to the middle so I adopted his definition, which fortunately for me, meant I would stand by my definition. I won!!
Marriage isn't a relationship where you hold your ground with the expectation of having your spouse agree with your view of how life should be. It isn't even about meeting in the middle, although that has to happen early on (see, I was right). Marriage is a sacrament meant to change each person altogether. After 31 years in a committed relationship, with all the ups and downs that come with loving and living, a good marriage reveals two people who have a whole lot in common.
Marriage is meant to change us. It is meant to teach us the power of relationship in the process of transformation.
Jeff and I realize that the older we get we don’t need to have a long discussion about where’ll go for a date or on vacation or what we will have for dinner. Over time many of our preferences have started to line up. We find that our likes and dislikes are similar. When they aren't, we give the other room to pursue our own interests. This kind of openness and freedom is better for both of us.
We’ve observed similar tendencies among our friends who've stayed in for the long haul. They've also grown to be much more alike as they have grown older together. (And some have begun resembling their dogs too!)
So this an observation I’ve had, how healthy marriages are transformative, but why does it matter?
The picture of God's people as the bride of Christ is meant to teach us how our commitment to an intimate relationship with Him will result in transformation. We are meant to be transformed into the image of Jesus. He doesn't wave magic wands over us to shape us. As our character is transformed, our behavior and our understanding of the kingdom of God grows. This process is not a hard obedience but a way to a life of freedom and wholeness.
Marriage between human beings is a shadow of greater spiritual realities. You may be thinking there is a disconnect because Jesus doesn’t have to move toward us in our relationships with him. But we are wise to remember He laid aside his glory to slip into our skin to redeem us. Jesus has already moved toward us. It is his love for us that compels us to move toward him.
If you have ever wondered how to live like Jesus lived, then be his bride, spend time with him, get to know him well. Many Christ-followers have a relationship with Jesus but have yet to live in relationship with him. When you commit to an intimate relationship with your Savior, you will start to see things as he sees them. You will have eyes to see and ears to hear. You will think with the mind of Christ. It will amaze and humble you. "His yoke is easy and his burden is light."
If you are married or are a survivor of a broken marriage, you might be discouraged by these observations. Everyone who has been in a marriage knows how very hard it can be. All of us have been affected by broken marriages in some way—our own or our parents, siblings, or children. A marriage “torn asunder” is extremely painful because it is more than a living arrangement and companionship model. Marriage is a holy union that changes us.
The good news is we can always depend on Jesus to do his part in our relationships with him. He is faithful—-even when we are not. (2 Timothy 2:13)
If I'm honest, I realize had I had this revelation about marriage early on, I would've made it a legalistic expectation. I might have held the need to change over Jeff’s head. I didn’t understand love then like I do now. If I could talk to my 23-year-old self, I would tell her, “You’ve got a lot to learn, sister.”
I married a man with a servant’s heart. He has loved me well. I hope he would say the same about me. We are very different and very much the same. I think that is true for my relationship with Jesus at this point in the journey. By his grace, we are very different, and very much the same.
Is Jesus your friend? Do you hang out with Him? Are you a person who is willing to change, to grow, and mature in your relationships with Jesus and others? Even if you aren’t married, relationships are important. Your momma was right, you become like the people you hang with.