Finish this sentence, would ya? “My marriage is so ______.”
What? Boring? Lonely? Hard? Unhappy? Dead?
I know many people are there. But I also know that it’s not like anyone goes into marriage hoping it’ll suck. Why get married unless we really believe that marriage can be something good and beautiful? Or how about this? How many of us can say that our marriages are amazing or awesome or fulfilling or rewarding? Marriage has a pretty crappy reputation at this point, whether believers or non-believers. Why is marriage such a mess?
How did we end up here?
The apostle Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, gives us a vision of humanity in bald, stark reality. Take a deep look at what really defines you and your spouse:
There is no one righteous, not even one… All have turned away…there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.from Romans 3
Well, that ain’t good. The nature inclination of our hearts is a frickin’ mess. RUN FOR IT, PEOPLE!!!!!
I kid, I kid.
Though let’s not pretend it doesn’t feel that way. Marriage is hard and it can be lonely and unhappy. But it can also be joyful and happy and rewarding. A quick review of the first two chapters of the Bible remind us that when man and woman were together in the garden, God pronounced that first marriage “very good.”
We’ve gone from “very good” to “no one righteous, not even one.” We’ve fallen a long way, folks. But Jesus can overcome our sins through his death and resurrection. There’s hope for marriage and good from that hope.
1. Life is lonely and aloneness is not good
At the risk of offending your independent, self-reliance, let me make a bold statement: loneliness sucks. On the one hand, we swim in the current of a cultural time of self-sufficiency and standing up for ourselves. The self-actualized individual needs no one but themselves, right? On the other hand, the super-holy-I-know-the-right-Sunday-School-answers side says that we are only truly complete when God is “all we need” and we depend on no one else.
Frankly, both are just flat wrong. God saved himself a people, of which those of us united to Christ are part together. God saved us to be in relationship with him, not just you or me. And there is no such thing as the self-sufficient individual. Unless you grow your own food, weave your own cotton, and butcher your own animals as the Ultimate Homesteader©™, you are hopelessly dependent on others for your daily existence. It’s only in our rebellious hearts that we believe the satanic lie that the best version of ourselves is the one that exists alone. Codependency is certainly bad, but independence is no better. Interdependence is a gift and a joy, both giving and receiving, sharing and using and rejoicing.
Marriage is really the best picture of that, even if we forget it all the time. The one-fleshness God gives us is so much more than simple physical proximity, but a shared life that is stronger and richer in combination than it would be alone. Adam was alone so God gave him not an iPhone or a study Bible, but a wife.
2. The ethos of your marriage will overflow to the rest of your life
As much as you may try to hide your marriage troubles or keep them separate from those around you, emotional ricochet is unavoidable. The timbre of each marriage is not just the actual conversations and conflicts, but the ethos and feel of the relationship. It is an unavoidable fact that we carry the emotional weight of our relationships—good or bad—with us. That being the case, no amount of hiding or deferring conflict will protect those around you from the fallout. Compartmentalization is a pipe dream.
This means that your marriage isn’t just a part of your life, but a defining reality for you. I’m not trying to say what I think marriage ought to be but what it actually is. When God joins a husband and wife together, who they are as one flesh affects them individually as well. There’s no real version of life where you have a fully happy and successful mom/executive/author with a deplorable marriage. That deplorable marriage will taint the rest. The solution here isn’t ditching the marriage, but pouring more into it. Because that same ethos—when it’s good—can feed back in the other way and color joy to the rest of our lives.
3. Your marriage relationship will be imprinted on your kids’ future relationships
Like it or not, we all see life through the filter of our past, with our own parents being one of the prime models our hearts used to both find and relate to a mate. This isn’t really a conscious decision though. We tend to either uncritically assume the same relationship model as our parents or actively oppose it. In either case, all children are highly influenced by their parents’ romantic relationships which shape the impressions and expectations of their own romantic relationships.
Let me say this differently: if you ride through the years with a lackluster marriage, expect your kids to carry the legacy, because it’s what you gave them. You domineer, your kids will. You nag, your kids will. You take more than you give, your kids will. Don’t believe me? How often do you find yourself sounding just like your parents with your own kids? How much do you see your parents’ pattern of relating in your marriage? Of course, I think the grace of God can overcome this or I wouldn’t bother writing about it! But it’s not something you just stumble into.
4. Your kids are trying to kill you and you need a committed ally
Okay, so maybe our kids aren’t actually trying to kill us. But sin and Satan have so twisted our relationships that instead of the family being a picture of togetherness and unity, we’re a mess of conflict, pettiness, and selfishness. And while we know from the curse in Genesis 3 that there is now enmity between husbands and wives, there also is between parents and their children. The little buggers can be highly adept at guerilla warfare and political machinations in the family. In this fallen world, our kids are set against us in their very flesh—and we need very real allies to combat that sin in our kids and in our relationship with them.
God is very specific that he expects children to honor and obey both of their parents. He intends for children to be raised to obey a consistent message from moms and dads together. Not only that, the command telling them to obey and honor means he expects their hearts will be inclined to dishonor and disobey. Children are sinfully opposed to obedience as much as we are. Trust me: you need a full-fledged ally, not a loose partnership.
5. Sex is great
Do I really need to say more?
Okay, I can. It’s more than just that sex is great. There are plenty of ways to find sex outside of marriage. But it’s only in marriage that we get to be “naked and unashamed.” And we ought to let that reality sink in. Naked and unashamed means that husband and wife know the best and worst of each other—all without any fear or guilt or shame. That sexuality may feel like a distant echo, but married sex ought to be the safest place a man or woman can be. If it’s not, the problem isn’t marriage or sex—it’s you. And me. It’s all of us, because we’ve missed the great gospel that removes our guilt and shame.
6. “Meh” has no place in the Christian life
This is just a blanket statement, but our complacency is so horribly damning. I don’t know why we sigh and settle, other than that we just get worn out. And we take the easy stance that it can’t be changed because we’ve tried, right? Well, let’s be frank: change is impossible and two sinners in marriage will never be able to actually have a strong bond that’s worth pursuing.
“With people this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Chew on it. And actually believe it. We sell faith short when we make it about big prayers or asking God for a Cadillac or taking a short-term mission trip to a scary country. Faith the size of a mustard seed can also mean believing that your lukewarm marriage can be something better, something greater.
Marriage Is Worth It
Of course, I know how hard of a sell this can seem to some. Marriage is hard and there’s a whole lot of ways that the good of marriage can be twisted away from that goodness. I also know that there are many parents out there who wish they were married, but who aren’t due to the effects of sin. But it is to say that if you are married, you can’t separate your parenting from your marriage. And if that’s the case, then we ought to be praying and fighting for a satisfyingly good marriage.
In the future, we’ll lay out some specific ways to fight for your marriage. But for now I just want to paint a picture of marriage as good and worth it. I’m not claiming easy, simple, or straightforward. But worth it. Marriage isn’t just good—it’s very good.