Having enough credibility to give advice on marriage seems unattainable. I cannot imagine being accomplished enough in marriage to be able to give advice in twenty years much less after only three. It seems like once I think I have learned to serve a little more selflessly or love a little more purely, it is quickly revealed to me how far from the ideal I really am.
In the short three years that I have been married, I have experienced the reality of what everyone told me, but with my rose-colored glasses on I could not fully see: Marriage is very hard work.
Marriage requires laying down your life for another person every single day. Laying down your desires and wants, your needs and expectations, your feelings and thoughts so that someone else may take precedence before yourself.
I was told this before I was married, and I even had an illustration from the Bible before I was married:
“Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church-a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor-since they’re already “one” in marriage. No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33 (The Message)
But that did not make it any easier. It is one of those things that until I experienced it myself, I did not believe it could be that hard.
The circumstances that have surrounded John and my marriage for the past three years have given us the blessing of experiencing “laying down of our lives” for the other person with immediate force and a jolt that left us without room for contemplating any other path.
For the first two years of our marriage John suffered from severe heart failure. Each month his heart weakened, and we grew closer to the crossroad of a heart transplant. John was weak. He was sick.
But he still laid down his life for me.
The doctors told John that they did not know how he was continuing to work, but he kept working. John could not mow the lawn all at one time, so he mowed a row at a time. We could not make it to our yearly sushi anniversary dinner, so we ordered sushi in and ate it Japanese style. The day before he went into the hospital it was my birthday, and he took me to a restaurant, barely able to walk to our table. John kept a smile on his face, never complained, and said to me, “I’m going to fight for you.”
And then I laid down my life for him.
The lifetime we have lived in only three short years has been a blessing by forcing us to lay down our lives or completely give up. We now see our marriage and the world from a different angle, an angle we would probably still be blind to without our experience.
However, it still did not make me perfect at laying down my life every day for my husband. I am never perfect at it, and a lot of days I am not even good at it.
That is where grace come in, and I mean a lot of grace.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30 (NIV)
We have gotten in the habit of simply asking, “Please give me grace right now”, when we need it most. I have found that it is the simplest way to diffuse the height of emotion that can lead to words of regret. Again, this is not how all of our conflict plays out, but when it is handled in this way it brings such peace.
In two days we will celebrate our third anniversary. Three years in I can say that marriage is by far the hardest thing I have ever attempted in my life. It is also the thing that has drawn me closer to God more than anything else. It is sanctifying me by teaching me how to lay down my life for someone else just like Jesus laid down his life for me. It is also something than I cannot do on my own. I have to call out to God each day just to have an inkling of how to love John the way I need to.
This makes marriage God’s mystery and God’s miracle.