Love And Marriage

I recently attended the wedding of my nephew to a wonderful Godly young woman. It was a grand, celebratory occasion. I gathered with two of my kids, and their spouses, my sisters and their husbands, and my brothers and their wives. We sat around our table laughing and remembering the crazy things that happened at our own weddings.  I reveled in the fact that all us are on our first and only marriages and all lasting many years (from my little brother at 18 to my oldest sister at 48 years). During a lull in the conversation I glanced over at the bride and groom and smiled at the look of promise, hope, and love in their eyes.

Thirty-seven years ago this July 1, I was one of those brides. Looking back I realize how little I knew about marriage. Not long after our wedding, I came to realize that marriage is not all romance and flowers, and my husband realized that I would not always be at the door when he came home with dinner on the table and slippers in hand.

Both my husband and I have had to adjust our expectations of marriage and our life together. I thought he would always pick up his own clothes, he thought I would always put the cap back on the toothpaste. We both thought our spouses would always put our needs above their own. Somewhere is the process of the “Will you marry me?” and the “I dos” we forgot we each were marrying sinners. Fortunately, we are sinners saved and sanctified by a longsuffering God who refines us continually.

I wince at the line in so many movies where two people are seeking their soul mates. I am not sure we marry our soul mates, but I know that we can become those soul mates for one another.

God’s plan for marriage is to use us and our spouses to sanctify each other. Like sandpaper on wood, we rub, scrub and scour one another within the most intimate of relationships this side of heaven.  We chafe, we irritate, we sin, we repent, we reconcile, we are changed. And it is all part of God’s plan.

I think we have bought into the false notion that marriage will be comfortable, easy and we will always get along and agree. I’ve heard friends say, “it shouldn’t be this hard!” In his book, What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp says “God has designed marriage to be one of his most effective tools toward personal holiness. Your differences and difficulties that they place you in are not a sign that God has forgotten you…they are not an interruption of his plan; they are part of his plan. “

Paul also says “when viewing our differences in marriage it is important to remember that these things are not to be viewed as the potholes to be avoided on the road to a good marriage but as effective instruments of change in the hands of a loving, wise and faithful Redeemer. “

When I came to see God’s true purpose for me in my marriage, it changed my point of view drastically. I stopped trying to be a better wife and mother and focused instead on becoming a woman of God pursuing holiness, which made me a better wife and mother. It became not about what I was trying to do, but what God was doing in me. Because God loves me, I then want to respect and love my husband and live out the gospel in my marriage on a daily basis.

Balancing family, an outside, job, and ministry life as a young woman was difficult for me for many years. I often felt cheated out of “me time”; resentment would grow, and I would neglect nurturing the one earthly relationship that God views as “holy.”  I am thankful for God and my husband helping me to root out my sin, thankful for confession, repentance and reconciliation. I am thankful that because of their patience and love I now see a bit more of Jesus in me.

I am very fortunate and blessed that I married a man who was also committed to allowing God to refine him. Confession, repentance, and reconciliation have become a part of our relationship. He is committed to loving me as Christ loved the church, and I am committed to respecting him, both out of obedience to God. We have learned to major on the majors and not on the minors. We have learned that our differences are often a matter of tastes and preferences.  If the clothes do not make it into the hamper it is ok. It is not a statement on our relationship.

I Corinthians has often been called the “love chapter” and is read at many weddings. I love the way it is worded in The Message Bible,

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

You can hear many statistics on the divorce rate in America both in and out of church. I don’t know why some marriages fail and others succeed. I only know why mine has and it is summed up in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13…

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly ( I Cor 13:13).  Now that’s great marriage advice.

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Dear Pat Robertson

This week the Evangelical World was abuzz over the comments of Pat Robertson on his show “The 700 Club”.  A viewer called in to ask a question about his friend whose wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”

“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone “

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her.”

Robertson’s comment has set the evangelical blogosphere afire with comments and criticisms. While I cannot do this topic justice as Russell Moore has on his blog,  or Joni Erickson Tada on her web site, I can add my own experience with this situation; or rather my mother’s.

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was in his early 60’s. He lived almost 20 years with the disease. His Alzheimer’s did not progress as rapidly as some. In fact when first diagnosed we wondered if Mom was not imagining his symptoms. But time proved her correct and her early detection allowed Dad to get on some medication that seemed to slow the effects of the disease. Still is was a difficult life for Mom, one she did not chose nor would she wish on anyone else.  She nursed her mentally handicapped younger sister until that sister’s death of cancer. Then she took care of Dad until a brain tumor took her from us suddenly in 2004. I think God decided to spare my mom more years of care-taking by taking her home. It would be my sister-law Kathy and my brother Bob who would take care of Dad the last few years of his life. (if I was Catholic I would recommend Kathy for sainthood)

I think what makes my mom’s situation all the more unique is that Mom chose to remarry Dad after being divorced for 15 years; a divorce that she did not want but he did due to his infidelity with another woman. She forgave him and choose to marry him again years later, for better or worse, till death do us part. 

So I have not only the example of Jesus Christ in the Bible of what love and commitment looks like; I had a real life example in Bettie Jane Reeves Hoke  as to what love and commitment looks like.

So Mr. Robertson though your choice may be easy more palatable  one, it is not the one I will make; it is not the one I wish my husband to make; it is not the one my mother made; and it is not the one my Lord made when He decided to give his life for me his bride and stick with me for better or for worse; till death unites us at His throne.