We had our first fight on day two of our honeymoon and it was no small skirmish. It all started when my bright-eyed husband handed me a mechanical diagram of the book of Ephesians. With a look of loaded expectation on his face, he sat down across from me and asked, “What are your questions, comments, and observations?” My eyes blurred as I tried to decipher the color-coded equation in front of me. I was speechless. Seeing my difficulty, he explained his methodical process and then restated his question. I resisted. He insisted. And we continued in the general direction of nowhere, each escalating in volume and intensity until I was in the bathroom trying to see if I could fit through the window while my husband was in the living room, pacing back and forth, and muttering to himself. At that moment, the same question occurred to both of us. Did we make a mistake?
Experts say most of us get about two years of blind wedded bliss before we begin to feel the rub of our differences and disappointments. We commonly call it the ‘honeymoon phase’, but it’s actually more science than folklore. A beautiful cocktail of romantic idealism, the buzz of happy hormones, and the novelty of life together keeps us a little euphoric and a lot naïve. Of course, that level of attraction, attention, and exhilaration isn’t sustainable. The average person requires far more sleep, food, and productivity than a love bird, but it’s wonderfully intoxicating while it lasts. And unfortunately for us, it didn’t last very long.
In full disclosure, we were more confident than most that God had led us to be together when we married, but it was harder than either of us anticipated and pain has a way of challenging even our deepest convictions. I think it’s akin to childbirth. Women have struggled to birth their babies ever since the fall, so we all know to expect great difficulty. But I’m here to tell you that, when I went into labor with my first child, I was cursing all women everywhere for failing to prepare me for the near-death experience of back labor. Isn’t that just how it is? Pain has a way of taking us by surprise. Before we know it, we’re questioning everything. Is it supposed to be this hard? Is God punishing me? Did my spouse lie to me or pretend to be someone he wasn’t? Did I ever really love him? Was it really God’s will for me to marry this person?
Let’s be honest. These questions don’t usually come from a sincere desire to know the truth because we intend to repent, to forgive, to resolve, and to move forward. Usually, we’re just looking for someone to blame, somewhere to run, or something to deny. Deeper still, we desperately want to believe that marriage should be easier and more fulfilling than it is.
In part, we are right. Nothing about this life is as it was intended to be! We are not as we were intended to be and we will mourn what we lost in that garden all the days of our lives. This isn’t the world we were created for, but it is the world our sin has created. And marriage isn’t excluded from the fallout. Regardless of how well we prepare or how fool-proof our selection process is, we will all end up with a spouse in dire need of grace, forgiveness, and sanctification.
Fortunately, there’s so much more to marriage than this. In His wisdom, God has infused into the institution of marriage something holy and sacred, something which reflects the most glorious love story of all (Malachi 2:14, Ephesians 5:22-32, I Cor. 7:12-14). He accomplishes this when He, Himself, joins a man and woman together (Matthew 19:4-6). From the very beginning, God chose marriage to be an intimate illustration of His selfless love, a taste of His passionate affection, and a whispering reminder of His unyielding desire for our love and loyalty. Just as Adam declared in Genesis 2:23, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”, Jesus declares through the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:30, “For we are members of His body, His flesh, and His bones” (KJV). It is a wondrous mystery, one that transcends our human experience and understanding.
We must live within the tension of these two realities. Marital love can be gloriously transcendent, giving us a glimpse of eternity where we and our spouse feel whole and complete. But it can also be surprisingly painful, so much so that we find ourselves looking for a way out. Regardless of how we have gotten where we are, there is a grace-filled path within reach. No matter what we may have missed, whether we have gone our own way or the wrong way, the Lord is still kind-hearted and able to sustain, guard, and guide.
More than twenty years after that first lover’s spat, I must say that young love is a thrill and its eventual fading is quite the shock, but both pale in comparison to the joy of trudging through years of mountains and valleys together, falling in love again and again… and again. So, let us praise God for the blissful times, because our delight was His design. And in the trying times, let us pursue God all the more and do not grow weary in doing the good, hard things because He is the Lover of our souls, the Rewarder of those who seek Him and the Satisfaction we desire.