They sat there in all their twenty something beauty, holding coffee and sharing stories. And I sat their held captive by their genuine hearts and dreams.
I’ve heard it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, she said. The other one looked at me with her hopeful unmarried eyes, Is it? Is it the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Hmmm….I wanted so much to respond in a way that keeps it real, but shows the wonder. Marriage. It’s complicated to communicate the complexity of two becoming one. It’s unique to all other relationships. It’s covenant. It’s constant. It’s eternal, because even when it’s broken and abandoned it’s etched into who you are.
So here’s my response: Marriage is the working out of my salvation. And in that, there’s so much hard and there’s so much beauty. And the man I’m working out my salvation with makes the journey wonderful and worth all the struggle. And the God who is working out the salvation in me makes it possible and full of purpose.
When I married I thought I was simply choosing a life long partner. Someone to live with, have children with, share dreams with. But it’s so much more than that. My relationship with Mark is a clashing and melding of heart issues, exposing strengths and weaknesses, virtues and sinfulness – all the players that build intimacy or deconstruct what we’re desperately trying to build.
The struggle in marriage, for me, is not learning to live with the handsome man I’m with. Rather, the challenge comes from having to learn me. My issues. My inadequacies. My pride. My selfishness. My lack of faith.
I look to God and the covenants he entered to understand the depths of what Mark and I are doing together. In Genesis, God called Abram into a covenant relationship.
I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants.
As they journeyed together, the covenant between God and Abraham revealed things about who they were. It exposed God’s faithfulness, his vision for what’s to come, his love for humankind, his purpose on the Earth. And in the going to a new land, in the conception of a child in his old age, in the laying down of his son – we see exposed in Abraham the desire in his heart for children, his trust in God, and his gift of leadership and obedience to a divine plan.
But here’s the real beauty in this covenant: The relationship existed for something beyond this God and this man. It was for the descendants who would follow. It was for the nations that would form. It was for the working out of Abraham’s salvation, and the salvation of his descendants.
Stop right now and receive that truth. It will change your relationships if you let it.
God also entered into a covenant with Israel, a nation born into slavery, a people through which God tells his story of redemption. Through captivity and deliverance, barren lands and abundant life. Through victory and defeat, through faithfulness and adultery. (Sounds a lot like what many experience in marriage, huh?). As God and Israel interact with one another and the surrounding peoples, they face the heart issues that define their relationship. God’s faithfulness, and his jealousy. His nature to forgive, his desire for justice. And a love so deep and wide and eternal that he cannot abandon. In Israel, we see their wavering trust, their lack of understanding, their lust for what surrounds them, their unfaithful choices and their need for a Savior.
And again, this divine covenant did not exist merely for themselves. It was for the nations around them. It was for the entire world. It was for the working out of Israel’s salvation, and the salvation of the whole Earth.
Marriage comes into focus for me when I look at it through the lens of the Gospel story. The marriage covenant isn’t for making each other happy, though joy is discovered. It isn’t for satisfying each other’s needs, though fulfillment is experienced. It isn’t for merely sharing life with someone, though compatibility is treasured.
This two becoming one is for eternal good. It’s for something far greater than the benefit of two people. Marriage is a place where God reproduces life, making us fruitful, creating a way for the passing down of faith. Marriage is a union meant to bring blessing upon others through the way it loves and serves. Marriage is a partnership with the purpose of participating in God’s work of salvation in us, and those around us.
So, yes. In many ways, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not getting married, but the surrender involved in letting God use our covenant for eternal purposes. But this life we’re living is richer and more beautiful that we imagined for ourselves all those 14 years ago.
Now…to those of you who are not married, and maybe some of you even wonder if you ever will be: Not all relationships are covenants, but all relationships have the ability to shape and refine us. By inviting God into our earthly relationships and engaging them as having eternal purposes, there is sweeter joy to be experienced in both the struggle and the celebration of what these relationships bring.
Here’s the bottom line, the truth that is setting Mark and I free in our marriage: It’s just not about us. This life. Our relationships. Our marriage. They exist for redemptive purposes. And I honestly believe when we start looking at them that way, the expectations we place on them change. We will be more gracious. We will be slower to abandon. We will hope less in how they make us happy. We will use them to invest in other people. We will protect them with greater fierceness. We will entrust them more deeply to the Father.