Living in the Tension: The Clumsy Dance of Marriage

It’s Valentine’s Day, a day to reflect on life and love. Through the many ups and downs of life, it’s the love that sticks. It’s the love that sustains. True, selfless love is what makes marriage triumphant.

However, after twenty one years of marriage, the amazing, life changing marital advice I usually give to newlyweds is . . . . get a king sized bed. That’s it.

I recently read a blog post in which the writer was joking about wanting to go into marriage ministry three seconds after she got married. Been there, done that. As wisdom comes with age, the longer you are married, the more you realize how complicated relationships are. I might have once thought, give it twenty or so years, and I’ll have this marriage thing figured out. That just confirms how naive I was.

Marriage is living in the tension of knowing that you can never fully satisfy or complete or validate another human being. It is the knowledge that you will never be the perfect spouse, partner, helper, lover, or leader. Whether you are husband or wife, you will never be enough. And you were never meant to be.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. John 6:63

God is the satisfier. God is the validator. God is the only perfect leader or helper. And we must live with the tension that we cannot do relationships perfectly.

Marriage is a clumsy dance. It’s learning and growing together in the messy pursuit of relationship. It’s discovering how little our desires and wants matter in the grand scheme of things. It is the tension of knowing no matter how warm and wonderful you make your house, it will never fully be home. Our home is not here.

What we can do is be a part of our spouse’s story of sanctification, the journey toward an eternity with an awesome God. And our spouse can be a part of ours.

What have I learned in twenty one years of marriage?

God must be the center

God must be the center of our lives. He must be our Lord and Master. This is the only hope we have in marriage.

I don’t say this because everything will be better if God is at the center of your marriage, though it might be. I don’t say this to sound religious, or because I like clichés—I don’t. I say this because knowing and being in relationship with the Creator of the universe is what life is all about.

We were created to be partakers of the glory of God—the greatest glory that could ever be imagined. His glory is so magnificent and immense there isn’t room for anything else. And even if there was, it would pale in comparison. Glorifying God is our purpose and privilege in this life.

The longer I have walked with God, the more aware of my inadequacy I have become. To know more of Him is to know less. But, to know Him more is to be filled. My cup overflows.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

While it is God’s design that a husband and wife bring each other joy, our main source of joy, validation, and identity should come from God. If God is not first, or we lack a genuine connection with Him, our marriage will likely suffer.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12

Marriage is a call to put oneself down for the “other”

When I first got married, I believed I would never be alone again, and that my husband would fulfill all my needs. Ahh, the naivete of youth.

We assume when we get married we will always be cared for and nurtured, and we will finally be happy. Marriage and a family will fill the emptiness and heal all our wounds, right? Even Hollywood tells us that our soul mate will complete us.

We have been deceived. Marriage is not about us at all. It’s about loving the “other” well.

Marriage is an opportunity to practice selflessness. It is a tool in the battle against pride. It is the great classroom for learning humility and selfless love. Nothing could ever humble us more than our marriages.

Marriage is living in tension and friction

How am I doing in my marriage two decades in? Let’s just say I’m always a work in progress. Christ followers spend their lives working toward something they can never fully achieve. That is the tension. And so it is with marriage.

God tosses us about in the spin cycle of our life, in order to smooth the rough edges through relationships. This has been painfully true in my life.

Let’s just say there are parts of me that I would prefer to just sweep under the rug. Things I would rather stuff deep down in a drawer. However, God is in the business of healing. He has used my marriage to open every drawer, every closet, and every spare room in my soul. Nothing is left untouched. I am laid bare.

With marriage comes friction—the coming together of two, rough-around-the-edges, beings. Friction hurts, but is necessary in the race we are called to run. If there was no friction between us and the road, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Don’t we want to cross that finish line? I do.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

As long as marriage is made up of people, in a fallen world, it will involve tension and friction—even in the best of marriages. When we rely on our own wisdom, we fail. The wisdom of marriage is foolishness. We must lean on God. We must trust His Word. Only God can make the clumsy dance of marriage into something beautiful.