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.

Building a Christ centered marriage; 4 Things that I wish someone had told me before I got married

I used to be a wedding photographer. What fun it was! Everywhere you looked was a magnificent picture just waiting to be taken. And, all around you beauty and sparkly things abound. It was a photographer’s dream! Everyone was happy, love was in the air, and anything was possible!

Oh, if marriage could be frozen in time on the wedding day! But as we know, these moments can’t last forever. Getting home from the honeymoon means beginning the work of marriage.

Twenty years ago, my husband and I said ‘I do’ on a drizzly fall day. I am so blessed to be married to a wonderful man. That’s not to say that it has been easy . . . no, it has NOT been easy. It has been quite a bumpy journey, indeed. 

One thing that I have learned over the years, that I never would have guessed, is that . . .

marriage is a crap shoot

As Forrest Gump would say, ‘marriage is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’

There is no perfect girl or perfect guy for anyone. There are only human beings who are flawed and messy.

There are no guarantees in marriage. There is no magic formula. If you were hoping to find one here, I give you my blessing to stop reading this and go do something else.

There are 4 things that I wish someone had told me before I got married. Whether you are engaged, or already married, I hope you find these tips helpful.

1. You must die to self

A successful marriage that lasts is one in which both partners are willing to die to self.

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  Luke 9:23-24

Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not a 50/50 deal. The idea that if you give 50% your partner will give their 50%, is an illusion. Marriage is rarely that clean or simple.

Getting married with the the expectation of getting your needs met, sets you up for disappointment. Marriage is not a means for getting your needs met.

Marriage is a 100/100 deal. You need to give 100% to your partner, regardless of how much they give to you. A marriage where both partners put their needs last has the greatest chance of success. Put another way, a marriage where both partners resemble Christ has the greatest chance of success.

This is God’s design for relationships. Everyone is to put the other above themselves, in so doing imitating Christ.

If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.   Luke 6:29-30, The Message

Do we see this happening today in society? Hardly ever. 

I recently found a person’s bio on twitter that read, “I only fear the slowing up of the engine inside of me which is pounding, saying, keep going, someone must be on top, why not YOU?” 

We are a narcissistic society.

The concept of putting yourself last instead of first is counterculture. What I am suggesting is not the popular view. Dying to self is not what people are talking about at parties, or wedding showers. But, it is God’s truth, and God’s truth works.

Marriage is a servant job. That is why so many fail. Who would sign up to be a servant?

However, this is exactly the position that Jesus embraced. He emptied Himself. Could anyone have humbled themselves more than He did? I think not.

He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.   Philippians 2:7

For a successful marriage you must be willing to surrender your hopes, dreams, desires and expectations. You must lay them down at the foot of the cross. Get rid of them. Surrender them to the One who gave it all.

2. Know who you are

You are a child of God, wholly and acceptable through the blood of Jesus. If you are not confident of this fact, you should not get married until you are.

zelweggerDM0102_468x768‘You complete me’ is one of the most quoted movie lines of all time. It is from the movie,  Jerry McGuire that came out in the 90’s. This movie showcased the epitome of dysfunctional relationships. And yet, many people walked around thinking that ‘completing me’ was what marriage was for.

No human being can complete you.

You are highly valued, extremely loved, wholly forgiven, and adopted as a child of God. You alone are a treasure. You are complete and wholly acceptable just as you are.

If you feel less than a whole person, God is the only thing that can fill the void. Ask Him to heal you and make you whole.

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.   Philippians 1:6

Each person must be wholly self, while at the same time dying to self.

3. You will not be married to the same person in 5, 10 or 20 years

Am I saying that you will get a divorce and marry another person in 20 years? Nope.

I am saying that the person that you are now engaged to will not be the same person you will be married to 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. They will be different. And so will you.

This is why I say that marriage is a crap shoot. We change. We become different people. All of us do. It is inevitable.

As followers of Christ, we must change to become more like Him.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.   2 Corinthians 5:17

Are you the same person that you were 5 years ago? What about 10 years ago? 20?

I certainly am not. I hardly recognize the person I was when I got married in 1996. WhoDSC_0097 copy was that girl?!

Neither my husband nor I could have known the person we would become 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. We are different people. My husband is not who I married, and I am not who he married. 

If you are young, however, you may not have done much changing yet. Don’t worry, you will. The 40 year old version of you will be completely different than the current you. You are just going to have to take my word for it.

Invite God to be at the center of your marriage. This is your best chance for those two completely different people to have a marriage that lasts.

4. Your marriage must have a mission beyond itself

The idea of marriage in scripture is primarily introduced to show us the relationship between Christ and the church.

For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.   Revelation 19:7

For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.   Isaiah 54:5

You and I have one mission in life, and it isn’t marriage. We cannot substitute our marriage, our kids, or anything, or anyone for the Great Commission. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, making disciples is always our mission.

Don’t get me wrong, our marriages are important. God honors marriage and so should we. However, our marriage cannot come above God and His will for our lives.

amazing-race (1)In Francis & Lisa Chan’s book, You and Me Forever, marriage is compared to the TV show, The Amazing Race. On this show couples are on a mission that pushes them to their limits both physically and mentally.

The Chans go on to say: 

“the reason we don’t often fight is because we don’t have time to fight. We are busy trying to get to the finish line. Even in our victories we only have time for short celebrations because time is ticking. A quick high-five and then it’s on to the next checkpoint. We may take breaks to catch our breath, but we quickly get back in the race.”

This is what marriage should look like. A healthy marriage consists of two people working toward something greater than themselves. A healthy marriage has a mission beyond itself.

Marriage is a crap shoot. 

There is no magic formula to know that you have met the right person. There is no amount of marital counseling that can guarantee success. There is no length of time that you should date that assures that a marriage will last.

Mirroring the image of Christ is the best chance we’ve got for having a marriage that lasts a lifetime.

The Chan’s book finishes with the most beautiful prayer for marriage.

Prayer for Marriage 2

I would love to hear what you think.

What advice about marriage would you give to couples?

Having eyes to see; taking the scales off

After a time of great trial in my marriage, my husband and I were talking in a small group with some friends.  We shared how God’s presence had been so evident in the midst of our crisis.

Great suffering opened our eyes to the enormity of God. And, His presence had never been so real.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   -CS Lewis

As we were talking about this, someone protested by saying,

“What if I haven’t experienced a major crisis? What if no one close to me has died or has a disease or I haven’t experienced any tragedies? Does that mean that I can’t experience God like you have?”

I remember my answer,

“Well, no, God wants everyone to have a close relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced suffering, loss or tragedy. God wants everyone to experience His presence.”

Looking back, I realize the naivete in my response.

If I were asked that same question today, I would have a much different answer.

Does a person need to go through peril, danger, crisis, pain or suffering in order to really see God and feel His presence in the most profound way?

I think the answer is yes. Crisis and tragedy in life can take the scales off our eyes so we can truly see Him. There is something about the presence of God in the midst of great trial or suffering that we can’t get in the midst of comfort.

You might say that seems unfair. Pain and suffering are not equally distributed among us. Many of the awful things that happen in this life are seemingly accidental or random.

To that I would respond by asking this question.

‘Are you living like Christ did, or are you comfortable?’

The other path to experiencing God in the most profound way is to suffer in serving. You may not necessarily have experienced tragedy or crisis in your own life, but when you serve others, you can experience it second hand.

Loving and serving others is the very picture of Christ. And, people who live like Christ WILL experience more of Him than people who don’t.

God promises us in scripture that if we follow Him 1) we will suffer, and 2) He will always be with us.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;  Psalm 23:4

Being with the lepers, ministering to the lowly and unclean, loving and feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and walking where there is great danger and great need was Christ’s ministry on earth.

If you walk with lepers, minister to the lowly and unclean, love and feed the poor, and walk where there is great danger and great need, you WILL experience the overwhelming power and presence of Jesus Christ. And, most likely you will suffer.

If you don’t do those things, you may or may not.

I mentor a young mother of three kids and her boyfriend who live in the inner city.

When I began doing this, I was uncomfortable. Having always lived in the suburbs, the downtown neighborhoods scared me. Being the minority didn’t feel good. And, I didn’t understand the culture. I very much felt like a fish out of water.

Even though the city is only 30 minutes from where I live, it is a completely different world.

I would pray on the way to pick them up because I didn’t and still don’t know entirely what God is doing with this family. I didn’t have the right words to say. I wasn’t a social worker problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteor a psychologist. And, on the way home I would wonder, ‘Am I making a difference? Am I doing anything at all?’

My husband got involved as well to help the boyfriend finish school and get a job. There were many evenings when he and I would be in our kitchen talking about this couple.

Whenever I am downtown whether it is in government assisted apartment buildings, the WIC office, the social security office, or the hospital in the ‘bad side of town’, I am in the midst of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. I am in the midst of parolees, thieves, domestic violence perpetrators, and drug users. I am among the lost. And, this is exactly where Jesus would want me to be.

Being in a hopeless, depressing, and dangerous environment is unpleasant. It’s burdensome. But, we are called to love and care for the hopeless, the depressed, and even the dangerous.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   Matthew 25:35,36,40

My point is that it is hard. I wouldn’t dare say that this constitutes pain and suffering for me. But it is one small example of how we should be putting ourselves where Jesus would be. It is an example of going into the mess with the ‘messy’, and suffering with those who suffer.

Who did Jesus spend much of His time with? Where was He during His ministry on earth?

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32

My sister-in-law goes to Africa two or three times a year to do ministry for women in Bigstock: 63818828 - AMBOSELI, KENYA.jpgZambia. They love and care for women and children who, without this ministry, would not be loved and cared for.

The more trips she goes on, the harder it is to return to the states. She feels deep sympathy for the people of Africa she has to leave behind. And, she has become ‘different’ as a result of following Christ to help the needy, and therefore, experiences loneliness and isolation when she comes back.

She has allowed God to break her heart for what breaks his. And, she is often heartbroken.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.   1 John 2:6

We are to be a light in the darkness, which means that we sometimes have to GO TO the darkness in order to be the light. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places.

“let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”   Matthew 5:16

As we go into these dark places, He will make His presence known. God will always be with us . . . . . always! And, if we follow God where He leads, His glory will blow us away!