Shortly after the birth of my first child, I felt my heart gradually begin to despise my husband. We were only two years into marriage, but already, marriage was not what I had dreamed. My mind began dividing life into “before” and “after” marriage, but the second category always fell short.
I was still reading my Bible, but God’s Word didn’t seem to change the resentment in my heart towards my spouse or my marriage. The longer this went on, the more I began to believe leaving Brent was the answer. I dwelled on the thought. As I let my mind wander down the path of “what if,” I became convinced that dissolving our marriage was the plan of God.
James tells us,
“…each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”James 1:14-15 (CSB)
My mind was drawn away from the truth of Scripture about marriage and was enticed by my own desire for happiness. On our wedding day, I said yes to a joy-filled marriage, but now that the marriage was more conflict than joy, I wanted to walk away.
Then one night Brent looked at me and gently said, “I know we don’t even like each other anymore, but we committed to each other and to God that we are in this until death do us part. So, we can either live the rest of our lives as roommates or we can do some hard work to figure this out. I’d like to do the work, but it’s your choice.”
Suddenly all the lies I had believed about God not caring if I left my marriage were exposed. I was faced with the choice to obey God and honor my commitment or find a loophole in Scripture to attempt justifying divorce.
In Scripture, marriage is described as much more significant than simply a union between a man and woman. In Ephesians, marriage is described as the picture, the representation, of Christ and the church:
“’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”Ephesians 5:31-32
The union between Christ and the church is a permanent reality, in much the same way the union between a husband and a wife should be. One day the purpose of marriage will be mysteriously fulfilled at the resurrection (Matthew 22:30). But in the meantime, our responsibility is to do whatever it takes to maintain our commitment. While there may be extenuating circumstances in our broken world where divorce happens, divorce is never God’s plan for marriage. Our happiness or fulfillment or even our spouses’ refusal to act the way we want him or her to act is not a justification for walking away from our commitment. Our marriage is to be a picture of God’s commitment to his people.
The reality of marriage is complicated though. There are seasons where the joy of marriage and the desire to stay married flees, and we’re left wondering exactly how to live out the truth found in the Ephesians passage cited above, when our hearts simply don’t want to anymore. In these seasons, we must remember our hope is found in Christ and then choose to believe God does miracles. As we cling to Christ, we learn to practice our faith and let Jesus guide us (John 10:4) as we navigate the difficult season of marriage.
In order to hear God’s voice and allow him to identify lies we’re believing, we must embrace both humility and courage. Courage to be still and listen to God. Humility to accept the truth of Scripture even when it opposes our desires or advice we’ve been given from others. Sometimes we should be willing to see a Christian counselor. Sometimes we need to put aside our pride and meet with godly older couples in our church. Sometimes we simply need to have the courage to sit down with our spouse and honestly acknowledge the tension.
When conflict is high and joy is low, the ability to believe the best about our spouses is also low. This means we must learn to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:12-13 CSB).
When Brent and I were at our lowest, we started practicing this verse through implementing a consistent date night. We were broke, but yet we knew it was necessary, so we hired a babysitter for two hours every other Tuesday evening. We would drive to a coffee shop and split a cup of decaf coffee. $20 for a babysitter and $3 for a coffee felt like a lot of money at the time, but it was necessary for us to get out of our own home where conflict and dissatisfaction were rampant and meet in a neutral location where we could practice being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:12-13).
Following God and allowing our marriages to reflect Christ’s relationship with the church isn’t easy. But remember what Philippians 4:8 tells us:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Our emotions or circumstances may tell us our marriage is hopeless, but we know better. Because of the cross, we know everything can be overcome by the power of God. He alone can bring life out of death. We lay before God our frustrations or lack of hope, but then let our minds dwell on what we know to be true about God. When we “think about these things” more than frustrations with our spouse, God begins to change our heart.
Marriage is a representation of the gospel and how Christ loves the church. It’s to show the world Christ’s love, which is unimaginable. But we must remember, Christ died a horrendous death to demonstrate his love for us. To gain a marriage that represents Christ, we should be prepared for suffering and hardships as well. We can’t quit because it’s hard or feels hopeless. In Christ, there’s always hope. His death and resurrection shows us nothing is stronger or more powerful than him. And we have unlimited access to him.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”Hebrews 4:16
On the other side of the cross was our salvation. When marriage becomes more conflict than joy, remember God gives and restores joy to your marriage. It took several very intentional months before Brent and I began to see a glimmer of hope, but a hopeful, fruitful, and joy-filled marriage did come. On the other side of our struggle to honor God in our marriage will be the joy that comes from obeying Christ.
Photo Credit: @emileecarpenter