A surprising number of cliché phrases about marriage suddenly make great sense to me, and it’s only been a few weeks. After six years of friendship, my bride and I are officially doing life together as best friends and partners in crime, and I can already attest to the sageful truth behind the joke, happy wife, happy life.
Our adventure together has gotten off to a fun and interesting start–and I mean that in the best kind of way. We enjoy studying and talking about God’s word together. My- I mean our house has begun to receive the makeover I knew it needed, and I’ve even accepted that maybe it really is necessary to own more than three hand-me-down bath towels. (Speaking of baths, I’ve discovered her ideal water temperature to be near freezing. Meanwhile, she’s taken a test-bite out of my arm because she’s convinced that I successfully cook myself every time I bathe.)
Ah, the joys of two different people coming together and learning how to love each other.
Our wedding day was honestly something out of a dream for me. I don’t mean to take away from other weddings, but I think it was a little more surreal for me than most people on their wedding day. As the groom, maybe it’s normal to not know at least 90 percent of the people there, but I had the added adventure of also not speaking their language. My intro-level Spanish was especially horrible that day, for which I blame the mix of adrenaline and sentimental feelings.
Style-wise, the ceremony was an awesome depiction of the ultimate vintage outdoor wedding. Pinterest deserves almost as much credit as my wife and her amazing friends for pulling it off.
Something else was going on that day, however, which made the experience even more counter-cultural for me.
Long before the wedding, Mayi and I had taken some intentional time to discuss some of our fears. It was an offshoot of a different conversation we had about our expectations, which was in itself a very important talk given our different cultural upbringings. But when it came to our fears, we found that Dominican and American cultures aren’t that far off. We shared the same basic fear for married life: “that you’ll eventually change your mind and leave.”
No matter how confident I was in my understanding of marriage as a messy but incredibly beautiful depiction of the gospel, and despite the commitment I had for her in my own heart, it was difficult to trust her to be in the same place; and likewise for her.
Based on the evidence around us all, I can’t see how anyone could blame us. Like most of you, she and I have each seen multiple failed marriages between two people who were obviously not planning to get divorced as they spoke their vows. Each of us knew the painful truth that it only takes one to end a marriage. Each of us had been in relationships we thought were “the one” only to be left heartbroken and alone. Each of us even knew the virtual certainty that our feelings for each other would continuously change, and our love would sometimes be more like a not-so-appealing choice instead of a blissful feeling.
Our moment of transparency was a great opportunity to encourage and comfort each other. It was great insight since being aware of her fears will help me love her in the way that makes her feel most secure. At the same time, recognizing this fear in myself was very eye-opening. I honestly felt convicted. The last thing I wanted to feel was fear when it came to the relationship that Paul described in Ephesians 5 as a representation of my relationship with God. And that’s just it…
What I learned
Marriage is not about me, or her, or even me and her. To think it’s about us is where fear and disappointment each find an open and inviting door to enter the relationship, and justifiably so. She and I are just sinful, selfish people– of course we’re going to disappoint each other. But watching that scoreboard is not what shows us whether we have a healthy marriage.
In light of the gospel, marriage must be about our individual relationships with God. A book we read during our engagement, “You and Me Forever” by Francis and Amy Chan, talked about this. Even though I knew it was solid truth when we first read it, the wisdom they uncovered from scripture really set in for me after the conversation Mayi and I had about our fears. It showed us how easy it is to let culture influence our views of marriage, even as we say we are following Christ.
If heaven and the resurrection are real, and they collectively represent the place where we will be married to Christ for eternity (Matthew 22), then my purpose as a husband is first and foremost to help my wife grow in her relationship with Him. My goal is not to keep her all to myself but to give her to the Lord daily. Likewise, her purpose as my wife is to help me grow in my relationship with Him, preparing me for an eternity that is not with her but with God.
The truth is, if what Jesus said is true, I have nothing to fear when it comes to what my wife will do. Regardless of her choices, the best and only thing I can do is to pursue God with all of my heart while encouraging and leading her to do the same. This is the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30), which Jesus said conveniently sums up all the rest of the laws in itself. Unfortunately for married people, however, this commandment often seems to get replaced with “pursue and love your spouse with all your heart.”
The problem with this is our spouses are not God. So it’s not surprising when this pursuit just doesn’t seem to be that fulfilling anymore. When people aren’t fulfilled by what they’re putting their hopes in, they leave. (Hence the fears Mayi and I each had gathered from the way marriage is usually approached in our cultures, even by proclaimed Christ followers.)
Jesus comes to the rescue, though, by giving us a really great life application lesson of the Greatest Commandment, specifically relating to fear and worry. In Matthew 6:33, He said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all this will be given to you as well.”
It’s like He knew of our tendency to put other things and other relationships before our relationship with Him. Weird.
If we each commit to pursuing God even more intensely than pursuing a healthy marriage, the Holy Spirit is going to faithfully motivate each of us to love our spouses better. Why? Because it’s only through Christ and His Spirit that we can understand the marriage relationship in its full capacity– as a representation of the relationship Jesus has allowed us to have with Himself. Francis and Amy explain in their book that you don’t get a healthy marriage by focusing on your marriage; it comes as a byproduct of focusing on Christ together.
(The same can be said for how we raise our kids but Mayi and I aren’t quite where we can credibly speak to that yet. The Chans submit that the tight family unit we all hope for is another byproduct of pursuing and serving Christ as a team together. The concept in our culture seems extreme, but back in the time of Jesus and the early church, it was normal procedure.)
Marriage was intended to replace or change neither the Greatest Commandment nor the Great Commission. I believe it was always meant to serve as a tool to help us follow those very basic, fundamental commands. There’s evidence of this found all the way back in the second chapter of Genesis when God made Eve. She was given not to complete Adam or replace God in Adam’s life, but to help Adam with the task God gave him. God never said, “Okay now that you’re together, just love and go crazy for each other.” Their lives were still all about living in obedience to the mission of God.
I think anything keeping someone from obeying a “greatest commandment” of any kind is instantly bad. As unpopular as it is to say, I think marriage might be one of the most common offenders here. This is what I think Paul, an unmarried missionary, was referring to when he cautioned against marriage in 1 Corinthians 7: 25-28. First things must stay first, and if being married is going to change this for someone, then, well… it might be one of the worst things they can do when it comes to their relationship with God. (To be fair, many single people are so focused on wanting marriage that it distracts them away from the Greatest Commandment as much or even more than actually being married.)
Regardless of what culture says, we don’t all have a “right” to get married. We say such things from a tragic misunderstanding that marriage is a synonym of happiness. But people get divorced for the same exact reason, so what does that tell us? Besides, one of the things about following Christ is to give up what we think we have a right to do or be or have. That’s the illustration of baptism–dying to ourselves and living in Christ. And if that life in Christ doesn’t result in marriage, Godly community is still amazing, and eternal life with Christ is plenty good enough for us.
My point is that getting married was not the end goal for me or for Mayi. If it was, we would be in a lot of trouble with many empty and disappointing years ahead of us. The goal for us is to work together to honor and serve Christ.
As we stood at the altar and I listened to Mayi speak her vows to me, I wasn’t thinking, I hope she keeps this promise she’s making to me. Instead of letting that fear take over, I was giving her away in my heart to a God I knew would fulfill her and love her better than I ever could. I was worshiping Him for letting me be a vehicle of that love for her, and for giving me such an amazing helper to love Him better myself.
As Christ followers, it was Him we each ultimately made our commitments to that day. I know that as long as we pursue Him both individually and as a team together, neither of us has anything to fear. Joined together in our commission as ambassadors of Christ to the world, we will have the strongest, deepest, most fulfilling relationship possible.