Friday, February 12, 2016

A Real Love Story: About Marriage

In this post I'm continuing the #RealLoveStory series by writing about marriage. This isn't a post about MY marriage, but what I've learned about marriage throughout my life. I feel like I wrote this post for myself as much as I wrote it for anyone else. I need to remember what I've written here as I walk through life. 

Leading up to writing this post, I kept questioning what I should say about marriage. I'm not an expert. I've got two and a half years under my belt and that's it. Not much of a resume. But I do have a knowledge of the Bible, which is where I think we can get the simplest and best marriage advice.

We get input on marriage from all kinds of sources--family, friends, media, entertainment, the list goes on. I feel like a lot of information is misguided, or just straight up wrong. A lot of times the potential or imagined negatives are highlighted over the positives. Marriage is often downgraded to a boring life stage in which people struggle with child-rearing and a non-existent sex life.

In reality, marriage is the opportunity to partner with another person to exemplify God's design for relationships and family, and to also model Christ's relationship with the church. It's an opportunity to make your life a living picture of sacrificial love, humble servanthood, unconditional respect, and life-long commitment.

So in short, marriage is quite possibly the hardest thing you will ever do for all the right reasons. It can turn you inside out, changing you into a man or woman dedicated to God's call to live out a model of the Gospel. It can change your life in places you never knew existed and become about more than society's view and definition of marriage. The challenge is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Marriage is an enormous responsibility.

When you enter into an institution ordained by God, you have the responsibility to honor that institution in the way God has designed and instructed. When it comes to marriage, couples have the responsibility to know what God says about marriage and to exemplify His commands through their relationship. And should you think that's simple, easy, or possibly boring, check out what Ephesians 5:22-33 says about it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
This is the type of lifestyle married couples are called to by God. A life marked by selfless acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect. It's a life against our natural inclinations, truly opposite of ourselves. But committing to a godly marriage means committing to God's instructions for marriage. It's committing to living out marriage as defined by God to the absolute best of our ability.

Marriage is selfless.

You can't exemplify the marriage described in Ephesians 5 and live selfishly, it just doesn't work. Those acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect are all selfless actions. In fact true, Biblical Christianity is a call to selfless living, from submission to Christ to the building up of the body of believers. That's why the Bible talks so much about dying to self. To live as Jesus lived, to honor God, we have to put ourselves aside. It's no different with marriage.

Society does a good job of helping us focus on ourselves. Even the way marriage is presented is selfish. It's about what we want--to spend our life with the person who makes us happiest, who adds the most to our existence. And if that doesn't work out, scrap it and look for someone who is better. There's no challenge to move beyond selfishness, to be more concerned with the needs of our spouse than our needs. But that is exactly what the Bible calls us to--to live counter-culturally and selflessly in marriage and in life.

Marriage is serious business.

A wise person once told me, "Marriage is like a business transaction." I think that's a great picture for capturing the seriousness of marriage. It's not just a fun, flippant thing. It's a serious decision that will affect you in more ways than you'll know. It's a decision to merge two lives of two individuals in a life-long commitment and union. This will be the person with whom you will do life, who you'll share a bank account with, who will be a parent to your children, who could squash your spirit or elevate your worth.

It can be easy to act on your feelings, but when it comes to marriage, it's best to think logically, just like you would in a business transaction. Take the romance and sentimentality out of it and decide if this is the person with whom you truly want to become one. Ask yourself if this is a wise decision, one that will bring about the best for you and this other person. Are the qualities and character of this other person ones that you want to see lived out in your life together? Take the time to think seriously about marriage before you enter into it.

Marriage is not an island.

I've watched a lot of people get married in my life. I've watched a decent amount shut out many of their friends after they got married. Unfortunately, some couples adopt an "us against the world" mentality. Or think they don't really need friends any more. While your marriage and your spouse are huge priorities, and your spouse should be your closest friend, I think it's a mistake to shut others out of your life.

People are designed to be relational, we need  each other. We don't stop needing other people when we get married. Things may shift, but we still need strong friendships to help us navigate life. I am so thankful for friends--single and married--who have helped keep me focused, encouraged me, been there to listen, and challenged me with different perspectives. Each friendship is so unique and valuable, whether it's another couple walking a similar road or a single girl friend I've bonded with over shared experiences.

Friends can help keep you accountable to your marriage commitments. Friends can give you that outlet you need when times get tough and you need to talk it out. Friends can remain more objective than family can when you and your spouse are having a disagreement. Friends keep life interesting. And your friends need you. After you get married, they don't check you off their list. They want to maintain that friendship; they need you just as much as you need them.

Marriage is a journey.

Marriage isn't just a picture-perfect wedding. It's not constant romance, a piece of cake, or an instant success. It's not about sex or the perfect house or never having an argument. It's made up of two imperfect people, which means that struggles, fights, issues, and disappointments are going to happen. You're going to do something wrong, you're going to fail at something, you're going to make mistakes, and so is your spouse. Marriage will include hard times because it happens in real life.

Marriage is a journey, for you on your own, for your spouse on his or her own, and for both of you together. It's a journey toward becoming the best spouse you can be, and remembering that the only person you can change is yourself. It's about forgiveness, constant  forgiveness. It's about patience, attentiveness, growth, and being willing to adjust yourself and your way of thinking. It's walking alongside someone, whatever may come, and vowing to stay beside that person at all times.

You don't have to try to be perfect and do it all, because you can't be perfect, and you can't do it all. But you can work on one little piece at a time. You can learn from others; you can put aside your selfishness; you can focus on your spouse; you can make time to do the big, important things and the small, special things. You can work toward the person you need to be and the marriage you want to have. The biggest key is to never give up. Never stop working on yourself, on your marriage, on your journey.

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