In high school, I discovered watercolor painting. It was love at first sight.
I eagerly invested time and supplies to become like seasoned watercolorists whose extraordinary works of art I admired.
Though I was passionate about this medium, I soon discovered it wasn’t as easy as it looked at first.
Too much or too little water and paint that bleeds into other colors can create what artists call mud.
Coaxing purity and luminosity from paint and paper took more practice than I ever dreamed.
I saw hints of another kind of purity and transparency when I began dating my husband.
The invitation to be known and loved, to create beauty on the clean white paper of marriage, was what I’d longed for all my life. I eagerly said “I do.”
A year ago my daughter said “I do” with similar excitement.
Her gorgeous autumn wedding was preceded by a couples shower, generously planned by friends and family. Most married 5 years or less, the attending couples shared their newly acquired wisdom with Laura and Josh.
Collectively, their repeated advice was “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Last to share were our son, Samuel, a marriage therapist, and Stephanie, his wife of 16 years.
Samuel later told me he and Stephanie had locked eyes knowing their words would flip the other wisdom upside down, nodded their agreement, and advised in unison, “Do sweat the small stuff!”
Who was right?
This morning I walked into our kitchen to find my early-rising husband cleaning the island, his favorite landing strip for backpack, file folders, keys, and mail as he flies in the house after his day at work.
Never mind that his office is literally three steps inside the front door—the kitchen is where his wheels touch the ground.
Years ago, I made my request for a tidy island known.
After it went unanswered for far too long, I made a choice. I decided I’d rather have my husband and his messes than have a perfectly clean island. He mattered more to me than the messes he creates. (As if I never create my own. . . .)
I decided not to sweat the small stuff. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” wrote Peter the disciple (1 Peter 4:8).
Literally seconds later, I saw three empty plastic water bottles on the clean side of the island. I asked if I could help and throw them away. He said no.
Instantly my heart became judgmental, silently accusing, Seriously?! We have multiple Yeti mugs and too many insulated water containers already. Unbelievable.
And then I heard a prompting, “You have idiosyncrasies too.” Yes, Lord, You are right.
I decided to sweat the small stuff this time.
This small attitude of superiority in my heart, if ignored and not confessed, would become a veil between us, clouding the transparent purity of our hard-earned marital intimacy.
Dennis and I are not beginner artists anymore. Experienced, yes, but not exempt from ongoing difficulties in creating the beautiful art of our marriage.
Our union is our own unique painting of God’s image in us—the mysterious sketch of Christ and the church. This high and holy art must be nurtured daily.
And so I chose to confess my small but potentially hurtful attitude, knowing it wasn’t pleasing to the One I love most, my divine Artist. My husband never heard the brush of dark, ugly paint that almost made mud.
The small stuff ruins daily intimacy and oneness. And it adds up over time, dulling the Light of the World, Who longs to be seen in us.
For a long time I did not understand how easily His light can be hidden, nor did I understand how brightly He can shine when the dark big stuff comes uninvited to our lives.
Finally, I remembered a principle of art: The light of pure paper or white paint shines brightest when it is contrasted with the dark. Master artists use deep, dark colors next to, even touching the lightest lights.
In marriage, it means trusting the Master Artist when He executes this technique to reveal more beauty and luminosity in your marriage and in mine.
Over our forty-plus years of marriage, we have experienced more dark paint on our canvas that I ever imagined, including near-death experiences, handicaps in our children, a decade-long prodigal, financial setbacks, the death of a newborn granddaughter, and many agonies known only to God.
The big stuff, the dark swaths of deeply pigmented paint, can kill many marriages.
But the truth is that hardships and suffering often reveal transparency already dulled—oneness already compromised, the light of Christ already hidden behind layers of silt.
When the small stuff of marriage isn’t diligently attended to, then big-stuff crises provide plenty of reasons to quit an already muddy marriage.
Marriage, like watercolor painting, is much harder than we thought. Singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson penned these words about his marriage: “It was harder than we dreamed of, that’s what the promises are for.”
The promise of “I do” that I made, that my daughter made, that you made matters.
But here is the best promise of all: “Nothing is too hard for God” (Jeremiah 32:17).
God knew we’d need this promise from Him, because our promises fail. In His amazing grace He repeated this vow eight times, one for each day of the week plus an extra to make His point clear.
Our marriage has been harder than we dreamed but so worth it in the end. Because we haven’t stopped believing in each other or our Savior, we’ve beheld the beauty of God’s transformational power.
I want to shout this truth from the rooftops, to proclaim it as loudly and widely as I can: The art of marriage is worth the effort, worth the work!
Like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, we too can find great joy and fulfillment, even happiness, in marriage if we believe in God like Jesus did.
When a spouse decides to quit, it’s a refusal to believe.
He or she is saying to God, “You aren’t powerful enough to fix my spouse and my hard circumstances.”
Quitting on wedding promises is ripping up God’s glory, throwing the mud of unbelief on His painting in you before it’s complete. It’s refusing His arm of love reaching for you!
Oh, where would we be if Jesus had given up?
Where would we be if He had quit?
The good news is He didn’t!
I’ve seen miraculous proof in thousands of marriages stained with the most egregious sins, yet resurrected by a God for whom nothing is impossible.
May you courageously, tenaciously believe in Jesus’ resurrection power for your life and marriage, in the small stuff, in the big stuff, and till death do you part.
This post was originally shared on Ann Voskamp’s blog.