What if some good friend asked you, What’s that thing that most often comes between you guys in your marriage? You know, from your side of things.
What would it be?
Every relationship, I think, harbors at least one: that Thing that occasionally threatens to overcome what you were sure was stronger than death. Sometimes it’s like hugging someone with an arm stuck between, the elbow digging into both of your ribs; awkwardly, painfully.
Could be some recurrent selfishness on your spouse’s part, or that distinct question about his or her wondering eyes. Sometimes it’s that incredibly awkward set of social skills, or that single thing you’re asking them to do to which he or she remains utterly passive, even oblivious. Maybe it’s the kids or the job, or the exhaustion that blankets them both. It might be that event, the one that separated everything into before and after, that the thick sheet of forgiveness just wasn’t broad enough to conceal and swallow. Or you just couldn’t get back on your feet, now crippled and limping. Possibly it’s his mother, or one of your slightly-too-tightly-knit relationships with one of the kids. Could be a dream: The one that shimmered with so much promise when you were dating, but permanently detoured around real life.
When I look back over my own marriage, at least (and full disclosure: you should know we’re more crazy-in-love than ever)—I’m ashamed to admit how much the thing between us was almost always just as much about me as it was about him.
I know it’s not always like that. In some relationships unfaithfulness is just unfaithfulness, and porn is just porn, and abuse is just abuse, and mental disorder was just a bud when you said, “I do.” I get that…as much as someone not living it can compassionately get it.
But I need to admit that sometimes, if I didn’t get that One Thing—that One Thing became more important than him. Than us. Than what God stuck together.
I was recently struck by the arrowlike truth of Tim Keller’s tweet: “If each spouse says to the other, ‘I will treat my selfishness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect for great things.”
Sometimes, whatever that (current) Thing is hardens me a bit in self-protection. And when I love, maybe I hold a little back. I let that arm get in the way. A little reserve for myself, because, after all, that one-flesh thing just cannot completely be trusted.
That little reserve makes all the difference, I think, as to whether I’m actually receiving him. Romans 15 sets a tall order: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.
As in, before I had my act together. As in, when I was His enemy.
Maybe that’s why John Legend’s lyrics still make me need to pretend I’ve got something in my eye:
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
There’s something about this brand of love that says no matter what I don’t have, no matter what hits us, I am rich in everything that matters. Like that quote from that old Nicolas Cage movie, The Family Man (2000): I choose us.
In that movie, I’m moved by a conversation between the two married main characters, driving in their minivan, kids asleep in the backseat. He’s trying to piece together how they got so far from the life they envisioned; wonders where they’d be if real life hadn’t taken over. And she concedes. But, she remarks calmly, if they did that—“Then I realize I’ve just erased all the things in my life that I’m sure about.”
As we pray for our marriages this year, what if we chose to treat our own selfishness as the primary problem?
What if we prayed to love our spouses unconditionally (a prayer that we could be working out every day of our lives)?
What if we prayed to “overflow with thankfulness” for our marriages?
Keller elsewhere writes,
Whatever captures the heart’s trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior. What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable…What makes people into what they are is the order of their loves—what they love most, more, less, and least. That is more fundamental to who you are than even the beliefs to which you mentally subscribe. Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do.**
May God give us the power, this year, to give Him every Thing.
**Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. New York City, New York: Viking Publishing (2015). Kindle edition, pp. 132-133. Emphasis added.