Is it amazing to anyone else how much you think you know about marriage before you are, in fact, actually married?
And then (say, a year later) how much you actually are quite sure you don’t know?
Dan Allender speaks of marriage as both an experience of heaven and hell.
Marriage, at least in my own experience, has handed me some of the greatest prolonged elation in my life. And still, it has a way of opening my eyes to just how powerless, weak, and broken I am. I actually insisted to my husband early on in our marriage that I had never had an anger problem with anyone else in my life—so the problem must be with him.
(Yes. That is just as illogical as it appears.)
Bryan Adams sang, Your lonely nights have just begun/when you love someone. And for your sake, I might hope that your marriage is so Disney-esque that you have no idea what he’s talking about. But for the rest of us mere mortals, marriage can have its moments of loneliness as you realize just how elusive “one flesh” can be: after that argument. Or when he’s oblivious. Or when you’re (gasp!) just as stubborn as your two-year-old.
Marriage brings me—us—to our knees.
But it’s at those moments, the Word tells us, that His power is brought to its loudest crescendo in our lives. Paul David Washer writes, “I used to tell young preachers, in order to preach you’ve got to have the power of God on your life. Now I tell them, in order to tie your shoes you’ve got to have the power of God on your life.” Marriage simply flays open the weakness already embedded deep within us. It primes us to look for the Third Person who’s been working steadily and unrelenting there all along: The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all of these things and more in the marriage of believers—toward both of you: Comforter. Advocate. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Prince of Peace. Convictor. Motivator. Teacher. Mind of God. Revealer of Truth. Helper. But I’ll choose just one, for those of us women who feel acutely the gaps within us that our husbands just cannot seem to fill.
Pastor and author Tim Keller observes, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”
There are times, I need to admit, that I have looked to my husband to fill holes in me that the Third Person was meant to fill: God-sized holes, along the lines of power, comfort, approval, security. In short, I sometimes make my own husband…my idol.
Sylvester Stallone famously explains in Rocky, “I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.” The reality: In marriage, he’s got gaps. I’ve got gaps. Together…we fill some gaps, but we’ve still got some the size of the Grand Canyon.
I’ve written before what the Holy Spirit looks like in a marriage. But we cannot miss this: It is not my husband who “completes me”. If the holes in me, as Blaise Pascal writes, are truly God-sized holes, then then the vacuum they create (when God’s not sought to fill them in) will suck my husband in—right along with everything else I’m convincing myself will make my life sing.
What does this practically look like? A few ideas.
- Not demanding my husband’s admiration, affirmation, or approval to validate who I am or what I’ve done—to feel okay about myself. (Read more here about how my own insecurity affected/affects my marriage, and my slow steps out.)
- Not requiring my husband to perform perfectly to achieve my affection. (Jesus loved me when I was His enemy. This is my model for loving my husband.)
- Not seeking my husband to be my sole source of safety and security, or the resolution of everything I worry about. (Remember: Unless the Lord guards us, our safety measures are in vain.) When my husband is untrustworthy, I have a Husband who is always faithful, wise, and worthy of my trust.
- Not manipulating my husband to get what I don’t feel like I’m getting from him.
- Not freaking out when my husband fails as a father: God loves my children and is ultimately loving and sovereign over their care.
Most importantly, it looks like actively choosing to ground and establish myself in God’s love, “that…he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength…to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-18).
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