Luke and I have only been married for 9 months. Not long at all! So, I don’t have years of wisdom to share about marriage and love. I have a fair share of experiences and heartaches from dating, but not marriage. So, what can I really say on Valentine’s Day?
It’s somewhat of a tradition, especially within the church, to attend pre-marital counseling while engaged. A time to hash out disagreements, ask tough questions and prepare a couple for this life-long covenant of marriage. But, if it is so important to take these classes in preparation and ensure that a couple wants to proceed, then why wait until the ring is on, thousands of dollars have been spent and announcements have been made? How many couples have had serious doubts arise during pre-marital counseling, but settled with “it’s too late now, the invitation went out last week.”? This is one reason, Luke and I began ‘pre-marital counseling’ pre-engagement.
At this point, I already had a lot of concerns and a questions that I really wanted to address. Let’s be honest, I really wanted the pastor and mentors to back me up and correct Luke. I knew there would be areas that I would need to work on too, but the ratio was not even. While dating, I knew I loved Luke and we could have fun together, but I had many moments of frustration and was close to giving up a few times. My mom commented once that my patience was really improving throughout our relationship. She meant it as a compliment. Patience is not my virtue! We argued a bit about the type of counseling we wanted and who we would want as marriage mentors. I didn’t want everything to go through his church, where he grew up and everyone loved him. As the outsider, it appeared that everyone loved Luke and it would not go in my favor for correcting areas that really bothered me. But other options were expensive and didn’t fit our schedule, so we began counseling with his pastor.
From the first meeting I was weary. I walked out thinking “this is not going to work. What do you mean we won’t address the staple questions like finances, roles within marriage, in-laws, expectations and life dreams?” We would study certain books of the bible to see what God says about love and relationships in general and he gave us another book to read together, “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas. Yes, this was all good. Luke and his pastor both learn and process in a similar way- let the umbrella of theory and truth cover all and they will determine their actions accordingly. But I don’t learn that way. I need practical application. I’m a wrestler! I need to get my hands on something and learn through seeing it played out.
Well, as usual, I went in wanting someone on my side. To back me up and help Luke see why X,Y and Z is better if he did ____. However, with just the first chapter of Sacred Marriage, my entire perspective of marriage was knocked off it’s axes. Even the subtitle, rocked me- “What if God designed marriage to make us HOLY more than to make us HAPPY?” Say what, now?!!! “Back it up, marriage was designed to be difficult and to change me, correct me? I don’t want that! I want a partner to help make like easier and more enjoyable. And the fact, that Luke and I are both photographers and this began by working together, my dream is to have a business partner through this.” Like I said, I’m a wrestler when it comes to learning life lessons and this was a tough one. Gary Thomas pointed out in the first chapter, that marrying for love is a relatively new and primarily western mentality. Historically, it has been for power, money, political strategy. Arranged marriages were the expectation and marriage to one person for the sake of passion and love was unheard of. I’m certainly not saying that this was the correct use of marriage and what it was intended for. Mankind is selfish and from that comes cruelty. But God designed marriage from the beginning between adam and eve for a purpose. Everything God does has a purpose whether we like and agree with it or not. So, what was it for marriage?
Being married forces us to face some character flaws, primarily our selfishness. Any situation that confronts our perspectives and desires in a confrontational way has enourmous spiritual value by pointing us to God and asks us to re-evaluate them. “Is this really about me or about them? Am I searching for something in the wrong place? Am I reacting poorly or correctly, regardless of whether it is justified or not?” God created men and women with such unique and perfect gifts. We are purposely opposite from each other in many ways. This is so we can help one other through life allowing our strengths and differences to work in unison. But it is also, to help us see from an alternative perspective at times, to help us grow in wisdom and understanding, help us learn how to relate and love other people better. Marriage is the ultimate union to bring all of these lessons to our feet.
Marriage is not about finding another person to meet all of our needs, answer all of our questions nor to make every day enjoyable. Much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it or from our spouse. Too often, we become short-sighted and consumed with the other person’s shortcomings. This has been one of my greatest lessons through dating and our 9 months of marriage thus far. This is why counseling was rough and I needed to change me more than him. Augustine said “Sacrifice is the most beneficial session from marriage.” I began to recognize how selfish I was in our relationship, even when my argument was ‘this is for your good’. And perhaps it really was, but ultimately, it was because I had expectations of a husband that were not being met. “Marriage requires a radical commitment to love our spouse as they are, while encouraging them to become what they are not.” (Dan Alexander and Emper Longman). My problem, was that I error on ‘encouraging to become what they are not’, and loose sight of ‘loving them as they are’ regardless of their progress.
At the end of our studies, I came to the conclusion that there was one verse to summarize marriage. It wasn’t in the books we studied, but one of Solomon’s parables of wisdom. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17. We have both grown immensely since beginning our studies on marriage. But in the grand scheme of life and love, they are mere baby steps. I am still frustrated many times. Still question what I got myself into once in a while. But my perspective on marriage shifted. I don’t feel like I’ve come very far, but I’m learning to step back and see the whole man, the bigger picture, our entire lives ahead of us, not just the immediate needs. My patience has been improving and every day I am learning to serve better and love without expectation. I realized that if marriage was to train me to be a better woman, Luke is the most patient, gracious and forgiving man I have ever known. I couldn’t ask for a better husband or partner through the moments of growth. This is why I married him!
And yes, he also makes me happy and have a lot of fun adventuring together.
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas – available in book and audio forms. It also has a study guide and video guide for groups.
Our wedding photos were photographed by InnerSong Photography.