Getting married is what many people dream of, but how do we know if the reason why we’re walking into marriage is the right one?
One of my coworkers and friends once said, “Nothing can fully prepare you for marriage.”
While singles might give an alarmed squawk—“What?”—at this, the married among thee are probably nodding, the longer married, the more nodding. No amount of pre-marital counseling, stable childhoods or great role models can make the transition into married life completely smooth.
Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are excellent aids and will certainly help. That said, they can’t save you or your spouse from irritations, disappointments, fights and all the other rotten effects of sin.
Marriage is often hard.
At times, the going can get so rough that we might wonder what we were thinking when we signed up for this gig.
Doubt, pain and reconsidering are par for the course in the most average marriage. The moment that past issues of abuse, abandonment or very present and antagonistic in-laws enter the scene, a marriage gets a lot harder. It’s enough to make some decide that marriage isn’t for them. They’ll participate in casual relationships or “friends with benefits” set-ups, but marriage is out.
The Bible is clear that physical intimacy in any other setting isn’t acceptable, though, so why does marriage have to be so challenging?
Asking the Right Question
“Climbing Everest is a big deal. You need to be prepared,” Gary Thomas writes in his book The Sacred Search.
“The same is true for marriage. Just as you wouldn’t try to scale a mountain without making sure you have what you need, don’t enter the most difficult relationship of your life without doing so. Life is not going to be easy. Prepare for it to be really hard—twice as hard as you think it’s going to be.”
He concludes, “If it ends up being less difficult than you thought, there’s nothing lost having married someone who could have weathered the storm with you. If you plan on it being a picnic and marry someone who is only good for the easy times, then you’re going to be in series trouble when times turn tough.”
After establishing the importance of a good spouse, Thomas points out an uncomfortable truth. “Here’s the reality: many women are led into marriage primarily through romantic idealism, and many men are swept to the altar through sexual attraction. Before you can make a wise marital choice, you have to rid yourself of inferior motivations. The wrong why will lead you to the wrong who.”
Why does marriage exist?
A lot of people have very different answers to that question.
They might believe the institution exists to make us happy. It’s so we won’t have to grow old alone. It’s in order for us to have and raise children. It’s so we can have guilt-free sex (Be honest here). It’s because a husband and wife’s relationship is meant to reflect God’s trinitarian relationship.
All of these answers may have a part of truth, but at the end of the day, they can’t capture the whole picture.
The Heart at the Center of Marriage
“Could it be that God has created marriage, the most intimate of human relationships, for the purpose of refining us, chiseling off our selfish human nature, and making us more ‘other-centered’?” proposed Christian Family Life.
In the abstract, this sounds saintly and nice, but in practice, that refining of our naturally sinful natures can be brutal.
In his sermon The Healing of the Home, David Wilkerson shared how his wife’s protracted battle with cancer and depression took its toll on their marriage. After years of struggle, he admitted that he left Gwen at the hotel where they were staying at a conference and nearly bought a bus ticket to Mexico. “I said, ‘That does it. God doesn't expect this out of me. We're not making it. We came here to California. We're not solving our problem. I'm having a hard enough time preaching. I feel like a phony now. I've lost the victory.”
There, on the verge of running away from his marriage, he described being struck with a deep conviction of his own selfishness, that the worst suffering in their marriage hadn’t been his.
Even when he returned, he told her, “You know I love you, and I know you love me. But I can't go on another day. Now, I've got to preach to thousands of people tonight, and I'm not going to do it unless God leads me, unless God heals our marriage and our home.”
In a back room, he cried out in complete despair to God, wondering why God had let them struggle in misery for so long.
“Friends, after an hour or so, something happened in that little room. God poured on me a fresh anointing, an anointing like I had never experienced all my life.” He went out to preach and recalled that “halfway through my message, the Lord let me pick up Gwen’s face. Way in the back of thousands of people, I could see her, and her hands were raised, and tears streaming down her cheeks. Suddenly, I had a Holy Ghost premonition. ‘God is healing your wife right now. God is healing; the miracle’s happening.’”
Marriage should be a place where we practice expressing God’s love to another person and help them live out God’s purpose in their lives, and that process is rarely ever pretty.
In fact, it might be the hardest thing we do.
The Right Reasons for the Journey
Paul Carter is a longtime pastor, member of the Executive Council of The Gospel Coalition Canada, podcast host, author, husband and proud father of five. In his work, he’s found what he calls four “marital crises” that partners must overcome in order to create and maintain a happy, healthy marriage.
He describes them as the crises of sin, conflict, children and loss.
“There are no perfect people and there are no perfect matches—there are only marriages made out of two sinners at various stages of growth and rehabilitation.”
These inevitable clashes are actually ideal, Carter pointed out, for discovering our own hidden idols. How do our own selfish desires boil to the surface when problems arise, when children test us and when we lose what gives us security? “The Bible says that conflict can be a good thing: ‘Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:5–6 ESV) and ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another’ (Proverbs 27:17 NIV11).”
Hollywood has sold us a cheap reason for marriage’s existence: “It’s to make you happy! You will finally find fulfillment in this other person.”
Similar to Paul’s description of the law, marriage exists to not only reveal to us how deeply sinful we are as our own sharp edges grind against someone else’s, but also to drive us desperately toward God’s power.
God’s redeeming work in our lives can make a marriage truly good, and we must constantly turn to him in order to keep this intimate relationship in working order.
Trekking toward our Father in heaven beside someone else can become one of life’s best adventures, but only if we’re prepared with the right reasons for the journey.