[May 17th, 2018 marked 10 years since Lois and I were married. What follows is some reflections that I jotted down while we were away celebrating.]
We found an absolutely fantastic little cabin near Youngsville, NC, and have had the very best time simply spending time together without the kids. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is even better than our honeymoon (which was really nice), and that leads to what I want to write today, namely some reflections on our ten years of marriage. God has blessed me beyond what I deserve, and I want to make a big deal about all of his kindness to us, as well as to set down some thoughts that might be encouraging to those who are looking forward to marriage, or are closer to the beginning of their marriages.
(1) One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is the fact that our marriage shows that marriages can get better over time. Lois and I came in to our marriage with a lot of things going for us. We were both following Christ, we both believed that marriage is for life, and we had a number of things in common that made our marriage easier (for example, we are both industrious and frugal by temperament and upbringing). Nevertheless, we both had a lot of rough edges, and a lot of unspoken (and even unconscious) expectations. So while I distinctly remember having a great time on our honeymoon spending time with Lois and doing things together, I also remember having at least one fight, and some less enjoyable times while we were there.
Now, ten years later, we are enjoying our little cabin away from the world, and we don’t have all of the same struggles we did on the first week of marriage. We have worked through a ton of disagreements, we have learned things about each other and ourselves that we didn’t know then, and (I hope) have grown as individuals. By the kindness of God and hard work, our marriage is much better than when we first began. Of course, marriages don’t improve either inevitably or automatically. However, I want to encourage you, reader, that when husbands and wives are following Christ and faithful to their commitments that they made at the beginning, marriages can get better over time.
(2) Another thing that I have been thinking about lately is that I have come to value Lois and her strengths and giftings more than I did when we were first married. When we were first married, I was very concerned to establish from the beginning that I was the leader in my home, but I think I was somewhat insecure about it. When I was growing up, I never heard the idea that men should lead their wives and families, but when I became a Christian, I became convinced that the biblical pattern of men leading in the home and the church was true. However, probably much from my own insecurities, I don’t think I understood this teaching well, and I think I held this teaching in a somewhat rigid way.
While I certainly appreciated that I was marrying a godly and virtuous woman, in the last couple years especially, I have come more and more to appreciate all of the many things that Lois is good at that I am not good at. Just to give an example, Lois is the map-person in our family. When we go somewhere, I do the driving most of the time, but I tend to defer to Lois for the navigation, because she has always loved maps and I cannot remember the names of the streets I pass every day. I have also come to value the way she can speak a passage of Scripture to me just when I need to hear it, and how she has a depth to her prayer-life.
When we were first married, I was not mature enough to really appreciate these things the way I do now because I was more insecure and didn’t understand our roles very well. When I think back on it, I wonder if maybe I felt like being the leader was like being in a race in which I always had to be in front, whereas now, I think I understand a little better that being the leader of my family doesn’t mean that I have to be better than everyone else at everything, but rather that my job is to set the trajectory for our family and try to enable them to succeed in doing what God has called each of them to do. I’ve become more secure in the role God has assigned to me in my family, which means I don’t have to feel “threatened” to see Lois succeed in the role that God has called her to; rather, I find it a great pleasure to see her bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.
(3) On a slightly different topic, I’ve seen firsthand over the past ten years how it is important to “grow toward” each other. Human beings are not static. We are changing and growing as long as we are alive (or at least we are supposed to be). One of the most amazing things about marriage is how our spouses affect who we become. Their constant presence in our life becomes one of the most consistent shaping factors in our lives. Yet we have to choose to grow toward that other person, or else we will grow apart from them.
The truth is, living with others is often painful. They sin against us and hurt us. The question is, how will we respond? Will we grow cold and withdraw from the other person, or will we forgive and choose to renew our commitment to them? Marriage is committing to love that other person no matter what. From time to time over the past ten years, I have found myself in the positon of wanting things in our family to be different, and knowing that the desire was for something good and right, but realizing that I was powerless to change the situation in any way. The truth is, sometimes we wish our spouses were different, and sometimes for right reasons. But the question is, what will we do if they never change? Can we trust God and remain faithful and committed to them and love them even if they never change as long as we live? These moments have been powerful in my life to push me to trust God, to believe that he loves me and will take care of me, and to recommit myself to Lois to love her no matter what. This is what it means to grow toward each other.
(4) Even though I just made a big point of saying that we have to grow toward our spouse, I also want to point out that it is also OK to have differences. Though we are “one,” we are not identical; that is to say, we are not the same person, and we have to accept our spouse as they are. It is OK that we like different kinds of movies. It’s OK that my wife doesn’t agree on every single point of Christian doctrine with me. Of course, if we are growing toward one another, we will be open to new experiences if they mean that I can enter into my spouse’s life more fully, and I will give up some things that are not wrong in themselves in order to build a life together with her. Still, it’s OK to be different as long as we handle those differences in the right way.
(5) Marriage doesn’t come naturally, but requires supernatural grace and discipline. Marriage is one long exercise in giving and dying to self, and we are by nature selfish and self-centered. This means that if our marriage is going to bless others and be enjoyable for our spouse and ourselves, we will need God’s enablement and we will have to be intentional. No garden ever became beautiful without design and intentionality. This means cultivating the things that we want in our marriage, and weeding out what we don’t want.
This might seem obvious, except the surrounding culture often presents romantic love as some kind of uncontrollable force that we are powerless to control and that we are somehow at its disposal when it comes upon us. My friends, this is simply untrue. While our feelings are not literally at the disposal of our will, we can cultivate our feelings toward our spouse, just as we can (and must) suffocate and remove any affections that would be harmful to our marriage.
(6) There are so many other thoughts that have been running through my head the past couple days as I reflect on our 10 years of marriage, but one thing that I keep coming back to is the fact that Christ has made a huge difference in our marriage in innumerable ways:
- Christ has given us a foundation to build our marriage upon. While we have differences of opinion and differences of taste in some areas of life, the fact that we are both committed Christians means that we share the most important things in common: we agree about who we are, where the world came from, and where the world is going; we agree that both of us answer to our creator, who has spoken and told us how he wants us to live our lives.
- Christ has changed us so that we can begin to love one another. We have both come to follow Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him. He has given us his Holy Spirit, who enables us to obey God and say no to our sinful desires.
- Christ has shown us that the way of life is love and self-sacrifice. Lois and I can come to our marriage understanding that, whether we always do it consistently, we were made to follow his example of self-giving. We would be in the dark had Christ not shown us the way, and knowing to follow the way of Christ, however weakly we have done it, has blessed our marriage.
- Christ has commanded us to forgive one another. Our marriage is what it is in part because Christ has not allowed forgiveness to be optional for us. Let no one think that our marriage is what it is simply because we are good people! The fact is, I often forgive Lois when she sins against me not because I am a good person and want to, but because my Lord commands it, and because he has forgiven me so much. But I see the good fruit in our marriage and thank the Lord for blessing us by commanding us to forgive.
So those are some of my reflections about our marriage. May the Lord bless us with many more years together for his glory.