Staying Power

“By our Heavenly Father and only because of God, only because of God. We’re like other couples. We do not get along perfectly; we do not go without arguments and, as I call them, fights, and heartache and pain and hurting each other.  But a marriage is three of us.”
-Christian entertainer Barbara Mandrell, answering the question of why her marriage worksArmed

 

I know my wife loves me. But I think it’s taken more than that to keep her with me for 28 years. She also loves, and is obedient to, God. And that’s where a Christian marriage gets its ultimate staying power – not just from the love of spouses for each other, but for Him as well. He gives the grace to go on loving when the partner falls short.

That’s not to say Renee settled for hell or even purgatory when she said I Do back in 1987. I think I’ve been OK to live with, and have surely loved and cared for her. Not perfectly, but strongly and usually, which is less than great, but far from bad. So to my thinking, in marrying me she got something like a reasonably good deal on a used car – fairly reliable; dents and stains here and there; some mileage but functional; not flashy or awesome but hey, it works.

Ah, but how your view on a reliable used car changes when you pass a 2015 Corvette Stingray on the street. Or a new Porsche, Camaro, whatever turns you on. And even if you don’t flash on a more impressive ride, you can’t help but get tired of the maintenance, predictability, and sameness of the old one.

Business as Usual
Sustained intimacy guarantees a close-up of your mate’s flaws, a regular bout of power struggles as you navigate and negotiate domesticity, and a level of boredom which is inevitably the downside of security. So yeah, it’s nice to be out of the stressors of the dating game; great to have the Will It Ever Happen to Me? question settled. But it can also be boring getting plunked into the routines couples are just about guaranteed to fall into. So OK, it’s work.

And pleasure, lots of it. But between the times of emotional, physical, and spiritual pleasure marriage provides, there’s work. Work to sustain your end of the covenant; work to treat the marriage like a living thing needing regular investment and care; work to correct it when it’s off, work to keep in on track when it’s stable. And the motivation to do all that simply won’t come from the ongoing warm fuzzy you feel for your partner because (just ask any honest spouse) the warm fuzzy ain’t always warm and fuzzy.

At first it tends to be. In the newness of marriage, partners are often just responding to the joy of their union more than they’re working to sustain it. The newlywed glow is amazing, and so little work is required to keep it alive. But kids come and grow, finances get more complex, responsibilities stretch and exhaust the best of us. And then there’s the challenge of being known thoroughly whether you like it or not; of having your emotional defenses exposed and often overridden as you keep relating to someone who knows you way too well and, accordingly, can push all the right/wrong buttons, affecting you like no one’s ever been able to.

Everyone Says ‘I Do’ Then Some Say ‘I Quit’
So at the end of the day, what keeps some people from bailing while others stay put? Sometimes, of course, bailing is the only option left, if a spouse refuses to be faithful or abandons the family altogether. But in most cases,  when marriages survive I’m convinced it’s not just love of spouse, but love of God, and the obedience springing from that love, which keeps the bond intact. Because the best of spouses can wind up demanding more than you can offer, requiring levels of patience and caring that are simply beyond you. So when I read Paul’s bold assertion “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” I certainly include “marital staying power” in that “all things” category.

As in, “I can do all things. I can stay faithful to one partner for life, no matter what temptations come along. I can pay attention to my spouse, no matter how tired or distracted I am. I can keep working to provide, no matter how flakey I’d rather be. I can keep showing affection and deference, when I’d prefer a selfish retreat into my own world. I can do all things through Christ.”

So as long as my partner loves Him, she’ll love me, even when I’m noticeable unlovable. No wonder I’m so comforted to see her studying the Bible in her office, or listening to Beth Moore, or talking about something new the Lord has just shown her.

And when she does I listen closely, smile, nod, and say under my breath, Keep it up, Baby. Just keep loving Him, and He’ll give you the ability to keep on loving me.

All things through Christ, including the All Things wrapped up in those I Do’s we say so confidently, never knowing – because the best of couples cannot see their own future – what those vows will really require of us.

It’s interesting, then, how marriage brings us back to the basics of the faith, the first being the mandate to love God, which is the first and great commandment. If you’re wise, you’ll spend your life striving to obey it. And if you want a successful marriage, you’ll encourage your spouse to do the same.

Comments

  1. Wow, a very good post. I can so relate. My wife had such a hard time with my sin, but I knew she loved God, as did I, and just prayed we could make it work. I’m still a mess, but it is the love of God that sustains both of us.

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