Forgive me for my cynicism, but I am not sure that the point of marriage is to live happily ever after. I wonder: if more Christians got a different point of marriage, would there be less divorce among us?
When my husband and I were first dating, I asked him if he wanted to be married. He said he wasn’t sure he wanted to marry: he had been very happy as a single.
He then asked me if I wanted to be married. I said yes (no, duh: I was a 36 year old single Christian woman…). Then he asked me why and I replied that I thought marriage was the best arena in which to be sanctified (sounds rather holy, huh?!).
He was so impressed (LOL) and convicted (so he says) that he decided then and there he wanted to be married… and 10 months later, we were.
There are obviously many good reasons to be married. But, for me, sanctification — being made holy — is near the top of my list. It’s the reason for marriage that gets me through the hard stuff, anyway.
A former pastor of mine* shared one of the best metaphors of marriage that I’ve ever heard. He said Christian marriage is like a rock polisher. The rocks are the husband and wife. The polishing agent is the Holy Spirit. And the covenant of marriage keeps the rocks in the polisher.
You spend marriage knocking against each other and the Holy Spirit. It isn’t always fun. It’s often painful. It’s rarely happier ever after. But those rocks get polished. It’s like “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 17:17). That’s what marriage does: build character, transform the rocks. And if a rock leaves the polisher, it won’t get shiny.
Marriage does lead to happily ever after in the sense that (if they stay in the polisher), the rocks get polished. When things get tough in my marriage, this encourages me for two reasons.
First, a polished rock is easier to live with than a sharp one. So, if both of us yield to the character-building role of the covenant, then we will both become easier people to live with. We’ve all heard of those who have weathered the storms of marriage together for many years. They say that their love is far deeper and more profound than in the early years.
The second thing that helps is when I remember that my husband is not cannot and should not be the ultimate source of my happiness: that’s God’s job (See God’s Goal for Believers). The minute I think of my husband or my job (not lately…) or our kids (as cool as ours are!) or my friends or my blog as the primary source of happiness, I have turned to an idol, committing adultery against my first love.
How does this work? The rock polisher doesn’t just build character; it leads to repentance. As I repent, I draw closer to Jesus. I fall more in love with Him. I find that my ultimate satisfaction is in Him, and in nothing else. In some new way, I stumble upon that Holiday at Sea. I get a glimpse of Happily Ever After.
While our human marriage is never perfect (!), I’ve grown increasingly content in marriage. And I’m working on growing increasingly content in general: I suspect that the more I tap into my relationship with Jesus, the more I’ll find true happiness here on earth, even before heaven.
See what we’d miss if we got divorced? (Ha: the pain of the rock polisher!)
Maybe I am speaking presumptuously, but perhaps if more Christians realized that marriage is less about what we get than about how we are transformed, we might divorce less often.
Oh, Lord. How I need to preach this truth to myself again and again (again and again!!). Neither my husband nor my kids nor my job nor my ministry nor human approval nor anything can satisfy as knowing You does (Philippians 3: 8).
Help me to remember that the vicissitudes of marriage, the vicissitudes of life, are all the means by which you will break me and mold me and draw me into Your loving arms. Even when it seems like nothing is happening…
Help me to remember that while my marriage will inevitably improve (as it already has), the rock polisher of marriage will more importantly help me to find happiness ever after in You.
NOTE: I first published this in January. Before I moved my blog to this new URL, it was the most read thing I’d posted. I thought I would republish it now because I don’t want my recent bout of doubt to be my #1 read anymore. FYI, What I Learned from Doubt is the conclusion of the matter and a better post, anyway!
* Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.