How Not to Get Divorced (some thoughts from a Christian perspective)

I read somewhere on someone’s blog a discussion about finding “the one,” the perfect soul mate, the right choice so that we can live life happily ever after.

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.

My husband and I are betting that when two people in a marriage (us) have both fallen more deeply in love with the same God, that’s happiness, too.

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.

Praise You for Your goodness! Amen  

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.

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8 thoughts on “How Not to Get Divorced (some thoughts from a Christian perspective)

  1. I love this post too! You express so well the biblical model for marriage is and should be. Today marks 32 years ago when Tom and I got engaged. I was scared to death, but I had a word from the Lord that he was the man God wanted me to marry. It hasn’t been easy, but we are both better people after all these years. We love the Lord more than ever, we have a passion to marriages grow more in holiness than happiness. But there is much joy to be found even as we’re tumbling around in the rock polisher. Humor and Humility are key. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t laugh at our struggles. Now, we may not laugh in the moment, but we eventually do and it has made all the difference. You said it was “tacky” to post your link on the Marriage Gems blog, but I’m glad you did. I found you! We have a blog as well, http://theromanticvineyard.com and we purpose to help couples grow their vineyard for God’s glory, not ours!

  2. I loved this post. My husband and I are reading Sacred Marriage right now. We find it encouraging to view marriage in this way–as a rock polisher. I think for too long, Christians have seen it as a means to happiness. And therefore most marriages are seen as disappointing. I`m going to print out your post and give it to all my friends (if you don`t mind)

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  4. I think what you said is true. However, sanctifcation takes a *long* time to see the fruit emerge. And when you are living in what seems to be a dull and uninspiring marriage, where you perceive yourself to be diminishing as a person it’s hard to see that you are being polished.

    Often people want to leave a marriage because they think, in some stange way, that they are more likely to be sanctified by leaving the painful situation. They think that happiness, fulfillment, joy, peace and *living up to our potential* is necessary in expressing their humanity, and if this marriage is preventing it, then I must leave.

    When you feel like your are drowning, it’s hard to be convinced that remaning in this situation is for your sanctification.

    Paul even acknowledges that if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, let them. We are not obliged to artifically prop up a marriage where people are unequally yoked. He says we are called to “peace.”

    So in certain situations, where there are biblical grounds, it might be wiser and more likely for us to be sanctified to leave the marriage, or let our spouse go.

    I think you are talkign about marriages where there are biblical grounds for divorce.

    And…it might help to say that we have to accept on faith that the painful marriage we choose to stay in will, indeed polish our character and not embitter us.

    Jesus’s words on the sanctity of marriage are, indeed, hard to swallow.

    His disciples got it. “If this is the situation bewtween a man and a woman, it is better not to marry.”

    –Theoden

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  6. I enjoyed this post very much — lots of great truth and wisdom. My wife and I are experiencing exactly what you describe here, and it has been great.

    Sadly, I suspect that many people will not understand or relate to this simply because they have not experienced it themselves, or have not seen it in the people around them.

  7. I thought I was marrying a Christian but to my dismay found out he had only been pretending to love God. Stone Christian

    Longing:
    That’s such a bummer. And, obviously, there are many marriages where one party wants to stay in the rock polisher and work it out, but the other party doesn’t want to work at it or wants to be free from the polisher. That’s a bummer, too.

  8. When you love God more than your husband, you are in a bad marriage.

    Longing: Obviously, I disagree. If I love my husband more than God, I put him in a position he can’t possibly fulfill, then he will disappoint me, and our marrige will suffer more. When we both put God first, we then have the freedom to love each other even more because we aren’t depending on one another to be our #1 source of happiness. We can receive from the endless source of love in order to give to one another.

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