Getting married is sort of like buying a house. Think about it; you make a list of what you are looking for, check out your options, and then make a life-long commitment. It’s always been easy for me to fall in love with an older home filled with quirky yet charming characteristics. When my husband, Bernie, and I were house hunting 10 years ago, we saw some adorable houses that needed work, and our realtor must have thought we were expert renovators to hear us talk. “We can knock out that wall and put a bathroom over there…we can open up the dining room into the kitchen…” The truth is that neither of us knew anything about home improvement, and it was just easy to get caught up in the moment, see the potential each home had to offer, and even overlook some serious concerns.
After signing the papers and moving in, then the fun and sometimes not-so-fun work begins. You pull up carpet to reveal hardwood floors that need refinishing or replacing. You begin removing wallpaper and discover that the previous owner used Elmer’s glue as adhesive. The electrical and plumbing systems exhibit some abnormal behaviors, and a few of the features that you initially thought were so charming become more of a frustration than you ever could have imagined. One of my friends recently bought a much older home that had the coolest toilet in the powder room – probably 80 years old. But it caused so many problems for her family that they ended up needing to replace it with a modern commode and the charm was literally flushed away in the process.
Do you see where I’m headed with this? It’s easy to fall in love. Often we either think we’ve found our perfect soul mate who completes us, or we have grandiose (conscious or subconscious) plans to renovate our spouse once we’ve tied the knot. And at some point into the marriage, sooner or later, we have to face the hard reality that there is a whole history - and a good amount of baggage - that each person brings into the marriage. We begin to see a temper, insecurities, or streaks of selfishness - in ourselves as well as our spouse - that we didn’t know were there. Issues stemming from our families of origin begin to surface, and sometimes the charming, quirky characteristics we fell in love with become sources of irritation. When relationships begin to deteriorate, some couples may even feel some “buyer’s remorse”.
What few of us realize ahead of time is that the initial phase of falling in love is similar to anesthesia. We see our spouse through rose-colored glasses. This phenomenon is necessary to bring people together, but at some point into the relationship these intense feelings fade, and we are left with disillusionment if we expected that married life would be pure bliss.
While many people look back on their wedding day as being one of the happiest days of their lives, the goal of the Christ-centered marriage is really learning to love your spouse well. Gary Thomas, in his book, Sacred Marriage writes, “The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage.” He goes on to say, “I’ve been wrong about so many things in my marriage. There have been moments of betrayal, apathy, unkindness, selfishness – but marriage is a long walk. We can start out a little slowly, even occasionally lose our way, and still salvage a most meaningful journey. If we view the marriage relationship as an opportunity to excel in love, it doesn’t matter how difficult the person is whom we are called to love; it doesn’t matter even whether that love is ever returned. We can still excel at love. We can still say, ‘Like it or not, I’m going to love you like nobody ever has.’”
It can be tempting to want to “fix” our spouses, but as we begin to focus on where we need to make changes in ourselves, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our own hearts, we make room for Him to work in our spouse’s hearts as well.
He is the master builder- the expert designer- who knows each of us completely, and his goal is wholeness, not just a pretty looking façade. Only He is able to repair us, heal us, and shape us into people who reflect His character. He knows how to bring out the best in us and in our spouse. Amazing things can happen when we surrender. The real question is - are we willing to do our own work and let God do His?