Words by Katelyn Smith // Images by Emily Magers
Marriage. Depending on whom you ask, just that word alone conjures up so many different opinions, ideas, and emotions. We all hear the jokes, the “ball and chain” nicknames, the unfortunate complaints. Marriage has become a derogatory affair rampant with self-seeking actions.
Western society has decided that marriage is a commitment for the self. Am I happy? Is this what I want? Did I pick the right person? The media likes to paint a romanticized picture of marriage that intentionally, or unintentionally, points a finger at all of us married folk. This is where the danger lies.
It is so easy for us watch a romantic comedy and start to analyze our marriage to see if it measures up to whatever relationship it is that we are watching onscreen. A dishonest picture is painted that can so easily affect how we view our relationship.
In a world where marriage is considered archaic, prenuptial agreements reign and wedding rings are worn for status instead of symbolism. It is in this distorted world that we are failing to remember what marriage really means.
When I married my husband less than a year ago, I felt that I had a pretty good handle on what I was getting myself into. We went through premarital counseling—my dad imparted his wisdom as a father, husband, pastor, and marriage counselor—and we read books by some respected Christian authors telling us what to expect and how navigate the highs and lows of married life. All of this preparation was invaluable, but I have found that I have learned more about marriage just by being married.
In this newlywed life, I have come to realize a few important things:
Sure, I married my husband because he does make me happy. I benefit from his presence in my life in many distinct ways. But I can’t expect him to fulfill me the way that only the Lord can. God authored marriage as a reflection of his own love for the church. If God were in it only for what he was getting in return, I would venture to guess that he would have never created us. We let him down on a daily basis. Much the same, we cannot enter into marriage with unattainable expectations of the other person. We will be constantly disappointed, and we will be constantly feeling that there is something or someone better for us. When we look to the Lord to satisfy our needs, we will find ourselves happy in the life and marriage that he has placed us in.
Contrary to what society tells us, marriage is not for us. It’s not about the perks, the flashy ring, the home-cooked meals. Being married means ceaselessly serving the other person. It is a constant and intentional denial of self. It means loving in a way that leaves them blind with the light of Christ. It means apologizing, being humble, and being willing to do the hard things to make it work. Most importantly, it means forgiving. Because of the way in which we have been saved and forgiven, we have no excuse but to be forgiving with our spouse. Marriage is meant to unite two imperfect people as they find completeness in the Lord’s love.
This may come as a shock to the prenup-happy celebrity couples of our world, but regardless, it is the truth. Marriage was always intended to be a lifelong commitment. When we realize that marriage is about the other and not the self, it becomes significantly easier for us to treat marriage as a permanent union. It is a choice, every second of every day, to cultivate the love of Christ in one another. It is about making the other person happy. When we are actively and intentionally doing this, we will be pleased to discover that we are reaping the benefits. We will also discover that we are happier in our relationship, thus better equipping us to fight away the thoughts of “what if” and “if only” that lead to unhappy and temporary marriages.
Marriage isn’t always like the romance we see in the movies; in fact, it rarely is. In order for our marriage to succeed, we must roll up our sleeves and be intentional about making it thrive. This means planning quality time together and not letting life bulldoze the foundation that establishes us in the Lord. Anything worth having takes work; this rings true for marriage also. We cannot simply sit back and expect to have a wonderful marriage just fall into our laps. We must be willing to do all that it takes to make it the relationship that we want it to be. The unfortunate thing is that where I am from, about 70 percent of all marriages result in divorce. The death of a marriage is no small thing; it is the dissolution of a God-inspired, God-blessed, and God-breathed union. Our society does not view marriage in this way. We, as Christians, have a responsibility to model a marriage pleasing to the Lord. In doing this, we have a chance at making a difference in the lives and marriages of the people around us. If each and every couple in this fallen world would realize and acknowledge the four things listed above, I am confident that the divorce rate would drastically decrease.
We are called to be sacrificial in marriage; we are called to make our marriages our first earthly priority (secondary to our relationship with Christ); we are called to serve our spouse. All of these callings are centered on selflessness and humility. We must forget what society deems to be acceptable in marriage and instead look to the one who authored it and desires to be glorified within it.
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