The Stranger I Married
Chris and I have been married for four and a half years. Two years into our marriage is when we began our clerkship journey, moving from one new city to another, and three years into our marriage, we added our daughter, Grace. It feels as if we've been married so much longer... in fact, reading these milestones helps me to see that we were very likely still in much of our "honeymoon phase" when we moved to Austin. We were still, essentially, newlyweds. Even now, not being quite to our five-year anniversary, I would consider that timeframe to still label us as "newlyweds."
A friend of mine, who is single, recently asked me how it's possible to trust the person that you marry. How is OK to walk down the aisle to someone, feeling confident that you know them so well, and yet, remember that the reality is that there are things about them that are hidden, that only time will reveal? I added to her question and pointed out that you may think you know the person you marry, but they might be a different person in a few years – a change in career, in circumstances, and life experiences will shape the person that become over time, which means the person they are today is not entirely who they will be later in life. My answer to her was this: "You are just as broken. You have your own baggage, your own sins, that you bring to marriage. Some of it you know about yourself. Some of it you don't. And some is still yet to come. You give grace to your spouse because you are just as much in need of it yourself."
I recently began reading "The Meaning of Marriage" by Tim Keller for the first time. I've read a couple of other books by Tim, and I love the candidness and yet gentle-nature that is his writing. He is able to put complex ideas into very straight-forward, simple expressions that reminds me very much of his self-confessed favorite writer, C.S. Lewis. It only took two nights of reading what I had highlighted that day to Chris for Chris to jump on board and read the book as well (though I'm sure the Lord of the Rings quote featured in chapter two helped).
Tim is quick to point out this concept of "marrying a stranger." Because no one is perfect, therefore, no one is perfectly compatible. When problems arise, as they inevitably will, they will not come because you "married the wrong person." They will come because the perfect spouse for you does not exist. Tim says, "The Great Secret of marriage is that we must mirror Christ and the Church. Jesus gave Himself up for it. ...The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice, but rather, mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice."
For the past several months, my fear has been fixated on the future of our marriage. I have a running phrase in my head that says, "Chris will never change." I take the small things he does that contributed to our marriage crumbling in 2017 and imagine them contributing to another, bigger breakdown further down the road. I know I have no control over this. I know I am in a marriage bound by God, and leaving is not an option. But I also know, because my marriage is bound by God, He will use it to sanctify both Chris and I and point us toward lives that are whole-heartedly in pursuit of Him.
To not be self-centered and to serve the other is the only way a marriage can thrive. But it sounds oppressive, right? What is there's not "mutual sacrifice?" Tim would say, "To be part of a whole, you have to surrender your independence.
Paul says that this ability to deny your own rights, to serve and put the good of the whole over your own, is not instinctive; indeed, it's unnatural, but it is the very foundation of marriage."
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Note that these truths are not written as something you receive. They are written as something you give. "When the Bible speaks of marriage, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone." Feelings are fleeting, and we cannot promise to feeling loving towards someone every day of our lives, but we can promise to act loving towards them. Only the act of love is an attainable goal in marriage. It's practice is where the foundation of the house gets poured.
I cannot say all of this and not point out that suffering is an inevitable part of life, and therefore, an inevitable part of marriage. This is not just because we live in a broken world. Often, suffering is sent to us by God's own hand, the same hand that provides great joy, for the great purpose of reminding me that He is in control, He can be trusted, and that I am fully dependent on Him. "Not only that, but we REJOICE in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5) Paul says God GIFTED him a thorn in the flesh to keep him dependent upon the Lord. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is how Jesus started His first sermon... this is the life we are after as children of God.
I often felt as if the last few years were years I spent wandering in the desert. The people of God wandered in the desert for forty years... imagine, being born the year they began and coming out of the desert for the first time at forty years old. I struggle to wrap my mind around the goodness of God in this. I struggle to see His love. And yet... it is in the desert where our intimacy with Him is increased. Through seasons of feeling distant from Him, He is revealing to us a different aspect of His character, and pulling us into a new, deeper level of trust in His deep and abiding love. Hosea 1 says, “You will stop calling Me master and start calling Me husband.” The Lord disciplines all those that He loves, but His discipline is never meant to consume or destroy. Instead, in His discipline, He is wooing, reconciling, and resetting the hearts of His children. He is leading us not just away from something wrong, but into something that is right. The refining love of God ultimately takes half-hearted desert wanderers and molds them, over vast amounts of time, into whole-hearted people who live in minute-by-minute pursuit of Jesus.
This is the life I'm after, both in my marriage and in my life at large. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies...For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..." (2 Cor. 4:8-10, 17) As Chris and I turn our eyes towards serving the other, we also orient our hearts toward God and His glory, placing ourselves directly under the waterfall of His infinite beauty and manifold perfections. It is here we find everything we are looking for that we will not find in one another or on this earth. It is here where we taste and see that He is good... very good.