What is a Christian Marriage?

The last few days I’ve seen many people post 2 articles about marriage.

One basically says, ‘Marriage is not about you, it is about your spouse.’

A second says, ‘Marriage is not about you or your spouse, it is about God.’

Both articles seem to miss the mark. Why?

Marriage is about you. (After all you are in it.)

It is about your spouse. (After all they are also in it.)

And it is about God. (After all, He designed it and might know a thing or two about how it works.)

So, what is marriage about? God said marriage was about two lives coming together as one. At the heart of a marriage is two hearts – two ways of thinking, two ways of wanting, two ways of feeling, and two ways of choosing. And the Christian message tells us that these two hearts are meant to join together. Christianity says, ‘Take the core of who you are and join it together with another so that an inseparable union is formed.’ The goal of Christian marriage is for two hearts to beat as one.
At first this sounds like an exciting proposition. We are eager to join our lives together. But married life exposes our hearts unlike any other relationship. It forces us to think outside of our self-interest, fight feelings that rise up when things do not go our way, manage desires that threaten to consume the relationship, and make choices that prevent division and promote unity.
Over time, what begins as an exciting proposition turns into a battle. We look at our marriage and realize how self-centered we truly are. What we failed to recognize before we married was that two self-consumed people were about to collide.
Before I got married my time was my time. My routine was my routine. My money was my money. My life was my life. When I was single, I did what I wanted. I thought about my needs, made choices I wanted to make. Then I got married and I crashed into another person who did what she wanted, based on her needs, making choices she wanted to make without regard for someone else in her life.
Selfishness as a general principle sounds like it could be overcome. But day in and day out selfishness manifested in specific ways becomes a difficult foe.
When it comes right down to it, my heart is not what it ought to be. There are still times I cry out from the inside out, ‘What about ME?’
The reality of two hearts colliding forces us to face disappointments, dark and ugly responses when we do not get our own way, and a constant change in how we make decisions. If I want my marriage to be a catalyst for my happiness and holiness I have to look into my own heart. Marriage is relentless in its digging up the selfishness I try to bury. It exposes the darkness in my heart and says, ‘Something must be done with this.’ Katherine Anne Porter said that marriage is “the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.” The exposure this searchlight brings is an exposure we are not ready to see. We think our hearts are purer than they are. We think our desires are purer than they are. We think our feelings are more mature than they are. We think our choices are more godly than they are. We think our thoughts are more reasonable than they are.

And then marriage comes and punches us right in the heart.

One of the first things marriage does is tell you that you are not the person you thought you were. You are much more greedy, self-consumed, rude, obnoxious, impatient, intolerant, and unloving than you thought you were.
So, what do we do when we face this reality? We run away. We blame the other person. We wonder why they can’t get it right. We think that the other person needs to accept us no matter what. After all, we reason, if they really loved us they would accept us for who we are and not try to change us. We conclude that the other person must be wrong. After all, what we feel can’t be wrong.
What we do once we encounter our own selfishness will decide what kind of marriage we end up with. We can dig in and hold tightly to our own selfish way. We dig trenches and fortify our selfish positions. From our fortifications we can throw bombs at the other, hoping that we can knock them down and force them to surrender to our selfishness.
Or, we can listen to what the Bible says. The married heart has to move from ME to WE. I cannot continue to be consumed by my own goals, dreams, and ambitions. I have to fundamentally shift my heart so that I am considering my marriage and not just what I want. I can seek the one heart the Bible talks about by changing what I think, want, feel, and choose. A distinctly Christian marriage demands change. Timothy Keller said, “You will have to make changes you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse.”
Marriage requires more. And most people simply do not realize how much it will cost as they prepare to make their commitment. Mike Mason said, “Some people go into marriage thinking that they will not have to change much, or perhaps only a little bit along the lines that are perfectly foreseeable and within their control. Such people are in for a rough ride.”
Marriage requires a complete shift in our heart. If we do not go into the relationship realizing these adjustments are required, marriage will quickly become a painful because two hearts will refuse to change. They will harden and, eventually, they will break.
Too many people are afraid to give up their selfishness for the sake of their marriage. They are afraid of real change from the inside out. Their selfishness whispers to them and says, ‘Yes, you might need to change, but what happens if you change and the other person doesn’t. They will walk all over you.’ Selfishness says, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give in. You are right.’ Selfishness screams, ‘You have too many dreams and goals to let someone else change you.’
The ironic thing is that though we have to change, though we have to give up, we receive much more than we ever lose. We gain a kind of transformation that we could never find in any other relationship. We gain a happiness that God intended for us because He made us social creatures who enjoy real connection with one another. And, as a result, we literally become better people.
If we let it, marriage will beat down the immature and selfish and inflate our ability to love and sacrifice. It will keep us from indulging in selfish behaviors. Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher rightly point out, “Marriage makes people better off in part because it constrains them from certain kinds of behavior.” In addition to constraining some behaviors, it will also help reform the heart. We are able to think about others as we have never done so before. We are able to look out for the interests of others and not just our own personal interests. Basically, marriage helps us be better Christians.
The first step to changing our marriage is to change the way we think about it. We have to honestly look at the state of our marriage and ask ourselves if we are willing to rethink our perspectives, our understanding, and even our memory about how this marriage can and should be. We must consider the whole narrative structure of our relationship – past, present, and future in order to gain new strength in our marriage.
So, why did we get married in the first place? What were we expecting? What should we expect? I think it is important to address all of those questions in a real and loving way throughout the marriage.
But, instead of addressing what husbands and wives should expect, I want to ask a different question about expectations. I want to consider someone’s expectations we rarely think about in our marriage.
After all, wouldn’t it make sense to consult the expectations of the One who designed marriage in the first place? Wouldn’t it make sense to think about what God expects from the very thing He created?
Maybe we get marriage wrong because we are starting at the wrong place.
I am not very good at math. The longer the problem, the greater chance of coming up with the wrong answer. Why? Because somewhere in the process I miss a step or I calculate wrong. There is always some formula I missed. And that one error led to other errors, which led to an incorrect answer.
And this is what I think happens in marriage. In the early calculations about what marriage should be, we start out wrong. We miss a spiritual formula. And starting out with the wrong formula leads to a wrong process which leads to a wrong answer.
What if we reframed the question entirely? What if we brought in an entirely different formula? What if the most important question we asked was not as question about my expectations or my spouse’s expectations? Maybe the first question we should ask is the question: What does God expect from my marriage? Why did God set up marriage as He did?
After all, He did create the whole thing. Maybe He knows a thing or two about what it is supposed to be. So, as we figure out what marriage is we need to remember that marriage is all about God, and it is all about me, and it is all about my spouse. If we look at it any other way, we are not going to be able to enter into the relationship God designed for us.

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