As soon as Elizabeth and I announced that we were engaged, people quickly began to warn us about marriage. Folks came out of the woodworks just to let us know how difficult and challenging marriage would be—people made it a point to reach out to us simply to share how tough marriage might be. And even after the wedding day, this continued. We returned from our honeymoon to hear things like, “Sure your honeymoon was great—just wait until year 2, that’s when everything will take a turn for the worst,” or, “Just give it some time, one day you might not even like one another.” Now, generally speaking, I genuinely appreciate when people are honest and blunt with me—I want you to tell me like it is—so I was partly thankful for them offering warnings of concern. But mostly, I couldn’t get over the fact that only a few people actually shared the rewards of marriage or at the very least, spoke fondly of marriage. Honestly, I think I could count on one hand the number of people that shared with us how great marriage could be, how rewarding it is or simply that marriage is worth it. Why is that? Why is it that as Elizabeth and I were entering into one of the most important changes in our lives, instead of encouraging us or sharing their own positive experiences with us—so many only shared the negative? Could it be that everyone genuinely had such awful experiences? Could it be that marriage really is terrible? And if so, why do people continue to marry?
Fast-forward to the present, Elizabeth and I just celebrated our second anniversary this past September—so we are now several months into the dreaded year 2…well actually…things are really pretty great. Now I just said that Elizabeth and I have been married for a little more than two years, so clearly I am a marriage expert—be sure to take notes. All kidding aside, I don’t claim to be an expert, this post is made up of simple observations based on our own experiences. In the past two years I have learned a lot—I have learned a lot about marriage, a lot about Elizabeth, about God, life, family, friendship, forgiveness, sorrow, anger, sin, and a whole LOT about myself—simply put, I’ve learned a whole bunch. And through it all, marriage is the best thing that I have experienced. And no, I’m not just writing this because my wife will read it—no brownie points to be awarded here. Outside of the grace that I have received from God, outside of the abundant life, joy and freedom that I have found in Christ, marriage is the best. And I don’t think this is solely my experience. I have plenty of friends who are happily married—many of whom, are blessed enough to be great, if not best, friends with their spouses, as I am with Elizabeth. And yet, we still continue to hear countless stories of such awful experiences in marriage. Why does marriage have such a bad reputation? Why is marriage surrounded by such negativity? Surely, our experiences of joy and companionship are not isolated, while the rest of the world only experiences heartache, frustration and despair! Could it be that the idea of marriage being so tough, so challenging, so difficult or so awful is actually something else that we are experiencing?
Every one has experienced difficulty, hurdles, heartache, sadness and plenty of other trials and we have mistakenly identified either our spouse or our marriage as the root of the problem. So the point of this post isn’t to banter on about how great marriage is, but rather this is a meager attempt to redeem the word, marriage, from the cloud of negativity surrounding it and instead identify the real problem.
Marriage isn’t so tough after all…
But remaining patient? That’s tough. Considering another before myself? That’s hard. Admitting when I am wrong, swallowing my pride and embracing humility? Asking for forgiveness? Overcoming heartache and pain, or deception and broken trust? Seeing past another’s sin? Recognizing my own sin? All of that is tough. Denying myself or dying to myself? Man—that is hard work. Picking up my cross and bearing it? That is tough. So then, it’s not the union of two people that is so difficult—no, it’s that two inherently sinful individuals are still entangled by sin—even if saved by grace, we are each desperately in need of God’s grace daily upon our lives. Honestly, one’s marital status doesn’t make that huge of a difference—life is hard and the call upon the Christian life isn’t an easy one. When I look at my life as a single man, and my life as a married man, there isn’t a substantial difference in the number of difficulties that I have faced—it’s not like before saying, “I do,” there was a void of hardship or strife, pain and heartache, of sadness, of loneliness, frustration, anger, drama, betrayal, deception, or stress. No, I faced all of these things then, and I face them now—my marital status update didn’t create them for me.
So it isn’t marriage that is so difficult or tough, after all. No, it’s our natural inclination towards sin and its effects, consequences, patterns, habits, tendencies, and our daily fight with this sin that is so hard. Even as believers, sin still finds ways to trip us up—some of us are in bondage or are held captive to sin. But it’s this sin, that creates chaos, turmoil, heartache and sadness, anger and despair, and brokenness—it’s been doing this since Adam and Eve tasted of the fruit in Eden after being commanded not to. Believers and unbelievers, both are depraved. We don’t naturally bend towards the things of God. By nature, we are explicitly sinful—we are selfish and greedy, dishonest, slothful and lazy and rebellious, lustful, we lack love and patience, we don’t pursue God, we don’t pursue Christ.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
That is our natural inclination, and unfortunately it’s Elizabeth’s too. And it’s your inclination and your spouse’s inclination too. And so we have to fight to be patient and loving, we have to fight to consider others first, we have to fight to be honest and obedient to God’s Word, we have to fight to pursue and seek Him. We must work at this. And no, I’m not talking about works-based religion or attempting to appease God—I don’t achieve righteousness on my own. Christ did that for me. Look at the passage from Titus 3 again, beginning in verse 4:
but [emphasis added] when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy [again, emphasis added], by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
“…not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy …”—God, not us. It is by grace through faith that we receive the righteousness of Christ. But now we have to work to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), and clothe ourselves with Christ (Colossians 3:12-14).
So we might be tempted to think that marriage is tough, but not because it is; but rather, because we are naturally sinful to our bone and so are the ones we love. And that’s the beauty of marriage—despite how unbelievably sinful I am, my wife loves me and shows grace to me daily. And despite how sinful Elizabeth is, I love her and I show grace to her daily. And that is the beauty of the gospel—despite how awfully sinful we are, God’s love is perfect and His grace is sufficient.
So take it from me, a 2-year marriage veteran and self-acclaimed expert…marriage is the best. So whether you are single, dating, engaged, married, divorced or widowed—marriage isn’t tough.