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Marriage, Surprises, and Commitment

 

Marriage kiss

by Dennis Pollock

When a man and woman get married, they are in for some surprises. Some are pleasant and others – not so much! The reality is that no one truly knows what they are getting when they say “I do” – unless they have already been living with each other for at least three years or more. Some would suggest that living together before marriage is a sensible idea. That way you could go into marriage with your eyes wide open, knowing every one of your partner’s flaws, idiosyncrasies, warts, and disagreeable habits. And among secular, non-believing, non-church-going, non-praying folks, this is becoming more and more the norm.

God has never seen it that way. In His Word He uses a term not especially popular these days. That term is fornication, and it simply means any and every form of sexual expression outside of the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman. Under the Old Testament a woman who was found to be not a virgin when she married was called “disgraceful” and was to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:20, 21). Those strict rules are not relevant today, but still under the New Testament we read, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Christians who practice and defend this view are considered social dinosaurs these days, but you really can’t profess allegiance to the Scriptures and see things any other way. The Bible is simply far too plain in its condemnation of sex without the wedding rings, and the commitment which accompanies them. Sleeping with Tom on Thursday, Michael on Friday, and Josh on Saturday is totally unacceptable to your Creator – as is sleeping with only Tom throughout the week, but with no ring on the finger or marriage license in the closet.

Why?

This argument for living together before marriage has been made for a long time, and the illustration that has often accompanied it is the thought that “you wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without first trying them on.” But what people fail to see is that marriage, sexual intimacy, and the intertwining of two lives are intended by God to be based on a commitment which never seeks nor even considers the possibility of an exit strategy. The act of lying together in bed and enjoying one another sexually is God’s provision for the sealing of the marriage relationship. Once the act has occurred, there is no going back, at least not in the eyes of the One who created us and has given us our sexuality.

Far more than we, God knows full well that there will be differences to be resolved, issues to be faced, compromises to be made, and that sometimes the going will be tough. Still He insists that we sign up for the long term. We may trade in our cars for a newer model, replace our old computers, toss our out-of-date clothes, buy bigger and better houses, and change jobs every few years, but we are strictly forbidden to apply this mentality toward our husbands or our wives. “Till death do you part” is God’s plan and God’s command. Jesus declares, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

A Great Opportunity

The fact that we will not have it easy and that we will have to practice forbearance, to frequently bite our tongues, to say yes when we feel a tremendous urge to say no, to smile when we don’t feel like smiling, to place unity and peace above powerful personal desires is not at all a bad thing. It is good for us! Being joined in marriage with a perfectly compliant spouse - one who yields to our every whim, makes our pleasure and satisfaction the supreme aim of their life, one who never complains, never argues, never disagrees, and one who continually showers us with compliments, praises, and adoration would be the worst possible situation. Living with and working out differences with an imperfect spouse is a wonderful opportunity to practice and demonstrate our Christian faith.

In the laboratory of the marriage relationship we are given the opportunity to “bear with one another,” to “forgive as Christ has forgiven us,” to “submit to one another,” to “do all things with love,” and to “let patience have its perfect work.” Through faith in Jesus, and an unswerving commitment to His command to be faithful to our spouse, we live out our faith from day to day, working through difficulties, bearing with annoyances, overcoming challenges, and being thankful to our kind Creator for placing that imperfect but very precious soul in our lives. Too often we tend to drop relationships when conflicts arise. Once close friends are deleted from the contacts list on our phones and unfriended from our Facebook accounts; people we used to call every day are now forgotten. We have “moved on.”

But in the area of marriage we are not allowed to “move on.” We are called to stay in the same place for a lifetime. Some like to justify their moving on with the thought that “we are not the same people we were when we married.” This is no doubt true. Nobody in their forties is the same person they were in their twenties. And in your sixties you will be different still. But somehow God has never been impressed with this line of argument. Of course you have both changed! What in the world did you expect? But change does not have to mean alienation. Through the grace and the love of God, you can have a warmer, sweeter relationship than you did in your first year of marriage. Perhaps the fireworks may not be quite as impressive or spectacular, but the nature of the gentle love between you can, and indeed should be stronger as the years go by. And this is not simply a matter of gritting your teeth, rolling up your sleeves, and forcing yourself to endure the unendurable. For the Christian it is a matter of faith in Jesus, and the resulting grace that flows in your hearts and lives as a result of that faith.

Dealing with the Surprises

Among those who have not broken the rules and lived together, there will certainly be a number of surprises each spouse will encounter as they spend months and years living in the same household. Many of the surprises will be of the unpleasant variety. The reason is simple enough. During the courtship period when their relationship is saturated with longing, deep, passionate kisses, pledges of undying love, and the maddening desperation to spend every waking hour with their beloved, both parties are nearly always on their best behavior. In such situations both are seeing the very best it is possible to see of each other. This is the nature of the “in love” stage of the relationship. All the positive attributes are magnified; all the negative ones are almost entirely suppressed. If you do see much ugliness in your prospective spouse in that situation – beware! If he or she can be obnoxious before marriage, it will get much, much worse once the vows have been said, and their true nature is revealed.

Couple at oddsIn some ways marriage is like Forrest Gump’s proverb about life being like a box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” But many young people fail to recognize this. In the tremendous gush of romantic love they feel, they naively suppose that the person with whom they are so madly in love will be exactly the person they will see when married for five, ten, or thirty years. And then, when the inevitable flaws and warts are revealed in brilliant and intense colors, they run for their lives, declaring, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” But they are wrong. Marriage to a flawed, sometimes disagreeable human being is exactly what they signed up for – they were simply too foolish to recognize it, or deal with it when they saw the true nature of the one they used to call “the love of my life.”

Fixing Things

When those character flaws and defects first appear, the natural response from the observing spouse is to try to fix them. And in some cases this may be possible, although the fixable issues are almost always the small ones that really aren’t that much of a problem anyway. A wife may be able to cure her husband of leaving his smelly socks on the bedroom floor with a few rebukes or a small measure of ridicule. But the bigger issues are more deep-rooted, and all the nagging, criticizing, suggestions, and pleading in the world aren’t going to make a dent in the behavior – at least not over the short haul. Some of these major issues may take years before they are corrected, and some will simply never be fixed this side of heaven. And it can be a fearful and totally disheartening realization when husbands and wives first recognize, “I will probably have to live with this all of my days.”

But this is exactly what separates the Christian marriage from the secular. In the Holy Scriptures we are called to “accept one another just as Christ accepted us” (Romans 15:7). And how did Jesus accept us? He accepted us, warts and all. With all our weaknesses, flaws, defects, idiosyncrasies, quirks, eccentricities, and bad habits, Jesus forgave us, accepted us, and welcomed us into His family. So we must do with our spouses. Of course what we don’t consider is that they must do precisely the same thing with us. When we marry we gather our shirts and blouses, computers, phones, tablets, music collection, and all our other belongings and bring them to the place where we plan to set up housekeeping. And likewise we bring all our faults and issues with us as well. Would that we could leave them behind, but somehow we never do.

One of the most powerful insights leading to healthy marriages is the understanding that “less than perfect” is OK. We go into marriage assuming that we will have such a great marriage that it will get pretty close to perfection. And when this doesn’t turn out to be the case, disappointment sets in, sometimes in a huge way.

Peter writes, “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Why bother to tell the Christians this? Why is it important that they not consider their tough times a “strange” thing? It was important, because when people think that their particular situation is unusual, and that they are going through something that almost nobody else is, their misery will increase tremendously. “Why me?” becomes their cry to God. So Peter tells them, “Don’t think this a strange thing – you’re going through something that many other Christians are experiencing as well.”

This is precisely the situation with the unpleasant marital surprises which occur in the first few years of living as husband and wife. Sometimes we foolishly suppose that every other couple has it great, and that they are every bit as happy and carefree as we see them at the office party, or the church fellowship dinner. But the truth is we will all face less than perfect marriages and less than perfect spouses. Disagreements and those terrible silences will occur in every marriage. It will take a few years for us to finally discover the true nature of that one for whom we have professed undying love.

Joined by God

Jesus says, “What God has joined together.” He does not consider all the various reasons why men and women unite in marriage. Ultimately He assigns marriage to one sovereign factor: “What God has joined together.” And that relationship must not be severed. And so as Christians we work through the problems and accept a relationship that is less than perfect. And as we pray and work and argue and apologize and compromise and endure and swallow our pride again and again, an amazing thing happens. We are caught up in another surprise. We find that in the midst of it all, a new love is growing, which is far more powerful, far more resilient, far more lasting, far more precious, and far more patient than that love which first drew us together. It is the love of God, that love which “seeks not its own.” It is given through God’s one and only channel of grace in this earth, the Lord Jesus Christ. Arguments become less common, and we find ourselves grateful to our kind Heavenly Father for the amazing gift of our spouse.

And if we are blessed, when we come to the end of our days, we can say to our loving spouse and best friend, “I praise God for you, and for our years together.”

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