|Zack and me on my birthday a few weeks ago!|
In honor of this day celebrating love, I wanted to share something I have learned about marriage. Zack and I have been married for 8 years, and while that isn't terribly long, it's long enough to have messed it up I guess. And since that hasn't happened, I hope that means I've learned something along the way. :-) In fact, I want to say right now that I believe this is one of the keys to a happy marriage. I hope I am able to communicate this clearly!
Boy. If you really knew what you were getting into, you just might not get married. Not because it isn't wonderful -- because it is -- but because of what it does to you.
It's no secret to us that we are creatures full of shortcomings and faults. In fact, we can beat ourselves up about those things sometimes. But God knows that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we focus on growing and changing.
Aaaannnd so He made this crazy little thing called love. It makes people doing wild things like... make forever promises to each other... bring new little humans into the world (talk about crazy!!)... pack up and leave their families they have been attached to their whole lives... the list goes on and on of what a man or woman will do when that spark is lit between them and someone else.
And it's a good thing He made it that way. Let me tell you what I mean.
God wants each person to live a life of change. He is a refiner (Zechariah 13:9). He is a pruner (John 15). His desire is that we grow to be more like Him. And amazingly, this is because of His love. It is not because we aren't "good enough" to please Him. He knows that as we do this, we will be happier and more fulfilled. That's what John 15 is all about. He prunes so that we can bear fruit and so our joy will be full. (John 15:11)
One thing that I quickly learned about this pruning process is that I had a really good excuse. That really wasn't a good excuse. "Well, that's just my personality!" For some reason I thought that if I was born that way, then it was ok to be that way. Whaaatt?? Nope. God wants to change who you are. Your "personality." He wants to mold it and shape it so it looks more like Him. Now, it will still look like you! We aren't all supposed to be little clones of each other, but it will look like the part of God that is reflected through you. Wow. That was a big lesson for me.
But what does this have to do with marriage? Well, lemme tell ya (and I probably don't have to tell you!), nothing reveals your weaknesses and selfishness like marriage does. I have faced challenges to change in ways that I never would have without my husband. God was probably laughing at me when I was walking down that aisle. He knew how perfectly He was fitting me together with Zack, even though I didn't even realize it then. Some of Zack's greatest needs have turned out to be my biggest weaknesses -- and vice versa.
I first noticed this phenomenon ... hmmm... pretty much right away. Zack is a very, very orderly guy. I think maybe 2 times in our marriage I've seen him leave a piece of clothing out. He cleans up after himself, does his own laundry, even hand-washes dishes after he uses them! And I was definitely born brain-damaged in that area. I have often "joked" that I literally say things like this to myself: "Lauren. Hang your shirt up. Adults don't drop their clothes on the floor." All. The. Time. It really just doesn't register in my brain. (Side note: if your husband is this way, it's an honest problem, not lack of caring for you, I can verify. :-)
I remember thinking that if I had married a "normal" guy, we would live in a pigsty and probably end up hating our lives and each other. But because of that CRAZY love part, I had a motivation to change that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I have so many more examples. My husband is a thoughtful man, slow to speak. He's full of wisdom, but he thinks things over before saying them. I am quick to speak and am known for "thinking out loud" because for some reason my brain doesn't work when I'm by myself! I have to constantly watch that I don't dominate him in social settings. I still fail all the time, but I care. This is something I believe God wanted me to change anyway! I need to learn to be a listener and not dominate people anyway. But because of Zack, it was revealed to me sooner and stronger.
And also because of Zack, I want to change. Sacrificing your very SELF in this way is what true unselfishness is. You can serve and sacrifice for your family for your whole life and yet be a martyr. This is still selfishness. When you learn unselfishness, you truly are willing to give up a part of your very self for the benefit of another.
There are examples of ways Zack has changed dramatically to accommodate my basic needs too, and I'm sure you can identify things in your own marriage if you look closely. My brain is literally firing off with all the other examples I could tell you about. When I hear people say "You complete me," I know just what they mean (or at least, what I mean :-). Together, Zack and I are a great team; we complement each other perfectly, and we make up a whole one-flesh that is much better than the parts.
But. The BEST part about God using marriage to accomplish these changes in us is that His design gives us a safe place to make these discoveries. It's painful to realize that there is a part of you that isn't pretty. It's humbling and even humiliating. I have shed many tears over these self-realizations. But when it's revealed through the person that God gave you to channel His love and mercy, it's ok. You aren't rejected because of your weakness. You recognize it for what it is -- a growing pain. A merciful act from a loving God who wants you to be full of joy. And so you are grateful for the differences your spouse represents. Without them, you might not have the same opportunity to grow. And therefore become happier.
And you get to be that safe place for your spouse. You have a unique opportunity to love mercy in your husband's life. You could be the one that he cries out to God in thankfulness for. But this will only happen if you have the mindset of Philippians 2:3 -- that in lowliness and humility, you esteem and respect your spouse above yourself. This means that you don't look at his weaknesses and think, "Man, those are worse than mine." In fact, you're better off not really thinking too much about his weaknesses at all. And on the flip side, you don't look at your own positive qualities and value them more highly than his. "Yes, he's a great dad, but I'm so __________! Why can't he be more like me??" Man, this is HARD. We naturally feel like our way is the right way, but you MUST -- for the sake of your marriage -- get out of that way of thinking. Esteem him better than yourself. Make that a conscious choice. Train your thoughts. Control your words. Build him up! Your feelings will follow.
I am positive that these attitudes are present in every good marriage, whether the parties verbalize and understand them or not. And I am positive that without being willing to make these self-sacrificial changes, a marriage will end up miserable. This is God's way! And because of this, people who don't even claim Him can reap the benefits of His system. How many times have you seen Christian marriages that are far more miserable than those of some lost people you know? Why is that, if they have Christ?
Look to your spouse and their needs -- I believe that in seeking to meet them, you will become more Christ-like. And your marriage will get better and better.