We got married the day after I graduated from college. (Barely) twenty-two and twenty-four, we knew little about marriage or life in the real world, but we were naive enough not to be too nervous. We were jobless and broke but absolutely certain of our commitment to each other and our calling to a life of ministry together. We knew the seriousness of the covenant into which we were entering before God, but we couldn’t possibly have comprehended the full depth and beauty of it. We still don’t. But ten years in, we do see things differently than we did that day at the altar.
I’ve learned a lot of things in this decade of marriage. For instance, it’s really not a big deal if dirty clothes never make it to the hamper. And most fights are easier to resolve after a good night of sleep. Laughing together is sometimes the best medicine for the chaos-induced stress of parenting small children (which, by the way, is much more challenging than marriage in my opinion). And two very different people can have the happiest of unions if they are in sync when it comes to what truly matters.
I’ve learned that it’s not necessary to have a life plan and a savings account before getting married. God is an all-sufficient provider and a faithful guide. He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” and He is much more concerned about our faith than our financial situation. We moved to Kentucky for seminary with five-hundred dollars to our name. God provided jobs, and we never missed a meal. In fact, there were multiple times that an unexpected check showed up in the mailbox just when we needed it, reminding us that God is the one who supplies everything we need.
I’ve learned that marriage is deeply beautiful. It’s beautiful when the feelings are sappy, the sex is good, and you just can’t believe you get to do life with your best friend. But it’s also beautiful when the relationship seems humdrum, conflict is real, and you don’t necessarily feel passionately in love. The beauty of marriage isn’t found in the happiness and (impossible) perfection of husband and wife but, rather, in the day-in-day-out covenant keeping that isn’t dependent on circumstances or feelings. The beauty of marriage is in the staying married. It’s in the repeated extending and receiving of grace by both parties. It’s in the daily choice to demonstrate sacrificial love no matter what.
The problem lies in the fact that we can’t do this. We are not naturally covenant keepers or grace givers. Fallen human nature is fickle, feelings-driven, and bent toward unfaithfulness. This is why God so often refers to his children as spiritual adulterers throughout His Word. We are prone to wander from the God who made us to live in relationship with Him, clinging to our particular “flavor of the month” instead. The natural result of unfaithfulness in our vertical relationship with God is unfaithfulness in our horizontal relationships, namely in marriage.
In the past ten years, marriage has painfully exposed more selfishness and idolatry in my own heart than I would care to see or admit. By God’s grace, Adam and I have kept our vows to one another, but only because One greater than us has kept (and will forever keep) His. God is the ultimate covenant keeper through His Son Jesus, the ultimate Bridegroom. This Bridegroom loves His bride so much that He died to redeem her from enslavement to lesser lovers.
I have learned experientially that both the joys and imperfections of human marriage are intended to draw our eyes and hearts away from this temporal reality and cause us to look forward with expectation and longing to the final and eternal marriage between Christ and His bride. Marriage, sex, family and other good gifts of this life on earth are not ultimate, but they serve as signposts for that which is.
The joy and intimacy we experience in marriage now are just hints of what is to come—a joy and intimacy beyond what we can imagine with the Savior. The sins and struggles we experience in our relationship now validate the truth that this is not all there is. This marriage is imperfect and temporary, and human spouses are never able to fulfill each other completely. But as we faithfully and joyfully keep covenant with one another day after day and year after year, our lives paint a small picture of the perfect and eternal union that will satisfy our souls forever.
One of the first things that drew me to my (then future) husband was his level of commitment to me even before I was committed to him. We were just teenagers when we met, but he chose me and pursued me. He didn’t give up on that pursuit even when it took me some time to come around. Many of his interests and hobbies have waxed and waned through the years, but his love for and commitment to me have never wavered. Adam is fully committed to me (and I to him) because of Christ–the one who pursues his wayward bride, transforms her, and never leaves her. The steadfast love of our faithful Bridegroom is the reason we can say with assurance in our earthly marriage: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. . . and there will be no other for as long as we both shall live.