My husband and I got divorced before we got married. Several months into our first engagement, he abruptly severed the relationship and refused to communicate—crushing any hope of reconciliation.
Two years passed. While typing a document at work, he had a seemingly random thought: Maybe I made a mistake. Not long after, he called me to ask if I would consider getting together to discuss what happened. Eight months later, he proposed a second time and I said yes again—to the consternation of many friends and family members.
As the wedding date drew near, the forecasts we received from these friends were soberingly consistent: “Be prepared. You guys are going to have a difficult first year of marriage.” They weren’t aiming to discourage us. They had witnessed our tumultuous premarital relationship and knew us both to be strong-willed, opinionated, and determined. Despite their well-grounded concerns, we did not cancel our nuptials. Nor did we forget their warnings.
The Calm Before the Storm
After we officially became husband and wife, each minor disturbance caused us to hold our breath and scan the horizon for the predicted storms. Fortunately, our friends were wrong about year one. Laughter, long walks, great sex, and deep conversations became the norm. It wasn’t until year ten that the tornado hit, but by that time our roots were deep enough to withstand the wind.
What gave us the courage to try again when the first version of our relationship ended so poorly? Amidst the wreckage of our break-up, Christopher and I chose Jesus over numbing, self-deception, or blame. Though we were already actively following Christ, we now took it up a notch and resolved to become like Him. That decision is what gave us the courage to reengage and what has enabled us to have an increasingly rich, satisfying marriage.
God Makes the Difference
Because of my various vocational roles, which include pastor and professional photographer, I’ve officiated or photographed hundreds of brides and grooms as they promise to love, honor, and cherish each other. Though you’ve probably not witnessed as many weddings as I have, perhaps you’ve also noticed that marriage vows lack specificity. How, exactly, are we to love, honor, and cherish this imperfect person for the remainder of our lives? I am convinced that our ability to faithfully execute our vows depends more upon our willingness to be changed through Christ than perhaps any other factor.I am convinced that our ability to faithfully execute our vows depends more upon our willingness to be changed through Christ than perhaps any other factor.Click To Tweet
If you and your spouse attended a premarital class, the importance of change most likely never made it onto the syllabus. Transformation is infinitely more abstract and therefore more difficult to teach than primers on communication, in-laws, finances, and of course, sex. Make no mistake: marking these and other potentially hazardous areas with fluorescent orange spray paint is useful. It can prompt proactive conversations that will help us better understand one another and navigate our differences. However, knowledge and navigation skills are not enough. What differentiates a dynamic, joyful marriage from a disappointing, frustrating one is our willingness and commitment to be changed, to say yes to God’s transforming work, and to become increasingly holy with each passing year.
When we begin our married life together, few of us have sufficient wisdom or perspective to understand that we need to change or how change happens. Author Mike Mason writes in The Mystery of Marriage,
The Crisis of Marriage
Marriage, even under the very best of circumstances, is a crisis—one of the major crises of life—and it is a dangerous thing not to be aware of this. Whether it turns out to be a healthy, challenging, and constructive crisis, or a disastrous nightmare, depends largely upon how willing the partners are to be changed, how malleable they are.
In the book of Ezekiel, God promises the Israelites, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your hearts of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) That’s the kind of change that allows us to have redemptive, satisfying marriages and orient ourselves toward God.
This movement toward Christ should impact every component of our marriage. As we become like Jesus, we willingly and routinely sacrifice for our spouse rather than protecting our self-interests. We extend grace and mercy rather than judgment or retribution. We love lavishly, rather than withholding in self-protection and fear. This kind of transformation will force us to confront the abject poverty of our souls on a regular basis. Paul poetically explains this process: “And we, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Change Happens When You Want It
Such profound change happens incrementally and only when we doggedly pursue it. We have to want to grow, want to love more consistently, and want to regularly bless our spouse. Athletes don’t become world class by standing up and making a onetime commitment. They dedicate their lives to reach their goal. Likewise, we will not magically become an amazing wife or husband simply by speaking an earnest vow before our family and friends. Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage, “Nothing can mature character like marriage.” In my experience, he’s absolutely right! Thankfully, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be with us every step of the way.
©2017 by Dorothy Greco. Excerpted from the book MAKING MARRIAGE BEAUTIFUL. Used with permission by David C Cook. May not be further reproduced or downloaded. All rights reserved.
You can download the entire chapter (and find more of Dorothy’s work) through her website: dorothygreco.com.