Any marriage offers occasions on an everyday basis for us to choose the needs of our spouses over our own.
By Janel Breitenstein
A few weeks ago I found myself with my forehead on my bedroom wall, portable phone to my ear. It was one of those brow-creasing, gut-wrenching, I need wisdom please, Lord! conversations with a friend whose voice was breaking from the yoke of stress.
For nearly a decade now, she had braved a marital rollercoaster. Her husband did acknowledge Jesus. But from the sound of it, his desire for Christ collided with significant dysfunctions from his past and present. He ultimately had a hard time transferring his faith into his marriage. She knew she wasn’t guiltless; we chatted at length about her own contributions to the tense, complicated situation. But it seemed that for her husband, the responsibility of cherishing and nourishing his wife like Christ does His bride—the church—wasn’t on his radar screen yet.
As I stood there, now hand to forehead, praying out loud for her into the receiver, my thoughts became consumed with the magnitude of her daily burden. Yet I was transfixed by her staggering opportunity. She wielded the chance to constantly showcase the gospel to her husband, to her kids, to a watching world, and to a Father who sees what is done in secret (Matthew 6:4,6). In her I was reminded of the God who ardently watches and cares for her, as He did for a discarded Hagar in the Canaanite wilderness.
I began to digest what the gospel in this particular pair of jeans looked like. I thought of the choices she would be making over and over in the nitty-gritty moments of life: when she was asking about his day, for example. Or disciplining their boys. Or folding his socks again. Or agreeing on a movie. Or assembling dinner. Or when one of them had a bad day.
In a thousand decisions, she’d be resolving to love her husband as God has loved her. While she (and I) were still His adversary, God loved us—chose our lives in place of His own. He set aside His rights, status, all the love and honor He deserved, and wrapped himself in every reality of serving us … to the point of death.
My friend remembered well the fractured home she’d come from. And for the sake of her young boys and their future marriages, for the love of her husband, and for sheer obedience to God, she’s going to rise every day to shed what was easy (if divorce can be truthfully so named) for what is eternally and presently better.
She may well not be able to thrive in the harmony of teamwork with her husband, and she may be infrequently respected and appreciated. Her needs and longings may not be met, and her dreams may not unfold to reality. She will be offering her body to a person with whom she doesn’t feel wholly connected or known. Unless God chooses to change the heart of her spouse, she’s looking at a long, slow obedience.
But I trust it won’t stop there. I’m praying that she’ll love this man with her heart, not out of sheer compulsion. Because that’s how we were loved by God. I’m praying God will saturate her with devotion to the husband He’s given her. That she will look out for her husband’s needs, bear his sorrows, hail his triumphs. I’m asking God that just as Jesus served us because “God so loved”—her husband will be served; be so loved.
Any marriage offers occasions on an everyday basis to say, “I choose you. I set aside what I need—or want or deserve—for you.” But I think God must have a unique, filling love and strength for those who, day following day, immerse themselves and their wills in less-than-loving marriages.
He knows intimately their spiritual singleness in the middle of marriage. He witnesses—and intervenes—in the challenges of single parenting of the spiritual sort. He grasps the loss of well-kept hopes for true marital partnership: collaborating for a higher purpose, honing one another in a race toward the Cross.
I trust that in the cavities created by my friend’s marriage, God will be her more-than-sufficient husband, loving her. Buoying her. Empowering her. He’s been where she is, and He drew her with His relentless kindness.
This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2010 issue of Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter. To subscribe free to Marriage Memo and other FamilyLife e-newsletters, click here. For the Marriage Memo archives, click here.