Watching my parents growing up, it seemed that marriage was pretty simple. They loved each other no matter what and stayed together with never a word of divorce. My wife Becca experienced the same thing. Consistency and seemingly relative ease. As we began dating, we heard many people refer to their marriages in terms like “the old ball and chain, the old lady”, and other degrading terms that were just jokes but seemed to accurately encapsulate the reality of their marriage. We were determined to be different and since we were both Christians, we figured we would soar.
Not long into marriage and newly introduced to this vision of being real, we began to struggle with communicating and understanding each other, and the arguments became frequent. We were committed to the idea of marriage but were not achieving the success we expected to have. Our unresolved conflicts spilled over into our social life causing awkward situations and Becca beginning to “out” my real behavior that took place behind closed doors. It was embarrassing and I revolted at the idea of her sharing about me, or really, for me.
The apex of this was a little over four years into our marriage when I found myself yelling at my wife in Hawaii – the land of paradise. As dense as I was, I knew something was wrong. Because, who does that? Only a couple with serious problems would find themselves in such a predicament. We joined friends on a hike and I snuck to the back, reflecting on what was going on. As I stared up into the beautiful tree canopy as we approached a waterfall, I was convinced God would give me the solution. In God’s typical unconventional form, he spoke. Though not audible, the sense I got was not the magic solution for our marriage, or the problem of my wife, but that I was deeply broken. I needed to change. I needed figure out what was wrong so I could begin to love others as God had intended.
As I got real with myself, I discovered that I was deeply insecure, as many men are. When I felt out of control or not knowing what to do, I lashed out in my uncomfortability. My wife was an easy target and often the recipient of my attempts to mask the deep fears I had as a man, a provider, a husband, and a Christian. This sent me on an unfinished journey of discovering who I was in Christ, what he thought of me, and how he wanted me to live as a married man.
Though there was profound inward change being made, it was less than a year later at a Sandals Church marriage getaway that we discovered a simple and profound tool that changed our life and marriage. Up to that point, my wife didn’t feel heard or validated by me. I wasn’t able to accept her as she was, listen to her, and love what I saw. I felt this need to change her (mostly for my benefit), either to make me look better or control our daily circumstances. This tool, that Matt and Tammy modeled so beautifully, was prayer.
On stage, in front of hundreds of couples, Matt pulled Tammy in close, wrapped his arms around, and prayed not about life’s circumstances, but for her. He expressed things that he knew she needed and offered it up trustingly to God. We had the opportunity to practice, and before we knew it, had landed on a habit that Becca described in this way, “When I hear him pray for me, I feel like he really understands me and I’m so connected (and attracted–I wished) to him.”
I’m no genius, but I knew my wife feeling connected was a good thing. Emotional connection leads to, you know, physical connection, and the combo of those two eventually leads to a great marriage. I wish I could say I lived out all of the truth and habits I knew would transform my marriage faithfully, but despite my clumsy and sometimes feeble efforts, God began to transform what we had broken. My wife had some changes to make as well, but I discovered a precious truth about leadership; all it requires is responsibility and going first. I didn’t need to be a spiritual giant, have all of the answers, be flawless, or know what to do. I need to go first in loving, in praying, in saying sorry, in reconciling relationship, and forgiveness. Believe it or not, women actually want to follow those things. I now say it this way: “when men lead well, marriages go well.”
In like fashion, my wife stumbled across something that I desperately needed. Grace. I needed to know I was ok when I messed up. I needed to know that God loved me and she loved me. I needed her to cheer me on, believe in me, trust me (even when things looked shaky), and have my back. I made poor financial decisions, got us lost a time or two, and said the wrong thing a whole lot. In all of this, she stuck with me, encouraged me, and chose to live life with me. In this she learned this phrase, “when women show grace well, men lead well.”
One of the stalling points of marriage is waiting for the other person to do their part. Though I would point at the guy to go first, if both can cross the line to the other side, and do their part without expecting anything in return, both people are loved, supported, heard, and taken care of. Over 14 years into our marriage, thousands of conversations, and a bunch of time observing and counseling others, we still get it wrong. But through being real with each other, our spiritual community, and especially with God, we now have confidence in not only “making it” but fulfilling the purpose of marriage, that we might together build God’s kingdom in even greater ways than we could alone. Our differences serve to expose our need for God, they help us grow, and they make us appreciate the beauty of God’s plan to use that which could separate to draw us closer together.
What about you? Are you willing to be real with you, about you? It can be a scary thing, but I tell my story with the confidence of a humble truth. We are all deeply broken, and that’s why we need Jesus. He is the only one who can produce true change and make our marriage a picture of how he loves his church, sacrificially and completely. You are not alone on this journey, you are in great company. The list of your spouse’s offenses may run long, but only you can turn the accusational finger back on yourself and trust that God can redeem even you. There is no greater gift you can give your spouse than to be real with yourself, learn to love them for who they are, and connect deeply to your heavenly Father who loves us more than we ever could. We hope you join us on this journey of real marriage in an amazing church where we are free to be who God made us to be.
Reflect on This…
“Though not audible, the sense I got was not the magic solution for our marriage, or the problem of my wife, but that I was deeply broken. I needed to change. I needed to figure out what was wrong so I could begin to love others as God had intended.”
Is there anything you need to surrender to God today, in order to receive his healing and restoration over the broken areas of your life?
Ask God into these areas, with a heart toward making you the type of person who is able to love others more completely. If you are married, invite God to show you ways you can love your spouse more selflessly this week.
Spend a few moments in prayer, focusing on those with whom you are close (friends, family, spouse, etc.) Ask God to reveal ways in which you can be more like Jesus in their lives, showing sacrificial love. What would be the ripple effect in helping spread God’s kingdom if we were all to love these people as Christ loved the church?