So we got there, the man and I, looked around and realized we were maybe the youngest ones. Yep, definitely the youngest ones. Some high school students floated around, carrying trays of bread and salad and asking each guest if they had what they needed, as I’m sure their youth group leader had them practice beforehand. We were drawn to these teens, kind of wishing we could hide ourselves amidst their youth, but had to remember: be adults, be adults … we are here for adult reasons. My husband’s young face was flushed with nerves as he reached for my fingers under the table and reminded me — or maybe himself — “trust in the Lord.”
We sat in the front together, two microphones and stands, and we did the thing God had called us to do: we preached encouragement in marriage to many couples who had been one flesh longer than our flesh has even existed. And it would have been embarrassing to attempt to reckon any kind of authority. So we didn’t. We said first and foremost that we were very possibly the least qualified people to present any sort of wisdom there on that evening of celebrating love — but also that God tends to choose the least qualified. No doubt we were chosen; had we had any freedom to escape in the matter, believe me, we would have done so. I was eyeing the exit even as the introduction carried on.
God is so faithful, you know? I didn’t stutter, and I didn’t throw up, and even more, the earth did not stop spinning and explode from the core. I didn’t have to read off my notes, I didn’t have to backtrack in my thoughts, and I didn’t forget that I was speaking out loud and make corny jokes to myself. In fact, I dare say that it was somewhat natural feeling, this standing in front of people and sharing the wonderful things that God has done for me. Not the kind of natural that would make me want to do it again any time soon, but the kind of superly natural that builds my faith in knowing we serve a God whose hope for us, and in us, does not disappoint.
I spoke the truth of what I know: marriage can be the best, or the worst, thing; and marriage can be either the definition of Godly freedom, or it can be a powerful and oppressive trap. It’s strange how for some, being married can be wonderful and for others, it has the power to steal breath, life.
We were asked to look at 1 Corinthians 13 for this conference, asked to expound on this idea that “love is…” In study and prayer, my husband and I were both led to answer questions we felt God was asking of us: for him, it was, “why am I okay with my hard-heartedness?” and for me, it was, “how do I love my husband, if I really even do?”
I can’t preach to men here, because I’m not a man and besides being in a house filled with smelly dudes, I really can’t speak to any general experience of the “inner man.” But I will say this: if you struggle with your hard-heartedness, or your complacency, or your half-way attitude of loving and serving your wife and “giving her the affection she is due” (1 Corinthians 7:3), then you know what that makes you, right? A Christian. My husband got a good laugh when he presented it that way; I think it was one of those “we-think-it’s-funny-because-we-know-it’s-true” kind of jokes.
What makes us all struggle is the very nature that we are convicted about things — Galatians 5:16-17 says, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
When we stop being convicted about things, either by justifying them or by simply ignoring the whisper of God in our hearts that we are not doing the thing He has called us to, then we have a problem because we are attempting, as Christians, to have it both ways, our flesh and the Spirit. But that verse tells it plainly: you cannot have the Spirit and eat it, too.
Or something like that.
The cute goateed man I married nearly five years ago stood there with his flushed Irish cheeks and man, he exhorted his brothers: do not be satisfied with “love-lite” or “love-ish” — do not be discouraged and hopeless in failing to do the things that you wish to do, especially when it comes to loving your wives.
Repent. Fellowship. Pray. Date your wife again, and re-learn the ins and outs of her passions, her fears, her pursuit of God. We know what love is, inasmuch as it was demonstrated on the cross while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) so don’t settle for less.
And then it was my turn to answer my own question.
I looked at these verses on love, and I decided right there and then in front of blank, anticipating faces, that I should be honest: I don’t love my husband, at least not according to this definition of love. I am not patient, I am not kind, I am not humble, I do not keep my mouth shut, I do not forgive and forget … At least not with any consistency or intention.
How, then, do I remain more than happily married?
Because these verses on “love is …” are not about us. They are about GOD. These verses are not about my heart, they are about God’s heart. This is not a standard, or some level to work for or achieve — this is the standard set by God, for the sake of our salvation, freedom, and sanctification.
Which led me to what I feel is a new verse on which my daily life hinges at this point in time, Galatians 3:3:
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
I can’t love my husband because who I am, naturally, is a thief, a liar, and a murderer. I will make promises to him that I will bail on when things get tough, I will cut him down to make myself feel better, and I will withhold any concession in being vulnerable with him because of my pride.
But God already knew this about me. So He supplied me with something else, this “love is ….” He has supplied me — all of us — with a choice. Do we really think we can fix the things that are wrong, off, running on empty by the power of our own flesh?
Let me remind you, by the words of Paul, that if we choose the flesh, we are choosing the thing that is contrary to the Spirit. If we choose our own way of doing things, we are choosing the thing that is contrary to God’s way. I can be deceived into thinking that my way is aligned somehow with God’s way, but I would be wrong. This convicted instinct I had, in fact, was right: I do not — I cannot — love my husband when I take the responsibility upon myself.
But the fact is that on a daily basis, I am loving him. So how does this work? How does God concoct a romance, a wild-adventure-ride-of-love, out of essentially nothing but drifting emotions and a vague commitment made almost five years ago?
I believe the answer lies in obedience.
If nothing else, I have found that when I obey the commands of God, my marriage is blessed. When I heed the call of God to a place deeper than I have known before, I find love overflowing to the point where I cannot take my eyes off of this remarkable man. When I remove the hardness from my own heart and see the work that needs to be done to soften my sharp places, I gush with an affection, uncharacteristic and unexpected. And when I let the sovereignty of God’s will rest upon my shoulders — this man, picked for me out of millions, least qualified to make me happy and to enjoy life with — I am flooded with God’s goodness in knowing my needs before they are needs, and in knowing my desires before they are desires. I am flooded with gratitude that my husband is a gift to me, chosen for me, crafted and designed for me.
We were not made one flesh when we were married; we were carved from one flesh before the foundation of the world.
Lord willing, I would like to pursue some topics in marriage for a little while here in this internetosphere. There is no better way I have found, yet, to know a snapshot of God’s manifold grace than by the difficulty, chastening, and joy of marriage.
I am a pastor’s wife and I admit: I don’t have enough woman-power to love my husband. But I follow a mighty God who, in the place of my flesh, has built a new thing. In the place of my bitterness, He has built love. Daily, from these ashes, I am risen.