Nine years ago on August 6, 2011 Judah and I joined our lives together in marriage.
By God’s grace, they have been wonderful years. They’ve most certainly been full of the “normal” aspects that cause friction between two people as they meld their lives together. But this has also brought about some of the most significant and rewarding lessons I’ve learned in my adult years.
In honor of the past nine years, I’m going to share nine of those lessons here. It was hard to choose just nine, but these encompass a whole lot (and I guess a few years from now I can write another one with more, haha). I grow more and more thankful for the continual refinement that takes place in the covenant of marriage.
1. Marriage is more about my holiness than my happiness
We read a statement similar to the one above in a book called Sacred Marriage several years ago (incredible book, by the way), but it was simply putting words to something God had been teaching us since the day we said “I Do.” I’m so grateful that we had had godly mentors in our lives who had encouraged us to think in this way from the outset. And although you can only truly learn this once you’re in marriage, it’s still incredibly helpful to have people cheering you on and pointing you in that way even before the marriage journey begins.
The amazing thing is that when we embrace the reality that becoming holy is more important than pursuing happiness… our happiness actually increases. There is joy that comes from obedience to the Lord, and from becoming more like Him. Holiness and happiness go hand-in-hand.
2. Humility begets humility
It’s happened more times than I can count: Judah leading me into humility by his humility. When he realizes he’s done something wrong, he’ll immediately apologize for it (even if I was more in the wrong than him). It pokes a big hole in my balloon of defensiveness and pride, deflating it and allowing me to see the reality of the situation. It’s helped me grow in my own quickness to take the humble way as I’ve watched the blessing that comes from it. And this is in all areas of life, not just marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I still need the Holy Spirit to do a lot of work, but I praise God for what He’s done already.
Even though humility feels backward and isn’t something the world applauds, I’ve learned that it’s a beautiful way to live.
3. Conflict can bring two people closer together
I’ve always been one to shy away from conflict – no, actually, run as fast as I can from it. So I was extremely nervous coming into marriage knowing that conflict would certainly arise. But what I’ve learned is that when a husband and wife are both seeking to love the other, understand one another, and keep their emotions in submission to the Spirit, working through conflict actually serves to bring them closer together.
There’s certainly a wrong way of doing conflict that can cause more hurt and division. In and of ourselves, this is exactly what will happen, because all of us are naturally sinful and selfish. But when a couple submits even their conflicts to the Lord, He can lead and guide in and through them to a greater place of unity and love.
This has been an amazing way of seeing God bring clarity when it felt like we were at an impasse – neither of us understanding at all where the other was coming from. When we’ve chosen to lay these conflicts before the Lord, He has brought wisdom and insight that we didn’t previously have. And, by His grace, there isn’t one conflict that has been left hanging because of it.
4. I’m not “Mrs. (always) Right”
We live in a world today where the words and ideas of men are being largely belittled, and women are being lifted up as the ones who are usually right. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m not always right. I’ve learned that I have blind spots just as much as my husband (and probably more… since I can’t see them). There have been countless scenarios when I discovered that taking my husband’s advice or learning to do something his way was truly the best, even when I was absolutely certain it wouldn’t be. This is where the strengths of two people can truly become increased strength in the marriage rather than causing division.
I’ve come to learn that it’s a very good thing that I’m not always right.
5. I Can change
Being a creature of habit, too often I naturally get caught in the mindset that I can’t change. This brings about massive amounts of discouragement and hopelessness when I see an area of life that is so in need of improvement. “I can’t get better at being patient with the kids.” “I’ll never be able to care for my home well.” “I will never get better at conversing with people and asking good questions.” “I’ll never support my husband as best I should.” These are a few of the “I can’t change” lies I’ve believed over the years. And who is it who has challenged those the most? Judah. Judah is mister “we can get better.” And this mindset, undergirded by the enabling grace of God, brings such freedom. He has been my biggest motivator and encourager to trust the Lord for change, and then have the courage to pursue it.
There are so many aspects of my life where the growth started with Judah’s willingness to spur me “further up and further in.”
6. Establishing good patterns takes time, and that’s ok
I’m the kind of person who wants to learn something and be an expert at it yesterday. And, this is how I approached marriage. I wanted to be really good at marriage from day 1. Judah and I went into marriage with a high view of it, and I don’t believe we were super idealistic. But still, whenever we ran into an area that we weren’t that great at I embraced it as failure. But what I’ve learned in marriage is that establishing good, biblical, foundational patterns takes intentionality and time. And, that rather than despising the growth process, it’s something to embrace. It takes commitment over the long haul to become well versed in something, even marriage.
It was into our eighth year of marriage that it dawned on us that some of those patterns we’d been working so hard to establish didn’t actually feel as hard anymore. Yes, we still have to be intentional about cultivating them, but it doesn’t take nearly as much effort. But what if we had given up trying to establish these patterns in year three? Or four? Or seven?
A quick Google search showed me that the average duration of a marriage is 8.2 years. How people approach those first 8 years of marriage is critical. Couples need to know that establishing healthy patterns takes time, and that that’s not a bad thing. And for Christian couples there’s infinitely more surety of growth than simply establishing good patterns. Why? Because although we have the responsibility to do what’s right, we aren’t ultimately responsible to hold our marriage together – God is. And God can do anything with two people who are committed to loving their spouse out of obedience to Him.
7. God is more trustworthy than our plans
Oh my, I have no idea how many of our plans have gotten derailed in the course of these past nine years, but I know it’s many. And through each of these changes of plans we’ve learned that God is more trustworthy than our own planning abilities. God knows all things, and we do not. And when He chooses to allow our course to be shifted, we know it will be for our good and His glory.
There’s a quote that I see circulating fairly often (or variations that have a similar meaning) that comes from a poem by William Henley: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But this is actually not the case. God is the Master of our fates and the rightful Captain of our souls. He is our Creator and Lord, the one whose ways are so much higher and better than ours. And even though what He allows our lives to look like is hard to swallow at times, we will learn to trust Him as we see the fruit that comes from seeking and obeying Him. When we keep our eyes on the Lord rather than on what we want, we will be able to leave the course of our lives in His loving and Almighty hands.
8. It’s better to give than to receive
I think it’s fairly safe to say that most of us go into marriage more excited about what we can get than what we can give, even if we don’t realize it. We’re looking forward to being loved, to being served, to being cherished, to being understood. But it doesn’t take long for conflict to arise when two people are functioning in this “me first” mindset. Finger-pointing matches often follow, each focusing more on the speck in their spouse’s eye than the plank in their own. Or, even if the finger pointing is mostly internal (which is how I am), it turns into a pity party and a hyper focus on all the ways I’m not being loved rather than all the ways I am.
However, when two people decide to follow the “golden rule” and do what they would want to be done to them (Matthew 7:12), harmony is the natural result. When I’m more focused on my own obedience than the obedience of my husband, there is so much more joy and contentment that comes with it. When I choose to love and serve him without thinking about what I’m receiving in return, the giving becomes purehearted. And, when I do receive love and service from Judah (which is very, very often) it is something I receive as a gift rather than something I’m entitled to. An attitude of selfishness causes thankfulness to shrivel, but a heart of loving service causes gratitude to skyrocket.
9. Intimacy grows better with time
We live in a world where we’re bombarded with the idea that “new sex” is the best kind. Even as believers who are fighting hard to embrace a biblical mindset of sexuality, most of us have seen some version of the widespread message – from Hollywood or elsewhere – that it’s the flash-in-the-pan, novel, forbidden intimacy that is most exciting and fulfilling (and some of that just comes from our own sinfulness). This can cause a lot of harm when a husband and wife enter into marriage with any of this poisonous ethos shaping their mindset. Because, the reality is, the most beautiful sexual intimacy is cultivated over time in an exclusive marriage relationship. It’s not that the honeymoon days aren’t full of wonder and excitement – they absolutely are. But, there can also be a steep learning curve, for some more than others. And that is absolutely fine. A man and woman don’t have to come into marriage knowing or having experienced a whole bunch already (which is what the world tells us). In fact, the more sexual experience prior to marriage, the more that needs to be worked through in marriage. Even so, God is a God who redeems and transforms and can give us a vision for how He perfectly designed sexuality to be expressed in marriage.
One thing that was transforming for me was realizing God cares more about this area of our marriage than even we do. This gave the freedom to invite Him in to be our Teacher – to give insight and wisdom when we didn’t have it ourselves. Marriage is the perfect, God-designed place to learn and grow in this sacred aspect of life, and it’s alright if it takes a lifetime.
Well, there you have it: a snippet of what these nine years of marriage have taught me.
And, I just want to take a moment to encourage those of you who are in really tough marriages or who have experienced past heartbreak in this arena: God can redeem even the most painful of life chapters. It may not mean it looks how we hoped it would. It doesn’t guarantee that we’ll have a spouse that will pursue God like we are. But He can and will work in us in miraculous ways as we submit ourselves to Him. He can use what the enemy intended for evil and turn it around for our good and His glory as we surrender our lives as tools for His mission on earth. No matter what you’ve been through, you are not discounted from having a life story that points others to Him.