Prepare yourself. What I’m about to say might shock you.
My marriage is not perfect.
There. I said it. I feel so much better.
We really do look the part, though – don’t we? Like most married couples, Mike and I know how to play the game. People become so enamored with our little “Ginger Trifecta” of a family, they don’t realize that like all couples, we struggle.
Sure, we smile on cue in social settings, post Pottery-Barn-frame-worthy Facebook pics, and put on beautifully brave faces in front of even our closest friends and family. All in an effort to look like we’re… well, “perfect.”
I fully repent of embracing the marriage put-on. I believed in the fairy tale, and Mike did, too. Our courtship was an incredible story – childhood family friends who reconnect over music, history and art while studying abroad. Fast forward to a fairy-tale wedding and a future full of possibility, we bought right into the “Happily Ever After” delusion.
Ten years later, Mike and I look back fondly on our wedding day, but we can’t help but roll our eyes. At 23 and 25, we knew nothing of the world – and if we’re honest, we’ll admit we knew nothing about the covenant we entered into that day.
We spent an entire year planning our wedding, and only about 30 minutes in pre-marital counseling to prepare for our life together. We loved each other, and we still do – but we had no idea what we were in for.
It’s about more than being “happy.”
Our culture embraces an ideal of “happiness” in marriage that’s not only unrealistic, but mentally and spiritually unhealthy. Love becomes something we fall into and out of on a whim, with whispers (or screams) of “I’m not happy” on our lips and in our hearts. Statistics show that when we’re unhappy, we leave.
We lose our curiosity for each other and grow apart. We fail each other – time and again. We experience life’s pain and frustration and resent each other for not being able to fill a void that only God can. And then, when a better opportunity presents itself, we go for it. We believe the lie that it’s “all about me” – and that we deserve better. It’s undeniable – to be “happy,” walking away is much easier.
Now, before you get angry… These observations are my own reflection in the mirror – humble reminders of how even Mike and I have been one or two small steps away from becoming a statistic. This is me, getting real. My marriage is not perfect, and I harbor only love and compassion for courageous couples who have tried (or are actively trying!) desperately to make it work.
The problem with happiness is that it’s purely circumstantial.
Happiness is fleeting a state of well-being as a result of a pleasurable or satisfying experience. We’re happy when we get what we want. And if happiness is our end goal, there is no hope of lasting joy in marriage – or in life, for that matter. Happiness is just not sustainable.
The beauty of joy is that we can choose it, regardless of circumstance.
Joy is a decision we make that becomes the essence of our being. It’s real and lasting – and often a result of small, faithful, intensely courageous steps in the right direction. We experience joy not when we get what we want – but when God gets what HE wants, in and through us. Joy is not a feeling — it’s a way of life.
The vows Mike and I made to each other during our wedding ceremony said nothing about happiness. Instead, they presented an opportunity for God to work in and through our marriage, for better or for worse. Instead, we promised we would stick it out, together — no matter what. And after ten years of both happiness and suffering, we’re discovering a love for one another we never knew we could have. It’s gritty, it’s honest, and it’s full of joy. It’s real.
God never brings pain and suffering into a marriage. But sometimes He allows it so He can use it as an entryway for restoration, reconciliation, and renewed identity in Him. God uses the good times to remind us of His unfailing love – and of the covenant relationship He desires to have with each of us. He uses the bad times to draw us nearer to Him. No matter the circumstance, we can take joy in Him.
My marriage isn’t perfect – and I am thankful it’s not. If it were, God wouldn’t be working in and through it to draw us closer to Him. It’s taken a decade for us to scratch the surface of what marriage is really supposed to be – an unbreakable covenant, rooted in faith, with God planted firmly at the center.
Understanding and receiving God’s perfect love is the first step toward being able to love our spouse as God intended. Here’s a glimpse:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
That kind of love – that kind of sacrifice – demands a response, and my response is to make Him Lord of my life and Lord of my marriage. My husband is an incredible man – there is no doubt that God made us for each other. And I promise to spend the rest of my life letting God love Mike through me.