It hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Your marriage is not your own. Stop treating it like it is. You WILL destroy it if you continue to act as if it belongs only to you. Not because you necessarily want to, but you can’t help yourself apart from me. If you aren’t living for Me, you are only living for yourself. At any moment in your given life, if you aren’t living to glorify Me---you are striving for your own glory. Stop. Or you will destroy everything I have given you.”
It was a loud whisper as I walked down one of the busiest streets in the world. I thought I had taken everything into consideration: months and months of sleepless infant nights, months and months of hard work and city stress. I was giving us both all the excuses in the world I could, but it really only boiled down to one thing . . .
We were both caught in survival mode trying to get through to the next season of life, neither of us handling it well. Both trying to just put our heads down and bear it until it was over. But “it” will never be over. If it’s not sleepless, child-filled nights it will be joblessness. If it’s not sickness, it’s will be interpersonal family issues. It if it’s not financial problems, it will be job stress. Because we live in a fallen world, there will always be a circumstance to blame for my personal sin.
Choosing to Love
I keep thinking about how it must have felt for Jesus to go to the cross. When he gave a moment’s thought to who we are or the wickedness we so willfully take part in, how demeaning and ridiculous it must have felt to die for such people. But He did it willingly and with full love. For while we were still weak (sinful), at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).
When I consider who Jesus was on earth and is in heaven, I am floored by the reality that he stuck with his disciples. By many accounts, they were sinful idiots fighting for a completely undeserved seat in heaven and giving perfect Jesus every right to walk away from them. Yet he pursued them even more. In fact, he rose from the dead and spent time encouraging them before he went back to his Father. Of course they served the purpose of sharing Jesus’ death and resurrection with others, but to think about how patient, kind and loving Jesus must have been to them in light of painful rejection, interpersonal dysfunction and doubting him is absolutely fascinating.
Applying the “One-Another's”
There are 59 references in the New Testament to how members of the body of Christ should treat each other. As far as marriage goes, these are just the basics since the marriage covenant takes relationship to a whole other level (see Ephesians 5). But somehow, the closer the relationship is the harder it seems those basic “one another's” are to pursue. Why is that? It’s mainly because I’m that sinful. Those who I can more easily apply the “one another's” to have little to no affect on the comfort level of my personal life. That is why we tend to “act out” more frequently when we are with family members. It hits at the core of our sinful selfishness. We are freer to be ourselves and unfortunately for me, that’s often a place where sin is expressed most. The way I act in the most intimate moments of life reveals what I truly think about God, who He is and what He has to say.
If I don’t understand the grace that has been extended to me, I won’t be able to extend grace to my husband. If you have a hard time extending grace to others, the problem isn’t with them. The problem is not knowing how much grace you have been given in the first place. Withholding grace is a sign of many things . . . self-righteousness, selfishness and pride just to name a few.
Grace is how we are saved through faith. Grace is that not only does God not strike us down immediately for our sin, but instead gives us a legacy of life despite our sin and shame. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
Beseeching God’s Help
But in moments of sleeplessness, joblessness, hurtful words or interpersonal strain, grace can seem far, far away. So how do we employ God’s help?
We remember truth. God’s Word is there to teach us and help us remember truth. You must dwell here (2 Pt 3:1-10). This could look like studying the Bible or even listening to worship music. As we seek to learn more about God through his Word, our hearts are tuned according to his desires instead of our own.
We lay ourselves bare. The first step in repentance and redemption is confession. If you do not see the depths of your own sin, you will not enjoy the heights of God’s holiness. Begin by being honest with the reality of your flesh so that you can see the goodness of God’s grace (Jas 5:16, 1 Jn 1:9) This is first to God and then to the offended party.
We seek help in the church. God has given us community and the 59 "one another" commands so that when we don't understand the grace given to us (and therefore given to others) there are people who have our backs (Prov 11:14, Gal 6:1-12). You think you are the only one who struggles? Take a moment to be honest before your community and watch the Lord open the hearts of the people around you.
We learn grace. The root problems of marital issues, while sometimes exacerbated by our circumstances, are primarily spiritual problems. Grace is a spiritual solvent that calms fears, irrationalities and gives strength for tomorrow.
While marriage is not easy, it is worth it. It's worth it because in the midst of struggle, we can experience the goodness and redemption of God or at least trust the Lord in expectation of what he will accomplish in the long run. As Christians we value marriage for the role it plays in symbolizing Christ’s love for his faithful church (Ephesians 5). But really, when that symbol all too often falls drastically short, we need to confess our own sin instead of making accusations, bask in the help of our community instead of going into isolation and seek to understand more deeply the grace of a good, good God.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.