If you’ve been to a wedding, you’ve experienced the beauty of witnessing two souls binding to commence toward the future together. You also may have experienced the vast depths of emotion leading up to this day.
So many dreams and hopes are enveloped in the belief that our entire lives have built up to our “I Do” moment; each and every heartbreak has led to this crescendo, making every ounce of romantic sorrow and struggle worth it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned and witnessed throughout almost 10 years of working alongside college students and young adults that goes unnoticed in the mix of all the emotion is that many eager husbands and wives treat marriage as a prize to be awarded instead of treasure to be fought for. I have seen so many fervently believe that once they get married things will change: They will be more responsible, more loving, sweeter, less prideful, more sacrificial.
But that belief doesn’t translate into reality. What happens? They remain the exact same people because sadly, thoughtful preparation and personal maturation weren’t as important on their list of to-do’s as finding the right dress, the most affordable venue and the perfect honeymoon destination.
The truth is, the makeup wears off, the presents get opened, the honeymoon ends and what’s left is a return to normalcy. It seems we spend exponentially more of our adolescent and adult life preparing for the first day of our marriage than we do all the days that follow. So, how do we change that?
Marriage ceremonies are interesting things. When you get married, you think the ceremony, the pictures, the dancing, the celebration all mark the genesis of your new life. The life you’ve dreamed of. The life you’ve written songs about. The life you’ve hurt and fought for.
You’ve done everything in your power to get here. Dreamed. Planned. Yearned. Hoped.
The sad thing that seems to be the case for many of us, the one thing we haven’t done:
Here’s the sobering reality: Marriage doesn’t make you a different person in the sense that once the ceremony is over and once you’re declared husband and wife you become someone different from who you were 38 seconds before. You’re the same. Your spouse is the same. Whatever problems you have and whatever sins you’re dealing with still exist and will be magnified once you start sharing life with this other person.
His sarcasm will not disappear. Her impatience will not magically eradicate itself. The same thing that is true of your sin before marriage is true afterwards. Because of this, we have to intentionally fight against it and put it to death. This means work. It means long, hard, lasting work.
Just because you find a great spouse who you love and adore doesn’t mean you’ve uncovered the one ingredient to trial-free marital happiness. Why? Because a marriage involves two people. Marriage to an earthly spouse will always increase the complexity of our sin. It’s only our marriage to Christ, our heavenly eternal spouse, that cleanses us of it.
Your spouse alone doesn’t generate marital bliss. You both fight for marital bliss by taking your shortcomings and your not-so-attractive proclivities to the chopping block of God’s Word through His Spirit. There’s this myth pervading the dating culture that all we need to do to lay hold of silver screen marital happiness is find the right person.
That may be a small part, but the larger, much more vital component to joy in marriage is wrestling with your own heart to effectively weed out your selfishness and your prideful tendencies. The question must be asked, “Are you working just as hard at becoming the spouse someone else wants to find as you are finding the spouse you yourself desire?”
We’re all sowing seeds in our lives. And whatever habits or expectations you’re sowing before marriage, that’s the harvest you’ll reap after you say “I do.” Beth Moore once explained that we will never reap a harvest of spiritual fruit by sowing seeds unintentionally. What does she mean? She means that what is true in the ecological realm is true in the spiritual realm.
The harvest we reap will be identical to the seeds we’ve sown. To put it simply, we know that planting apple seeds will not reap a harvest of pears or pumpkins. If we truly believe this about the natural harvest, why is it that we struggle to believe this for our spiritual harvest?
Why do we think our marriage is going to be a beacon of gospel hope, life and encouragement if our dating relationships and the work leading up to our marriage looked nothing of the sort? Why do we think we are going to be the world’s greatest spouse if we were not characterized by such Christ-likeness before our wedding vows? Make no mistake, you will not magically gather beautiful, ripe marital fruit if you did not take the time to plant those seeds beforehand during an intentional season of preparation.
Begin Sowing Now.
Christ will not mystically become the center of your marriage if he is not the center of your own individual life. As pastor Adrian Rogers once said, you can’t have Jesus as Savior if you do not also have him as Lord. In that same sense, Christ will not be the Lord and Savior of your marriage when you walk back down the aisle if He was not the Lord and Savior of your individual life when you walked down the aisle the first time just several minutes earlier.
We spend so much of our time preparing, training and practicing to increase our efficiency and prowess in specific areas of our lives. We train for a marathon because we’re not used to running that far. We practice music theory and perform exercises to strengthen muscles in our bodies to increase dexterity. We train our minds and bodies to desire certain food and wean itself off others to increase in health. Why aren’t we spending the same amount of effort training for our marriages?
You’re not used to caring for another person with the same vigor and thoughtfulness as you are yourself. You’re not used to taking responsibility for another human being outside your own needs. Your emotions are not used to constant availability—present in each moment with another person. That’s not the way it was when you were single.
Much more, you’re not used to caring for, nurturing and providing spiritually for another person the way you must in marriage. But now, this person is a part of you. You are united together in a beautiful mind, body and soul union. And God’s Word is clear: You must lay your life on the line for this person. You must sacrifice. You must serve. You must love. You must labor. Running a marathon or going sugar-free for 30 days pale in comparison to the learning curve that occurs in a relationship as supernatural as matrimony.
For this reason, start working on it now whether you are in a relationship or hope to be one day. Put your work gloves on daily to do the intentional work of planting. Invite people into your life who are older, wiser and seasoned spiritual farmers. Learn the habit of cultivating personal holiness, steadfastness, patience, grace and mercy so that when and if you are united with another one of God’s children, you are able to care for them in the Spirit of Christ, not in the spirit of selfishness. After all, a future spouse will never make the sin in your life disappear.
That’s Christ’s job. And he will never work that out through you without effort on your part. So for your sake and the sake of your current or future spouse, start now.