“My time with the Lord has suffered ever since I got married.”
We were sitting in a coffee shop sipping iced lattes as my newly married friend described her plight. She had been a wife for only a few months but felt more distant from Jesus than ever.
I knew her struggle well. I had experienced the near death of my spiritual routines during the first year of my marriage. And so we commiserated together, prayed, and parted ways.
I left that coffee date wondering, How many other newlyweds out there feel this way?
For me, being single was a season of flourishing for my spiritual routines. Bible reading and prayer came easily, as I enjoyed hours of privacy and the flexibility of an autonomous schedule. More than that, being single seemed to fuel my desire to spend time with Jesus. When I was lonely, I filled the void by asking the Lord to give me a husband and praying for contentment in the meantime. I was determined to find my fulfillment in Christ as I waited for a spouse.
Then, on a fall day in Boston in 2017, I got married, and my dream of having a husband came true.
Suddenly, my quiet time seemed less important and more inconvenient. The more time I spent with my husband in the rosy haze of newlywed bliss, the less time I spent with the Lord. My new relationship blurred my previously felt need for time with the Lord, and my daily devotions started to slip away. When I realized what was happening, I became alarmed. Why was Bible reading and prayer more of a burden than a blessing now that I was married?
My quiet time was dying, and I didn’t know why.
A Means to an End
Sincerely devoted Christians tend to feel concerned when their Christ-centered routines are displaced. It’s unsettling when Bible reading and prayer lose their luster, and I’ve spoken with many other newlyweds who feel this way. Sometimes the explanation is simply that a big life change can disrupt our normal rhythms. But sometimes marriage can trigger a deeper crisis of faith.
After all, nothing tests our commitment to Christ more than getting exactly what we want.
Many people who grew up in a Christian culture were taught to put an unhealthy emphasis on marriage. Patience and purity became the recipe for finding the perfect spouse, and often that was the end of the story. Once you found a spouse — once the ring was on your finger and the wedding bells were ringing, you’d made it! Marriage was the “happily ever after” we longed for.
When I was single, I had unconsciously made my relationship with Jesus a means to this happy ending. Deep down, I thought that if I could just muster up enough contentment during my single years, then Jesus would reward me by granting my desire for a spouse. When I did get married, I inadvertently swapped out Jesus for my husband. I thought my problem of loneliness had been solved, and unsurprisingly, Bible reading and prayer fell by the wayside.
Of course, it isn’t wrong to desire marriage, and the Lord invites us to ask Him for what we long for. Marriage is a good gift, but it is not the ultimate gift — and it certainly isn’t easy. A spouse is no replacement for the Savior, and that becomes clear soon after the wedding day.
The End of Our Means
If “happily ever after” is what we expect when we get married, then it won’t take long for that delusion to be shattered.
Spouses are human, too, and we all come with our own unique brokenness. Although marriage is a pleasure and a joy, it is also a crucible for sanctification as our sinful tendencies are revealed. And although marriage is a gift, when we worship the gift more than the Giver, the gift will inevitably buckle beneath the weight of our expectations and need. A husband can’t bear the weight of his wife’s worship. A wife can’t fulfill the deepest longings of her husband.
The more we dreamed of and counted on marriage to satisfy us, the harder it will be to handle its ultimate insufficiency. Some Christian couples live in denial of this truth and drive each other crazy with unmet expectations and hidden resentments. Others turn their spouse into a project, convinced that they can change them into someone who can complete them.
But with some perspective, we can come to understand that the answer has been right in front of us the whole time. The God who satisfied us in singleness can — and must — be the one to satisfy us in marriage as well.
Returning to Our First Love
The day I accepted that my husband was human was the day I started having a regular quiet time again.
After six months of marital boot camp, we came face to face with our own sin. I had nagged and prodded and coached my husband toward becoming the “spiritual leader” I always imagined a husband should be, and our relationship suffered as a result. Eventually I found myself standing in our living room, watching in horror as my husband wept under the weight of my oppressive expectations. After this moment of revelation and conviction, I finally released my idol of a perfect marriage and started to pray again.
The moment I saw the magnifying glass of marriage hover over my sin was the moment I realized how wrong I’d been to place all my hope in a husband. It became clear that to love my husband well, I needed to return to my first love and start drawing my life from him again.
When the curtain lifts, marriage is revealed for what it really is: two sinners awkwardly attempting to walk in love. As our inadequacy becomes apparent, we begin to realize the impossibility of the task ahead of us. Love can no longer be based on a flood of endorphins or personal ego. Love must extend beyond date nights and flirty text messages. Marital love means dying to self, and for that task we need divine help.
There is good news, though: the closer we walk with Christ, the sweeter our marriage will become.
The Secret to a Happy Marriage
The reason marriage almost killed my quiet time is because I had given my husband the spot only Jesus could occupy. Once it became clear that neither my husband nor I could fully satisfy the other’s need for comfort, companionship, and purpose, we were able to return to our first love. That’s when we began to experience a truly joy-filled relationship.
Two sinners won’t last long in love unless they are abiding in Love himself. Jesus is not just a stand-in for a spouse or a placeholder for a future husband. Daily Bible reading and prayer are not deposits we make to obtain a mate in the future. Christ is the best companion we will ever have—both now and for all time, no matter what our relationship status happens to be.
If you’re married, the more you and your spouse seek the Lord, the sweeter your marriage will become. Here’s how I like to explain it: when neither spouse looks to Jesus, marriage is miserable. When only one spouse looks to Jesus, marriage is bearable. When both spouses look to Jesus, marriage is wonderful!
Each season has its own collection of joys and sorrows, and those who are married do not need Jesus any less than they did when they were single. The God who comforts us during our single years is also the God who comforts us during our married years. Bible reading and prayer may look different after we get married, but if we continue to prioritize Jesus above everything and everyone else, marriage will become the sweet gift it was always meant to be.