Monday was Laurel’s and my one-year anniversary! (Woo!) What a crazy year it has been. The first half of the year we barely saw each other because we were both so busy with school and work. This pandemic started during the second half of the year and now we can’t get away from each other.
The brilliant revelation that I have received from my whole one-year of marriage is that marriage is hard. It is a wonderful joy and blessing, but it takes work.
I think what makes marriage difficult is simply the fact that growth is hard. Marriage only works if you are both willing to grow together. Personal growth in a marriage is not enough because it leads to one growing apart from the other. A marriage is strengthened when both parties make the conscious decision to grow with each other.
To complicate matters even more, Christian couples are not just growing with each other, they are growing with God. In the preface of their book The Zimzum of Love, Rob and Kristen Bell ask the question, “How is it that flawed, fragile, flesh-and-blood human beings can relate to each other in such a way that they show each other the divine?” (p. viii).
This is not a question that is unique to marriage. Every human being is made in the image of God and has an aspect of God to show the world. My best friend Hunter (not myself, another Hunter – I promise), has one of the strongest drives for ministry that I have experienced. He desperately desires to walk alongside people in order to connect them with God and to help impact their lives for the better. My friend Hannah might be the kindest, most compassionate person I know. She is a clear reflection of the compassionate love of God.
One of the ways we learn about God is through our relationship with the children of God (aka. every human being). Marriage gives us a unique and enhanced version of this. One of the reasons I married Laurel is because of how I saw God through her. She has a deep desire to help others, which is why it is no surprise that she is studying to be a Marriage and Family Therapist (she is helping her first client as I write this and I am incredibly proud of her). When we see families out for a walk she often says, “That makes me so happy!” In Laurel, I see and experience God’s joy when it comes to social relationships being in a state of shalom. Her desire to help maintain and restore relational shalom is inspiring.
Marriage is (or should be) the deepest human relationship one has. You come to know this person better than anyone you have ever known before and thus, you are pointed to God in ways that you never have been before.
In this process of learning about God and learning about your partner, you are also learning about yourself. Again, this is true of all relationships and again marriage provides a unique view. It was not until this first year of marriage that I recognized one of the largest struggles I have in my relationship with God. I discovered it because it is also the largest struggle I have in my marriage.
I reject dependency.
Until marriage, I had not been faced with a tangible transition from independency to dependency. But that is what marriage is, a death to independence and the birth of a new, dependent life.
For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Marriage is the process of becoming one flesh. As I am finding out, that is a process which includes many growing pains. Becoming one flesh is not the loss of self-identity. Becoming one flesh is the process of two people growing together so that their lives become intertwined in such a way that their actions are harmonious. But in the broken state of the world, harmony does not come easily.
I want to determine the things that I want to do and I want to do them when I feel like it. I want to make the choices that impact my life without needing permission. I want to have control over my destiny.
But that does not lead to a healthy marriage. Selfish independency is telling Laurel, “My friend is going to stay with us for a week.” Harmonious dependency is asking Laurel, “Would it be ok if my friend came to stay with us for a week and if so, when would it be best?” There is a partnership that needs to develop. My actions depend upon needs and requests of Laurel, and vice versa. The immediate and future plans for our individual lives change as we develop new immediate and future plans for our combined lives.
Our lives are no longer our own, our lives are each others’. Our lives are our lives.
Until marriage, I did not understand the difficulty I had giving up an independent life for a shared life. But marriage was not the first time I needed to make that transition. Being a Christian means giving up your independent life for a shared life with God.
In his devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers talks about the necessity of the death of independency.
Jesus has prayed that you may be one with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or have you some other end for you life? Since you became a disciple you cannot be as independent as you used to be.May 22
The prayer he is referring to comes from the book of John. It takes place right after Jesus talks to his disciples about the Holy Spirit and right before Jesus is arrested.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
“May they also be in us.” Jesus prays for a combined, harmonious life between us and God. Paul picks up on this idea in his letter to the Galatians.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Once we become Christians, our life is no longer our own. Once we become Christians, our independency is dead. In marriage, we work to become harmonious with our spouse. In faith, we work to become harmonious with God. We keep our self-identity, we keep the person God created us as, but we are no longer walking through life as our own. We must learn to kill off our own thoughts of what is right and what is needed so that we can live into what God says is right and needed.
This is hard for me. The struggle I have in marriage about autonomously making decisions is the same struggle I have in my faith. God has given me a brain to reason. God has given me skills to accomplish things. But in my desire to remain independent, I have fooled myself into believing that trust in the abilities God has given me is the same thing as trusting God. But it is not. Trusting in the abilities God has given me is still trusting in what I can and cannot do.
This is why the words of Chambers hit me squarely in the chest.
Many of us do not go on spiritually because we prefer to choose what is right instead of relying on God to choose for us. We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God.May 25
While I do struggle, the times I have allowed my independence to be dead in my marriage have allowed me to do more and be more than I could be on my own. The support from Laurel empowers the continuation of my Master’s program. The work I put in is cognitively and emotionally draining. If I was on my own, I would not have the refreshment and rejuvenation that Laurel selflessly gives. My hope is that I do the same for her. Harmonious dependency in marriage strengthens the members as a couple and as individuals.
The same is true when we learn to be dependent on God. Again and again throughout Scripture, we are given examples of people who find their strength in the Lord.
Hosea cries out to the people, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,” (Hosea 14:1a). When they choose return, when they choose a harmonious dependency on God, God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel, he will blossom like a lily,” (Hosea 14:5a).
God is the giver of life. God is the giver of all God things. To enter into a harmonious relationship with God is to acknowledge that you are dependent on the Creator of the universe. When you give yourself up, when you let go of your own desires and strengths and thoughts, and you allow God to fill you with God’s desires and strengths and thoughts, you will step deeper into the righteous ways of God which lead to healing and restoration and growth.
Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!