This last week, the husband and I celebrated 26 years of marriage. Note, I did not say 26 years of wedded bliss. Marriage, without question, is the most challenging relationship on earth. The Bible refers to “iron sharpening iron,” and I find that mental image to be an apt one. Iron sharpening iron is noisy and hard and seems to be unyielding. Yet, as those two forces merge, both are polished to a smoothness they would never achieve on their own. This is marriage.
I am grieved as I survey the number of marriages crumbling around us. Not just young ones who are more immature and who struggle through the inevitable challenges of two lives coming together, but more mature ones who have raised families, served their communities, walked through the fires of life, instructed others and celebrated decades of marriage, only to watch their own families implode. Not just a marriage, but a life, a family, a home and a life time of traditions and more. It is heartbreaking to me.
As a Christian believer, I view marriage as the merging of two souls into one, with Christ at the center. Ironically, this is a commitment that requires more of us than any of us would fully yield to if we knew the scope of it. We start out with stars in our eyes, but, over time the clouds cover those stars and it becomes challenging to persevere. It is hard work, but it is the good work of sacrificial love and a tenacity that can only be achieved by His grace and His strength. It is a picture that Christ uses to reflect His own relationship with His church. We are the bride of Christ and He, the bridegroom. His enemy and ours, seeks to destroy that very reflection. When we think we are safe, we are probably at our most vulnerable and must be on our guard.
Author Madeleine L’Engle once said,
“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again–till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged.”
Sometimes it feels as if we really are drowning. But, we can emerge from those dark waters. If only we could remember this, when we are tempted to yield to despair and throw up our hands surrendering to dark waters.
Divorce, like suicide is most often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I speak from experience. You see, the husband and I originally married some 40 years ago and divorced a few short years later. Fortunately, we were blessed to be reunited 26 years ago, older, wiser and with a firm commitment to enduring all things as we renewed our vows. We did not expect an easy road and it has not been one. That said, it has been a road that has shaped us and has yielded the most beautiful fruit we could have imagined.
Our culture no longer honors marriage in the way it did in years past. People talk about “starter” marriages as if we are each entitled and even destined to make one trial run before getting it right. Promises are no longer kept. Many among us eschew marriage all together, viewing it as an unnecessary and outdated institution. Even in the church, marriages are crumbling at an alarming rate. As I think about my own community, I have visibility of three marriages on the brink…couples who have been married decades, who have served faithfully, been immersed in ministry and who have instructed others in the faith. One has ended in divorce, another is awaiting a final decree and the last couple are physically separated. The reasons are many, I know. Addiction, infidelity, anger, defeat, frustration and weariness all come in to play. And finally, one day, there is just no will to keep fighting for survival or we can’t bring ourselves to forgive what feels unforgivable. It just seems easier to give in and give up. We fall out of love instead of growing through it. Hence, we are all the losers.
Let me interject here that I don’t believe divorce to be the unforgivable sin– not by any means. I know there are situations that are untenable, particularly those involving physical abuse, mental illness and chronic unfaithfulness. While I have seen marriages brought back from the brink of despair, I understand that there are times when divorce is the last and final option. I also believe such cases should be rare. God hates divorce. But He loves His children and forgives our failures. His grace is sufficient when divorce is the only remaining option and we’ve made the most of every opportunity to reconcile. But, far too many marriages fail without having made every effort to save them. Those efforts may take time, effort, counsel, prayer and determination to stay the course until every roadblock has been cleared. And–it’s hard.
Even so, there is hope even when it seems most hopeless. I speak not as a Pollyanna, but as one who endured years of seemingly hopeless circumstances. If we are not actively fighting for our marriages, we will likely one day be tempted to surrender to divorce. Sometimes we need to set our emotions completely aside for a period of time and just commit to standing firm as we keep the promises we made at the altar. We have to guard our marriages, even when we think we are most secure. We need to encourage those on the brink to press on, to press in and to press through, while praying for our own marriages and those around us. We are all one step away from a life-changing fall if we do not. We are told in 1 Peter 5:8-10:
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Note that we are not told we will have unending bliss at all times. We are told that throughout the world, our brothers and sisters are also suffering. Life is hard. Marriage requires tenacity. Suffering is a part of the human condition and our marriages are not exempt. We need to know that hard times not only will come, but they may go on for far longer than we expect or believe ourselves capable of enduring. Psalm 30:5 reminds us that,
“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
The nights may be long, but, if we will just hold on, the fever will break, and we can rise again to joy in the morning. Note that I said hard times will come. Even when it appears that all hope is gone, we cannot give in to defeat. We need to seek help before we are hallucinating from said fever. So, “dial 911” if you will– seek counsel, pray hard and remember what you’ve built together. Pray for your spouse to change, but, and perhaps more importantly, pray that you will be changed. Be assured that your circumstances are more likely to change with the passage of time than not. Hard days may morph into months and even years. Yes, I realize that’s a hard pill to swallow. But, hold tight to the vows you made. Trust the God who knows the beginning and the end. When you are most weary, He is most present. He will make a way where there seems to be no way. Our job is to fight the good fight, never succumbing to despair, believing that He can heal what appears to be dying. He is in the resurrection business. When we see death, He sees another opportunity to bring a marriage back to life.
Mine is a marriage resurrected. I thank God for all the times we stood on the brink but chose to keep fighting for our life together. Decades down the road, I rejoice in what He has done, hard times not withstanding. Trials will come and they will go, but, by the grace of God and the prayers of the saints, we can endure and even thrive. Don’t accept a death sentence.
Rise up. You are braver and more courageous than you know.
Press in. Press on. Press through.