It seems I only ever sit down to write when a deadline is looming over my head. I wrote this charge for a sweet sister in Christ who is to be married in just a few short weeks. As I looked over my previous bridal shower charges I realized that so many of them were full of your typical marriage practicalities and after almost 10 years of marriage myself, I had realized that that was just not enough. I would not count myself amongst the wise, or truly refined wives. I am just sitting here struggling to grasp my marriage and squeeze out all of the glory and lessons that I can. I hope that this little glimpse of the big picture of marriage can help all those sweet practical things come about a bit more easily. May we all continue to seek grace and not miss the sweet moments to give glory back to the Lord.
I could say so much today about showing Joey honor, respecting Him with joy, submitting to Him with grace and kindness, or holding your tongue with humility (I could personally write a whole book on how to ruin your marriage with your tongue), but really and truly I feel you have had such great examples of all of this. I praise the Lord that you and Joey have grown up in households where the marriage convent has been protected and fought for and honored. I am so thankful that I have your parents and the Moore’s examples in my own life as well! Yet, Today I simply wanted to encourage you, remind you, and possibly shout from the rooftops, that marriage being a shadow of the gospel is not just a “cute truth”, but a lifesaving, soul satisfying and radically thought changing truth. Such a truth however, can easily be forgotten when you’re in the valleys of marriage, and even on its mountain tops. Your specific marriage has been perfectly crafted with you and Joey as one, to make you both more like Christ, and to grow you in your love for the Gospel as you preach it to each other and the world until death do you part. So, this is my meager attempt and please know, I still have so much more to learn.
Recently I was discussing our upcoming 10-year anniversary with Zachary, and I nonchalantly said, as I was walking out to the garage, “Man, I love you a lot more than I did when we first got married.” It sounded so much more heartfelt in my head than out of my mouth and I laughed at my lack of eloquence when conveying my feelings, but when I looked at him, I realized he understood my words as the encouragement they were meant to be. He has, in fact, learned how to decipher my awkward kindness over the years. I of course loved Zach on our wedding day. . . but I didn’t KNOW Zach the way I do today. I didn’t know the care he would show me in all my ugly moments over the years and how quickly he would forgive me. I didn’t know the biblical council he would share with me during my own personal trials, or the way we would grip each other and remind ourselves in unison of the Truth of the Gospel during some dark days. I didn’t know the man he would grow to be, or the way he would love Christ, or the way he would fail with such humility and seek to make it right, or the way he would biblically lead with such resolve in times when I needed him to. I have to say though, I did not love Zachary then just because he was so awesome (which he was) nor do I love Zachary now just because of his growth as a man and husband. . . I loved, am loving and will love him because of his ever-growing Christlikeness. I love him because he continues to look more like my Savior, and I have come to love Christ more through my marriage because I have seen His beauty ever clearer and more personal through my relationship with my husband. This, Joy, is what you are about to encounter, and I hope that that fills you with such joy, comfort and anticipation. You are about to fall more in love with Joey in the best of times and the worst of times, but more importantly, you are about to fall in love with Christ more through this momentary glimpse in marriage, which was made completely to show and magnify the very Gospel that has saved you.
If marriage is a shadow of the gospel, then those who enter it obtain an up-close seat to the terrible beauty that is found in our redemption. You will constantly be facing your and Joey’s sin, asking and receiving forgiveness and experiencing the sweet peace of reconciliation, because this will be the pattern of your marriage, sin, repentance, reconciliation, peace. . . over and over again. This is not only for the outside world to see, but for your own heart to see as well. You will be living out the redemption story every moment you are together. THIS will be the beauty of your marriage. It is the every day reminder of the loving grace shown to us by our Father. I love how Piper explained it when he states that “[marriage] is the experience of God’s vertical forgiving, justifying grace bent out horizontally to each other and [then] displayed to the world”. As believers we are called to live out grace and forgiveness in all of our relationships, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” But our marriages are unique and intimate because we are bound by covenant into the closest possible relationship for life! When we sin against God and are grieved and repent and we know he has promised to forgive us because of Christ’s work on the cross, this fills us with ultimate joy. That a holy God can look upon us with love and forgiveness is a humbling experience. I think that’s why, when talking of marriage, forgiveness and forbearance are so central to the discussion. We know it is good to adore and enjoy your spouse (even most of the unbelieving world would agree) but it is in our forgiveness and longsuffering that “God gets glory [because] two very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.” (Piper) When you do something cute, and Joey affectionately laughs and hugs you, his love is to be greatly treasured, yes, but when you have sinned against him and you come to him in repentance and he pulls you to him and forgives you, well that is to be marveled at. It is not Joey’s natural inclination to forgive a wrong (nor is yours), he forgives you, and bears with you, because Christ has forgiven him of much first. Do not let these moments pass without you both marveling at the Gospel of reconciliation through Christ.
Your and Joey’s marriage will be a journey, sometimes delightfully easy, sometimes treacherous, sometimes mundane. . .yet you will have promised to walk it together, to remain in covenant always, to grow in sanctification and to present each other as holy and living sacrifices. We, the church, place all our faith and trust in Christ’s unfailing love for us. It is that unfailing love displayed in your marriage that will give you and Joey such freedom and peace in a covenant that cannot and will not be broken. I once knew an unbelieving married couple in school that were very kind, and seemed to have a sweet relationship, however one thing that the husband once said was quite shocking. He said that he and his wife had a mutual understanding, they loved each other enough that if at anytime one became unhappy in their marriage, that they had the right to leave. To them, this was a kindness, happiness became the primary goal. Yet their kindness created fragility. . . and ultimately a source of fear. This is how hearts unchanged by Christ would function. Hearts that do not know the love and forgiveness of a perfect savior, would never be able to be longsuffering or be able to look past their own happiness to the greater purpose of glorifying God in their continued care and sacrifice for another. When glorifying God is our ultimate goal, self-sacrifice and humbly placing another’s happiness before our own for the sake of our union, will flow naturally from us. It is only sin that upsets this flow. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it beautifully when he says
“God makes your marriage indissoluble and protects it from every danger that may threaten it from within and without; he will be the guarantor of its indissolubility. It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together; indeed, anyone who knows that may say confidently: What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. Free from all anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance; We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other till death.”
What a grace that is to us! There will be days when romantic love will not be able to carry you. So, don’t put your faith in that. Our hearts are so very fickle that there may even be simple actions, or words that cause your romantic love to waver. Yet you both are not to hold fast to a romantic fickle love, based on feelings and worldly moment to moment happiness, you instead,will be holding on to a union forged by God himself. . . a union that is showing the world how firm the covenant we have with God is in salvation, and therefore you can remain unwavering in your devotion to one another. Once married “no longer will love sustain the marriage, but from now on, your marriage [will] sustain your love.” (Bonhoeffer) Do not fear or be anxious. This covenantal love truly will cover a multitude of sins.
Really this whole charge could have been summed up in the statement “Be like Christ, marvel at His forgiveness while extending it to each other, and fearlessly enjoy your marriage.” But we all know, I‘m a bit wordy. 😊 Now, I will leave you with a few quick tid bits of wisdom that I’ve learned from much trial and error:
-If you feel like you have been sinned against, ask yourself “What sin has really been committed?”. . . many times you will realize they just did something you didn’t like, and not necessarily sinned against you. “Strangness” (as Piper puts it) is not sin. In those times, check your own motivations and prayerfully repent. This simple question will save many an afternoon of mulling over useless anger or irritation. Forbearing “strangeness” with love is just as important as forgiving sin. (especially when you both may not agree on which is which)
-Boys are not mind readers. They just aren’t. You may think you already know this and that you’re above this line of thinking, but there will be days you think Joey “should” know or do something without you having to ask. Just because you have to ask doesn’t make his willingness null and void. If you ask and he joyfully reacts then be thankful. No other words are necessary. *And just a side note in this same vein: Be sure that your “should” is good and kind. We never want to place a burden or responsibility on our husbands that the Lord himself has not.
-If you see something he is struggling with spiritually or just in his role as husband, simply pray for him. The Spirit resides in him as well and your prayers will not go unheard. If it comes up in conversation, its always better to ask kind questions then to make statements and sling accusations.
-Giving your husband the silent treatment is never acceptable. Swallow your pride and just tell him you are working through either your personal sin or confusing thoughts. Simply let him know that you would like to talk with him when you can do it in a kind manner. Be straightforward.
-You will never realize what encouraging words will do for your husband. Be an encourager always, even when its hard, especially when its hard.
-Practice a good pause before reacting to a hurtful word or comment. Its better to look strange and suffer an awkward pause than let your tongue cause wounds that would lead to an even worse silence. And if your husband says something foolish to you (or you to him) reacting in sin to foolishness only makes you a fool as well.
-When you seem to fail, always remember that who we are in Christ is what will make us the crown of our husbands, not the immaculate house, or the gourmet meal but simply the sitting at Christ’s feet, laying down our failures from the day and looking to Him as our source of beauty and forgiveness. It is when your identity and your hope is in Christ that your home will be a place of peace, your meals will be served with love, your words will be filled with grace, and your love for Joey will be sweet.
Joy, may your love for the gospel grow as you enjoy the person God has given you and may you both find your ultimate joy in seeking Christ and glorifying God in all you do.