I wanted to take a step away from my day-to-day motherhood and keeper-of-the-home topics and write about the joys of marriage. Having been married for more than six years now I can say with certainty that there is far more in marriage than just romance and joy.
Perhaps that has been true for my marriage due to several factors that generally don't aid in making the transition to married life ultra smooth. We were married young (I was still 18 and he was 21 at the time), neither of us had finished college, and then we added children (three in less than two and a half years to be exact).
Our background has us moving quite a few times. We were married in a small church located in a small coastal town in Oregon. We lived in that town for about eleven months working late night shifts and spending our free time eating Little Caesar's pizza and watching Blockbuster movies. After much shopping around and debate we selected a school at which my husband would continue his education that was located in Minnesota. He went on to work a full time job, play three years of college football, and finish his undergrad degree in their evening adult program. I worked full time in the college cafeteria and did some nanny jobs for a while. Our first son was born just before Casey graduated with his bachelor's degree. He went on to begin his online MA degree that fall and we moved back to Oregon after being away for over two years. Hard times followed because work was hard to come by even for a college grad. We were only in Oregon for about seven months while Casey worked a part time job and we were quickly using up extra student loan cash, when we were offered a much prayed for full time job in Nebraska. Two weeks before I moved to Nebraska and the very day Casey had to leave for job training, our second son was born. Casey left a few hours after the birth for his training. We added our third child, our daughter, about a year after moving to Nebraska. After much hard work and determination, my husband graduated with a 4.0gpa and a lovely MA diploma. We had been seeking a new job that was more career oriented especially for someone having finished his grad degree and after sending out many (and many more) applications and hearing no responses and feeling frustrated time and time again, a call finally came for an interview in Kansas at a bank. Shortly thereafter he was interviewed and then we learned he was hired and had another move to prepare for. We are now living in our new home in Missouri. The pursuit of a career often means taking jobs that don't require a prestigious degree in order to obtain the necessary training and experience. This required our family to make even more changes and for me to secure a part time job to make our budget-ends meet.
People who do not know me very well may think that I have just another "picture perfect" marriage and we just got lucky. The truth is that learning to live in a covenant marriage takes hard work and often times we fail. We fail to be selfless, we fail to be respectful, and we fail to live in our proper roles of husband/wife i.e. lead and love/ respect and submit. Failing doesn't always mean broken and forever un-fixable. Every day we fail in our pursuit of being without sin as we follow God. He forgives us and we try to learn from our mistakes. Which holds true in marriage. We should forgive each other and learn from our mistakes.
What I have learned is that marriage isn't about me and him but about honoring God. Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ's marriage to the church. He loved the church so much that He even went to the cross for us before we ever loved Him. In return, we seek to follow His commandments and put His will before our own. We are to live out our covenant marriage as a model of this relationship that Christ has with the church. A husband is commanded to love his wife "as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25) and "as his own body and life" (Ephesians 5:28-33), seek only his wife in sexual gratification, and "not be harsh with her" (Colassians 3:19). A wife is commanded to "submit to her husband" (Ephesians 5:22-24) which literally means to yield to his authority and judgement. When a husband or wife or unmarried person reads these commandments it is often the first response to grumble and assert that a woman can take care of herself or a man can't show love without first receiving her respect, etc... The key factor is this... 'marriage isn't about me and him but about honoring God.' We bring honor to God by obeying His commandments whether or not he is deserving or whether or not she is lovable. The very fact that these commandments are almost impossible on our own shows that our real purpose is to constantly be seeking God's strength to show this form of Godly love to honor Him. Period. There is not a clause or amendment allowing for a man to show less love when his wife is overweight or unproductive. There is not a clause or amendment allowing for a wife to be less submissive when her husband is unloving, rude, or unappreciative.
The fact is that there are few allowances out of your covenant. They deserve a slot in this post because too often it is forgotten and overlooked in our society...yes, our "Christian" society...when and only when a divorce is acceptable. Some areas are decidedly not mentioned as acceptable. Unhappiness. Nope. Annoying. Nope. Not in love anymore. Nope. Not attracted to that person anymore. Nope. Its a covenant marriage made before God Almighty where a man and a woman promise to remain married until "death do us part." There are two allowances in the Bible for divorce, "sexual immorality" (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) and being abandoned by an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:15). But God does say that "I hate divorce." For further reading on the subject I recommend this article.
Look at it this way. Your vertical relationship with God comes first and then you will be better equipped to work on your horizontal relationships with those around you. It is a Christ-follower's main goal that they should be showing the love of Christ through their actions and relationships in order that more people may believe in Christ. You can show Christ's love through your respect and submission to your husband, your patience toward and guidance of your children, and your interactions with co-workers, neighbors, friends and even strangers that you meet at the grocery store. We were made to be in the world but not of it. Despite the differing takes on this verse there is one thing that is fairly clear, and that is to be different from non-Christians. We shouldn't blend in but we should be there where they can see His light shining in us. Whether that means to exemplify a loving and committed marriage or to bring your own children toward a relationship with Christ or to witness to a non-believer. Our lives are not about us but about honoring Him.
In keeping with my title subject, the joys of marriage abound. There are the life lessons, which hurt at first but result in a new understanding of how things work. There is the companionship of a like-minded individual who shares at least some similar interests. There is the *whisper* physical intimacy (again, a lesson in selflessness in giving because when two people give to each other they both receive as well). There is the shared smiles when your offspring do or say something cute. There is the shoulder to lean on when you've had a rough day. Not to mention the joy that really does come from making another person happy. Such as making their favorite meal, or gifting them a special item they've been dreaming about, or doing an extra task just because you know it will make them feel more comfortable.
Marriage can be hard and full of the struggles and hardships of life but there is real joy to be found. The mystery of the hardships and sacrifices of following Christ and still having a heart abounding in joy.