“To the unmarried and the widows I say that, it is good for them to remain single as I am.” ~1 Corinthians 7:8
Twelve years into marriage, I understand Paul’s advice. And agree, its easier not to get married.
In fact, over the summer, a wise man spoke up in worship asking for prayer for his marriage, with his wife sitting within elbow distance. He said, “Marriage is like pebbles in your shoes, and if you are not careful over time they build up and start to irritate you.” Wise words..so wise, I am convinced his wife came up with them because they have been married only 5 weeks.
But quickly, another man piped up saying, “Yeah pastor, can you help get the boulders I’ve put in my wife’s shoes these past 21 years?”
As we laughed, I realized how hungry we are for marriage to be easy; like putting on a pair of slippers.
I think everyone wants marriage to be easy…but that is because we have failed to understand and build our marriages correctly. We start our relationships that lead to marriage with the wrong attitude.
Marriage is not supposed to be easy.
Paul warned us, if you want things to be easy, then it’s better not to be married. Yet for some reason we do not believe him…we think that love should come naturally and easily.
Recently, I heard that millennials approach relationships through this process:
- (Maybe) Marriage
It moves from a relationship built on the the physical (who catches my eye in a room?) to a financial arrangement. This is trying to make a marriage easy. It’s based on appeal, convenience, fiscal responsibility, hormones…
Think about the first marriage in scripture, however. Eve came into existence through the tearing of flesh and the ripping of bone from Adam. The picture of marriage in the Bible is not whispering sweet nothings, saving some money on rent, sexual fulfillment, or long walks on the beach after a Meg Ryan movie. Marriage was the result of pain, loss of the self and sacrifice.
As Tim Keller writes,
For what Adam in the garden needed in the garden was not just a sexual partner but a companion, bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.
If singles accepted this principle, it would drastically change the way people seek a marriage partner in our day. It is typical for a single person to walk into a room and see a number of people of the opposite sex and immediately begin to screen them, not for companionship but for attractiveness. Let’s say three out of ten look appealing. The next step is to approach those three to see what rapport there may be. If one of them will agree to go out on a date, and you get romantically involved, perhaps you’ll see if you can turn that person into a friend as well. The problem is many of your best prospects for friendship were likely among those you ruled out because they were too tall or too short, too fat or too skinny.
We think of a prospective spouse as primarily a lover (or provider) and if he or she can be a friend on top of that, well isn’t that nice! We should be going at it the other way around.” ~Meaning of Marriage
When our relationship starts out with an emphasis on the physical and fiscal elements of a relationship, we are actually doing it the easy way. Its easy to give our bodies over to the moment. As one young adult said to me, “I want to know if we will be sexually compatible.” (As if a few romps in one’s twentys will help a young couple assess their sexual compabality for 5 decades after kids, after hormones change, after gravity…)
Once they have connected physically, they determine it makes the most sense to move into together. The rationale is simple: It saves money, they are already staying the night, it’s more convenient and their friends are doing it. Logically, rationally, fiscally, culturally, I completely agree it makes sense (90% of couples now cohabitate before marriage). It’s easier. And in doing so, they have established a relationship on ease, all the while thinking this will prepare them for a strong marriage.
“It’s like test driving a car,” someone once told me. Well did you know 37,000 people die each year in wrecks, 2.35 million become injured, 1,600 kids die, and costs $230.6 billion? Just because you test drive a car a block around the dealership, does not mean you are prepared to handle it on the open road.
In fact, cohabitation has distorted their relationship. When living together, it creates a destructive power dynamic. It is the one who is the least committed who has all the power. It gives them a leverage point…they can bail out when it’s no longer easy. They can walk away if X, Y, Z are not done. They think they are testing the waters, giving it a trial run, looking for efficiency and simplicity, but those are not ways to build a marriage.
When Lindsay and I were engaged, we decided not to have sex before marriage nor live together. Not because this makes us holier and closer to God, but because we did not want our marriage built the easy way. We have never done things the easy way. We wanted our marriage to be built on a challenge, on self-restraint, discipline and sacrifice.
We went the hard way: sleeping on a random guy’s couch for a month before the wedding, not doing what came naturally, moving twice, forgoing sex, was all a challenge. But 13 years later, it’s one that I am grateful for because it set us on a path towards trust, resilience, and servanthood. Where self-restraint was valued over what felt good and easy in the moment.
In fact, on our wedding night, the very first act I did was to wrap a towel around me, grab the ice bucket and get onto my knees to wash her feet.
Why? (Trust me that was not an easy act)…because I needed our marriage to start with a sign of my humility and my servanthood to her.
Doing so, it reminds me 13 years later to turn off the Daily Show to go unload the dishwasher, to stay up late at night listening to her hurts, to pray with and for her when I am so angry I cannot speak, and to never take the easy way out. That I am here, in our marriage, not for my own convenience, my own self fulfillment or for my ease but to serve and love her because Christ served and loved me.
I needed to start my marriage this way, so on the rare occasion that Lindsay frustrated me, I could remember what I was really after on our wedding night. And maybe, prayerfully, to this day she can look beyond my selfish gazes and recall having her feet washed on our wedding as a symbol of the selfless gaze of Christ.
So this is not written in judgment of your past, your path and your story. Judgment is not my role. Instead, it is written as a challenge for you to reconsider which way you are going in your marriage. Are you seeking a marriage made easy, or embracing the challenge of a marriage that bears witness to Jesus Christ?
Maybe you feel it is too late, too far gone, too many boulders, too many stubbed toes, broken ankles…but maybe those are the feet that need it the most. Perhaps that is how we get the pebbles out of the shoes. By wrapping a towel around our waist, getting on our knees in front of our spouse, and scrubbing those toes–again and again and again.
Remembering that Jesus never took the easy way out, so why should we?