[Written in collaboration with my husband, Bobby Howes]
To be honest, I was very hesitant to write this. I’m a people pleaser, a peace keeper, and putting out my voice in disagreement is kind of scary. My desire for approval and my fear to offend are enough reasons for me not to publish this. However, my husband strongly encouraged me to respond, and assured me that my voice counts, too. (This is a lengthy one, because not only do I have a lot to say but because other people did too.)
Recently, a blog post has been popping up on my Facebook newsfeed titled, “Marriage Isn’t Hard” (here is the link to the post). This post is beautifully written and has so many great points. Yet, while I was reading it (also being within my first year of marriage like the author) I couldn’t help but feel conflicted with it. And in some ways, I felt that my first-year experience was somewhat minimized by this post.
Now I don’t want you reading this thinking, “Well gee, the first author wrote with the glass half full…and this one is just about the glass being half empty.” No, my perspective is also half full. My intention of this response isn’t to be argumentative or angsty, but to graciously give a different perspective and hopefully shed light on the gospel.
Many times this year, I have been that friend sitting across the table enjoying a coffee and bagel being asked, “How’s married life?” My response has been usually along the lines of, “It’s hard but good.” Not because the Church taught me that’s the right response…but because it’s true.
And here is why I think so:
(From “Marriage Isn’t Hard”) I think we have so readily embraced the idea that marriage is hard because that’s the line of the Church, “Marriage is hard. It reveals the depth of your sin. You’ll see how selfish you really are.” But I just can’t imagine this being the picture that God intends to paint as the love between Christ and the Church, and it’s not the one we should adopt. Life can be difficult, yes, we face hardship, sin, brokenness, and failures but those things exist whether you are married or not.
I agree and disagree with this. I don’t think that the “Marriage is hard” response is just an empty line the Church came up with. I think it is a response that is said with weight, experience, and truth. In fact it is a line Paul stated:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)
Paul didn’t say this because a person becomes more sinful in marriage. Paul said this because the very nature of marriage is hard. Paul says this “for your own benefit”…not to scare us, but to shed light on the reality and nature of marriage.
Vulnerable moment: There have been moments during this first year of marriage where I mourned my singleness. That sounds terrible, right? I would daydream what it would be like if I were still single: I could spend money how I want, hang out with my friends for as long as I want (I’m an extravert), I could even hop on a plane and go do missions in the Philippines whenever I want. However, being married means my first ministry is my husband–who is also sinful like me. And instead of hopping on a plane to leave this mission field, I made a covenant to be one with this mission for the rest of our lives.
So please, let’s not say that following Jesus in singleness is the same as following Jesus in marriage. Paul even acknowledged that. Both singleness and marriage carry their own different trials and joys in following Jesus. But they are not the same.
Now let me clarify: I am not blaming my sin on the institution of marriage. Yes, the root issue is sin. But let’s not downplay that marriage isn’t hard. However, God does use the institution of marriage as a vehicle of our sanctification. Timothy Keller uses a beautiful analogy to describe this:
Think of an old bridge over a stream. Imagine that there are structural defects in the bridge that are hard to see. There may be hairline fractures that a very close inspection would reveal, but to the naked eye there is nothing wrong. But now see a ten-ton Mack truck drive onto the bridge. What will happen? The pressure from the weight of the truck will open those hairline fractures so they can be seen. The structural defects will be exposed for all to see because of the strain the truck puts on the bridge. Suddenly, you can see where all the flaws are. The truck didn’t create the weaknesses; it revealed them.
When you get married, your spouse is a big truck driving right through your heart. Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t create your weaknesses – it reveals them. This is not a bad thing, though. How can you change into your glory-self if you assume that you’re already pretty close to perfect as it is? (From Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller)
To be real, I think marriage being hard is the picture God intended us to adopt. Because if we do not acknowledge the hard parts, the darkness, the hurts, and the pains–then we minimize the abundant and extravagant grace that has been given to us.
(From “Marriage Isn’t Hard”) If our reflection of this love is ” It’s hard”, we not only rob ourselves of the joy found in displaying the love of Christ but we honestly downplay the beauty of it. Marriage is a window from which we have the opportunity to shine the glory of God.
You know? I think it’s okay to say that marriage is hard. In fact I think it is very God-glorifying. I don’t think acknowledging that marriage is hard downplays the perfect love of God. In fact, I think it upholds it. And it points to the beauty of his perfect love.
Now why would God want us to adopt a picture of marriage that is “hard, but good?” Because that is the gospel of Christ. Yes, we can look forward to the beautiful union of Christ and His Church…but we cannot ignore what it took for us to even get there.
What did it take? It took God sending his perfect, holy son to this broken world. And knowing this world, that’s hard.
It took Jesus vulnerably pleading with God, sweating blood, to take the future suffering away, if it be His will…why? Because he knew that it would be hard.
It took Jesus being mocked, brutally beaten, and nailed to a cross with crimson dripping from every surface of his body, because of his Bride’s sin. That’s hard.
A perfect and holy God dying for my sin, to ultimately be with me in the end? That’s hard. But good.
(From “Marriage Isn’t Hard”) Life is hard and dealing with my own sin is hard. But waking up next to my best friend every day is not hard. Having someone by my side, knowing the depths of my soul, both good and bad, yet still choosing to push me toward the goodness of God – that is not hard.
Well, sure, waking up next to your best friend every day is not hard. But what about the days when you don’t necessarily see him as your best friend? When the action of love is not stemmed from fuzzy feelings but solely from the choice to just love. I’m sure Jesus didn’t feel like those that put him on the cross were his best friends…that he wasn’t hanging up there with warm, fuzzy feelings. No, he made the hard choice to stay on the cross and die for us while we were still his enemies.
Is my marriage with Jesus ever hard? Why yes, it is. When the warm, fuzzy feelings of his presence seem absent, there is some difficulty to choose to love and worship him. But I still choose because I’m devoted…it’s a marriage. But it can be hard, sometimes.
My husband learning to die to himself daily in order to love me. My learning to die to myself daily in order to love my husband. That’s hard. And messy. But good.
Ignoring the dark and painful parts, minimizes the beautiful and gracious parts of the picture of the gospel. Embracing it and enduring through it, however, is so very sanctifying. It increases our awareness of our need for the cross. It brings us to our knees to worship with gratitude. It maximizes our lens of amazing grace.
(From “Marriage Isn’t Hard”) So I would imagine marriage would be hard if you placed all of your hope on the unequipped shoulders of your spouse – a weight meant solely for Christ. But when Christ is our satisfaction, we are able to love our spouses without expectation. And a love devoid of expectations, limits, and clauses is a love that stands unconditionally.
I full heartedly agree with the above statement. But can I be vulnerable? I’m not there yet. Perhaps the author and her spouse have mastered this, but my personal and daily struggle is making Jesus my first husband. My struggle this first year is solidifying the truth that I am already perfectly loved and approved of. This is a truth I have known since before I was married. In fact, it was a truth I easily believed and walked when I was single. But to walk in light of that truth when I am rubbing shoulders daily with another sinful human being–It’s hard.
My husband and I have almost 10 books on marriage on our bookshelf. These are books we read before we got married and revisited since we’ve gotten married. Why are there so many books giving wisdom about marriage? Because marriage can be hard.
Marriage takes counseling. (Singleness does too…in fact, I think everyone could benefit from counseling). But there are people who specialize in marriage counseling. Their entire careers are based on counseling couples who are within the covenant of marriage. Why? Because marriage can be hard.
Marriage is even hard for emotionally healthy people. In fact, the Church has some credibility to say that marriage is hard because the divorce rates within the Church aren’t significantly different from divorce rates outside the Church. Why? Because marriage is hard.
Yes, the root issue is sin. It’s the root issue of everything that is hard. But we don’t say that “war isn’t hard.” The root issue of war is sin. Just as we are in a spiritual battle. I would never say that spiritual warfare “isn’t hard.” It is hard. But it’s good. Because it creates endurance and perseverance.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Because of the trials of marriage, the testing of faith, there is sweet sanctification.
To be more personal, we had a hard first year. I’m not saying that to be cliche. I’m saying that because it’s true. Now who wants to challenge this? Who wants to challenge my experience and say, “But marriage isn’t hard, Charissa, you just haven’t worked out how to deal with your sin correctly.” Nope. Marriage and sin are not mutually exclusive. It just takes one person’s sins, and the marriage can get hard. You can’t separate the two.
My dad put it this way: There is Bobby and his sin. Then there is me and my sin. And then there is our marriage. A whole new being. Bobby and I are one. One big sinful, messy, being that needs the redemptive work of the Gospel more than ever.
In light of that, because our first year of marriage was hard…I have never experienced the goodness of the gospel to the deep extent in which I have, like I have this year. And that, my friends, is beautiful. Marriage has redefined dying to self, love, endurance, and grace for me.
Those people who say, “Just wait ten years…” are probably godly men and women who have been married for more than a year. And they are not saying that to scare you. There is weight and wisdom and experience behind those comments.Wisdom says to take heed to their words, because all our journeys are unique. That is what the Church is for. To give truth out of love, to surround our married couples with support, surround our single people with support, and ultimately contribute wisdom into each others’ lives. This is why Bobby and I established god-parents at the beginning of our marriage (more explanation on the sweet benefit of this here.)
Let me praise God for all the couples that have had a smooth and sweet first year of marriage. I praise Jesus for that grace upon you. That is a beautiful thing. A beautiful picture. And I truly believe that whatever other hard circumstances you experienced this year, God has used for your holiness.
For me, this first year of marriage was God’s main vehicle for my sanctification and growth. And I praise him so much for that. I praise him for the trials we had this year. I can’t say that I thanked Him for the difficulties every day of the year–but looking at who I was before, and what I gained from this first year…I praise Jesus for that grace upon us.
I love my husband so much. I have learned so much from him this year. I have also learned about the deepest sins underneath my sin–and his sins, as well. I’ve learned to love when it’s hard. And because we endured and persevered through this first year, we are stronger for the next. Because of this first year of marriage (and I have been with Bobby for a total of 4 years), I love Bobby in deeper ways that I didn’t know were possible.
Because of this first year, I love Jesus in deeper ways that I have never experienced. And I have experienced His love in deeper ways that I didn’t even know existed.
For us, marriage is hard. But it is oh, so good.