Yesterday, my wife Noelle and I celebrated our seventeenth wedding anniversary. It’s an utterly remarkable thing to us, especially considering the fact that just eight years ago we were estranged from one another and headed for a divorce.
We had been married for nine years at that point. By the summer of 2009, I found myself regularly pleading with the Lord to save our marriage, as we were in really bad shape. We didn’t trust one another. We weren’t listening to one another. We weren’t handling the pressure of life and ministry well. And we were desperately trying to maintain the appearance of having it all together. We had to, or so we thought. Pastors and their wives aren’t supposed to struggle like we were struggling (again, or so we thought).
The Summer of 2009 was a very bad year for our marriage. It is when our ship sunk. We both had a sense that it was going to be a make-it-or-break-it year for our marriage, and it turned out to be a break-it year by all counts. (Side Note: You can read all about our story at our personal blog. We haven’t written much there for a while, but we shared a lot about things we had faced and were learning as God began to put our marriage back together. Feel free to check it out.)
Yet, at some point in all the pleading I was doing for our marriage that year, I decided to capture the prayers I had been praying in a poem and present it to Noelle for our nine-year anniversary. It didn’t have the immediate impact that I was hoping for when I gave it to her, but I can see now that my many prayers did not fall on deaf ears. Here is what I wrote:
“A Prayer for Year Ten”
High and Glorious One, Beautiful and True
Clouds our sinful eyes cannot fully peer through
Have covered our skies and have hidden our sun
We know not where You are, but we know You’ve not run
“Count it all joy”, You tell us through fire
By faith and not sight You call when we tire
So command what You wish, but give grace to obey
Keep our feet on the path when our hearts long to stray
Yet don’t leave us to mere grit, rather raise our affections
That our hearts and our feet might go on in the same direction
That the people we’re becoming might look more and more like Jesus
And the covenant we’re keeping might tell more of Him who freed us
When our souls become embittered with the other one’s sins
Teach us the glory of a man to overlook an offense
As we raise to You our cups, with grace we pray “fill them!”
That grace might gush gladly well over their lofty brims
At the end of our first ten, we pray not for smoother roads
No, in all the faith we possess, we ask for stronger legs alone
That the Cross becomes so real, that the Rock on which we stand
Will not much longer feel, like the grains of shifting sand
Hold us, our God, and bind our hearts together
That this gift we’ve been given, might not feel to us like fetters
But in Your hand might be used to open up these cloudy skies
So we might fix our eyes on Christ, Most Glorious and High
Fast forward to the Fall of 2017. Today we’re heading off to spend a couple of days together in celebration of God’s sweet transforming grace in our lives over these last seventeen sanctifying years of marriage. There were many days when I didn’t think we would ever make it this far. But God; he thought otherwise. And I am so glad and grateful that he did.
Reflecting on the faithfulness of God to us over these years is good for my soul. It reminds me of a few realities that I thought may be worth sharing with you.
First, marriage is ultimately about your sanctification, not your immediate satisfaction.
If you think that God’s ultimate interest in your marriage is to fulfill your every desire through your spouse, think again! His interest is your personal holiness. You are not Jesus, and neither is your spouse, which means that you cannot ever be for your spouse what Jesus can be for her and she cannot ever be for you what Jesus can be for you. It is far more important to God that you find Jesus to be an all-satisfying Savior, than that you have a all-satisfying, storybook marriage. Remember that. And remember that when you are disappointed in your marriage. Disappointment in your marriage is God’s kindness to you, because it is meant to lead to greater dependence upon Christ.
Second, there is no marriage so broken that God cannot heal it with the Gospel.
If you are in a broken marriage, do not lose hope. It is not beyond saving. Where two people are humbling themselves under the Scriptures, willing to see and fully admit their sins, dwelling in the Gospel of grace, and willing to do whatever it takes to glorify Christ – there you will find a marriage that can be healed and restored. This is not to say that it will ever be easy; it won’t. It is simply to say that in the hands of a gracious God, it is always possible. So, whether you are in a broken marriage, or have the privilege of ministering to someone in one, don’t under-estimate God’s ability to bring genuine healing to that marriage.
Third, ministry marriages face unique pressures, and the idea that ministry marriages should not involve serious struggles is a lie.
My wife and I lived for years under the lie that we weren’t supposed to have the struggles that other couples have. We thought being a ministry couple meant that we had to have a trouble-free marriage. We thought we had to have all the answers. We thought that having struggles would undermine our credibility in ministry and reflect poorly upon Christ. We were dead wrong. Pastors and pastors wives are sinners just like everyone else, which means their marriages will be full of challenges just like everyone else. And the way to make your marriage undermine your credibility in ministry and reflect poorly upon Christ is to pretend that your marriage no longer needs the Gospel for its survival. Admitting you need God’s ongoing grace and power in your marriage is one of the easiest ways to glorify God in your marriage. And that goes for ministry marriages too; perhaps especially so.
If marriage is about the Gospel, which it is (Eph 5:32), it shouldn’t be a surprise that thriving marriages don’t come to be apart from the Gospel. And often times, the Gospel shines the brightest in marriages that would not survive without it. I can testify to that personally, and am very happy to now be able to do so.