I have been reading the following book by Gary Thomas, and finding it one of the most inspiring texts I have ever encountered: “Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?” Following are some points that struck me as particularly insightful and comforting, which might help others also struggling at times as Christians in their marriage:
* While many people fight to receive respect, Christian marriage calls us to focus our efforts on giving respect. We are called to honour someone even when we know only too well their deepest character flaws. We can be thankful for our fellow sinners when we spend more time looking for evidence of grace in them, than we do finding fault with them.
* You will never find a spouse who is not affected in some way by the reality of the Fall. If you can’t respect this spouse because he or she is prone to certain weaknesses, you will never be able to respect any spouse.
* Take the plank out of your own eye (Luke 6:42) before trying to remove the speck from our spouse’s eye. Adopt a humble spirit. Respect your spouse, honour him or her, they deserve it.
* Instead of placing demands on your spouse (or others), look to God to get your needs met. Then approach others in the spirit of servant hood. From the desperate father in Mark 9:24 we learn that we could have all the faith in the world but if it is misplaced it will do no good. But weak faith placed in the One who can respond is all God needs, and He’ll take care of the rest.
* Struggle makes us stronger; it builds us up and deepens our faith. Jesus promised us that everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt (Mark 9:49). But this result is achieved only when we face the struggle head-on, not when we run from it. Our Lord has sovereignly ordained that our refining process take place as we go through difficulties, not around them. The Bible is filled with examples of those who overcame as they passed through the desert, the Red Sea, the fiery furnace and ultimately the cross. God doesn’t protect Christians from their problems – he helps them walk victoriously through their problems.
* If your marriage is tough, get down on your knees and thank God that He has given you an opportunity for unparalleled spiritual growth. You have the prime potential to excel in Christian character and obedience.
* Struggling successfully and profitably brings a deeper joy than even trouble-free living. It is meaningful. God created us in such a way that we need to struggle to stay alive spiritually. Challenge is what keeps us seasoned. But to be profitable, our struggle must have purpose, and it must be productive. It is only when we put struggle within the Christian context of character development and self sacrifice that it becomes profitable.
* Jesus portrayed struggle as the entry point into the Christian life, stressing that it would be a daily reality of our faith:
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23, King James bible)
* Our relationships can be looked at in the same way we would view mountain climbing. Instead of immediately thinking about how we can take a helicopter to the top, we might take a climber’s approach and think, “This is really tough. This is a challenge, no doubt about it. How do I keep loving this person in the face of this challenge?” Tribulation and adversity conform us to the Cross of Christ. There is no other way to be made holy, or conformable to His image.
* A good marriage is not something you find, it’s something you work for. It takes struggle. You must crucify your selfishness. You must at times confront, and at other times confess. The practice of forgiveness is essential.
* Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw nearer to God because of them. Through them you may reflect more of the spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that He has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.
* A difficult marriage, in and of itself, may not cause us to grow. We have to apply ourselves to understanding, love and patience – commit ourselves to a pursuit of virtue – within that difficult marriage. We can’t control how our spouse will act or how the world will act, but we can control how we will act and how we will respond. We become the architects of a new character.
* As long as our pain and wisdom and lessons are “locked up in the heart” or “hoarded high in barns”, they remain sterile and unfertile. To grow in the midst of difficulties, we must “rip open” the bags of grain and seeds and pour them out wherever we see fertile ground. This is the classic death and rebirth theme of Christianity (John 12:24), in which the “seed of love must be eternally resown.” It is the essence of a spiritually meaningful marriage – and of ministering fruitfully to others.