The Transforming Miracle of Marriage
by Gary Thomas
O ne of the challenges my wife and I faced in our marriage centered around ice cube trays. Lisa rarely filled them back up, so when I pulled out a tray it might have just two or three ice cubes left. This frustrated me no end. So one time when my wife was talking romantically, telling me she would love me forever, I replied, "I don't need you to love me forever. I need you to love me for seven seconds."
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Well, I timed how long it takes to fill the ice cube trays and put them in the freezer, and that's about seven seconds.."
The next morning, however, it dawned on me while I was praying that if it takes my wife just seven seconds to fill the ice cube trays, how long does it take me? Seven seconds, naturally. And the question I believe God placed in my heart was piercing: Is my love so shallow that I would seriously resent my wife putting me out for seven seconds' worth of work? After all of her love and commitment to me, am I so spiritually immature that I grow angry at seven extra seconds of lost labor?
The sad answer was, "Yes, I am that immature."
In the aftermath of this awakening, I began reflecting on what the real purpose of marriage just might be. I remember talking to my older brother shortly after I was married. When he asked me what marriage was like, I thought for a moment and said, "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question—stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you'd never have to face otherwise."
The real transforming work of marriage is the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week commitment. This is the crucible that grinds and shapes us into the character of Christ. Instead of getting up at 3 a.m. to begin prayer in a monastery, the question becomes, Who will wake up when the baby's diaper needs changing?
The state of marriage is one
that requires more virtue and
constancy than any other.
This is a thought that has ample precedent in Christian history. In the Seventeenth Century a young woman wrote in great distress to a gifted spiritual director named Francis de Sales. This woman was torn because she very much wanted to get married. However, a friend was encouraging her to remain single, insisting that it would be "more holy" for her to care for her father, and then devote herself as a celibate nun after her father died.
De Sales put the troubled young woman at ease, telling her that, far from being a compromise, in one sense, marriage might be the toughest ministry she could ever undertake: "The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other," he wrote. "It is a perpetual exercise of mortification.. In spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life."
Journey to a New Understanding
With this new approach to marriage, instead of blaming Lisa for failing to refill the ice cube trays, I could see this "intrusion on my time" as a divine spotlight on my own selfishness, a God-given gift designed to mold me into the image of His beloved Son.
Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life, and any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value. Now, when I say that perhaps God designed marriage to make us holy even more than to make us happy, I'm not suggesting that God has anything against happiness, or that happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive. But looking at marriage through the lens of holiness began to put marriage in a new perspective for me.
In fact, it has led me to believe that couples don't really fall "out of love." I think it's more precise to say they fall out of repentance. What usually happens is that we let little vices— like impatience, disrespect, selfishness, pride, and anger— pollute a once-precious relationship. Instead of letting marriage draw us into holiness, we let it draw us into bitterness and accusation.
Here's the kicker: a lot of people want out of a relationship not only because they no longer "love" their spouse. The truth is, they despise what they themselves have become and want a new start with someone who hasn't seen them at their worst. But changing partners isn't the answer—changing ourselves is.
So while I'm all for rebuilding romance and intimacy, I think it's just as important to do a "virtue" check. Are you letting marriage draw you into holiness, or are you allowing the pressures of this enforced intimacy bring out the worst in you?
Let's look at just two of the many ways in which marriage can help us grow in holiness.
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