Last week, we heard the love story of the leaders of our pre-marital counseling class. It was a fairly normal story, except for a 5 year, life-changing car accident that happened mid-marriage. This car accident led to brain damage and a significantly different man than was once a part of that marriage relationship.
Hearing that story and reading one of my pre-marital books that talked about how to deal with disease and sickness as you and your mate grow older have been a heavy weight on me the last few days. No one wants to go through such things, but they're a part of life, and there's no getting away from them. There will be pain, sorrow, and suffering--Jesus promised us this. His response was to "take heart!" for He had "overcome the world." As a Christian, it's easy to say, "Yes, of course, we live in an imperfect world, and we have hope for a future in heaven." But when those difficulties come, we despair just like the next person.
Of course, I would never choose for something terrible to happen to Reagan and I or our families, but if they do, how would I deal with it? That's the question I've been asking myself lately. This question brought me to asking myself what marriage is for exactly. I read a great book called The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. Seriously, an excellent read. He talked about marriage from God's perspective, and though it's been a long time since I've read it, I seem to remember him talking about how these bad things can happen and what is our response. I tried to find the book last week to reread it, but without success. Hopefully, it will show itself soon! ;)
Among other things that marriage is for, I believe it is to provide a picture of the radical love God has for his people--the church. I've heard that for a long time, but what I started contemplating this week was what kind of people the church is made up of--sinful people. People who are dedicated but still mess up, people who are hypocrites but pretend they're not, people who are legalistic about rules, rules, and more rules, people who are praising God one day and saying they don't believe in Him the next. Think about that in a marriage context. God is faithful; the Bible tells us that. So imagine God as a constant in this relationship, married to people who give up on Him in a heartbeat, who turn to other things to fill their needs, who claim He's asking too much and go their own way, who see Him as a dictator instead of a lover. How heartbreaking would this be for God--He, who passionately loves this church, who would never give up on them no matter how much they hurt Him? Can you imagine what we would do if this is what our husband or wife did to us? In our culture, we'd be gone in a heartbeat!
So what does this tell us exactly?
1) Love takes risks. God takes a HUGE risk on us by loving us unconditionally. Love is risky because you're not guaranteed to get back what you're giving. God wants nothing but the best for us. He pours out His blessing continually, and if we really matched that with how much passionate love we give back to Him, I think most of us would find we're giving back very half-heartedly and very sparingly in comparison. God doesn't have to love us, but He does more than anything. Nothing we do can ever shake that love. God risks everything He has in His heart to have a close, deep relationship with us. He let His own child die just to be closer to us!
How many of you have a relationship you've been in where you took great risk, and it didn't work out in the end? Probably most of us can relate to that. How many of you can say, "I'm glad it happened," now that it's over? I think the only way it's possible to truly and honestly say that is if you believe that God has a bigger purpose in mind for you. I've been through my share of heartbreak, and I can say that I know God used that heartbreak to help me figure out who I am as His daughter. I have more confidence in myself, a better understanding of God's love for me, and have met an even greater guy to spend my life with. I'm grateful for the change that happened in me, and that I trusted God's way over mine. It doesn't mean it's easy to take risks. It's hard, and it hurts sometimes. But if we think about what God did for us with Jesus, we have to believe that He's got a bigger and better purpose for us--one that will make us more fulfilled and whole.
2) Love is committed. Does God give up on the church? No. Should you give up on your marriage? No. I believe this with all my heart. I believe that there's no "perfect person" to marry. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not perfect, so why should I expect to find a perfect husband? What I do believe is that God brings us the opportunity to love someone in their imperfections.
I do not say this to hurt anyone or say you did it wrong, but I'm always a little puzzled when people leave their marriages because they "found someone better." Didn't you think your current spouse was the best person around when you first started dating? I am saddened that people get blinded by that initial euphoria and expect those feelings to stick around forever. They won't. They come and go. It's really not about the feelings, it's about the choice to be committed just as God is committed to us even when we do things He doesn't like. If you get hung up on the feelings, then you miss out on the wonderful blessings happening in your marriage. Anybody you choose to marry is going to do things you don't care for, things that annoy you, things that make you hurt and angry (and guess what? You'll do those things to them too!). Life is going to get hard with kids, work, sex, exhaustion, and finances. Every couple has things that are difficult. You can't stay in the honeymoon phase. What I would encourage you to do for yourself, is talk to couples who have been married 30, 40, 50 years. Ask them if they wish they had stayed in the honeymoon phase. I can guarantee they'll say they're glad they didn't--that marriage is even more beautiful and enjoyable now than it was back then. And I believe that part of the beauty is that they chose to stay committed through the imperfections--just as God does with us.
If we are living our lives with these two principles in mind--principles that God has demonstrated to us Himself in the way He loves us--then I believe we'll be able to handle those occasions when accidents happen, brain damage changes a person emotionally, cancer develops, miscarriages happen, and age takes its toll. If we approach those difficulties knowing that loving that person was a risk we chose to take, and we're going to be committed to them alone no matter what happens because we trust that God is good and has a plan far bigger and better than we can imagine, then I really believe things will turn out okay. They may not be easy. They may not turn out the way we'd want them to. But in the end, I think we'll be able to look back and say, "I'm glad it happened. Look at the good that came out of this."
I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes that relate to this:
"Joy is knowing in the midst of your suffering that you're exactly where you're supposed to be."
- Bart Campolo
"Though our feelings come and go, God's love for us does not."
- C. S. Lewis
"It shows a lack of judgment and courage to avoid having good things because we are afraid of losing them. Because they are always worrying about what might go wrong, most are unable to enjoy their present opportunities for happiness."
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
- C. S. Lewis
"Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbor; act as if you did.As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him."
- C. S. Lewis
"What God has brought together, let no man separate." Mark 10:9