affection, anger, challenges, Christ, Christianity, conflict, fights, God, gospel, grace, hatred, hostility, humility, husband, intimacy, marriage, Patience, peace, pride, problems, sacrifice, strength, violence, wife, work
Here’s the story…
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a really difficult time. I was angry, irritated, frustrated over a lot of things. But more than anything, I was getting more and more upset with my husband over really dumb stuff. I mean, I will be the first to tell anyone that marrying the seemingly “perfect” guy does not mean that he is perfect. And I’m glad that I didn’t enter marriage with that mindset…..he’s so perfect…I hope he never changes…and all that foolishness. No, he wasn’t perfect, but I loved him enough to still walk with him for the rest of my life.
But going back to my story, so I was just growing more and more hostile towards him, and I had real thoughts about giving him a quick jab here and there whenever he really got to me. And there were real times when I considered whether or not our marriage was really going to last.
Now, on December 4th, we hit the 2 1/2 year point in our marriage, and although I was feeling down, I knew that many sources have said that the first 3 years are the hardest and that the first 5 years are the hardest. I took the pessimistic view and decided that maybe we are in the hardest part of the first 5 years, and I just had to wait it out and trust God that better days are ahead.
But I don’t want you to think that I wasn’t praying about this or that this just all of a sudden happened. No, this had been going on for a while. Things would come up that bothered me, but I just tried to keep the peace and pray about it, “leaving it to the Lord”…as I told myself. To be perfectly honest, my husband and I have never had a hardcore argument over the past 2.5 years, and I wondered if something was wrong before because we never did. But reflecting back now, there was something wrong.
Having grown up in a home where my mother argued and fussed incessantly for days, weeks, and months at a time, I had no desire whatsoever to act like her. I did not want a home like the home I grew up in. I didn’t want the lingering air of hostility and contention to permeate our peaceful home in any way. So the only way I knew to not have a home like that was to avoid needless arguments and disagreements….basically, to keep the peace.
Well, let me tell you this little nugget of truth I have finally realized after 2.5 years of marriage: Keeping the peace will not give you peace, nor is it actually peace.
Let me tell you, keeping the “peace” in our marriage for 2.5 years resulted in me fighting off the urge and desire of punching my husband in the throat. Keeping the “peace” over time led me to desire intimacy and affection with my husband less and less. I was actually talking myself up just to reach over and give him a hug, and even receive a hug. Keeping the “peace” over this time just allowed our differences to be magnified and magnified more and more until a couple of weeks ago when I just couldn’t do it anymore. And in all of this time, I was doing the “faithful wife” thing. I was praying. I went to God about my concerns. I tried to talk to my husband about a couple of things, but when he couldn’t see my point, I just dropped it. I kept myself encouraged, and I listened to the advice of faithful, older, and much more mature Christian women…and all of those things temporarily helped.
I wondered often over the years why God wouldn’t just work on my husband so that he could more easily see my point. I thought that maybe I was doubting in my prayers the reason God wasn’t answering me. And then I considered that maybe this was going to be my ongoing marital test of perseverance. Maybe this would be the “thorn in my flesh” that I kept praying for God to remove and that I would be reminded time and again that “His grace was sufficient.”
Well, finally after having those thoughts of random violence, I went back to God pouring myself out before Him to change me, change my heart, change my mind, help with this, and anything else I could think of. I will say that God did answer me, as He had answered me time and time again. But finally it home.
I came across this blog, The First 20 Years are the Hardest, and I was struck by what the author said. Everything that I had ever heard and read gave the view that marriage was most difficult in the initial years, but here was an older Christian stating that it’s been hard every single year. His admission challenged me, challenged my thoughts and everything I had ever believed about marriage. I entered marriage with a belief that it would be initially difficult, but it would ease up over time. And though you might face challenges later, nothing would be as difficult as the beginning. Well, now I had to consider, what if every year of marriage is hard and difficult for a variety of reasons and/or circumstances. If that’s the case, then why would you want to stay married? How does the marriage become enjoyable? How do you last like that?
Well, I realized that marriages that lasted through things are made of people who face the challenges and the difficulties head on. The marriage that lasts isn’t made of people who “keep the peace” or avoid conflicts. The marriage that lasts is made of people who have learned to actually address the difficulties and the conflicts with one another, and they keep on addressing it until it is fully resolved. And I’m not talking about having fights so that you can have the overly-glorified “make-up sex”. But I’m talking patiently talking things out, expressing how you feel multiple times (and sometimes in multiple ways because the other party can be a little slow in understand) until you realize the importance of actually working this out, coming to some common understanding, and making a plan for how to deal with this if it comes back up again. And if the issue comes back up, you humble yourself and deal with it again.
I know that sounds like common sense, but apparently common sense wasn’t so common in my life in this way. God showed me that I had a fear of having marital conflicts and disagreements because I thought that it would lead to never-ending fights and hostility within my marriage. And actually, the opposite of that was true. Trying to avoid fights and not deal with conflicts lead to ongoing hostility in my marriage, and it was literally tearing me away from my husband on multiple levels.
I thank God that I married a man that isn’t afraid of a conflict or having a hard discussion. I know that he doesn’t often “get” how my mind or feelings work, but he doesn’t just dismiss it altogether. Actually, I was always the one who dismissed it because it just seemed to be too difficult to explain. It left me more frustrated, and I just simply gave up and tried to avoid the conflict altogether. Well, with those thoughts of domestic violence, I humbled myself before the Lord, but most importantly, I humbled myself before my husband.
I can’t tell you the look on my husband’s face when I told him that I wanted to punch him in the throat, but it was a lot of shock, some humor (as he asked me if I needed to hit him to feel better), and then some serious intention to address whatever was going on. And it was a really long and hard conversation for me. I was humbled by having to have that conversation with him, and I told him how I’m often frustrated about a variety of things. And he actually said that I need to bring it up every time. And I explained that I didn’t want to be the wife that seemed to be nagging and upset all the time, but he told me that if it’s talked about the first time, we can have more patience and understanding later and possibly avoid it altogether. And through my foolish pride, I saw the truth of that statement, and I realized even more my own error. Praise be to God that I was filled with more love for him that night than I could have ever possibly imagined.
Drawing a line from this…
We often think that maintaining peace or “keeping peace” means to avoid hostilities and disagreements at any cost. However, that is a lie, and peace was never brought through avoiding hostilities at any point in history. Take for instance the example of Christ in Ephesians 2:12-17:
…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
The reason we are able to have peace with God as Christians is because Christ came to earth to deal with the hostility Himself. God didn’t just wink an eye in heaven and declare that He just wasn’t going to be hostile towards us any more. No. He actually sent Jesus to deal with the hostility. Christ had to suffer and die on our behalf to actually break down that wall of hostility between us and God. Now, had Christ came to earth and told us that that it was all fine and not to worry about it, where would we be? We would still be dead in our sins! The gospel of peace that Christ preached during that time was not a gospel of “it’s okay. God still loves you.” No. Absolutely not. The gospel He preached was “You need to repent and turn from your sins. There is hostility between you and God, but don’t be dismayed, because I’m here to be the sacrifice that is needed for you to actually have peace with Him. I’m here so that you can come back into a close and loving relationship with God. I’m here to deal with the hostility so that you can actually have peace with God, and you have an ongoing responsibility when My work is done to live in response to this.”
When I think about it, the Christian life is a life made possible because God dealt with the hostility between us and Him. And no, it wasn’t His fault that the hostility was there in the first place, but He made a way to break down that wall between us so that we could have a life with Him again, a life that hadn’t been experienced and lived since Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden.
So thinking about my own marriage, hostility isn’t avoidable, but real peace requires some kind of sacrifice to be fully realized. This sacrifice can’t be the prideful resolve to just give-in or avoid altogether. But the sacrifice has to be made with both parties fully aware of it, acknowledging it, and receiving the benefit of it. There is a humility experienced on both sides, some kind of sacrifice (whether it’s one person making the sacrifice or a little on both sides), and the lingering result of living that out as you continue in your marriage journey. Now, the work of Christ was and is perfect, never needing to be done again, but we are not Him. Because we haven’t been fully perfected yet, our sacrifices must be made often, and they are made even more often in the marriage relationship…as I’m coming to understand.
Basically, I’ve realized that man has his own approach to making and keeping peace, but God established His own way before the foundations of the world. His way is the only true and right way, and it is wise to consider all of His work in the day to day happenings of marriage. My personal prayer is that I don’t lose sight of the gospel in my marriage. The Holy Spirit must work out the life of Christ in me, conforming to His image each day, and it should be most naturally displayed in my marriage. I never realized how important the gospel was to marriage, but after dealing with 2.5 years of growing hostility, it makes sense. And it was only foolish pride that ever stood in the way of me having peace before.
The obedience, the humiliation, the suffering, and the death of Christ are all the things that made peace possible for us with God. Without those things, peace could not exist. It is these “things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). He had to suffer and die to deal with the hostility. Likewise, it will be His entire life at work within us that will allow us to have real and lasting peace within our marriages. It’s a sobering thought. But when you think of the richness and blessedness you experience with God in your Christian walk, and realize that the Holy Spirit can work out in you everything He worked in Christ for Him to live the life He did, you realize that a beautiful and happy and joyful marriage is very much possible. You realize that there will always be an abundance of strength and grace to help you every day and make the sacrifices that are needed for peace within your marriage and home.
If you are struggling in your marriage, I pray that you find encouragement in the Lord, who directly dealt with hostility and brought our peace. And if you aren’t married, I pray that you keep the message of the gospel in the center of your mind as you contemplate marriage further and your life in general. The gospel will always be relevant and necessary for us to live this life in the way that glorifies God and brings us the most joy in Him.