Marriage: Happiness or Holiness?

Marriage isn’t just a one-time choice. Yes, you choose the person you marry on that day. But everyone else in the world doesn’t disappear the day you take your vows. Marriage is a choice you make again and again everyday. This thought was revolutionary to me.

My marriage is the best gift I’ve ever been given on this earth. My children came from my marriage. My husband has changed me and my own life and goals and values for the better. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. He is a treasure, and hands-down the best man for me.

But satan hates strong marriages and wants to see them fail. None of us are immune to it. He’ll whisper lies that nothing is sacred, including our marriages. He’ll tell us that our personal happiness comes first and try to convince us that we aren’t happy. He also hates community. When we fall on turbulent times, the last thing he wants us to do is reach out to one another. He wants to see us suffer and “deal with it” alone. These small lies have destroyed many once-strong marriages. 

The book Sacred Marriage talks about happiness vs. holiness. (It’s an excellent book – I just finished reading it for the second time!) If holiness and commitment is my goal, happiness will be the overflow of that. Happiness is the overflow, but not my main goal.

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What if God didn’t design marriage to to be “easier?” What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

In the marriage context, we have absolutely no excuse. God lets us choose whom we’re going to love. Because we get the choice and then find it difficult to carry out the love in practice, what grounds do we have to ever stop loving? God doesn’t command us to get married; he offers it to us as an opportunity. Once we enter the marriage relationship, we cannot love God without loving our spouse as well.

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage

All Marriages Will be Tested

If you think your marriage won’t endure hardship or be tested, you’re believing a lie. The time will come. An opportunity will arise. You will need to choose your marriage over something else. You will need to run from something. You will need to cling to your spouse intentionally.

We must never be naive enough to think of marriage as a safe harbor from the Fall…the deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.

Dan Allender & Tremper Longman

It’s so easy to take our marriages for granted. They’re awesome and all, but they become commonplace as we go through life. Years pass and we appreciate our spouse, but things aren’t as exciting and unpredictable as when we were dating. We get into a routine. Even date nights can feel like a chore to schedule, plan, and arrange for childcare! The bottom line is, I’m a sinful human. I’m not ever going to love Josh perfectly and he will never love me perfectly.

The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage. Yes, it is difficult to love your spouse. But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazily, enduringly the fleshly person who put it there.

Gary Thomas

The person who understands the evil in his own heart is the only person who is useful, fruitful, and solid in his beliefs and obedience. Others only delude themselves and thus upset families, churches, and all other relationships. In their self-pride and judgement of others, they show great inconsistency.

John Owen

Marriage Reveals Our Shortcomings

Many who have affairs aren’t running away from their spouse, they’re running from their own sin. It is easier to think “We’re not connected. He doesn’t understand me. We have nothing in common anymore” than it is to admit “I’m selfish and have skewed priorities, even to the point of mentally risking an affair.”
The mature response … is not to leave; it’s to change – ourselves.

Gary Thomas 

Yes, you do need a new life partner. But it’s not your spouse who needs to change, it’s actually you! When things are messy in your marriage, the problem can almost always be pointed back to yourself. I’ve found this to be true time and time again.

We must not be tempted to ask the dangerous question: did I marry the right person? Gary Thomas says “Once we have exchanged our vows, little can be gained spiritually from ruminating on this question. A far better alternative to questioning one’s choice is to learn how to live with one’s choice.”

Christianity doesn’t call us to focus on finding the right person, but rather focus on being the right person to someone else. If you’re bored with your life and relationship remember that it’s a never ending cycle of thrill and disillusion. You will never be satisfied until you start seeking after God himself. Marital dissatisfaction has more to do with you and God than you and your spouse.

Marriage Requires Perseverance 

They say it takes 9-14 years for a couple to create and form its being. Let it mature. Give it time. Josh and I have been married nearly 6 years. You’d think by now we’d know what we were doing, but this is an encouraging reminder that we’re still infants on this journey. There’s so much time to learn and mature together!

Right now Josh and I are in the midst of the baby / toddler years. Having small children is a season in which all couples can grow weary and exhausted and desire to get away. Many days it seems like we’re simply tag-teaming it. Sometimes we only see each other alone for a few minutes out of the day. But that’s no excuse to throw in the towel. It is only a season. We’ve made it this far, and there’s still years and years of goodness up ahead.

Why give up your whole marriage when the going gets tough? We have to adapt. We have to adjust our expectations. We have to settle in and persevere for the long haul in order to reap the rewards later. Culture tells us that separation is exciting, courageous, and we should all “follow our hearts.” But Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” Following our heart and our unstable emotions is no way to lay a good foundation. Our foundation must be built on something stronger – like God’s promises.

Divorce by definition is failure – of love, patience, forgiveness, or at the very least failure to chose the right spouse! But we’ve all fallen short. None of us is good enough. One lustful thought and boom…Adultery. Those who are divorced aren’t second-class Christians. Don’t obsess and hang onto something that had already happened. Gary Thomas writes,”Even when something as tragic as betrayal, unfaithfulness, and an unwanted divorce are foisted on us, the experience can be used for spiritual benefit.”

That’s what this whole book is about essentially – embracing the spiritual benefits that hard times can bring. If you’re already divorced or if you’re the victim of abuse or unfaithfulness, I don’t condemn you at all. Rather, I encourage you to search for the good that can be gained through these hardships and failures.

Embrace the Struggle

Struggles are what give birth to beauty. They refine us. They grow us. The Bible says time and time again that difficulties build our character (James 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:8, Philippians 3:14). Ease, comfort, and stress-free living aren’t what we were called to!

Patience can be formed only in the crucible of frustration. Marriage and family can refine us in ways that nothing else can. Life in these modern times is relatively easy, but when we start to think that it should be easy, we want to bail out the moment the smallest difficulty arises. If marriage were easy, we probably wouldn’t make such a big deal about our vows. People don’t vow to do easy things!

As I mentioned at the beginning, community is key when it comes to maintaining a strong and steadfast marriage. I have a group of women and Josh has a group of men that meet regularly and talk about these kinds of things. We text each other often and ask about issues of the heart. We confess our sins to one another and extend grace paired with accountability to one another. Confession may seem unnatural and difficult at first, but I think it’s an important step. Confession makes our sin more real to us. It forces us to not hide from ourselves. Confession rejects the lies that “it’s not a big deal” and “I can handle this myself.”

Gary Thomas mentions that being faithful doesn’t require we snuff out our every passion. It’s okay to be passionate. Just be passionate about the right things. Our passions are what lead us to fight for our marriage, justice, and God’s kingdom. There’s nothing boring about being an old married couple! Not if you embrace marriage the way God designed it, as a lifelong adventure toward him. I’m ready to rise to the challenge of being a couple on fire, always working on perfecting our relationship, and radically passionate for God’s work and kingdom. 

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3 Comments

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  1. Man, the core principles of this book are so good, but as a working mom, I really felt put-out by a lot of Thomas’s assumptions about what a wife’s work and life look like. It’s theologically sound, but I guess I didn’t feel like it was a woman-friendly book to me. I’m glad you liked it!

    • Through My Lens August 8, 2016 — 2:53 pm

      Yes, thanks for mentioning that! Unfortunately that would be my biggest critique as well. I’ll touch on how I feel about that in a future post. Meanwhile, while a couple of his sentences definitely made me cringe, it didn’t undo the powerful central message.

  2. I think marriage on a whole is very much misconcepted and determined by culture and geographic location. I am East Indian, so marriage is more of romance, duty and sacred coming together in the eyes of God for me and my lineages. The Bible poses a lot of examples as to how a Christian wedding procession, companion selection & marriage should be. As this person will henceforth play a part In sharing their seed. All in all, the Lord said seek him first and all will come after. So once we have come to His spirit, he will no doubt reward us with the type of partner we want. But that doesn’t mean things will be like a fairy tale. There will be ups & downs but Corinthians says love is patient. Marriage is commitment, compromise, sacrifice, respect, patience, holiness & teamwork. God bless your marriage.

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