For Better or For Worse

by Lee Stewart

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When my daughter was four, she asked me out of the blue, “Mommy, why do you love talking to Daddy so much and why does Daddy love talking to you so much?” I told her I married my best friend.

On my wedding day, I took it for granted that I was marrying a person I would want to talk to for the rest of my life. We eagerly made vows to stick with each other, in sickness and health, for better or for worse. When you’re all dressed up and making promises in front of a sanctuary full of family and friends, you say “for better” with a lot of expectation, but you say “for worse” almost hypothetically.

It’s true when a Christian marries a Christian, the “for better” part has a staggering potential for joy. But it doesn’t exempt us from an actual “for worse.” It might come with miscarriage, or financial straits, or tension with in-laws. It might come with habitual miscommunication, difficult conflicts, or a struggle to forgive. But “for worse” does come and it does hurt.

There will be days when you face “for worse,” and your love is a choice and not a feeling.

After God spoke the world into being, He didn’t wait long before ordaining a marriage. There is no earthly union more intimate than this one.  There is no one else who can walk alongside us in our spiritual journey the way our spouses can. There is no relationship more naked than this, both figuratively and literally.

Is this a big deal to Christians? Is it a big deal to Christian parents?

In my nearly 9 years of parenting, I’ve been told to “enjoy every moment” more times than I can count. But in my 11 years of being married, I’ve heard almost no one remind me to enjoy my marriage.

A few years ago, a wise counselor warned me and my husband that one of the greatest threats to our marriage would be complacency. He didn’t think divorce would touch our home, but he knew what complacency would cost us.

Complacency is when you stay together and adapt to each other’s sins.

Complacency means you’re still talking, but not in a vulnerable way. You’ve stopped building the friendship. No one is praying out loud. No one is asking questions. No one is actively interested in the spiritual welfare of the other. Complacency is when you settle into what you already know and are comfortable with.  It’s when you start looking away when you should be confronting.

A Christian marriage is a Christian friendship, and this includes sharpening one another.

Sharpening your spouse is not the same as talking down to them or nagging them. That’s not love, that’s pride. It is not loving to be overbearing, but it is also not loving to be a doormat. We (in the South, especially) tend to equate love with niceness, even though the two are not always interchangeable. Generalized passivity on the part of the husband or the wife is not a virtue, but a flaw. If a person close to you starts heading toward danger, do you think it’s loving to sit back and watch? Or do you step in, even if it upsets them?

Sin is danger. If we love our spouses, we will not make it easy for them to sin against themselves or us. Sin fits into the “for worse” category your vows are talking about. “For worse” may not mean sickness or financial ruin. It might mean your spouse needs your forgiveness––the kind that isn’t superficial. Or it might mean there’s a blind spot your spouse can’t see, but you can. Satan hopes you will simply adapt, keeping your marriage in neutral. After all, if you skip over your spouse’s blind spots, maybe your spouse will skip over yours.

The enemy feeds on a Christian marriage that imagines itself on neutral ground when it’s really in hostile territory.

But there are road blocks that keep spouses from growing and communicating well. Road blocks are things like getting defensive, bursting into tears as a guilt tactic, pouting, apologizing quickly just to shut things down, verbally attacking, or being a poor listener and interrupting.

What is a Christian without teachability? This is a “not my will, but God’s be done” sort of person. This sort of person doesn’t make any sense to a culture obsessed with feelings.

These are sobering times. In my twenties I was going to baby showers and weddings, but now I’m in my thirties, and I’m watching marriages fall apart.

Marital struggles are largely unpublicized. We put other kinds of struggles on social media or write them down as prayer requests. But it’s not appropriate to share marital things so freely.  Unless we are in a very close friendship with someone, we have no idea what their marriage is facing. We won’t get to help them quench the fire. We might not know it exists until it’s too late.

It’s time to tune in better to our friends and pray harder for our acquaintances.

Marriages are hurting.  Sometimes it’s as simple as complacency and an acceptance of a lukewarm togetherness. Sometimes there is unfaithfulness too devastating for restoration. Sometimes there is a conflict too difficult to resolve without professional counseling.

But all marriages, even the happy ones, need prayer and protection. A healthy marriage regularly faces what we all face as Christians––the world, the flesh, and the devil. When spouses seek intimacy–physical, emotional, and spiritual–-they are embracing God’s design for marriage.  Rather than just putting up with each other, they are committed to helping each other look more like Christ. This is a terrible threat to Satan’s agenda. It is a threat to his agenda for our children as well.

My prayer is that we all remain awake. For better or for worse.

“Truth without love ruins the oneness, and love without truth gives the illusion of unity but actually stops the journey and the growth. The solution is grace. The experience of Jesus’s grace makes it possible to practice the two most important skills in marriage: forgiveness and repentance.” Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Lee Stewart

LeeStewart

2 comments

  1. Stephanie Redmond says:

    Powerful reminder to not become complacent in our marriage! For one who dislikes conflict, this was a charge to be willing to love with truth even when the sharpening can be unpleasant. Thank you, Lee, for sharing the word God put on your heart.

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