Marriage can be hard.
You enter it thinking you know a person but then discover there are some unexpected challenges that this lovely person now brings into your life. You struggle to figure out a groove, but eventually you learn how to love one another well in the current season of life you are in. It feels like you’ve made good progress, and then bam! Suddenly everything you’ve worked so hard to establish is shaken as you hit new life transitions like a change in job, a move, a new baby joining the family, a hard and unexpected life trial, etc.
I fight this “shaking” of my marriage world every time it happens, but I’m beginning to realize that I don’t think it’s going to stop. And here’s why I believe this to be true: God hates idolatry and what I tend to idolize is my marriage. What do I mean by this? I mean that I often find myself falling into the trap of looking to my husband for my source of worth, purpose and satisfaction in life. However, God is too good of a God to let me settle for anything less than Himself. He isn’t going to let me find satisfaction in my marriage if I’m not first finding my satisfaction in Him.
He says in Exodus 20:3 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Most of us are familiar with this command, but because our idols don’t take on the form of a little golden statue that we pay reverence to at certain times of the day, we often fail to see them as idols. We simultaneously fail to realize that we often demonstrate this same devotion towards the daily things in life such as our phones, cars, homes, jobs, etc., These things that we give so much of our love and energy to can easily turn our hearts away from our Savior.
Some people may recognize that these objects demand their attention more than they should. In turn, they set up boundaries in these areas to help them keep their affections in check.
But what if our idol is a person? To be more specific: what about our husbands? God has called us to love them, right? Surely, we can’t turn them into an idol, can we? Alas…the answer is still yes! As Tim Keller says on page 17 of his book Counterfeit Gods, an idol “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” And husbands can definitely fit under that category!
Over this past summer, I found I was really struggling with this area of idolatry. I had been messing up a lot and my normally gracious husband was struggling to extend grace to me. I seriously didn’t know how to handle it. As a child I was always extremely aware of my sin and had always struggled with feeling the weight of the law. Then I learned about this amazing thing called grace. God’s grace. So unmerited. So undeserving. And yet so free and available to me! As an adult I married this amazing man who also usually extended that same grace to me. He pursued me with unending love. He sought me out when I wanted to pull away. He reached over when I turned my back. Over and over he showed me Christ’s love and I thrived on it. I loved this man for the way he loved me; perhaps I loved him a little too much for it.
But then something began to change. He was getting tired of constantly forgiving me. He was getting tired of reaching out. He was getting tired of pulling me close. Instead, he found himself wanting to pull back. We both could tell he was starting to resent me for my struggles with anger, selfishness, pride, etc. He didn’t want to, but he did. Little by little, we could feel ourselves drifting further apart. I didn’t know how to handle a husband who didn’t forgive and it honestly crushed me to the very core. I was living in the fear of messing up and living in the guilt of past failures. And in his own strength, my husband struggled to extend love and grace to a person who just kept repeating the same mistakes.
We continued to talk through the different issues we were struggling with and sought to love, but it felt like we were never making any progress. Every conversation we had only seemed to drive us further apart as we each focused on how our individual needs were being unmet by the other person..
As I sat alone on the couch one night, distraught over the fact that we no longer knew how to connect, I felt so abandoned. This wasn’t what I had thought marriage would look like. I thought my husband was going to endlessly serve me; make my life better. I had always thought we’d stay in love forever, thankful for the gift of the marriage. And for most of our marriage, it had felt like this; until recently. So why was everything falling apart all of a sudden? And what was I to do?
I began typing out my frustrations to God and as I did some of the following thoughts poured out onto my computer screen as I prayed.
God, teach me how to live in the freedom you intended for me. My husband isn’t my savior. You are. Help me to know how to forgive him before he even asks for forgiveness. Help me to find my security in You when he doesn’t forgive me.
God, You have forgiven me.
You love me.
You accept me.
You reach out.
You pull me close.
You never walk away.
You continue to do a good work in me.
I know I don’t say it often enough.
And that’s when it hit me. It couldn’t have been any clearer than if someone had taken a 2×4 and smacked me up-side the head with it.
Lord, this is what You wanted me to realize, wasn’t it? I idolize having a wonderful marriage, don’t I? I idolize having a husband who loves me unconditionally. I idolize having a husband who reaches out and loves me even when I’m unlovely. I idolize a husband who pursues me. And God, while this is something You’ve called my husband to do, this is a role that only You will ever fulfill perfectly.
And so, as I continued to type that night, my prayer started to change.
God, please show me the next step. Show me one step at a time how I can best be loving my husband. Not so he will start loving me well again (though that was a deep desire of my heart!), nor so I can find my place of security in him once more, but so I can be reflecting Your amazing love to him–your faithful, never ending, never giving up, always and forever love.
And so, step by step, God has kindly been bringing me along in the realization that, as Gary Thomas says, “God is able to supply all our needs. We go to our God to receive and we go to our marriages to give.”
This realization is a good, good gift, because God alone brings lasting satisfaction and He alone will never ever fail. HE is the only one worthy of my worship!
God tells us in Isaiah 42:8 that “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
So the next time we find ourselves struggling in our marriages, maybe it’s time to do a heart check and remind ourselves that as wonderful as our husbands may (or may not!) be, they will never, ever make good saviors. That role is reserved for Christ.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19