I recently read that if you were to go outside at night and hold out a dime at arms length, the dime would be blocking from your view (if your eyes were powerful enough to see them) more than 10 million stars. Although that is an incredible fact, and beyond anything my tiny brain can comprehend, this is not the kind of fact that leads me to a relationship with God. The truth is I am a skeptic, I and the guy who needs to see and feel what I believe. I am the one who test and re-tests all that I am being taught, and even after I do find something believe in I still have an eye on the facts just to make sure I didn’t miss something. And so I can’t help but try out the truth that I read about in the Bible to see if it fits the reality that I see around me.
As you can guess, sometimes it’s hard. Some of life seems to contradict what I read, some of the questions I have about God seem to get bigger when I try and apply them to how I see the world around me working. But there is one area that I have come to realize over and over that I see God at work in ways that are most clear to me and that is in my marriage.
Not that our marriage is perfect, far far from it, but it is in that imperfection, in that beautiful dance of relating with one another, learning to love, and forgiving, that I see God at work. Let me share with you the 8 ways that I my marriage taught me about God.
1. God and my wife have something in common
She yelled, I yelled, we stomped, we cried, and oh-man did I say some hurtful things. Later on I can see so clearly all of the baggage that I brought into this relationship that triggers these ugly things inside me, but in the moment all I can see is red. It’s ugly, and if your marriage is anything like ours than you will know what I mean when I say that after 15 years of marriage, these disagreements are well worn paths that we walk down. Hurts come up, and in the heat of the moment those hurts are then piled on with more hurts. But do you know what? We get past it, we cry and hug and talk it through and hopefully we learn a little about each other every time. Never in my life have I seen such a tangible example of God’s love for me then I see in the way that my wife forgives me when I trip and fall and hurt her, and she pulls away from me in pain, but later opens her heart again, and loves me still. God does the same thing for me every singe day, only he isn’t like her because his love is deeper and wider than anything any of us here on earth could even fathom.
2. Hope for the future
One of the most vivid and cherished memories I have of our first year of marriage is not of a moment or even a situation, (although there are many of those that I hold dear) but it is of the feeling that we had of hope, the way our hearts opened up to one another’s and dared to dream about the life that we would make together. When we look back we can see two naive kids, two dreamers who knew so little of what it was they were talking about, yet we knew something that was more powerful than anything life could throw at us, and that was the truth that hope is everything. I remember a quote I once read;
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
Antoine de St-Exupery.
Back then our life was just a pile of rocks, some worth using and some so completely awful that they needed to be thrown out, we set out to build a cathedral together, and 15 years later, after drawing, re-drawing and drawing again the plans for what it was we are building, we are just now getting to the place where we have a foundation that we can stand on. Much more work is needed but today we can look back at the dream we had as a young couple and we see so much power in the hope we held, and that kind of hope is the thing that brings my eyes up off of the failures of this world and instead help me focus on God, the author of hope.
3. The invisible/powerful strings that entangle our hearts.
I don’t know how to put words to this, but I think that one of the most visible yet invisible pieces of evidence of our being created by someone who was a beautiful craftsman are the strings that tie our hearts together. I can watch the news and feel sadness for an injustice that I hear about happening to someone, yet a few moments later I can go on with my day as though nothing happened, but if that injustice were happening to my wife, or one of my children I would move heaven and earth to make them safe. Nothing in this world is powerful enough to stand in the way of the rage that roars inside me when something bad happens to my family. My heart breaks, my world crumbles, and all that I thought mattered falls away until I make right what is wrong for the ones that I love. Those strings in my heart, those bonds that we build, those are something supernatural. Those are the things on this earth that lead me to believe in God.
If you have kids you already know what I mean here without reading another word. Our marriage is beautiful, and the children that we are together pouring our lives into, they are the most pure example of God’s blessing on this earth. In the heart of a child I can see God’s greatest work, his beauty and his imagination.
5. Christians almost made me stop believing in God, but my marriage helped me see the truth.
I don’t know about you, but for the past few years I have had a shift in my thinking on a very important topic; Where I used to claim this and that as blessing and curse,(and used to see almost every Christian around me doing the same) I have now come to see the danger in this behavior. I have seen the complicated webs that we get ourselves entangled in when we try to label the intentions of God in all that happens to us. I see that what God is, is far beyond what we will ever understand, and that we were not created to grasp the depth of why it is that he does what he does.
Where I used to believe that verse “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” in Romans 8 meant that nothing bad would happen to Christians, and if bad things did happen we only needed to wait for us to then see that God was really behind it all pulling the strings to bring something better about than we could have imagined on our own, now I have come to realize that bad things do happen, and God’s love is enough to carry us through them. Does God mean good for us on earth? Yes. Absolutely! But the world is a fallen place and all sorts of tragedy will come and go in our time here, much of it we will never understand. I believe that the “good” God is talking about is the love that he has for us and the forgiveness of our sins, the salvation he offers to us and the forever that we will have with him.
This is the part where my marriage came in to teach me a thing or two about God. I see the way my wife loves me, the way we twist and turn side by side in our relationship like two birds dancing together in the sky and I see a kind of beauty that glimpses heaven for me, helps me step outside the world that we have here and for a moment I am able to let my heart revel in the forever that we will enjoy with Him in heaven. Forever is a very very long time, and our earth-time is very very short.
6. I have learned that God cares more about our hearts than giving us material blessings.
All around me all day in Ethiopia I look around and I see suffering, I see pain, I see lives marked by tragedy that our western minds can’t begin to comprehend. Where is God in all this? I wonder but I only grasp at answers, none of them able to put my heart at ease. Then I look out my window and I see the aging couple who live in the tin shack across the street, the ones who round up cows and goats together with their children each evening into their compound where they will be safe, I see them outside each morning making coffee over a coal fire, see them hold hands and embrace the day side by side, and I see that these two are just as blessed as we are with all our western “blessings”. I believe that the most pure blessing, the clearest example of God’s love for us can be found in the relationships he gives us during our lives, especially that one most important relationship we have with our spouse. I think that we westerners get it all wrong when we get a raise at work and claim that God was rewarding us for one reason or another. Try and tell that to the woman who I met today begging on the street with a baby strapped to her who was trying to nurse on a breast that offered no milk because she has not eaten a meal in three days. What did that child do to deserve this? What decisions did this woman make that brought her to this place? She was never educated, she never had a chance.
The blessing I have in the relationship with my wife has taught me that God does not care about material things, he does not care one way or another if the car we drive is the newest model, or if the bank account we have has enough in it to keep us from worry one day to the next, what he does care about is our hearts, and I believe that he sends others around us for the purpose of making us better people. We are a church when we come together, we are sent here together as a team, a body, to do His will on earth. We were sent here to help that woman, to give her a meal, to show her God, to breathe life into the world around us. God’s life.
That being said, I believe that when we live by the rules set out for us in the bible, when we are honest, when we are industrious, when we live a life that is morally just, when we set our hearts and minds towards creating and doing big things, the way God set up this place is that we will then be trusted with material blessings to steward. The question for us as Christians is what we will do with those things to help others. As with all kinds of blessings, relational and material, we are not blessed to be an example, we are blessed to be a blessing.
7. You have to fight for it.
This one is huge. Show me a couple that says their marriage is easy and without effort and I will bet anything that they are still on their honeymoon. This gig is tough, and it is not for those who want to sit it out on the benches. You have to give everything you have to make this work. Same with God, if you decide that you are done putting effort it, if you think you would rathe sit back and not give it all you have, you can be sure that you are going to start slipping from Him and before too long you have built a whole castle around your perfect little life complete with a statue made in the liking of your selfish desires. This giving it all to God stuff is not easy, just like marriage, you have to fight for both, and when you do the rewards are amazing.
Notice that I am not saying here that we need to work for our salvation, God is clear about that in the bible, he is the one who did all of the work, but you do have to work at not becoming lukewarm, you do have to put effort into learning more about Him and his ways, and without effort you can be sure that all you are doing is bottom feeding on the barrel of life that he has you swimming in.
8. If you don’t take care of you, you won’t have anything to give.
A few years back I heard a term that was new to me, but right from the moment I heard it I instantly knew what it meant. “Soul care” See what I mean? It just resonates deep. Think about it for a second. What are you doing to care for your soul? If you aren’t doing anything than the you that you are giving to your spouse is pretty much a pile of unfiltered goop that isn’t worth much to them. Without you caring for your own soul, taking the time to connect with God, slowing down and taking inventory of life, than you have nothing to give and all you do is take. Same with God, if you aren’t allowing time for soul care than all you have to give to him is a bunch of needy prayers.
I have spent many years of my life getting this one wrong by ignoring the needs of my own soul, and my marriage suffered because of it.
I don’t know about you but I do not want to be one of those needy spouses that asks my wife to hold me up as we go through life together. I want to be the rock, the foundation, the force that propels us, the vision that guides us, I want us both to be able to grasp hands and together for us to become more than we are when we are apart. Without taking time for soul care than neither of us brings much of anything to our marriage that will help us be more together than when we are apart.
Like I said, same with your relationship with God. If you aren’t stopping to care for your soul, stopping life to ask yourself how you are doing inside, then you can pretty much forget about thriving in life or making an impact on this world with your life.
The point of all this? I feel blessed to be married to my wife, every day I am thankful for her incredible heart and for the way that she helps show me God in this broken world we live in. Ours is a marriage that is far from perfect, our life is one that ebbs and flows towards and away from God, and most of the time if we are honest with each other we admit that we are completely confused about what it is that God wants us to do, but one thing that we do know is that he gave us each other, and for that I am forever grateful. My hope and prayer is that we can learn to stand together and make some change for good in this world.