I have joined a Christian book club of sorts- we are reading Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas. While I didn't think that I would enjoy the book (I am more of a dominating, demanding, stubborn sort versus the mild and meek), our discussion on a reading today really blew me away. The question posed was "What if your husband's faults are God's tools to shape you?". Wow. The things that, at times, frustrate or hurt me are actually God's hands, God's power offering me an opportunity to change.
In our culture, the media is supersaturated with the idea that marriage is for your happiness alone. If you are not happy then you are free to leave. If you are not happy then you are free to bad-mouth your spouse, weep and bemoan your trials and suffering- for truly it is you right and appropriate course of action. While I agree that a critical eye is crucial in marriage, the criticism is not to be aimed at the husband or wife alone- it should be directed in a manner that searches and seeks the weakness or breakdown in the marriage (the communication, the time, etc) in order to strengthen it.
The criticism, however, should be constructed toward the action, not the person. Name calling, bad-mouthing, silent treatment, withholding relations or loving words are painful and not techniques to build a marriage that will last. There are two people in the marriage, and if you want change, you must start it yourself. For as Christ offered his life on behalf of his bride (the church, his children, you, me), he calls us to offer the same type of sacrifice- to die to our selfish desires in order to help strengthen and lift up our spouse.
I am going to be honest here- death to self hurts. It hurts my pride, especially when I feel that I am right. It stings my sense of justice to think that I am letting Maic 'get away' with certain actions or behaviors (not doing the laundry, dishes, honey-do lists, etc) that would be an act of sacrifice on his behalf for me. Why do I have to change- especially since it always feels like I am the one changing? Well, there are several responses to that loaded question:
1) I am not the one who is always changing, even though it can feel that way. Maic has sacrificed a lot on behalf of our family, and he does so with incredible grace, patience, fortitude, and charity. I see this every day as he gets up early to go to work so he can provide for our family and so I can stay at home with our son. That is only one example of his incredible actions of sacrifice.
2) Because of concupiscence (a lower desire that is contrary to reason), I know that I have chosen pathways that have lead me further from God. I am a sinner, I am not perfect, and I need to draw closer to God. To draw closer to God, I must change.
3) Another thought is that I can't expect Maic to change, to serve me, to do as I desire, if I don't desire to serve him. (Note: My doing something shouldn't be done in the hopes of his doing something in return. The action should be done simply for the desire of it's completion, not for the potential of repayment.)
4) Christ demands it of me. By choosing to be His disciple, I must imitate and emulate him. I must take up my cross. "38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10: 38-39) But what does that mean, exactly? That if I just pick up my cross (the laundry, dishes, etc) and do it, that I will be nailed and then quickly set free, that I will be happy and quickly holy? Don't I wish- that would be a fast track to sainthood. Christ may have ended on the cross, but he began in the garden of Gethsemane. He began on his knees, in sorrow and agony, asking for God to let the cup pass from him. But, he also acknowledged and prayed for God's will to be done. So, too, we must follow suit and pray to God. Sometimes He will take away the cup, but more often than not, it will still come and we must carry on, glorifying Him.
There will be times when we are whipped, and scourged; when we must take the crown of pride off of our heads, and wear a crown of humility, a crown of thorns. We will be charged to carry our cross. We will stumble and fall and God will help us back on our feet. He will send us a helper if the cross becomes too heavy; he will send our Mother along the path so we might remember we are not alone; he will send us Veronica to wipe the sweat and blood from our face to remind us of his love and compassion for us. Yet still, we will be nailed to the cross. It is not easy following and emulating Jesus. Jesus is perfect and he struggled. But with these struggles, holiness will come, and with holiness will come happiness. With each step forward, we draw closer to God and true happiness is achieved. If we seek only happiness, we will be filled only for a moment and sink back into sorrow. But, if we seek holiness, then true happiness will be found because the hole in our hearts will be filled with God.
Please don't think that my marriage is always a trial. Most days are wonderful and beautiful and it is so because we seek and do our best to keep God first and center in our marriage. It is through God that we are married, and through Him that we remain thus. We pray together, bless and pray over each other, and praise God together. The days that are difficult usually are the product of placing myself and my desires first and over the desires and designs that God has for our marriage. Marriage is built from two persons that become one flesh- so we must begin to think and dream in 'we' and not 'I' terms.
And, at the end of the day, we must remember to sing God's praise: For "we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us" (Romans 5:3-5).
So, thank you Maic, for helping me become a more godly woman each day; for loving God first and then loving me; and for allowing me to influence you to become a more godly man each day. I am truly blessed.