By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
Some of us see marriage, at least initially, as the fulfillment of our dreams. Some of us expect it to rescue us from an otherwise lonely existence. Still, others see it as a partnership and shared adventure in which two people can “live, laugh, and love” together.
While marriage can be all of that, those perceptions can very possibly lead you both to disappointment from unmet expectations, and a worldly view of what marriage really is. It’s easy for any of us to see our marriage through the lens of unrealistic expectations and even selfish desires.
But your marriage is not all about you or your spouse. It’s something God designed to ultimately glorify Himself – through you, as well as the two of you.
Here are five ways to see your marriage, not through a selfish lens, but through the lens of heaven.
1. Reject the Myth That Marriage Is All about Personal Happiness and Fulfillment
The number one reason for divorce today is failure to communicate. And that leads to this result: one of the spouses is not happy or feeling fulfilled. Yet, is that why God created marriage? For our personal fulfillment and happiness? No, that’s why He created us as individuals – to love Him and enjoy Him forever, and find our joy and fulfillment in Him. He created marriage to give us a living metaphor of how Christ loves the church and to give us the opportunity to mirror God’s love and sacrifice to one another (Ephesians 5:22-32).
I’m so glad God doesn’t leave the relationship with us or replace us with someone else when we gravely disappoint Him, or fail to meet His expectations, or simply become unable to make Him happy. While God needs nothing, He chooses to love us unconditionally, and desires to teach us to love one another the same way. One of the best arenas in which to teach us this and help us develop unconditional love for another is through marriage.
2. Release Your Feelings of Entitlement
We can easily be people who are all about ourselves and a sense of entitlement. For example, have you ever entertained these thoughts? I have a right to be happy. I deserve better. Who do they think they are, expecting me to do that?
Jesus’ closest friends and followers had a sense of entitlement, too. On the night before Jesus’ arrest and torture, they had dinner together in an upstairs room. But the servant hadn’t shown up to wash their feet. It was unheard of for them to recline at the table and start eating when no one had washed their feet. But they weren’t about to get up and wash anyone else’s feet. They felt above that.
So Jesus--the honored guest, the respected Rabbi, and the literal son of God--during dinner, “got up from supper and laid His outer garments aside; and He took a towel and tied it around Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which He had tied around Himself” (John 13:5-6).
This awkward situation caused an even more awkward silence in the dining room until Peter, the one who always blurted out what he was thinking, rebuked Jesus for taking on the role of the household servant and washing his feet. Peter wasn’t about to have any part of that. (But you might also notice from the story in John 13 that Peter didn’t offer to take over the dirty job from Jesus, either.)
Jesus’ tender response was: “…if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master” (verses 14-16). If you want to start viewing your marriage through the lens of heaven, strip off your sense of entitlement and start getting your hands dirty when it comes to serving your spouse.
It will do wonders in teaching you what it means to humbly serve someone else.
3. Realize That Marriage Can Make You More Like Christ
Marriage is tough. It requires sacrifice, perseverance, giving of one’s self. Marriage requires living out 1 Corinthians 13:7 and being one who “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” That pretty much amounts to this truth: Marriage is meant to teach us how to be like Jesus “who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and …humbled Himself…” (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB).
There will be days you will not want to be humble toward your spouse, or to serve him or her. There will be times you feel you can be happier alone or with someone else. Yet Christ’s love bears all things (even the annoying things), believes all things (including the best, not the worst about your spouse), hopes all things (including the lasting hope that things will get better) and endures all things (even what you think you can’t).
I do believe there are exceptions in the case of one’s physical and emotional well-being (a husband or wife is not expected to bear with and endure certain actions like adultery, addiction, and abuse, especially when there is no genuine repentance and redirection on the part of the offender).
But in situations of faded feelings, “lost” love, or believing you or your spouse has changed and are therefore no longer compatible, you can begin to see your marriage through the lens of heaven when you ask “How can this make me more like Christ?” and “Did my word really mean anything when I promised my spouse ‘as long as we both shall live?’”
4. Recognize That Your Marriage Is about More Than the Here and Now
In our book, When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection, my husband and I suggested each couple ask the questions: Why are we together? What is our purpose, and how can we fulfill it together?
We concluded, “A marriage must be about more than your corporate or individual happiness. It must be about more than just your love for each other. Your marriage needs to be about a lot more than just playing house and making sure the kitchen towels always match the curtains.
As you think about your life together, what is your mission as a couple? What does God want to accomplish through both of you that He has chosen not to do with just one of you? Begin praying about that mission God has given you. If you don’t know what it is yet, pray about that too. Ask God to make it clear and to confirm it to you.
As we suggested in our book, “Pray about it individually and together. And then tell God you’re ready to go out and conquer--together. There is nothing more exciting than being married and on a mission for God.” As you start looking for and living your mission as a married couple, you will see your marriage through the lens of heaven.
5. Remember That God Can Redeem Anyone and Anything
We see marriage through an earthly or worldly lens when we believe we’ve done all we can do and “My spouse will never change.” I’ve often heard frustrated wives or husbands say, “I just can’t do this anymore” or “He’s changed through the years and I’m not the same person either.”
Again, I’m not referring to cases of abuse, but more like complaints or conclusions that “He doesn’t understand,” or “She is insensitive toward me” or “He will never be able to communicate.” Yet the question that’s not being asked is “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27).
To begin seeing your marriage through the lens of heaven, stop saying things like “He’ll never change,” “She’s not the same person anymore” or “There’s too much baggage to work through.” Instead, start saying, “God is bigger than this,” “God is still in the business of transforming lives,” and “God is teaching me a lot through this and I trust Him.”
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to an episode here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Hiraman
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is also a mother, pastor’s wife, and author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, and When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.