Marriage Isn’t For You (or your spouse)

I have seen this blog about marriage being shared so much lately by so many different people that I thought I’d actually read it.  It’s written by a fairly new husband who shares the advice his dad gave him about marriage:

marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It’s a call to live selflessly for one’s spouse, which I don’t disagree with.  It is true that marriage, or any relationship for that matter, shouldn’t be about self but about others.   As a Christian, my marching orders from God are to consider others more highly than myself (Phil. 2:3) and to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31).  Certainly that must include my wife, and, shockingly, everyone else.

But the idea that a marriage is all about my spouse, or that the chief goal of marriage is to make another person “happy” is not at all the goal of Christian marriages.

The goal of a Christian marriage, and the goal of any relationship for that matter, is to be made holy.

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God’s will for me and my wife, and for you and your spouse, is that you become more like Jesus (1 Thess. 4:3), which is to become holy.   The way we are made holy is an ongoing, life-long process that is done in community with others.   Marriage, like a church, is one of those places where you quickly learn the Self that has for so long steered your ship needs to die.  Realizing that you are no longer your own man (or woman) and that you do not even have authority over your body (1 Cor. 7:3-4) but that your spouse does is often a painful realization.

But coming to this realization is not for the sake of making your spouse happy.  It’s to make us holy.

What ought to be happening in our marriage is what ought to be happening in our relationship with Christ, and what happens in our relationship with Christ ought to be happening in our marriages.   In both relationships we are told we are not our own.   We have been bought with a price and your duty – married or not, family or not, kids or not – is to glorify God (1 Cor. 6:20).

When we subvert this focus and make marriage all about making our spouse happy we fall prey to the lie that says happiness is the goal of life and become full of pride in thinking we can provide it.

The best gift I can give my wife is not happiness, but Jesus.

So yes, marriage isn’t about you.   But it isn’t about your spouse, either.   It’s about bringing glory to God.   If you will focus on pleasing your Husband in Heaven you will have something far more valuable than happiness:   JOY and PEACE.   And these can never be taken away from you, regardless of the circumstances of your relationship.

Resources to help your marriage:

Check out Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy.  

My wife, Amy’s, sermon: Sacred Roles:  The Wife

My sermon: Sacred Roles: The Husband

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12 thoughts on “Marriage Isn’t For You (or your spouse)

  1. Excellent post, Chad. The biggest push back I saw about the original post was that it supports the notion that wives in abusive marriages should remain in them. I wonder how you would respond to such a concern through the lens of holiness that you raise here.

    1. John, your question is an important one and I worry I can’t give it what it deserves in a comment but will try. Back when I might have thought marriage was about happiness I would not have hesitated to say, universally, that a spouse suffering abuse should leave 100% of the time. I can’t say that today.

      I think each case of abuse is different and as such must be addressed differently. Even the word “abuse” has such a wide range of uses today, requiring a person who is advising a spouse to invest much time in walking with them and praying before pointing towards some sort of action (some will say their husband never utters a kind word to them and they are suffering emotional abuse while others are being physically beaten to the point of near death….my point being, not all “abuse” is the same, and therefore not all responses should be the same (and let me further say, this is not to say that one is *real* abuse and the other is not. Emotional abuse is a real thing, but may require a different immediate response than the person who has been sent to the ER).

      I would never want to counsel a person that they must stay in an abusive relationship because it’s God’s command yet I would never want to counsel a person they must leave because they deserve to be happy. I think both of these options are false choices, and in between them lies a lot of room to talk about healthy boundaries, motivations, biblical views of submission and authority, humility vs. humiliation, and sacrifice both with and without the spouse.

      What do you think? this is an area I want to grow in, not having all the answers.

      1. Your answer, Chad, sounds both careful and faithful to me. Starting with the realization that there is no blanket answer feels right.

        I was wondering about your insight, in part, because of what you and Amy have been through. She must have been told to walk away and, if I recall, she was prepared to do so if you did not get help.

        As a culture, I think, we put too much burden on marriage when we make it the source of happiness for people. It cannot sustain that weight. It becomes an idol when we do that. We put our spouse in the place of Jesus, saying it is his or her job to fill us with the joy that only the Holy Spirit can.

        I have much, much to learn here as well. I appreciate your taking the risk to offer a response to my question.

      2. Thanks, John. I didn’t write that without talking it through with Amy. And you are right, she had many telling her to leave, and she had every right to do so.

        As it happened, our saving grace was her finally saying she was done. It allowed me to hit the bottom I needed to hit and for God to take both of us to a place where we had to depend solely on God and not on our spouse. I think 1 Cor. 5:5 bears some correlation here, where Paul talks about giving the sinner over to Satan for his flesh to be destroyed so his spirit might be saved. We can testify that my being cast out was good for my soul.

  2. You’re absolutely right on this one, Chad. I love Gary Thomas’ perspective too. I just led a group through the Sacred Marriage study. I think it is the Biblical perspective. The article that you critique is one step in the right direction, but one step too short. I thought about that after I shared it after one of my Sacred Marriage participants posted it. The bigger perspective is certainly holiness and living into God’s will for His glory, the natural byproduct of which will be a deep and abiding happiness, what the Psalms call blessedness (i.e. Psalm 1). I do believe seeking to love and bless (make happy) one’s spouse within that framework though is admirable and worthy of pursuit. Thanks for taking it another step into the glory of God. Blessings to you and your family.

  3. My tendency is to say that happiness is holiness rather than denigrating happiness. Some people think if it’s holy, it’s supposed to suck, and that what they are doing is earning moral currency by sacrificing. Holiness certainly isn’t the preference of our lazy inclinations, but intimacy with God is our heart’s deepest desire and that will be beatitude (happiness) for us if we can be liberated from the idols that keep us from getting there.

    1. I agree that holiness will beget happiness, and I’d never suggest that holiness is supposed to suck. But that is a very different thing from saying happiness is the same as holiness. My wife might be very “happy” if I were to buy her a gift every day of her life, but that is not holiness.

      Holy people should always be happy. Happy people aren’t always holy.

  4. I just noticed that Amy’s sermon did not take as long as your’s, Chad. You have more to say or does it just take less time when you know what you are doing? 🙂

    1. ha!! more like my lessons, arising from experience of “what NOT to do,” could fill enough books I suppose the whole world could not contain them 🙂

      I’ll add you to the long list of my congregants who still rib me over the fact that her service has to date had our highest attendance. (and I couldn’t be more proud).

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