Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
The first year of marriage is supposed to be the sweetest. Our first year of marriage was bitter, a time of trial and testing. We were just so different from one another. Our expectations were our enemy. We were facing tremendous pressure from family and trying to work out those differences with each other. Our tiny apartment was full to the brim with friction. It frequently boiled over like a hot cauldron. When people talk about “going back to the way things were during the first year of marriage”, we laugh and give each other knowing glances. All we can think is, Thank the LORD that we survived it!
In fact, we have faced many difficulties since that first year. Early on in our marriage, we were in financial crisis. I can remember when the hand-me-down washer quit on us; I felt so devastated. We had to humble ourselves to accept help from my parents. Over the years, my husband has had numerous health problems which have really attacked his spirit, and in turn, have threatened to unravel the very fiber of our relationship. We have moved seven times, if you count our move across town during our time in New Orleans. We have struggled through two deployments (my son was born during one of them, while hubby was away); we were on the front lines for Hurricane Katrina (we were living there, on the Gulf Coast, during that time); and we have endured consistent conflict with extended family of one kind or another. My heart has been broken, more often than not, during our twenty years of marriage. But the breaking of my heart was the remaking of it. I know this is true for my husband too.
We know that our old self was crucified with Him
in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing,
so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).
For so long, I thought I was struggling against my husband: his actions, his problems, his sin. The LORD has taken the long way home, in teaching me something quite the opposite. I have realized that whatever or whoever I am struggling against in this world – I am truly struggling against my own actions, my own problems, my own sin. As a Christian, it should be easier to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1). Yet the LORD sets a very high standard:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will He harbor his anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on His children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
How can I ever be like Him? When I struggle against my lot in life, or against the people He has gifted to me, I do not bring Him pleasure or glory. Yet I was created to reflect His image – my life should witness to His character, to Who He is. I should live in a way that pleases Him. How can I please the Creator of the Universe? What can I possibly have to offer Him?
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Mercy is what you feel in your heart. Another translation says: For I desire steadfast love (ESV)…In order to feel steadfast love for other people we must overlook offenses, we must not become easily angered, we must remain patient and not return evil for evil. Sadly, I still have a long way to go in the area of steadfast love. My heart is very fragile and, at times, emotions threaten to overwhelm me – but the LORD is teaching me to Bend Without Breaking. The LORD is teaching me to find my worth in Him.
The LORD is showing me that my conflict is not with other people or with the world…my conflict is with Him. When I want my own way more than anything, that means I want my way more than His way.
What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
When I am self-serving, I cannot serve Him.
If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me (Matthew 16:24).
When I cannot make peace with others or within myself, when I am easily offended, I am rejecting the command He has given me.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).
If my husband were writing this to you, he would have to say that his story is full of hurt and disappointment too. We have certainly walked the broken road together. Yet here is the beauty of walking it with the LORD: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
The wonderful lesson my husband and I have learned during the course of our marriage is that there is purpose in everything. We have learned to trust in the LORD, in His character, in Who He is. Even when life or relationships don’t “feel good”, He is good. Even when we wonder if we have made foolish choices, His wise plans cannot be thwarted and He doesn’t make mistakes. And when it seems that life isn’t “fair”, we can rest in the knowledge that He is just.
You don’t have to be married to learn these lessons. Look for applications in other relationships in your life. Be thankful for the difficult ones – in them is the greatest opportunity for trusting in the LORD, for growing in your faith, and for learning to love as Christ loves. Of course, as a Bible study friend once told me, “In all of this you must consider whether or not you are the difficult one!”
When we work out our relationships with others, there is a subtext. There is something going on behind the scenes that has eternal significance. As Paul said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). Please share with us: Where has God humbled you? What people has He used to grow you the most? Who is He calling you to love MORE?