A quote that has made a huge impact on my life is from author Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage. He wrote the question: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” This question has shaped the way I look at marriage today.
For many years I had bought into the Disney fairytale marriage. That idea can be simply and enchantingly encapsulated in the three simple words every boy and girl grows up to know as the end to the ideal wedding: “Happily Ever After.”
That was what I sought after: a marriage that would be perfect.
No work, no struggle. We would love each other so much that we would never fight, and if we did, it would end quickly, and we would go right back to living happily ever after.
I never thought about the challenges marriage might bring. I had my mind caught in the task of finding this perfect girl. I made a list of what kind of girl I wanted, thought about how awesome it would be to have a girlfriend like her, and felt depressed when she was not stepping into my life at that moment. I was so focused on finding the right person to marry that the wedding seemed like the end game, the day when my struggle would be over.
But the wedding is not the end of the journey. It is the beginning.
I’m sure you’ve heard this truth before, as well as many similar ones: Don’t simply look for the right person, but become the person that the right kind of person is looking for. There might be a fairytale wedding, but there is no such thing as a fairytale marriage. Marriage takes work and is not easy. God uses marriage to conform us to His image.
But I still had another lesson to add to this list — a lesson that a couple recently shared with me this past week.
We were talking about the purpose of marriage, and the topic of “holiness vs. happiness” came up. Then the wife said something that put some things into perspective for me:
The danger of having the mentality that marriage is for holiness rather than happiness is that we can idealize what a life of holiness is like. We can get this idea that as a couple we are going to do great things for God and that our lives are going to be beautifully poured out in His service. We tend to forget that righteousness is often built by the daily mundane things of life: doing the dishes with a hardworking and joyful attitude, picking up the kids from practice, buying groceries, making time for each other in a busy world. Holiness takes sacrifice. Holiness takes a whole lot of boring routine. Now don’t get me wrong, it is totally worth it and is completely fulfilling. But it takes lots of work.
As I heard the things this woman had to say, I began to realize that I had been romanticizing what a life of holiness would look like. It is my dream to partner with my wife in a discipleship ministry, and I often daydream about the big things that I would like to be a part of with her. When thinking about a relationship based on holiness, I see an epic life that is completely sold out to God and doing “great things for God.” I have this mindset that it will be completely fulfilling and enjoyable and even supernatural.
While looking back at the ideas of a holiness-focused marriage, I realize that I have seriously underestimated the difficulty of what it will actually require of me. Think of it as a full circle. I have left the dream of a happiness-based marriage for a holiness-based marriage. But I have romanticized and idealized what a life of holiness will look like that I have almost created it to be a life of happiness again. I forsake the dream of having an always enjoyable and completely captivating marriage for a life of holiness that would produce the same qualities. Holiness became the new happiness.
A life of holiness is not epic. It is not easy. It does not always bring happiness and enjoyment. It takes hard work, persistence, dedication and intentionality. It takes commitment to diligently complete the little responsibilities put in our path. God may never have me and my future wife do “something great for Him.” I may never have a life of holiness that brings a thrilling life and epic responsibilities. God may just have me do the little things of this life to the best of my ability. He may have me suffer through this life with little happiness and comfort. He has said that a life of holiness will cause much sacrifice (Luke 9:57-62). But He has promised that He will be my comfort and my joy.
If God never blesses me with an epic Bible story task to do, I still am called to be faithful. A marriage dedicated to holiness is all about being faithful in the little things.
Thank God for preparing my heart for the mundane little things that produce holiness. That is where a successful and fulfilling marriage lies.
Copyright 2012 James Eldridge. All rights reserved.