I sat across from a friend over bagels and coffee. We caught up, laughed, and enjoyed the gluten-free goodness of the warm bagels in front of us, when I asked the question: How's married life? I listened to her rattle off the Church's marriage mantra: "It's hard but so good." I smiled, shook my head knowingly, not surprised or unfamiliar with that phrase - or really expecting her to say anything different. But in the middle of my shaking and nodding, the words I had heard from friends over and over again, actually digested. And I found myself asking why this was the answer I expected? Why is that the phrase we push to the dating, engaged, and newlyweds of our church communities?
Because to be completely honest, marriage isn't that hard.
You might say, oh Kali, you have only been married 10 months so you just wait - your time is coming. First off, people need to stop saying things like that. Secondly, even in 10 months, JT and I have faced difficulty - a pay cut of more than 15K a year, a mortgage, wading through balancing ministry, seminary, and time for one another. We have given more of ourselves, our resources, & our time to people in the last year then ever before. We are tired. We are poor. But I can still look you in the eye and say that marriage is not hard. And I mean that.
Life is hard and dealing with my own sin is hard. But waking up next to my best friend every day is not hard. Having someone by my side, knowing the depths of my soul, both good and bad, yet still choosing to push me toward the goodness of God - that is not hard.
We hear over and over again that , “Marriage is hard. It reveals the depth of your sin. You'll see how selfish you really are.” And it's true, marriage is paramount in our sanctification - it allows us to become more like Christ, and it is sweet. But I can't imagine "hard" being the picture that God intends to paint as the perfect love between Christ and the Church. Yes, we are faced with difficulties, sins and brokenness but those things exist whether you are married or not.
Singles, don't fear the beautiful union of marriage because the the concept of "denying yourself, and taking up your cross daily" (Luke 9:23) will be tested in its truest form. And if you are married, quit moving blame from your sin to the institute of marriage.
It's as if we believe that all of our sin and selfishness we fought our entire lives to lay at the feet of Jesus, didn't exist until "I Do". Or maybe it reignited with a vengeance after those words spilled from our lips. But that just isn't how it happens. I am the same prideful, selfish & sinful woman I was before I was married. That did not change. Marriage does not change who you are. The only shift is that there is someone else to witness your sin with a microscope day in and day out. I am fully known and unable to pretend that I am okay. None of my good works cover the darkness of my heart. There is no hiding behind deep theological conversations and lofty thoughts or acts of service and ministry - there is a man who walks through each day with me and he knows my sin to its fullest. I cannot hide. And I must address my sin each day because it not only drags me into the darkness, but also my husband.
I am also not saying that marriage is perfect, because it isn't. It is the same as singleness - you learn and continue to be sanctified as each day goes by. And as we are being sanctified, we are not only being made more like Christ but we are also being reminded that one day we will be united with Him forever. That's the whole purpose of marriage, to point to the heavenly and perfect union we long for in Christ. It is one of the ways in which God helps us to drink deeply from the well of immeasurable glory found in unconditional love. A love that He authored and perfected.
If our reflection of this love is " It's hard", we not only rob ourselves of the joy found in displaying the love of Christ but we honestly downplay the beauty of it. Marriage is a window from which we have the opportunity to shine the glory of God.
You are not your own, and your marriage is not merely for your joy and satisfaction - it for the glory of the God - and our happiness comes naturally secondary to that. This satisfaction in God above all earthly things, including your spouse, is the the very rope from which we cling that enables husbands to love like Christ and wives to follow like the bride of Christ. Ephesians 5:22–25 displays the roles of husband and wife, one to lead and the other to submit - and both of those acts of love are not sustainable for God's glory without first having found complete satisfaction in God. So I would imagine marriage would be hard if you placed all of your hope on the unequipped shoulders of your spouse - a weight meant solely for Christ. But when Christ is our satisfaction, we are able to love our spouses without expectation. And a love devoid of expectations, limits, and clauses is a love that stands unconditionally.
If you take nothing else from this article, understand this: sin is what makes life hard. When we experience hardship within marriage, it is not because of marriage, it is because of sin. Every marital issue can be traced back to sin. Insecurity, jealously, infidelity, selfishness - whatever - it's sin that creates the void. That is why we see a culture full of broken marriages. That is the point - not discounting hardship in whatever form it appears in your life, including marriage, but to encourage us to view sanctification for what it is - a call to put sin to death. That is not isolated to the bounds of marriage. When I fail (and I do all of the time), when I hurt my husband, and when I am anything but the perfect wife, it is because I am a broken woman in a broken world - it is not because marriage is hard, it's because sin is hard.