What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 3 – Happiness & Holiness

From the day of the wedding it is obvious. We’re different, husbands and wives that is. The picture above sums it up nicely without 1,000 words – we wear the white gowns and they the black tuxes. But that’s just the beginning of the differences. They build relationships by shared activity, we women more often by… you know the answer, … talking. They want just the facts, we have to share the whole story. They see the world through a totally different paradigm. That doesn’t make them wrong and us right, nor vice versa. It makes us, together, a great team with differing strengths, perspectives, and ideas, equipped by the Father to do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do.

However, it can be difficult to appreciate the differences when you are each coming at the same dilemma from two opposite points of view, and neither of you wants to give in. This is often the downfall of married couples. We begin to see decisions, trials, and everyday difficulties, home repairs and such, as battlegrounds where we fight to have our way. We can become more interested in gaining ground and having the power balance leaning in our favor, than in working toward a resolution, in compromising, and in being unified in living out Christ’s purpose for our marriage. We struggle to find that elusive happiness in marriage that all the Disney princess movies seemed to promise. That “happily ever after” that was supposed to be marriage.

Several years ago my husband and I heard Gary Thomas speak at a retreat on Sacred Marriage. The ideas he put forth that weekend greatly impacted our perspective on marriage. Specifically two really big take-away concepts. (The first one I’ll cover today.) When we can grasp them and keep them in our minds we treat each other differently. Respectfully. Valuing each other. Loving as Christ loved. But when we forget them, we get in that “crazy cycle” that Emerson Eggerichs talks about in His book Love and Respect (a topic for another day). You all know the crazy cycle I’m sure, whether you have read about it or not!

The two ideas we grasped help us to live out a marriage with a spirit of unity, living in one accord on a daily basis. The first idea is this:

  1. What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than to make us happy?

So let me ask you, what IF God put you in that difficult marriage to make you holy? Are you willing to live it walking hand-in-hand with the Father even if it doesn’t make you happy?

When I started contemplating this question it was like I came to a fork in the road. I suddenly had to make a choice, was I willing to be unhappy and not have things always be my way in order to conform to God’s will? This question has since permeated my life beyond my marriage, but we’ll stick to how it relates to our marriages today. Am I more interested in God purifying me and molding me and refining me than I am in my own comfort? Holiness versus comfortable happiness, which would I choose?

Somehow we have let personal happiness become an idol in our lives. We Americans are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” right? But in God’s kingdom holiness trumps happiness. Joy and peace are promised in Him, but happiness is not a promise to us.

Happiness is a state of well-being and contentment based on external happenings: success, wealth, having friends, pleasurable or satisfying experiences. Happiness is a temporary feeling that can quickly be supplanted by negative experiences.

But holiness is an expectation for us of our Creator. Holiness is an attribute of God alone. It is His purity and perfectness and rightouesness in all He is and does that is unattainable in humans unless His Spirit is living in us. It is that set-apartness of God. In us holiness is that other-ness obedient Christians embody.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

This way of looking at our spouse (as part of God’s refining process for us) is probably very different than the average church-goers’ view. It is definitely different than the secular viewpoint. But when I choose, as a wife (or husband), to be more concerned about the personal holiness God is working in my heart than about my own temporary happiness, my marriage benefits greatly. My marriage becomes a reflection of Christ. It is a high calling. And it is not easy. What will we choose today?

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