Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Long Time Coming, Part Three

I have relatives that live in the Red River Valley so I notice when every spring there is flooding in the areas around Grand Forks and Fargo.  They build huge levees and put out tons of sandbags to stop the water from overrunning the town.  But no matter how many engineers work on it, how high it is or how much money it cost, it’s always unknown if it’s going to hold until the waters begin to rise.

About a week after my telling visit with the doctor, the waters began to rise in our marriage.  Actually they came flooding right through the sandbags. Some issues came to light that were big enough that my husband took a leave of absence from work.  There were some pretty difficult days, but they were also powerful. 

I think in the past I’ve been pretty honest about marriage.  It’s hard work.  Monotonous at times.  But God’s grace was really abundant for us during that time as He brought us together in a much deeper way.  We were able to respond with mutual brokenness and confession.  And we were able to offer each other forgiveness.  Because, if you hadn’t noticed already, there are two people in every marriage.  So even though one person may be solely responsible for certain words or actions, there are two people who have contributed to the “state of the union,” so to speak.  That part came easily for us.  I can look back and see God preparing us and beginning the process of healing before we even realized it.  I have never been more overwhelmed by the love I have for my husband than I was that day.  I have never felt that everything pales in comparison to our relationship and being my husband’s wife.

I know it’s not that simple for everyone and don’t want to paint an unrealistic rosy picture.  For lots of people, there are big hurts, unwilling hearts, anger and I don’t want to dismiss any of that.  These last months are some of the toughest I have been through.  But I think one of the best things for us was that neither of us was pointing the finger at each other.  We were both willing to admit our faults and forgive each other.  It’s easy to confuse forgetfulness with forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not make it okay or no big deal.  Forgiveness brings it under the blood of Christ. 

God has blessed us with a great time of healing.  It was honestly very quick and miraculous for us.  I know you may not believe me.  Being the great woman of faith that I am, I probably wouldn’t believe you if you said it either.  The questions I have as to why he can allow healing for my marriage but not for others is perplexing to me.  That’s something that I struggle with and have no answers for.  It’s similar to why He chooses to heal some people and let others die, or let us live in America with everything we want while there are children starving in Africa.  I do know that God is in control.  It’s all part of his sovereignty, His plan. 

That being said, in my mind, there is no other explanation for my life.  I am a selfish person.  Easily annoyed and difficult to live with.  There is no way in my human state I would choose to be loving and gracious instead of mean and vindictive.  My response is nothing less than God working in and changing me. 

We spent some time at a retreat center with a counselor.  We both are saddened that we took for granted what God had given us in each other.  It’s such a relief now that there is peace in our marriage.  Deep peace.  It’s not like we were fighting all the time before but there was a lot of underlying tension. 

We were reading a book called “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas and he has a chapter about having contempt for contempt.  That resonated with me because now when there is tension and things aren’t right, we hate it and deal with it.  Before, we just let it fly.  We allowed ourselves to hold on to our contempt for each other and it built into a lot of animosity.   The tensions that once consumed us are now short lived.

We still do not have the perfect marriage.  I saw a book on marriage today at the library.  The cover bragged about strategies to divorce proof your marriage.  I couldn’t put that book down fast enough.  There may be strategies out there that are helpful but trying in our own might is not the answer.  The love and intimacy that we have together now is a gift from God, not a result of my attempts or strategies. It’s not because of hard work or deep romanticism.  Even now, after all we’ve been through and the way God has brought us together, there are issues that come up that are hard.  There will be more times in the future when the waters will rise again. 

It’s natural to want the perfect marriage.  Especially in the “church” world.  The message is how important it is to have a strong marriage, but not very many people talk about how difficult it is.  Or why marriage is even so important.  So couples run around spending time doing all sort of enriching things like date nights, weekends away, marriage retreats and reading books about “strategy” to get this good marriage everyone says they should have. 

And trust me, those things are good and important.  We have found that carving out time alone together, even if it’s just for an evening or afternoon, is crucial for keeping us connected.  We are back to playing a game we used to play when we were first married:  Hide the Ewok.  We have a little toy Ewok that we leave where we know the other person will find it.  I find it in my purse, my flour container and my make up basket.  It’s fun and it is romantic to know he’s thinking of me.  But it cannot save our marriage.  We can build safeguards and have standards but ultimately it will never be perfect because we are not perfect people. 

“The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: "The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that's the real life." Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: "The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them."  Galatians 3:11-12, The Message

What we need is not a perfect or good marriage, it’s a redeemed marriage.  A relationship that has been touched by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  Here’s a description from the Dictionary of Basic Bible Truths,

“The Greek word [for redemption] focuses attention on a release won by a payment made.  The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus’ life was the price of our redemption from sin’s bondage.”  Dictionary of  Basic Bible Truths by Larry Richards, Page 303

Redemption is a mark of hope.  Jesus has released us from our hopeless state of sin.  It’s hope that with Christ your marriage can overcome the toughest storms.  With Christ, your levy will hold when the waters rise.  And you can be sure, they will rise. 

That is the most important thing God has taught me.  We are not aiming for perfection, we are blessed with redemption. 

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
       for with the LORD is unfailing love
       and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130:7


mamabear said...

What a beautiful post! One can literally see, through your words, what God has done.

Peter and Nancy said...

We just did pre-marital counseling with a couple today . . . and I am always totally baffled at the thought that I have ANYTHING to tell them. Because, as you've eloquently stated, we are nothing without the prospect of being redeemed.