In February, I wrote a post about why I think marriage exists – Marriage & Purpose. During a conversation with my husband about it, he encouraged me to do a follow-up post. And so, here we are. 🙂
How we enter marriage counts.
The last lap to the wedding is often a time when many, many balls drop. Marriage seems so near and yet so far and the we’re-getting-married-anyway-so-we-may-as-well thoughts and subsequent actions come into play.
We’re getting married anyway so we may as well act married. We may as well move in together. We may as well lower our boundaries. They’re a dime a dozen trains of such thought. This isn’t just about making out or having sex. I’ve written at length about different boundaries in relationship in Just Friends?. If you’ve read it, you know that sex is more than a physical act – there are mental and emotional gears that have to be engaged before you get to anything physical.
If you’ve been waiting for marriage to engage in certain levels of intimacy (including but not limited to sex), then being almost married is not a green light. Orange is not a cue to move past the light, it’s a cue to prepare for the green light.
I’ve also seen debates on whether Christians must get married in “church weddings”. Not everyone given authority by a country’s government to officiate weddings has corresponding spiritual authority from God to oversee the institution of a divine marriage covenant.
This is not to mean that you must get married in a church or else… Hardly. God isn’t confined to the four walls of your church building. What matters more is the spiritual acuity of your wedding officiant such that regardless of the physical location of your wedding, the spiritual mandates required are enforced accordingly alongside all the legal ones.
Ideally, your wedding officiant should be someone who has journeyed with you as a couple while you dated (perhaps even before you started dating) and will continue to journey with you even in your marriage. They’re doing more than just overseeing your wedding vows and getting you a marriage certificate. They’re partnering with you for the wholeness of your marriage and family for the rest of your lives.
This is because a divine marriage requires spiritual oversight to help you stay on course. No Christian is ever too mature to need counsel or correction. As a couple, you need to be willing to submit your marriage and family to a man/woman of God to help you stay accountable and in check. This is done through building and maintaining a relationship with them and being open to how God will use them in your lives. It’s not for them to micromanage your lives. They’re there to help you navigate the different seasons of your marriage and family in the best way possible.
There are circumstances that may lead to a Christian couple getting married through a civil wedding. If you’re serious about having a divine marriage, find a man/woman of God who can not only bless your union but is also willing to journey with you in your marriage/family life.
Getting married is more than a legal and social affair.
I find it ironic and unfortunate that as Christians, we think of God as a by-the-way in our weddings when other religions pay homage and give honour to their deities with utmost seriousness. Even in legitimate traditional wedding ceremonies, there are sacrifices made and libations given to ancestors. Yet, there are plenty of Christians who have “Christian” weddings because they’re “Christian”, not because they see the value of God in their wedding or marriage for that matter.
There is a spiritual covenant instituted between you and your spouse when you get married. Regardless of the varying beliefs and preferences we may have about marriage, God designed it to work a certain way – as a covenant. If God isn’t at the helm of your marital covenant, you need to ask who is. Because power doesn’t know vacuum, even in the realms of the spirit.
When we fail to look at the spiritual implications of marriage, we easily miss out on the heart and mind of God for our unions. We focus more on the logistics of the wedding than on the spiritual mapping of the marriage. Do have an excellent wedding, but don’t do so at the expense of your marriage. Please note that an excellent wedding doesn’t necessarily equate to an extravagant one. If we’re more concerned about what people will think/say about our wedding than we are what God has in mind for our marriages, we need to ask ourselves if we’re really living for God or people.
Beyond the couple getting married, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a witness at a wedding, better known as a wedding guest. When we bear witness to the start of a marriage, are we faithful to support the couple in prayer and in kind for the prosperity of their union even after the wedding? Are we willing to do more than just come see, eat, dance and go on our merry way? If wedding guests were as committed to being pillars of support to married couples as they are in devouring food and cake, can you imagine how many thriving Christian marriages we’d have?
You’re married. Now what?
Any married couple will tell you that when your dating/single life ends, there is definitely the beginning of a marriage that requires even more of your time and effort to grow and sustain. It comes as a shock to most because it’s unexpected. Why? We made it to the finish line, what do you mean we have to now work even harder for our relationship to thrive?
We may not be conscious of it but we’re conditioned to think of marriage as an end more than a beginning. Look at how love stories play out in the media we follow. You have the chase and the challenges in between, then the boy and the girl get together at the end. Whether that’s the end of a soap opera, a music video, a book, a movie and everything in between. We rarely see stories of what happens after a couple rides off into the sunset. When you’ve reached the end of a marathon, the understandable expectation is to get to lay down and rest, not to start another marathon.
In real life, dating is just training for the marathon that is marriage. After the wedding, every couple now has to build their marriage and family based on the blueprint God has given them; a blueprint that is tied to their purpose as individuals and as a couple.
For all intents and purposes, you’ve been building your life alone up until this point. Now you have to learn how to build a life together with your spouse. Even if you were the best of partners when dating, there is a unique weight that comes with divine marriage that will stretch you so you can grow in capacity as individuals and as a couple.
Building in marriage means putting all that wonderful revelation and knowledge you have accrued into practice. This may seem obvious but transitioning from Christian dating to Christian marriage isn’t automatic. For instance, one of the things that I’ve rarely seen addressed is the transition from never having had sex/not having for sex for a while to now we can have sex any time we want. It’s not an automatic switch for everyone. Depending on your Christian background, if sex was painted as a terrible thing (under the guise of trying to keep you from having it), there’s stuff you’ll need to work through to have an active, healthy sex life. Even if you’ve gone through a thorough pre-marital class to prepare you for marriage as a whole, theory is one thing, practice another.
It takes daily practice to cultivate a healthy Christian marriage. I’ve seen some say that the ideal relationship isn’t a 50-50 split of ownership and responsibility, it’s 100-100. But in some seasons, it will be 80-20 where you’re giving more than your spouse for different reasons. Other seasons it will be 30-70, where they’re putting in more than you are. (I’m not talking about a situation where one party is abdicating their responsibilities.) Sometimes, even in a healthy marriage, God will give you different graces and strengths in different seasons to grow your selflessness and dependence on Him.
Unhappily ever after?
Sometimes things breakSteffany Gretzinger (All That Lives Forever)
Sometimes things break
You don’t always see it coming
Out of nowhere without warning
Like a punch right to the stomach
Takes your breath away
Sometimes things break
Christian marriages are not automatically immune to devastation and destruction. There is work we need to put in as married couples. But there are also critical circumstances at play, some in our control, others outside of our control.
There are lots of dead Christian marriages that haven’t officially ended in divorce simply because Christians made divorce an unforgivable sin. A couple would rather continue to suffer in a dead marriage than risk carrying the dreaded “separated” or “divorcee” labels.
One of the verses that has most been used out of context and as a weapon of attack is Malachi 2:16 where God says He hates divorce. For the record, He never said He hates divorcees. So when we (Christians) disparage divorcees as outcasts in our church communities I don’t know whose memo we’re following because it certainly isn’t God’s.
Do we even stop to ask why God hates divorce? Whatever the circumstances that lead to it, the splitting of a marriage and a family is a form of death. Even when it is absolutely necessary, it doesn’t make it any less of a loss. Death is death regardless of the precursor. God hates divorce because of all the ramifications it comes with – spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Divorce is the antithesis of everything He wants us to have in divine marriages and families.
A dying or dead marriage doesn’t have to end in divorce. There is plenty of recourse to restore a marriage even when it seems like all hope is lost. Remember, we’re talking about a God who does the impossible and has power over life and death.
But when all is said and done, and a Christian couple still end up divorcing, what then? And what if a marriage ends, not through divorce, but because of the death of a spouse?
It’s the end of a season, not of purpose. There needs to be grieving. There needs to be a breaking of spiritual covenant, not just the legal dissolution of the union (in the case of a divorce). There needs to be healing and restoration for all parties involved. There needs to be a rebuilding of a new life. Initially as an individual. Perhaps eventually with another. There needs to be love and support given throughout this process that is incredibly difficult. As witnesses, can we be as committed to mourn the end of a marriage as we were to celebrate its start? To extend comfort and grace – tons and tons of grace? To be present in prayer, in word and in deed? To not be so quick to judge intentions and actions?
There is no template answer for why some Christian marriages end in divorce. Every couple and every marriage is unique even when their circumstances look the same. Far be it from us as outsiders to assume that the couple simply didn’t pray or try hard enough. Aside from God, matters of a union are best known and understood by those in the union.
There is also no template answer for why some Christian spouses die at what would be considered the prime of their life. We may not understand what God has allowed but we can choose to trust Him to see us through. I once asked God how best to be there for a grieving friend. His response? Grief is not something that needs to be fixed or explained away. They’ve lost someone dear to them. Allow them to mourn that loss. Whatever that looks like.
The end that matters.
Divine marriage won’t always meet our expectations. It may not start as we anticipate it to, it may not take on the shape and form we wanted it to and it may not end as we thought it should. The one constant we have is the Lord. Through every unexpected turn and outcome, we can put our hope and trust in Him. He will make everything beautiful in His time.