Holy, then happy.

Product DetailsI’ve been thoroughly enjoying studying Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas. He asks, as the theme of his book, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Such a different perspective on marriage than our society holds today, and sadly, than many of us expected when we exchanged vows.

Gary Thomas says, “The real transforming work of marriage is the twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment. This is the crucible that grinds and shapes us into the character of Jesus Christ. […] Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value.”

He continues, “The first purpose of marriage—beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else—is to please God. The challenge, of course, is that it is utterly selfless living; rather than asking, “What will make me happy?” we are told that we must ask, “What will make God happy?”

The simple truth is no marriage, or any relationship, can always make us happy. We are imperfect people who make mistakes and those mistakes often wound the people closest to us. When our loved ones hurt us, we must learn to forgive in order for the relationship to survive. When we hurt our beloved, we must learn to ask forgiveness. In this give and take, marriage stretches us and teaches us to be better people. If we do our work well, holier

As the author says, “Marriage virtually forces us into the intense act of reconciliation.” And so we become examples, though imperfect, of God’s constant forgiveness and effort at reconciliation.

A few points about reconciliation from the book:

  • “Husbands, you are married to a fallen woman in a broken world. Wives, you are married to a sinful man in a sinful world. It is guaranteed that your spouse will sin against you, disappoint you, and have physical limitations that will frustrate and sadden you. […] If we view the marriage relationship as an opportunity to excel in love, it doesn’t matter how difficult the person is whom we are called to love; it doesn’t matter if that love is ever returned. We can still excel at love. We can still say, ‘Like it or not, I’m going to love you like nobody ever has.’”
  • Whenever marital dissatisfaction rears its head in my marriage—as it does in virtually every marriage—I simply check my focus. The times that I am happiest and most fulfilled in my marriage are the times when I am intent on drawing meaning and fulfillment from becoming a better husband rather than from  emanding a “better” wife. […] Yes we need a changed partner, but the partner that needs to change is not our spouse, it’s us!”
  • I don’t know how you can be unsatisfied maritally, and then offer yourself to God to bring about change in your life and suddenly find yourself more than satisfied with the same spouse. I don’t know why this works, only that it does work.”
  • “Use the revelation of your sin as a means to grow in the foundational Christian virtue of humility, leading you to confession and renouncement. Then go the next step and adopt the positive virtue that corresponds to the sin you are renouncing. If you’ve used women in the past, practice serving your wife. If you’ve been quick to ridicule your husband, practice giving him encouragement and  praise.”
  • Marriage is a long walk. We can start out a little slowly, even occasionally lose our way, and still salvage a most meaningful journey.”

The author talks about once backpacking with friends and coming to a swift creek they needed to cross. One friend gave him advice: “Whatever you do, if you fall, fall forward.” He believes the same advice applies wisely to our marriages. Yes, we’ll inevitably make mistakes and fall. Let’s just be sure we fall forward, toward our spouse.

We all know those moments when we would feel justified to cross our arms, stomp, and turn our backs on our spouse. Or angry in bed, we want to roll over and face away. Those are the most important (and hardest) times to turn towards our spouse with love. We must make our challenges draw us closer together rather than tear us apart. We must fall forward into each other’s arms. Forward into each others’ hearts.

Gary writes:

  • Falls are inevitable. We can’t control that, but we can control the direction in which we fall—toward or away from our spouse.”
  • I believe one of marriage’s primary purposes is to teach us how to forgive. This spiritual discipline provides us with the power we need to keep falling forward in the context of a sinful world.”
  • It took years for me to understand I have a Christian obligation to continually move toward my wife. I thought that as long as I didn’t attack my wife or say cruel things to her, I was a “nice” husband, but the opposite of biblical live isn’t hate, it’s apathy. To stop moving toward our spouse is to stop loving him or her. It’s holding back from the very purpose of marriage.”
  • “What do we do when our spouse doesn’t want us to fall forward—when in fact, our spouse is pushing us away? The Bible provides clear guidance. The father let the prodigal son go, but love demanded that the father always be ready with open arms to “fall forward” should the son ever return (see Luke 15:11-32).”

I pray for blessings on your week. May you show your love for God by loving your spouse well. One last piece of advice from the book before I end:

  • But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazily, enduringly the fleshly person who put it there. It just may be one of the most spiritual things you can do.”

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