“You will be great. Because A: Jesus has got this. B: You have lots of people who love you to call when things get stressful, me included. Plus, you are precious.”
My parting words to a bride to be friend as I was leaving her wedding shower today. New marriages are so fun. The wedding, the shiny new pots and pans to fill empty cupboards. The big dreams of the future and building a life together. I love celebrating the gift of marriage with young women in that stage. I was thinking how the pendulum has swung dramatically since I was in my early 20’s when my generation grew up and got married till now. We were the Cinderella generation, whose bedtime stories ended with “happily ever after” but whose role models were falling apart as divorce, addiction and abuse was tearing families apart at new and alarming rates. We hoped if we just found our Prince Charming there was still a shot at happily ever after, yet we carried a lot of baggage into marriage that led to unrealistic expectations and a secret guardedness to keep us safe. As we quickly learned that marriage often leads to unhappy moments we discarded fairly tale beliefs and either looked for something deeper or bailed out and started over.
Young women now have grown up with a different expectation of marriage. I often hear statements about how unrealistic it is to think marriage will make you happy or fulfill you, but with a cynical edge implying it is simply going to be hard work and if you sign up for it, the best you can do is resign to be committed and endure it. And not shockingly, more and more young women are hesitant to say I do. And all the while culture keeps peddling a false picture of the purpose of marriage as well as the effect.
What if marriage has always been more about the effect on our character that comes from loving and less about the effect on our feelings by being loved? What if being loved in my ugly and weak and sinful parts will bring healing more than being admired in my strong and talented and beautiful parts will bring happy? What if the whole point is to paint a picture of a lasting love that commits itself to the good of the other, and through it a heart is changed that leads to a life full of joy?
You know what joy is about, that happiness is not? Certainty. Happiness is so fragile because it is dependant on a million little circumstances that we don’t control. Weather, sickness, bills, traffic, plumbing, children, elections, pets, bosses, and on and on. All of them can threaten our happiness by messing with our agenda and interfering with our moments. Joy though, is about knowing. Knowing that God is good and in control. Knowing that we have hope in something bigger than circumstances or even our families. Knowing that whether I am loving or be loved well by people, I am securely loved by God forever because of Christ.
So here is how it works in the daily grind. While I practice loving my husband I get tired or annoyed or hurt. And I want to pull back and protect myself and be self righteous. Then I remember that those feelings are just a fraction of how I hurt God in my sin. And I remember that He loved me before I even realized I was guilty. That he never stops even when I do. That He sees all of me and never pulls back, but instead came all the way through to the point of dying in my place on the cross. So I push forward to keep loving my husband and it makes me a better forgiver and less selfish. And that makes a space for gratitude. And that creates overwhelming joy. And all the while my husband is doing the exact same thing. And now we are both more focused on how God is changing us than we if we feel happy.
The really beautiful thing is this picture we paint isn’t just for us. Some are married, some are not. The point is to show people the lasting love of God as found in the gospel. So single and divorced and widowed men and women can find a joy that is bigger than marriage being reflected in my marriage to them.
And then, we can all live Joyfully Ever After.