Love on the Altar

Marriage transforms us into images of God's love—but the process isn't easy.

We were miles outside the city on a cold day for the South—too cold for an outdoor wedding—and lost. I wondered what he’d look like in my only suit. Not long before, I had said my own vows in it: a brown number and hopelessly out of style, though I didn’t know that at the time. We were kids, all of us, and still too young to have seen anyone our age divorce. Though that would come soon enough.

By the time we arrived at the wedding, after more wrong turns than I could easily count, the ceremony was nearly over. We tiptoed to the back of the assembly, and there they stood surrounded by flowers: he in my suit; she teary-eyed, beaming up at him; and the man with a Bible telling them to kiss.

At the reception, I shook the groom’s hand, looking over his outfit—a sort of armor, helping him feel strong and prepared for the long commitment he had just promised. He had asked to borrow it for the big day, and though I initially felt strange about lending it, I now felt a sort of bond with the guy. We had worn the same clothes, hearts pounding beneath the same lapels, with the real work of marriage still ahead.

It wasn’t long until we heard they were having problems. Pretty soon they were leading separate lives, spending time in different social circles, and when one friendship in particular became too emotionally involved, it was the beginning of the end. A group of us took turns encouraging them to stick it out. But they didn’t. And when the divorce was final, they had been married less than a year.

In the end, marriage is a crucifixion, and you’re not meant to survive it.

These weren’t the only folks we knew who would separate. Over the years, sometimes it was the couples we never dreamed would sign papers. There were those who left for someone new. Those who had wounded each other too much, they said, to continue. And then, there were couples who parted seemingly out of lost interest, as if the last coals of a passionate beginning had sent a final glowing ember into the night.

Others have stayed together, of course, and happily. But some have gone through hard times: long months when they weren’t sure if the marriage would survive or if they wanted it to. Thankfully, there are stories of redemption. Stories where the counseling worked, the surrounding community loved, and the light eventually penetrated the oblique haze covering much-needed resolution. But for all the troubled relationships we’ve observed, those positive outcomes are fewer than we’d like. In recent months, a handful of friends have confessed to me that they wonder, How much longer can this go on?

Some people in the evangelical subculture, particularly in Christian publishing, would have you believe a healthy marriage is a simple thing—that any difficulties are easily overcome by church attendance and following a list of tips. But life is more complex than syllogisms or pithy sayings can account for. The human heart is a deep mystery, the brain simultaneously powerful and weak. We need something more than books, or conferences, or retreats. Many of us are already filled to the brim with advice and solutions from such things, yet challenges remain. What we need is God.

In the end, marriage is a crucifixion, and you’re not meant to survive it. Rather, this life you’ve been given with another human is meant to transform you—to raise you to new life, as you die to self and ego. No, it isn’t easy. It’s messy and at times unpredictable. But then again, what isn’t?

The other day, I was looking for something in the closet of my study. Just beyond the guitars leaning against each other, hanging against the closet’s dark wall, was my old brown suit. How much time has passed since I wore it that day long ago? I thought about everything my wife and I have been through so far, how we’ve laughed, and struggled, and grown. I pray for the grace to continue that growth—that we won’t hurt each other too badly. That we will live in humility, repentance, forgiveness, as God molds us into the image of His love—a sign to the world, a beautiful wonder.

Related Topics:  Marriage

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