This week Jim and I have the amazing good fortune to be in the Bahamas on a somewhat paid-for vacation. He is teaching two classes to Taylor students while I am catching up on my HGTV watching and getting ahead of schedule on my book reading challenge for the year. Can you guess which one of us is getting paid?
In some of my mindless web surfing free time, I discovered a post entitled “I’m Dating Someone Even Though I’m Married” that annoyed me greatly, but not in the way you might think. The post was written by Jarrid Wilson, a pastor and author, who is not an adulterer, because the woman he is dating is, in fact, his wife. Wilson encourages his readers “to date your spouse, pursue them wholeheartedly, and understand that dating shouldn’t end just because you said, ‘I do.’”
“Why would anyone find a man challenging married couples to pursue one another annoying?” you might ask. Well, here’s why: I don’t think married life is not primarily about being happy; nor do I think being married is about finding your soul mate, best friend or the love of your life.
Now before y’all start feeling sorry for Jim because he is obviously married to a heartless cynic, let me explain. Jim is my favorite person. I never knew a person could be so morally outstanding yet interesting and fun until I met him. Somehow, despite my miserable failings, poor basketball skills and occasional emotional outbursts, I convinced this man to marry me and haven’t regretted it for a moment.
But happiness shouldn’t be the main focus of our marriage. That sort of self-focused, hedonistic approach to married life is one of the reasons why divorce is wreaking havoc in the church. I know it can certainly wreak havoc in mine.
When we were first married, I wanted to have the perfect marriage, and my pursuit of the perfect relationship nearly killed both of us. When we argued, I had to analyze it to death in order to discover the deeper source of discord. I thought if I just dug deep enough I could fix it and then everything would be perfect. What I came to realize, though, was that in marriage, as in life, there is no perfect.
The root of the problem in my marriage, and every other marriage out there, is sin—my sin and his. Not just small instances of sin here and there but the sin that has soaked into every cell and that must be fought at every turn. It might sound like a depressing thought, but for me it was liberating. It transformed my understanding of the purpose of marriage.
Marriage isn’t about making each other happy, though that is often a bi-product of the self-sacrifice and selfless love it demands. Marriage is about making each other good. It isn’t about pursuing one another. It is about pursuing righteousness. And it can get ugly.
But should that surprise us? When Christ pursued our righteousness, it wasn’t with a romantic gesture, with flowers and a box of chocolates. It was with an instrument of torture, with a bloody cross, and a crown of thorns. Married life should be marked with blood, sweat and tears. We should expect to be wounded and scarred as we battle for a greater good.
Of course that isn’t the end of the story. Christ’s pursuit didn’t end in sorrow but in the ultimate joy, salvation for all who will accept it. And our pursuit can reflect that joy. Adjusting our understanding of marriage isn’t about lowering our standards, but rather about raising them to new heights.
When we stop trying to make each other, and ourselves, happy and start trying to make each other, and ourselves, good, that is when we begin to understand the true purpose of marriage. The question isn’t do I pursue Jim wholeheartedly in order to make him feel loved. The question is do I pursue Christ in order to love Jim with a love only Christ can give. And the answer is, of course, “I do.”