I found myself crying as I was waiting to pay a ticket at the clerk of circuit court because of a conversation I overheard between the man and woman behind me.
"If we're still going to be together," the woman whined, her tone desperate. "Why won't you tell me where you live now?"
"I don't want to put up with your [beep]," the guy replied, his tone annoyed.
The woman was clearly hurt. She paused. "It must be nice."
"What?" The guy clearly didn't want to have this conversation, especially not in public where people like me can effortlessly hear everything they're saying.
She swallowed. "It must be nice to be able to pick up and leave."
"Isn't this what you want?"
"I want you to stay with me!"
"When you're stressed like this..." The man's voice grew increasingly more impatient. "Ugh, I don't want to have to deal with you when you're like this!"
The woman was shattered. "You're breaking my heart."
"I'm not trying to." He sounded surprised but also didn't sound like he cared much.
They argued more and eventually the woman found herself pleading for her boyfriend to stay with her. "I'll move my stuff and stay in the other room so you can have your own space! The house is big enough! You don't have to leave!" Then she broke down and was crying.
"I love you," the man said, as if that could make everything better.
"I love you too," she weakly said through sobs, more of a reflex than anything else.
After a little while they made arrangements about how much of his stuff he'd be leaving at her house. Then it was my turn to pay my ticket and I never saw their faces, but this conversation will stay with me forever (especially since I wrote it down while it was happening.)
In many ways I could relate to both of them. Peter and I have had frustrating conversations too, and both of us have at times had the feeling of "I don't want to have to deal with you anymore!" Both of us have also felt the rejection and unwantedness from the person we know we displeased. Countless tears have flowed and neither of us could number how many times we've crushed the other person's heart.
But there's one major thing thing that sets our marriage apart from the co-habitating relationship I observed.
Is it because I'm confident that we love each other more than they ever did?
Is it because I'm sure that we communicate better than them and we would never say something like that to each other?
Nope. We've only been married for 2 years; I have no clue how we'll sin against each other in the future!
But this is why I have confidence in our marriage: unconditional love that is founded on an unbreakable covenant.
It's not passion that sustains the promise; it's the promise that sustains the passion.
There have been times when we have not felt love for each other. There have been some times when we sort of dreaded the idea of a future together. But since there's no way "out", we've had no choice but to work through our issues. The result is nothing less than a deeper, richer, and more mature love than we had known before.
The action of love must be present when the feeling of love is weak...or absent.
Tim Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage (which I highly, highly recommend) presented this idea so clearly:
"In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful. And if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love."
Many would say that it's torturous to force yourself to love someone that you don't have feelings for. In the pursuit of happiness, why let a miserable relationship get in the way? Especially young people like me may be tempted to think, "I've got my whole life ahead of me! Why should I let myself get slowed down by someone who doesn't share my dreams?"
I can think of no example of meaningful love that lacked permanence.
In fact, I see the opposite: the most meaningful love relationship fathomably attainable to me, that of my Creator and I, is forever. It can be no other way. And this love was made possible only through the sacrifice of Christ.
Marriage is a covenant itself, not only fashioned after or symbolizing but held together by that greater covenant.
As you read through the Bible and keep your eyes out for covenants that are made, you'll notice that there are conditional covenants and unconditional covenants.
The benefits of conditional covenants can be removed if one party does not hold up his end of the deal (example: Deuteronomy 28.)
However, nothing can mess with an unconditional covenant. When God said He would never flood the earth again, He didn't say "That is, as long as you don't (fill in the blank)."
The promise was completely because of His mercy.
When God chose me as Christ's bride and "delivered [me] from the dominion of darkness and transferred [me] into the Kingdom of His Beloved Son, in whom there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13) I entered an unconditional covenant.
God shows me mercy and adopts me into His family and makes me Christ's bride and fills me with the Holy Spirit and gives me a new heart and makes me alive in Him.
I receive/accept/become alive.
But what happens when neither person is showing mercy? Is marriage worth anything at all then?
(Please note: I am not saying that if you are being abused by your spouse, you should just live with it. If that is your situation, you need to seek help immediately. This article is addressing the whole "not getting along" and "falling out of love" issue.)
Hebrews 13:4a says "Let marriage be held in honor among all." This verse is convicting to me because sometimes, when Peter and I are mad at each other, I do not have a very high view of marriage. But when I hear heartbreaking things like that conversation at the clerk of circuit court, I can see how good God's design is in creating marriage. Living together without committing for life is a cheap, selfish, dollar-store-brand attempt at copying the good thing that marriage is. It can never come close.
By the way, can I also just testify to how sweet marriage can be? It is so good. I truly madly deeply love my husband and I know he truly madly deeply loves me. I love being married, and I love being married to Peter!
So I urge you, unmarried friends, to desire and seek after one relationship that is promised to stay till death do you part. Though in the short term it may seem best to try out all kinds of different people before committing (legally, bindingly) to one, you are only setting yourself up for heartbreak and instability. If you feel you must "test" a relationship before committing, that shows that you have concerns about whether the relationship will really work out after all. Why toy with uncertainty like that?
And I urge you, married friends, to carry on with the action of love. I think the phrase "Remember why you got married" is one awfully soggy chicken nugget of wisdom. It's completely unhelpful advice for people who got married on a drunken whim, but it's also unhelpful for people who got married with false assumptions, impossible expectations, and wishful thinking (which is every single person who has ever been married.)
Instead remember the covenant you made; remember the ultimate Covenant Keeper, the Creator of love, who has designed marriage to be joyful and steadfast.
To read the first post in the series on marital conflict, click here!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today