One of the gifts we give most couples who come for marriage mentoring is a copy of Gary Thomas’ “Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.”
We like the idea of couples getting together and talking positively about their marriage, and praying together about their marriage – because where else will that happen?!
It gets couples to focus on the One who made marriage such a “excellent mystery,” because it is all too easy to focus (and stagnate) on the symptoms of a difficult relationship:
- We need to improve communication
- We need to get better at conflict resolution
- We need to show more appreciation
- We need more romance… blah, blah, blah.
Sure, we need a lot of things, and by the time a couple comes to see us, they appear exhausted by what they need. And we can’t fix or supply what they need. We merely come along side and try to nudge & reveal what marriage – their marriage – is about.
Thomas nudges couples to become “God-centered spouses” – where they “feel more motivated by his or her commitment to God that by whatever response a spouse may give. [In contrast] a spouse-centered spouse will try to make excuses to stop loving their spouse because of their spouses sins. But if this were a valid excuse, everyone of us could avoid the call to love, since everyone of us is married to a sinner!”
I am not called to love my wife because she is holier than other wives (though I’m deeply thankful for her godliness). I am not called to love her because she makes me happy (though I am grateful for the many good times we share). I am not called to love her because she makes me go all gooey inside (though sometimes she still does). I am called to love her out of reverence for God.
The subtitle of the book on which his devotional is based, goes, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” What a funny question. But in this day of distorted romantic story lines and imaginary love plots, there is a need to help couples move away from the culture of entitlement to a culture of holy anticipation.
This one big idea has marked the force of our marriage – the idea that my primary ministry (if I can put it like that), over against all the work and services required of me or that compels me, is to love my wife as Christ loves His Bride, the Church, and to be part of the process of her growing holiness. Of course it’s not all up to me, and it is not one sided, but even in/through difficulties, when reciprocal love is not felt or times are not pleasant, I am reminded that I am called to love my wife out of holy awe for God.
This is because any love that I have anyways, doesn’t come from the vacuum of my own great need – it comes from receiving (and continuing to receive) His own love. I touched on this in Commitment to the Person:
Commitment to your spouse in marriage is more enigma than dogma – for it points you, not to the institution of marriage, but to the unspeakable (and unmerited?) worth of the person to whom you promised to love and honour. This, in some fractional way, is a reflection of God’s own commitment to us, for as Augustine said, “Quia amasti me, fecisti me amabilem.” – ‘In loving me, you made me lovable.’
This is my encouragement to you to work at creating a sacred marriage.