I’ve never been married. But I have been very interested in marriage.
The divorce of my parents when I was seventeen led me to the most fervent prayer I’ve made – “don’t let me end up there.” It’s the kind of prayer God is eager to answer. His first lesson? Much of the answer takes place before any vows do.
I’ve spent my single years keeping my eyes and ears open for “what it takes” for a thriving marriage. I’ve watched older couples, gleaned from them, read every book anyone gave me. Recently, I’ve been privileged to learn from couples my age as well.
I’m one of you – a single. God has helped me scout out where we’re going. And it’s led me to one solution, blinding in its simplicity.
I know. You’ve heard for years that you need God more than a spouse. But God just seems so boring compared to romance and white picket fences and sex and babies. He honestly seems unrelated, other than saying “no” to your longing.
But what if we saw Jesus not as a lecturer wagging his finger about what we should be doing better, but an ally desperately trying to spare us from a trap?
I admit I’m speaking better than I’ve experienced here. But if the testimony of countless successful couples is any indication, I’m not wrong. So I will speak without apology.
1. You need Jesus to find that person
It’s striking that most “Christian singles” literature zeroes in on two things: sexual purity and high standards. The first is easy to understand. But does the load of books on the second reveal a problem with “settling”?
Once time passes, it’s easy to start viewing your List of Great Spouse Qualities as unrealistic and silly. Sometimes it is. (I threw out my standard of “tall brunette” over a decade ago when I realized my brain isn’t actually that shallow. Thank God.)
Problem is, we might throw out too much. Proverbs 27:15 and 1 Timothy 5:8 seem to think that waiting for quality is worth it. Sometimes it’s tough. But what if God knows what he’s talking about?
When you’re fully ingrained with your identity in Christ – fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37), temple of his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and heir of his kingdom (Luke 12:32) – you won’t yoke yourself to someone who hinders your walk, but someone who enriches it. When you trust Jesus, you won’t try to second-guess his brilliant timing. And when you live with your eyes on him, his patience and wisdom become your allies in discerning a good match.
2. You need Jesus to love that person well
A common cause of relational shipwrecks is simply a lack of maturity. To be fair, navigating the emotions and miscommunications of romance is like trying to snowboard in July (and not in the Southern Hemisphere). The un-regenerated human heart is kryptonite for love, the opposite of 1 Corinthians 13 in every way.
We need a massive injection of that chapter in our character. Patience, humility, trust, and a short memory (AKA keeping “no record of wrongs”) will see us through a lot of torturous snags. Only Jesus can do this in us. We can’t fake this stuff, or cover it over with even genuine chemistry.
Or marriage. Once you’ve drifted effortlessly (or fought tirelessly) through the courtship, signed the certificate, and vowed things in front of people, that makes everything okay, right?
I dunno. Newlyweds let down their guard, stop pushing things down all the time. The phenomenon of “letting yourself go” after the honeymoon? From what I’ve seen, it’s real. And it brings a lahar of stuff, both funny and painful, that you never saw coming. (Oh, and Satan steps up his assaults, too.)
The wedding day isn’t the final boss. It’s more like reaching Level 3. Out of 50. Wedding bells only ring in a fresh need for 1 Corinthians 13. And no Scripture can truly be followed without Jesus’ life-giving presence.
3. You need Jesus to be loved well by that person
When my brother got married a month ago, the officiant had a great line about trusting each other’s love in marriage.
It got me thinking. A person who envies another’s spouse (or their own unfulfilled List) will undervalue the love of the one s/he’s got. Someone who’s grown up doing everything for themselves will leave a spouse feeling unneeded. Low Christ-esteem (not “self-esteem” – no such thing in God’s kingdom) can leave one suspicious of love. Heck, we do this with our friends. “They’re too polite to say what they’re really thinking” when they’re thinking nothing of the sort.
Is it just as hard for prickly humans to receive love as to give it?
But being secure in Christ clears the air. You can accept your wife’s efforts. You can stop reading into your husband’s every word. The pressure of making the other person your universe lifts, and things click into place. His love frees you to love better.
4. You need Jesus when that person doesn’t love you well
I’ll never forget the moment I was sitting at my desk years ago, grading papers and bored out of my mind, which drifted to one of its happy places: “Things will be so much better with a wife.”
And in that moment, God smashed through my faulty expectations with a jackhammer.
There will be countless moments in marriage that will feel exactly like this one. What will you do then?
It was like that sinking feeling where you think you’re getting a tax refund, but on second calculation, you realize you’re waayyy in the red. Suddenly I could clearly see how far behind I’d fallen in my journey towards Christ. If I wasn’t close enough to him to handle boredom, there was no way I was ready for marital conflict or silence.
Those are the moments, before marriage or after, that test your dependence on Jesus. And they will come. You will not be the one to dodge this.
Welcome these gut checks. If you’re in the red, you at least want to know it. It will drive you back to God, the source of your help in a future marriage, and your true love in the first place. That, I can testify to.
5. You need Jesus when you don’t love that person well
Some of us, with good hearts for our partners, are hard on ourselves when we don’t come through for them. It is so dangerous to let the status of our relationship be the verdict on us. Why, we’ll be yanked all over the place. All kinds of thoughts start cascading through – “I don’t deserve him”, “I’ll never figure it out”, “she wants out”, none of which help us bounce back. It does damage.
Only a profound rooting in the God of grace and infinite second chances will remind a marital failure (that’s everyone, by the way) of where their bread is buttered. He’s your hope of getting it right, not you.
6. He’s just plain better
The Lord never has tantrums. He never sins in his anger. He doesn’t make unrealistic demands. He doesn’t go through hormonal shifts, depression, or mood swings. His discipline is better than man’s flattery. He loved you enough to die on the cross. He is always there for you, with just the words you need. Lo, he is with you to the end of the age.
He alone is worthy of our hardest pursuit.
Do you see a pattern here? WE NEED JESUS. Badly.
It is not enough to find the right person. I implore you – ignore Satan, the world, and country music when they tell you “find the right one and all will be fine”. Our divorce rate should have made that crock obvious by now.
Jesus certainly means marriage to be wonderful. But he, and only he, is the foundation, center, and power source of it. Without him, the rocks of marriage will dash us. With him, a marriage can be strong.
Don’t fake this, either. “I’ll run towards Jesus so he’ll give me a mate.” He sees right through that, and you’ll never trust your own motives in the race. Chase him for his own sake. Taste and see. He really is good.
And if you’re in the red, know that the red of his blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Today. Don’t beat yourself up because you’ve fallen behind. Just turn to him now.
You need him more than you need a spouse.