Marriage is interesting, isn’t it?
Remember when you were a child and fairytales were part of everyday life? I was a lover of books from a very young age, and still am. My dear grandfather used to make gifts to us of cassette tapes he’d used to record himself reading us various stories. They were my very favorite thing to listen to at bedtime, and a treasure I’m still mourning the loss of. Growing up in a typical middle-class home, I loved losing myself in stories of faraway lands, where costly gowns, sparkling tiaras, prancing horses and princes in dazzling regalia were a dime a dozen. While I identified most of all with Cinderella (and was deathly afraid of the evil stepmother in Snow White), the stories were a way of teleporting to another world where anything was possible–most of all, that a little girl growing up in the midst of cornfields and a less-than-doting family could someday find true love and a life of beauty and adventure.
When I was old enough to get away I did it hurriedly, moving all the way across the country to take a job as a nanny near bustling, cosmopolitan Boston; a thousand miles away from my bucolic and disappointing former life. Surely my fairytale was soon to begin. I was happy, surrounded by accepting, loving people who wished me well and prayed me through many of the pains of my past. Within a few years I’d married my Prince Charming, my best friend who’d walked with me through many a valley and knew me well. He was the gift of God to me, with a sweet spirit which never criticized, and in whose eyes I could do no wrong.
I finally had my fairytale. And yet, somehow I’d forgotten something incredibly important–and that forgetting nearly cost me everything. Lest you, dear friend, are forgetting and need the reminder, I had to share with you the truth God is sharing very powerfully with us right now; a truth that every man and woman needs to remember: every fairytale has its battles, its challenges, its villains. Ours was no exception.
If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve experienced the disappointment of finding thorns in the garden. You’ve learned that sleeping alone in a bed is *way* more painful after you’re married than it ever was before. You’ve wondered, “What’s wrong with me? With us? Why are we struggling? Why is this so . . . hard?” If you do a survey (or sit around eavesdropping at Starbucks, the church lobby, or the checkout line) you’ll find an awful lot of people lamenting this very disappointing turn of events; one we were all apparently unprepared for.
I have a proposal to make. It’s something I’ve come to believe recently, and now have embraced with all my heart. It is this:
Marriage is supposed to be hard.
The hard is not a sign that something is wrong, that you married the wrong person, or that your marriage is doomed to failure. Rather, it is the sign that God loves you dearly, and that He is passionately interested in redeeming you fully; in getting to the areas of your heart where pain and fear reside, and where He has not yet been allowed to shine the light of His grace and forgiveness. You’ve developed ways of getting through life on your own, of relating and role-playing and hiding which allow you to slide through without needing others, without needing Him. Those “ways” are a protection system that He must break through if you’re ever to experience true wholeness, and if you’re ever to become the clear vessel His light can shine through.
To break down those walls you’ve built to protect your heart, God uses . . . your marriage.
As John and Stasi Eldredge say in their book, Love and War, putting a man and woman together in a marriage is a little like putting a dog and cat together in a dryer, and turning it on. On high. They write . . .
“In choosing marriage you have chosen an assignment at the frontlines in this epic battle for the human heart. You will face hardship, you will face suffering, you will face opposition, and you will face a lie. The scariest thing a woman ever offers is to believe that she is worth pursuing, to open her heart up to pursuit, to continue to open up her heart and offer the beauty she holds inside, all the while fearing it will not be enough. The scariest thing a man ever chooses is to offer his strength without knowing how things will turn out. To take the risk of playing the man before the outcome is decided. To offer his heart of strength while fearing it will not be enough.”
“A lie is going to come to both of you, starting very soon, in subtle and not- so-subtle ways. ‘It can’t be done. It’s too hard. We had unrealistic expectations. It isn’t worth it.'”
And so it has come, hasn’t it, dear one? Have you not wrestled in the night, in the dark, in the aloneness, with all your dreams and the hopes you had for your own fairytale?
Why do we forget that without a challenge, there’s no story? And why do we so easily slide into the belief that the villain in the story is our own compatriot, the one God has granted to us as both gift and trial? How is the enemy of our souls, who hates marriage above all else because of its intrinsic power to demonstrate to the world the picture of man’s eternal relationship with Jesus, able to hide his presence, and convince us that it’s all about the socks on the floor and the times he didn’t call when he’d be late for dinner and the way he never understood me anyway?
We’ve walked in darkness for awhile. But the lights have gone on in my house. The enemy has been caught red-handed. We’re embracing the truth of fairy tale . . . that there’s no adventure without a challenge, and that the challenge isn’t the problem, but it is the very point of the story! We are finding our way past detente, back to desire, to love, to life.
It’s going to be happy ever after, I tell you.