She looked like a new woman.
My coworkers marveled when they finally realized that this was the same woman who had come to see me some weeks ago. The difference was that stark.
The first time we had met she felt beaten down. She could hardly speak three sentences without reaching for another Kleenex. But three weeks later she had light in her countenance, hope in her eyes, and confidence in the way she held her head.
The previous meeting, we hardly mentioned marital strategies. Instead, we talked about some spiritual truth. She learned to stop defining herself and her life by the disappointments of her marriage and to start looking at herself and defining herself by her relationship with God.
That simple spiritual strategy of no longer defining herself by the frustrations of one man and learning to root her identity in the acceptance and affirmation of one God was like pouring water on a thirsty plant, and it made her flourish (it also led to the eventual restoration of her marriage, but that’s another story).
When Isaiah tells Jerusalem to “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” (Isaiah 60:1) he was talking to a beaten-down nation that just wanted to breathe. They couldn’t even conceive what it meant to shine. Yet Isaiah told them that God had much bigger plans for them than survival. He wanted them to thrive, to be a light, to be a symbol of His glory.
In the New Testament, Paul calls us “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). Life in Christ isn’t about survival or just barely getting by. It’s about victory followed by celebration and thriving. A marriage set in Christ can aim to celebrate and thrive in God’s presence.
The irony is that thriving and celebration is rooted outside the marriage rather than within it. In another passage Paul puts it this way: “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life” (1 Cor. 7:17, The Message).
God, not your marital status, defines your life.
When God rather than your marital status defines your life, marriage changes dramatically. One husband, deeply frustrated by his wife’s stonewalling, fell in love with God’s grace all over again and from that platform spent a full year slowly wooing his wife back to an emotionally and spiritually intimate marriage. He wasn’t motivated by his wife’s response, for at first there was none (it took a year for his wife to respond in kind). But he was motivated by his heavenly Father’s approval. He told me, “I could feel the pleasure of God every time I chose to be patient, to be tender, and to be charitable.” He wasn’t getting any positive feedback from his wife, but he was fueled by the positive feedback from his God.
When we treat our spouse based on what God deserves rather than what our spouse deserves, even if they don’t respond there’s a wonderful moment of worship.
I have personally witnessed women in frustrating marital situations or frustrating singleness learn how to “arise and shine” even when their situation stayed the same. I have seen men humiliated by their wives’ rejection and brow beaten by derision learn to listen to another voice and begin to shine in spite of who they were married to. I have seen daughters and sons gain new strength, new vitality, and a new zest for life when they determined that their parents were wrong and God’s declaration about them was right.
How did they get there? They made the simple decision that the relational situation beating them down would no longer define them; instead, they drew their identity from their relationship with and reliance upon God.
This isn’t just a nice theological sentimental thought. It works. It’s not an excuse to avoid working on legitimate issues in your marriage; it’s an invitation to work on those issues from a proper spiritual framework: the affirmation and worship of God.
So, while there is an appropriate time to think through the issues in your marriage (or other relationships), do so from the foundation of God-affirmation. If you are in Christ, you can claim the following:
- You are chosen and dearly loved by your heavenly Father (Col. 3:12)
- You are protected by God’s “glorious might” (Col. 1:11)
- Regardless of how you have messed up, “God has reconciled you through Christ to present you as holy, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22)
- Others may take us for granted, but God promises to reward us (Col. 3:24)
- By His power, God will fulfill every good purpose for you (2 Thess. 1:12)
- If you’re worried about messing up in the future “God will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3)
- If there are worries about your financial future, “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17)
- You have the promise of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14)
I could go on for pages with more promises, but these are initial suggestions for how you can learn to arise and shine in the face of this fallen world’s hurts and disappointments. Learn to look at everything through the lens of Jesus and His promises.
My prayer this week is that you will reorient yourself, your thinking, your identity, your hope and your purpose on the God who calls you not just to survive, but to arise and shine.