March 9, 2015

Celebrating Your Brilliant but Imperfect Marriage

Gary Thomas — 

Celebrating Your Imperfect Marriage final

Before you read any further, think of the three best artists of all time: any country, any century, any medium.

Got them in mind?

I’ll bet ninety percent of you thought of Michelangelo.

It might surprise you that Michelangelo thought of himself in rather limited terms. There remains only one truly famous Michelangelo painting (the Sistine Chapel is technically a series of frescoes, not paintings) because Michelangelo always liked to think of himself as a sculptor. When he was asked to do the Sistine Chapel, he wasn’t all that excited about it. (But when the Pope back then asked you to do something, and you liked breathing, you usually did it.)

Even though he tried to limit himself to sculpture, we still think of Michelangelo as among the best of the best, don’t we?

Like Michelangelo, every brilliant marriage has its points of limitations as well. Some couples do very well financially. They have their budget, their steady stream of revenue; even their kids have their budgets and start buying their own clothes at age 12. They will be more comfortable in their early retirement than most of us will be in the midst of working 60 hour weeks.Michaelangelo as Heraclitus in The School of Athens final

Other couples know how to throw great parties, or they excel at vacations. Still others build show homes with magazine cover yards and a shed full of gardening tools that could service a small farm.

Other couples are just fantastic at raising their kids. They just get it. Their kids are amazingly educated, well-behaved, they love the Lord, and their parents’ Christmas letters make many other parents gag.

But here’s the thing: no married couple is all of the above.

You can be a brilliant couple who have a shoddy house. You can be a brilliant couple who make a lot of music together but when it comes to parenting, you’d rather not talk about it. You can be a brilliant couple who loves and serves the Lord together while always staying about five days away from bankruptcy.

Will you accept that? Your weakness in one area of marriage doesn’t overcome the brilliance of your strong areas.

I think Lisa and I have a very good marriage, but we have many weaknesses. Vacations can be rather tricky for us—we’re not particularly compatible in that arena, so each of us typically feels like we’re serving the other rather than taking our own vacation. Our eating styles? Try joining an elephant with a Chihuahua. You’ll have better luck there.

But in other areas we’re very strong, and it works. When we’re ministering together or doing other things, I couldn’t feel more blessed as a husband. After a conference, Lisa can just look at me and know I’m tired, and she’ll take over the conversation with our hosts. She gets my obsessions, and I get that she needs an extra gentle husband. We don’t think we have to excel in every area of life to be content in our union.

Nobody faults Michelangelo for not doing tapestry, making pottery, or painting portraits. But what he did do, he did so well that his name will likely be remembered a thousand years from now.

Stop mentally undercutting your marriage because you’re not strong in all areas. It’s okay to admit, “You know what? We’re just not very good at that.” If you’re not the kind of couple that is going to do a lot of hospitality or decorate your house with Christmas lights because you’re both doing triathlons on the weekend and are too sore to get the boxes down or vacuum the rug, that’s okay—thank God that you have a mutual hobby you really enjoy together. That’s special. That’s something to celebrate (besides, your shoes probably make the house a bit smelly, so we don’t really want to come over anyway).

This week, I want you to celebrate your brilliant but imperfect marriage. “This is us, and this is not us, and we’re okay with that.”

If a “limited” brilliance was good enough for Michelangelo, it should be good enough for us.

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14 responses to Celebrating Your Brilliant but Imperfect Marriage

  1. delphine neufeld March 10, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks for your posts. Great insight into marriage according to scripture! We are celebrating 43 years of marriage today. Still learning to be content in our differences and trusting God with our marriage on a daily basis.

  2. Some days it’s hard to stay focus on the limited brilliance.

  3. Hi gary- I have been reading your blog for awhile now and one of your books. I wonder if you have any advice or resources related to the following question: if I married the wrong person will God make me divorce my wife whom I love (though not with fireworks) and leave my child? And if I married the wrong person against gods will, would he provide resources to help our marriage? I guess what I’m asking is do you think God is for a marriage even if it was against his will? I should clarify that by “against his will” I don’t mean unbeliever or even premarital sex but just had some doubts and anxiety before marriage.

    Thanks Gary

    • God hates divorce. I’ve read that doesn’t choose our mate. Love is an action and a decision. My marriage has been rocky and I’ve felt I have married the wrong person. I’m quite certain God has told me to give grace and stay. There have been times, like the death of his sister, I can see why I needed to stay. We’ve read Sacred Marriage and it helped us change our view of marriage.

      • Kimberly,
        I appreciate what you said except for “God hates divorce”. That is not in the Bible (in the recent updated English translation of Malachi 2, it is very clear that God is not saying He hates divorce itself. He hates the man who abuses and throws away his wife – covering himself in violence.)

        Even if we make a bad marriage choice (“a mistake”) – God is big enough to use all of our choices in His plan for our lives. He is bigger than our choices. If we are trying to be faithful and we love God more than anything and anyone else – then we can trust that He will carry us.

        • Katy,

          Hi – I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. God does hate divorce. Marriage represents God’s covenant between Him and the church. Breaking that covenant, breaking our vows, is despised by God. I do believe He accepts it and understands it in situations of abuse and for your own safety you have to get away. But, not under normal conditions. If we can’t, as Christians, represent God’s covenant to the world through our marriages – who is going to do that?

          Question: “Why does God hate divorce?”

          Answer: Malachi 2:16 is the oft-quoted passage that tells how God feels about divorce. “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” But this passage says much more than that. If we back up to verse 13, we read, “You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.”

          We learn several things from this passage. First, God does not listen to the pleas for blessing from those who have broken the covenant of marriage. First Peter 3:7 says, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (emphasis added). There is a direct correlation between the way a man treats his wife and the effectiveness of his prayers.

          God clearly explains His reasons for esteeming marriage so highly. He says it was He who “made them one” (Malachi 2:15). Marriage was God’s idea. If He designed it, then He gets to define it. Any deviation from His design is abhorrent to Him. Marriage is not a contract; it is a covenant. Divorce destroys the whole concept of covenant that is so important to God.

          In the Bible, God often provides illustrations to teach spiritual realities. When Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar, it was a picture of the day, hundreds of years later, that the Lord God would offer His only Son on that same mountain (Genesis 22:9; Romans 8:32). When God required blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, He was painting a picture of the perfect sacrifice He Himself would make on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).

          Marriage is a picture of the covenant God has with His people (Hebrews 9:15). A covenant is an unbreakable commitment, and God wants us to understand how serious it is. When we divorce someone with whom we made a covenant, it makes a mockery of the God-created concept of covenant relationship. The Church (those individuals who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord) is presented in Scripture as the “Bride of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7-9). We, as His people, are “married” to Him through a covenant that He established. A similar illustration is used in Isaiah 54:5 of God and Israel.

          When God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, He created it as a picture of the greatest unity human beings can know (Genesis 2:24). He wanted us to understand the unity we can have with Him through redemption (1 Corinthians 6:17). When a husband or wife chooses to violate that covenant of marriage, it mars the picture of God’s covenant with us.

          Malachi 2:15 gives us another reason that God hates divorce. He says He is “seeking godly offspring.” God’s design for the family was that one man and one woman commit themselves to each other for life and rear children to understand the concept of covenant as well. Children reared in a healthy, two-parent home have a far greater likelihood of establishing successful marriages themselves.

          When Jesus was asked why the Law permitted divorce, He responded that God had only allowed it “because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). God never intended divorce to be a part of human experience, and it grieves Him when we harden our hearts and break a covenant that He created.

          Read more:

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “wrong” person, as that seems to imply there’s one “right” person. In a very real sense, once you marry that person, they become the “right” person. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7 that even if you’re married to an unbeliever, you should stay. So, especially in your case, I would say, stay in there, father your child, and yes, God will supply the resources to help you make your marriage the best it can be. It may take a lot of work, but especially if you’re both believers, you can work out a satisfying marriage and honor God in it.

    • HI, J

      In my humble opinion, we should have doubts and anxieties before marriage – marriage is a big thing, and we should be nervous – its that nervousness that makes us think twice about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and because that is when we start to rely more on God’s grace and less on our own ability. And marriage, apart from having children, is probably the biggest and most important thing you can do in your life. So, nervousness and doubts is probably not such a bad thing. But, after reading Gary Thomas’ book, a Lifelong Love, I know that God will bestow grace on you to love your spouse well, because your spouse is God’s child. And perhaps your prayer shouldn’t be so much about what anxiety you are feeling, but more to ask God to help you love your spouse well.

    • Dear J,
      I am in a 2nd marriage. Before getting married to my current husband I read several marital help books, including: Saving your marriage before it starts, Love & Respect, Sacred Marriage, and books to help prepare for blending a family.
      I highly recommend Love & Respect, Sacred Marriage and Sacred parenting.

      It is humbling to read Sacred Marriage NOW, after a divorce. It is equally humbling to read Sacred Parenting NOW, with a 21 year old and 14 year old.

      My advice: get these hard copy books, highlight, underline what stands out, read and memorize the scriptures given as references, go to the conferences available, keep asking questions, seek Biblical counseling, and APPLY everything you’re learning to your marriage every single day regardless of how the other person behaves. (Of course this is assuming they are not physically abusive )

      For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of this unseen world. Against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

    • You seem to be talking about God’s will for your marriage. And perhaps I’m reading into your comment more than is there, but it seems like you think God has an incredibly specific will for your marriage. But as I read the Bible, God gives us very few specific instructions about who we should choose. Certainly there are some instructions, chief among them is: choose a believer. But apart from that there’s very little.

      Instead, God gives us many passages about how to behave in marriage. About what sort of things are good and what things are bad to do when it comes to your spouse. I take this to mean that God really has very little to say to us about the “right” person. Instead, he has a *LOT* to say to us about the right behavior in marriage. He leaves the picking of the person to us, but once we’ve picked, then he starts giving us instruction on how to behave within that marriage.

      Put another way: God’s will for our marriages isn’t about “who” we pick. But rather it’s about “how” we treat that person, no matter who it is.

      If that’s true, then you didn’t marry the wrong person against God’s will. God’s will was for you to choose the person. And God’s continued will is for you to behave like that person is His son or daughter. Leaving that marriage is against God’s will. Because his will isn’t about the who but rather about the how. And chief among the how is that marriage is until one of you dies.

  4. How true this is! We see whatever it is we focus our eyes on. We have to learn to see with our hearts and not with our eyes. There is buried treasure in every marriage. When we take the time and put in the effort to dig it up, then it becomes easier to see.
    Thank you, Gary, for encouraging us to get digging!
    Blessings to you and Lisa,

  5. Why are we always so conditioned to focus on the negative, to analyse it, take it apart, try understand each aspect of it, and then wonder why we feel anxious and negative ourselves? Thank you for the reminder to appreciate the positive with gratitude.

  6. Thank you for offering this positive direction. It’s easy to go negative when we experience a shortcoming in any area. No marriage is perfect! With Jesus’s help, I am going to try to focus on what is right and good!