“I’m done with this marriage, Gary. It has exhausted me, and I don’t have what it takes to make it work.”
Though they didn’t realize it, Alice and her husband Ian were on the precipice of a really good place, perhaps even a divinely ordered one. Sometimes, God has to take us to the end of our strength to do what He truly wants to do.
You are blessed indeed if your marriage is more difficult than you can handle on your own. You are in a good place when you come to the realization that you simply cannot do it on your own.
Let me explain.
When writing to the Colossians, Paul throws out an intriguing line: “May you be made strong with the strength that comes from His glorious power.” (1:11).
When Paul writes that he wants us to be made strong, the assumption is clearly that we’re not strong already, at least not on our own. In Paul’s mind—and since this is inspired Scripture, in God’s opinion—we are not strong enough on our own to do what God wants us to do. We need the strength that comes “from His glorious power.”
Paul’s observation is written in the context of reminding us how Christ holds everything together through this power: “For in Him all things in heaven and earth were created…whether thrones or dominions and rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…” (Colossians 1:16ff.)
Since in Him “all things hold together,” we can assume marriage is one of those “things.” What if God allows marriage to be so difficult in part to reveal to us the real power He makes available to us in Christ—to teach us how to access this power, to depend on this power, to put us in a difficult situation so that we learn the truth of allowing Christ rather than our own resources to hold our marriage together?
If I can lift a table on my own, I’ll do it. If it’s an ultra-heavy chest of drawers and Lisa wants to see what it looks like on the other side of the room, I’m going to have to call my neighbor over to help me. In the same way, if I can be married in my own strength, with “natural” patience and “natural” kindness, I’ll do it. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? But if it requires me to tap into a power greater than I possess, then I’ll be all but forced to look elsewhere, to Christ alone who can hold all things together.
The sad reality for many, if not most of us, is that we don’t turn to God unless we have to. We expend all our human effort and only after that fails, for perhaps the hundredth time, then we say, “Well, that didn’t work. Maybe I should try God.”
What if God wants to reverse this process and teach us to turn to Him first?
Learning to rely on God isn’t just for difficult seasons of marriage by the way. God has made achieving the biblical ideal of marriage impossible on our own. I love the way Rob Rienow puts it in his book Visionary Marriage: “If you think you have it in you to be a godly husband, either you don’t know what God desires, or you have set the bar way too low.” God calls me to love my wife like Christ loves the church. What man truly does that?
And for wives? Paul says older women should train younger women to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). This assumes that the ability to love an imperfect man requires training, study, intention, and purpose. It doesn’t come naturally to any woman. No man is entirely easy to love, because all of us stumble in many ways (James 3:1).
So, yes, marriage may be difficult, but that’s its glory! It forces us outside of ourselves, to a spiritual dependence that sets things right—recognizing Jesus as the only uniting factor between a husband and wife, supplying the power to hold all things together.
Begin each day with an earnest admission and request: “God, I don’t have what it takes to be married today, but I’m placing myself before you. I’m on my knees admitting my need. Renew my desire. Set my sights even higher than I could dream. You want me to have a more intimate marriage than I’ve ever known—to better reflect Christ and the church, to be a witness to the world, to have a happy and spiritually rich home for our children. So here I am, with all that I’m not, asking you to fill up what I lack.”
After confessing our lack, we ask to be continually filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). “Lord Jesus I need your power right now. Power to listen. Power to forgive. Power to be sensitive and kind when I want to be hurtful and harsh.”
This attitude—humility and dependence—and the practice of beginning each day imploring God for His fresh filling doesn’t come naturally. Our greatest sin is often our default practice of seeking to live independently of God. So if God is letting you be continually frustrated with your marriage, it might be because He wants to remind you to be continually filled with His Spirit.
You can face the rest of today and tomorrow with one of two choices: keep on despairing or learn to depend. Which one will you choose?