Your marriage isn’t about you.
It’s not even about your marriage.
Ultimately, your marriage is about proclaiming the power and glory of Jesus Christ.
The problem for most of us is the bent of our lives. Christianity is an extreme religion, but we try to live it in the margins. Jesus said to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but we pass this off as hyperbole. We think, surely half is better than none.
The Christian life is about becoming centered on God (Matt. 6:33). We seek to love with His love, think His thoughts, and live for His will. When a soul is surrendered to God, it is focused on worship and service: Love God and love others. Praise God and be devoted to good works (Titus 2:14). Those are the two hinges on which the Christian life turns.
Where marriage crashes is when we stop asking, “What does it mean to worship God in this situation?” and “What good works can I do in this situation?” and start asking, “How can I get my own way?”
Asking myself, do I view my wife as God’s daughter or as my servant is the same as asking myself, am I Christian or a spiritual narcissist? (I’m using the word narcissism not as a professional diagnosed mental illness leading to abusive behavior, but the way it has been used in literature for centuries, as a spiritual self-obsession, something we all fall prey to.) If I view my day primarily as an opportunity to be pleased and am happy when I’ve been pleased, I’m a narcissist. If I view my day as a season to serve, I’m thinking like a Christian.
The only “fix” for this spiritual narcissism is for one or both spouses to re-center their lives around worship of and service for God. When I wake up and worship, I rise from worship eager to do good works. I ask God what good I can do this day. My whole mindset is centered on two certainties: there is nothing more fulfilling than worshiping a glorious God who deserves to be worshipped (which makes disappointment an impossibility), and I’ve yet to live a day in which there isn’t some opportunity to do good for someone else, so I’m never without purpose. Even if I’m sick in bed, I can pray for others.
So if I live my life rightly—worship and service—every day is a fulfilling day, a day of joy, a day of contentment. If, instead, I focus on pleasing myself, I have succumbed to “spiritual narcissism” and every day is frustrating because others won’t or can’t appreciate me enough, notice me enough, or praise me enough, because I’m not worthy of such praise. If husband and wife wake up with a commitment to worship and serve, they will be delighted in their marriage. If only one spouse wakes up with a commitment to worship and serve, that’s the spouse who will have the most joy in their marriage and be less vulnerable to disappointments within it.
Think of it this way: Has anyone ever lived with more peace, more joy, and more contentment than Jesus? Of course not. Yet his closest companions included a doubter, a couple of zealous hotheads, and a thief who became a traitor. None of their self-centered narcissism colored his days or his attitude, because Jesus lived a life of worship and service.
Thus the best antidote to living with a spiritual narcissist is to not become one ourselves.
The theme of a sacred marriage is the same as the theme of life: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).
Whenever marriage becomes about us, it becomes bent. Whenever it focuses more and more on Him, it becomes whole.
[NOTE: What happened to the previous version of this blog?
We all have gaps in our knowledge, and the previous version of this blog revealed a big gap in mine: I did not think of narcissism as a professional psychological diagnosis of a mental illness that leads to abusive behavior. To me (and most of those outside the active anti-abuse community), “narcissism” is a word that has been used in popular literature for centuries based on the myth of narcissus. While that’s still the most common usage, I agree we need to be careful that we don’t further traumatize women who have already been hurt by abusive husbands, and thus we have decided to rework this blog post. And I apologize for my lack of education and knowledge here. I probably read more marriage books in a year than ninety-nine percent of the population, but this one still escaped me.
I have made it abundantly clear many times over that I stand with the anti-abuse advocates (though a few have become cyber bullies in their own right, I still support their aim, even if I question their methods). I don’t want anything I write to be used to increase potential abuse or to excuse an abuser. Thus the total re-working of a post that had already started to go viral.
Let me take this opportunity to once again state that because my focus is on saving and renewing marriages and challenging both husbands and wives to pursue consecration before God—which requires searching our own hearts, owning our own sin, and dealing with our own issues before we deal with our spouse’s—I don’t recommend this blog to a woman in an abusive marriage or to a woman who hasn’t had sufficient time to heal from an abusive marriage in the past.]