There is one thing that could save you thousands of dollars in marital counseling.
It can turn a frustrating marriage into a delightful one.
It can turn a barren marriage into a fruitful one.
It can turn a hurtful marriage into an encouraging one.
Indeed, if we will more earnestly pursue this one spiritual truth every aspect of marriage will flourish. Wherever we lack this spiritual dimension, every aspect of marriage will suffer.
If you believe the Bible and if you trust in the wisdom of the Christian classics, it is impossible for us to truly love our spouse (or anyone else) without humility. If you want to pursue intimacy, if you want to pursue deeper relationships, joy, and peace, you must pursue humility.
What is humility?
In his book Called to Be Saints Gordon Smith summarizes the early Christian Fathers’ view of humility with three ideas. I’ve been a devoted reader of the classics for about three decades now, and from that perspective, I believe Smith nails it:
1. “I am not the center of the universe.”
Let’s be honest: don’t most marital arguments turn on precisely this axis: “Do things my way, do what pleases me, and we’ll be fine?” The problem is, whenever you have a relationship of two or more people, eventually that philosophy is going to be impossible to fulfill. If we think of our comfort and our desires as dictating how others should treat us or as the axis around which the family or marriage should revolve, our marriages will suffer dramatically.
Humility makes two individuals becoming one possible. Two arrogant people cannot have an intimate marriage.
2. Complete dependence on God for the grace to live the Christian life.
I wrote in A Lifelong Love that the high call to love our spouse so extravagantly all but forces us to be ever dependent on God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a display of God’s brilliance: I’m going to call you to something so humanly impossible (loving my wife like Christ loves the church!) that you will be forced to depend on me every day.
Without worship, my heart closes off. When I don’t receive God’s love, I can’t pass on God’s love. Without listening to God, I talk myself into selfishness, resentment, and bitterness. The Holy Spirit talks me into service, love, and encouragement. To have a truly glorious marriage, we have to recognize God must be at the center of our individual lives.
It isn’t just stupid to think we can be “good Christians” on our own strength: it is blasphemous. The Holy Spirit isn’t just the ribbon on an otherwise elaborately wrapped present, put there almost as an afterthought; He is the present. Without Him, there is nothing.
3. Proper ordering of the affections
Gordon Smith writes, “The greatest threat to our capacity to love, whether to love God or to love others, is our misguided desires, longings, and aspirations…And when our affections or passions are disordered, we are blinded; we are not free. Freedom, including the freedom to love the other, can come only with the ordering of the affections.”
Some spouses think that because they want something, their spouse is obligated to provide it. This can be true in the bedroom, the kitchen, or the living room. But if we accept that we have disordered affections that blind us, then we realize the fulfillment of a disordered affection will ruin us. Pride says, “If I want it, give it to me.” Love says, “I will do only what is spiritually healthy for you and I want you to offer only what is spiritually healthy for me.” If your spouse desires something that is destructive or unbiblical, offering it is not an act of love, it’s an act of hatred.
So, as a spouse, humility means I understand that I live with disordered affections. Christian growth is largely about learning to desire what God wants me to desire. Desire is a good thing, pleasure is a wonderful thing, but humility reminds me that sometimes I can desire the wrong things. My desires alone must not dictate what my spouse is obligated to do. I have to surrender my desires to God’s will and God’s law.
Adopting the attitude that our affections need to be reordered on its own would dispel eighty percent of marital disagreements.
So, do you want a better marriage? Do you want to feel closer to your spouse? Do you want your marriage to reflect God’s reality and glory? Then chase after an ancient spiritual virtue: Humility.
This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.