Britney is in her early thirties and has mostly married friends. As a single, Britney told me she sees marriage from the perspective of what you gain, but almost all her married friends see marriage from the perspective of what they have lost. They seem frustrated with what their marriage isn’t, while Britney sees so much of what their marriage is and provides.
“When I get married,” Britney told me, “I hope I can remember that it’s such a blessing just to have someone who is there for you. He might not parent your child the way you want him to, but at least he’s having a child with you. He might not help clean the house as much as you hoped he would, but he’s there to get it dirty! He might like to occasionally go out with his friends, but he comes home to you at night. When you’re single, you’re all alone all the time. I hope I can remember what this feels like, that it would be such a blessing to have someone who wants to do life with me.”
It’s so helpful for me to talk to people like Britney because I’ve never really been single. I got married when I was twenty-two so I never had an independent “adult” life without a spouse. If Britney had been my friend back then, she’d probably have seen in me what she sees in her friends now—someone who takes the benefits of marriage for granted while complaining about the biggest frustrations and losses to my single friends.
The personal benefits of marriage are enormous. For me, I’ve seen how marriage has helped me in three particular areas: personal healing, happiness, and growth in holiness.
The Healing Power of Acceptance
The spiritual art of “accepting” each other is one of the best and most healing aspects of marriage; it’s also a biblical command: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
Lisa and I met two friends for dinner after work. I arrived first, and then the couple; Lisa came last since she was traveling from home. When my wife slid into the restaurant booth, she snuggled up right next to me, giving a little exclamation of delight.
“Are you cold?” asked the young woman.
“No,” Lisa said. “It’s just that he’s been gone all day. I haven’t seen him yet. I miss him.”
Her comment, thirty years into our marriage, made me feel like a king. She missed me.
One of the most healing aspects of marriage for me has been the fact that I live with a woman who knows me better than anyone else ever has or ever will and yet she still likes me. She even respects me. Even with all my particularities, bad habits, and weaknesses, she truly wants to be with me.
That brings a lot of healing to a basically insecure man (and says some even more marvelous things about the graciousness of my wife). When Lisa married me, I was the player who was second or third-string on every team he played on until he started running cross country. The only job I had was part-time and my prized possession was a ten-year old Ford Maverick Grabber. I had a college degree in English Literature which meant my first job offer after four years of study was as a busboy–not even a waiter, a busboy!
But Lisa chose me and continues to choose me. I’m in a world where everything I do gets evaluated; every sermon, every book, every blog post. But no matter how poor the sermon, how misguided the blog post, or how boring the book, Lisa’s going home with me.
Shannon had a “colorful” background as a single woman before she became a Christian, which was about a year and a half before she met Jason. Jason had been a committed believer his entire life, was raised in a homeschool, and his regular prayer since the time he was twelve years old was that God would provide a “godly virgin” for him to marry.
As they got to know each other, Jason told Shannon about his early prayer, not knowing anything about her past. Shannon wondered if she should end any romantic hopes right there. But the rest of the relationship seemed so good that eventually she took a deep breath and told Jason that before she became a Christian, she had been with…several…men.
Jason smiled—he smiled!—and said, “Of course you were. But none of those men will love you like I will.” Jason’s acceptance of her past told Shannon, “You’re not damaged goods. You’re the woman I want to spend my life with.” Shannon found great healing from past shame, proving the sweetness of that Scripture we have already quoted, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
Many funny articles have been written about how awful family vacations can be and the hazards just waiting for a married couple that dares to get on the road with their kids, but a long trip with her entire family helped Alison see just how happy marriage has made her.
“I realized this summer what I love most (about being married),” Alison told me. “I have gone on a few trips to visit family with just my kids. Greg has stayed behind to work. After a few days I was ready to go home. I missed being home. This summer our family of five took an almost two-week road trip and there wasn’t one second I wanted to go home. I looked at Greg one evening and told him he was my home. Wherever he is, I am home. Thinking about what home represents summarizes marriage to me–so much security, love, family time, rest, quiet times with Jesus, safety in storms of life; that is my husband and my favorite part of marriage.”
Ever notice how if someone is laughing alone, you kind of wonder if they have a mental illness, but when two people laugh together, you wish you were in on the joke? That demonstrates the “happy-making potential” of marriage. Michelle, a mom of five, told me, “Eric makes me laugh. That might not seem like much, but when you have a pile of laundry that grows faster than you can wash it, five children who get hungry before the last meal’s dishes are washed, and too few hours of sleep with which to face the next day, a good laugh in the morning and the evening can do wonders for your soul. Eric can mimic our kids like a professional comedian, and just when I’m about to explode at them with frustration, he can make me laugh so hard I want to hug my kids instead of throttling them. Never underestimate the power of a good sense of humor to keep a marriage going.”
If you’ve read any of my books, especially Sacred Marriage, you knew I’d end up here. When Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and Peter tells us to make “every effort” to add to our faith by growing spiritually (2 Peter 1:5-15), and the writer of Hebrews tells us to “make every effort” to be holy (Hebrews 12:14), it stands to reason that the fundamental human relationship—husband and wife—is tailor made by God to help us grow in holiness.
I found marriage to be a giant mirror helping me see character flaws and weaknesses I was blind to as a single man. I’m not the only one. Alexi is a woman of great passion. She told Brett she was going to marry him on their third date. In hindsight, she feels terrible about the friendships she allowed to grow distant as she wanted to spend every waking moment in the company of her new love.
Alexi and Brett got married, probably too soon, and then got pregnant within months. Instead of post-partum depression, Alexi experienced post-partum infatuation with her infant. Brett became an intrusion on her time with her baby girl.
I’m summarizing a story too long to tell here, but the near-breakup of her marriage and licensed counseling convinced Alexi that she had spent her entire life being ruled by her current passion. Instead of choosing where to invest her time, she followed whatever she felt. It took months of therapy for her to understand what was going on, and her marriage provided the mirror to show her what she was. She used to take pride in her ability to feel things so passionately, but now realizes that sometimes her response to that passion was downright sinful (and nearly destroyed her marriage).
If we are healthy believers who value growing in holiness, then we’ll learn to appreciate these revealing moments of marriage rather than resenting them. It could have been disastrous if Alexi had tried to force Rob to visit a counselor to overcome his “jealousy” of their child instead of honestly working through why he was feeling jealous.
Every marriage has a different story. Maybe you need to learn to stand up for yourself. Maybe you need to learn to listen. Maybe you need to show more empathy or maybe you need to stop expecting your spouse to overlook irresponsible behavior. Marriage gives us opportunities every day to take off our selfishness and to put on service; to get rid of being harsh and learn to put on gentleness; to stop expecting perfection from an imperfect person and learn the art of patience. The more I accept Scripture’s call to take spiritual growth seriously, the more I appreciate my marriage.
Getting Better All the Time
When Lisa had to undergo an operation to remove a fast growing tumor on her lung, she had two requests—that I be there to pray over her and kiss her as they wheeled her away, and that my hand be holding hers when she woke up.
For many young, healthy, and vibrant couples, their view of marriage is about being young together, filled with energy, experiencing excitement, and moving from passion to passion. Those are all wonderful things but as Lisa and I go through the years, we’ve learned that some of the best parts of marriage are growing old together, remembering the past, grieving disappointments, and facing new, unforeseen challenges side by side.
The wonder of marriage is that it reveals new benefits every decade you stay married. Some former benefits fade into the background. Holding hands after a serious surgery may not sound “sexy” to a young couple, but it can knit the heart of the middle-aged or older couple. What aging takes away from us, long-term marriage replaces with previously unforeseen marital benefits. In fact, the longer you are married, the more you can appreciate the wonder of this union.
I don’t believe marriage is an easy relationship, but even so, because of these benefits (and many more left unspoken), if I had a hundred lives to live, I’d want to be married in every one.