“I love you.” Those three words hold many connotations: loyalty, faithfulness, sacrifice. But, as a young bride-to-be, what I wanted to know more than anything was that after the house, after the kids, after the decade of dates… would we still like each other? Would we still laugh at each other’s jokes? Hold hands in public? Look forward to seeing each other every day?
Would we still like the person we vowed to love?
I still like you
For our 9 year anniversary we took a trip down memory lane, back to the place I first told Joseph I liked him. He was a pre-med major, playing Division 3 football at a Baptist school in Wisconsin. And I was a business student at Cornerstone University here in town. We were just friends at the time. He’d expressed his interest, but I’d given him the “not interested” talk.
On a cold day in mid March of 2012, when my family was planning a weekend trip to Chicago, I called Joseph and invited him to take the train into the city. Chicago was the half-way point between us. Up to that point, he wasn’t sure if I was actually interested in him. So he eagerly met up with me at the train station and we walked to Millenium Park, the site of the giant tourist-laden Cloud Gate. My palms were sweaty, and I couldn’t hide my beaming smile because I was finally going to tell him I felt the same way he did! We snapped a selfie with the iconic sculpture in the background as I proceeded to confess my feelings for him. I told him that I really liked him, and I told him why.
I didn’t like him for his looks (though his broad shoulders make him the most attractive man I know). I didn’t like him for his common interests (though we do enjoy much of the same things). I didn’t like him for his money (the price tag of physician assistant school is not a get-rich-quick scheme). I didn’t like him for any of those things.
No. I liked him for his character. For his personality. For his enduring qualities that haven’t changed. And, most importantly, I like him for his heart for the Lord.
Nine years later when we pulled out our polaroid camera to take a picture in front of that shiny bean, we stood in the same spot. We took the same picture. And if I could have gone back in time to tell my former self one thing, it would be this… never stop telling him you like him.
Rooting for your own marriage
We spent the rest of our anniversary trip talking about the things we like about each other, and more specifically, the things we liked about our marriage. After 9 years together, our union has made life less about “you” and “me” and more about “us”. It’s almost as if our “I love you’s” have morphed into an “I love us”… but that’s another blog post for another time.
While writing this blog post about my anniversary, I’ve had the unfortunate reality of divorce on the back of my mind. Just this week, I’ve heard of three marriages breaking off. And whenever you hear of friends having marital problems, it’s easy to take a side, to give advice, and to assume that the other person is at fault. But how often are we on the side of the marriage itself?
We shouldn’t pick sides. We should root for the sanctity of marriage. And we should root for our own marriage with the same tenacity! How can you do that? It starts by believing the best of each other…
BELIEVING THE BEST EVEN WHEN YOU SEE THE WORST
Marriage allows you to see the best and the worst in each other, the vulnerabilities and the calloused edges. You hurt one another, confess sin to one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, and you could easily become a “realist” who bitterly focuses on the fallenness of your spouse. But Scripture admonishes us to look for the best in each other.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I want to draw special attention to the last verse: “It believes all things.” What does that mean? Other translations say that love “trusts” and “believes the best”.
This may seem like simple advice, but when was the last time you made a list of all the things you like about your husband? Do you actively look for things to compliment and enjoy? Or do you take a defensive posture because you assume he is going to disappoint you and disagree with you? When he says something that could be taken offensively, do you take it personally? Or do you make the most gracious assumption? When he is late, rather than thinking, “How rude, he doesn’t care about the fact I cooked dinner. He doesn’t even appreciate my hard work,” think “I bet he got stuck at work.” When he doesn’t notice your new dress instead of thinking, “he doesn’t even look at me anymore,” consider what else might be on his mind, and graciously ask him.
Marriage isn’t a game we play. There is no winner and loser. If it ends in divorce, you’ve both lost. Jesus says in Matthew 19:6, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” It doesn’t really end anything with finality. You are still left with the broken hearts, the emotions, the drama, and the fractured dreams to deal with. There is no such thing as a clean break because heart wounds take the longest to heal.
HAPPINESS VS HOLINESS
Yes, marriage can be hard. But divorce is harder. Yes, marriage makes us die to ourselves. But isn’t that the point of sanctification? Marriage is not something to be taken lightly or to be pursued for the sake of our own happiness. Holy matrimony is just that… a call to holiness first and foremost.
But, please hear this: happiness isn’t at odds with holiness. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. To be holy is to be happy… true happiness is the overflow of holiness. Not the other way around. You don’t become holy by pursuing your happiness. You experience the blessings of marital bliss when you fear God, when you submit to His Word, and when you pursue holiness together.
After 9 years of marriage, I can still say that Joseph is the one I want to travel with, play games with, watch movies with, cook with, go to bed with… why? Because I don’t just love him… I like him. And I like him because we’ve pursued more than just our own happiness together.
Sure! Joseph and I still focus on fun… we go on dates, host game nights, share activities like skiing and cooking. We love an excuse to throw a party! But at the end of the day, we haven’t just pursued fun. We’ve pursued God together. It is our morning devotions, our deep conversations, our strong convictions, our weekly worship, our church community, our transparency, our trust – that’s what has made us truly happy!
The Bible speaks at great length about marital happiness as a gift from the Lord, the fruit of those who fear the Lord. Just listen to these verses God uses to describe happiness in marriage:
Psalms 5:18-19 “So be happy with your wife and find your joy with the woman you married – pretty and graceful as a deer. Let her charms keep you happy; let her surround you with her love.”
Psalm 128:1-2 “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”
Proverbs 5:18-19 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”
Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
Proverbs 19:14 “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.”
LOOK AT HIS HEART…
So ladies, a word of marriage advice for you: look at his heart. Don’t look at his bank account or his good looks. Don’t look at his job status or his head knowledge. All those things can change. But a heart that is pursuing God, a heart that is sensitive to the things of the Lord, a heart that is filled with the holiness of the Holy Spirit… that is something that will stand the test of time as you pursue holiness and receive the gift of happiness together.