Dear Younger Married Self,
There will be moments when you look at yourself and your husband—as you both are—and wonder how you will overcome the obstacles that lay before you. You haven’t quite figured out how to navigate difficult conversations. Nor have you figured out how to freely share your vulnerabilities and hurts. Rarely have you ever had to fully express all that weighs on you to another human being—plainly, articulately, and fearlessly.
You don’t think it’s in you. You’re too timid. Addressing issues head-on runs counter to the way you’ve always done things. Baring yourself completely in life’s most intense and challenging moments doesn’t feel intuitive.
You and your husband have entered into this marriage with different, and sometimes conflicting, influences. Your differing family history and upbringing, your unyielding temperaments, and your individual habits (solidified from years of single living) contribute to the conflict. However—I want you to cling to this hope: both you and your husband have the capacity to change for the sake of your marriage—by the power of God, to the glory of God.
You may not think so when you’ve been a certain way for such a long time. And this is not something I would have necessarily believed going into marriage; but it is a truth that, by God’s grace, I have come to witness after all these years.
When you were in high school, your mother dispensed all sorts of dating advice to you, one of them being—the person you settle down with should always be growing. If the person is not growing, the relationship will become dull very fast.
Yet in the context of two genuine Christians who are together, growth ought to be a given—however immature they are, however many steps forward are taken and then back—the hope is that you and your husband will most assuredly, over time, grow in Christ as you live in obedience to God’s Word: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3).
The journey may feel sluggish or disappointing at points—but underneath it all is the divine promise that there will indeed be growth—for you are not alone in this journey: God is continually working in the both of you (2 Cor. 3:18; Phi. 1:6, 2:13, 4:13).
Those little steps you are taking now appear trivial, but I urge you to continue pursuing one another, when, out of love and concern, you sense something is wrong. At certain points, each of you will meet resistance, silence, and sometimes anger. When weariness or bitterness colours the atmosphere, you will be tempted to retreat. Your mind will nostalgically recall the simplicity of your courtship days.
How many times have you written in wedding cards the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—words you will soon truly reckon with: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”
Events will transpire that will test the two of you. They will shake you out of your complacency. They will compel you to take a good look at your marriage and cherish who you are to each other and who you are before God.
If the two of you aren’t praying faithfully now, you will be driven to at each of these points.
For in your desperation, who else can you turn to but God and the light and wisdom of His Word? As sinners you will be pulled toward your desire to please yourselves and hold onto your personal rights. Your self-centeredness leads you to say, “This is the way I am, accept it.”
But God’s will for you—as husband and wife—is to let go of this conviction. You are to fix your eyes on the grace and love of Christ who made the supreme sacrifice on the Cross. Upon wholeheartedly seeing this, the cross will compel you to make your own sacrifices for each other—even if it is against your natural instinct to do so.
And take note: the growth in your marriage will be so gradual you may neglect to see God’s work in it. So strive to open your eyes to appreciate the changes, these evidences of grace.
If someone today were to witness a conversation between you and your husband about a troubling, sensitive, or emotional issue, they might think nothing of it. They would see you both being frank with each other until you reached an understanding. They would see you listening and speaking in turn, and praying for one another. They might think of it as nothing out of the ordinary, but you will know that it has taken years for both of you to get here.
You will feel gratitude and awe as you remember what the two of you were like at the beginning of this journey. You will be humbled by the faithfulness of God which has carried the both of you in your highs and especially in your lows.
Lingering pasts, ingrained habits, and hardened temperaments will still tug at you—yet you will come to see that none of these are insurmountable because of the power of the Spirit to transform you bit by bit into the likeness of your Saviour.
It is to the Almighty God that you look and in his trustworthy guidance that you find your blessed assurance. Yes, your marriage will be trying at times, but as children of God, you and your husband will taste the glory of his divine work in you, and this will grant you the faith, hope, and love to journey on.
An appendix: helpful quotations
“If you don’t see your mate’s deep flaws and weaknesses and dependencies, you’re not even in the game. But if you don’t get excited about the person your spouse has already grown into and will become, you aren’t tapping into the power of marriage as spiritual friendship. The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory. You want to help your spouse become the person God wants him or her to be.
When two Christians who fully understand this stand before the minister all decked out in their wedding finery, they realize they’re not just playing dress-up. What they’re saying is that someday they are going to be standing not before the minister but before the Lord. And they will turn to see each other without spot and blemish. And they hope to hear God say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. Over the years you have lifted one another up to me. You sacrificed for one another. You held one another up with prayer and with thanksgiving. You confronted each other. You rebuked each other. You hugged and you loved each other and continually pushed each other toward me. And now look at you. You’re radiant.’
Romance, sex, laughter, and plain fun are the by-products of this process of sanctification, refinement, glorification. Those things are important, but they can’t keep the marriage going through years and years of ordinary life. What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.”
– Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
“It is a mercy to have a faithful friend, that loveth you entirely, and is as true to you as yourself, to whom you may open your mind and communicate your affairs, and who would be ready to strengthen you, and divide the cares of your affairs and family with you, and help you to bear your burdens, and comfort you in your sorrows, and be the daily companion of your lives, and partaker of your joys and sorrows. And it is a mercy to have so near a friend to be a helper to your soul; to join with you in prayer and other holy exercises; to watch over you and tell you of your sins and dangers, and to stir up in you the grace of God, and remember to you of the life to come, and cheerfully accompany you in the ways of holiness.”
– Richard Baxter