I have heard this questions asked time and time again: “What is God’s plan for marriage?”
Some think it is to make us happy.
Others say marriage is actually designed not for our happiness, but for our holiness.
While marriage can and hopefully does make us both happy and holy, God’s plan for marriage is actually to reflect the gospel in a tangible way. God designed the marriage relationship in such a way that it would paint a perfect picture of Christ and the church.
Paul writes about this in the book of Ephesians:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
I am learning over and over again just how serious God is about wanting our marriages to reflect this gospel picture.
This makes sense in our minds when we view it in terms of loving our husband well, showing him respect, and even putting him first in the relationship.
Basically when we’re doing all of the things that we believe make for a strong, happy and healthy Christian marriage.
All of the things that paint a beautiful picture of a perfect marriage.
But what about real life? What about when the marriage picture isn’t so beautiful? What about when it’s actually cracked and ugly? Broken even?
How can our marriages paint a picture of the gospel if all others can see is our selfishness and failures?
Just a couple of weeks ago, immediately after we had published our first marriage book together, my husband and I got into a huge fight in the kitchen.
Not a little tiff.
Not a disagreement.
We’re talking about a knock-down, drag-out FIGHT.
The kind of fight that postpones dinner.
The kind of fight that has you shooing kids back out of the kitchen so you can finish whisper yelling at each other.
And do you know what we were fighting about?
This is totally irrelevant to the purpose of this post but so ironic that I think you will appreciate it:
We were fighting about a marriage event we were speaking at the next night.
An event aimed to encourage married couples in our church and to promote our new marriage book.
Who were we to stand up in front of others and talk about what a healthy marriage looks like when we’re snarling at each other over setting the table?
The irony is not lost on me.
After about half an hour of this whisper yelling, we were able to come to enough of a resolution that we could sit across the dinner table from each other and not kill each other.
Not enough of a resolution to make the sting of the argument go away, but enough to fake it in front of the kids.
Well, fake it is not really the right way to phrase it.
Because we had both apologized and simply agreed to disagree on several issues.
But neither one of us really felt like apologizing in that moment. In fact, we were both still pretty angry with each other but we needed to let it go.
Ironically, most of the time you have to make the decision to let an argument like that go before you feel like letting it go. Your feelings simply haven’t had a chance to catch up. Your emotions are still limping along several paces behind. That’s exactly where we were that night.
We pretty much avoided each other around the house as we set out to clean up the dishes, do bath time and bedtime routines with our little kids, and help our big kids study and get homework finished for the next day. We seem to do better if we have a brief “cooling off” period after a fight like that while our hearts catch up with our heads.
Later that evening, I was tucking our oldest daughter into bed. As I pulled the covers up, she looked me in the eye and said, “I heard you and Daddy fighting.”
My husband and I certainly don’t try to paint a picture of our marriage as being perfect and us never fighting to our children. BUT we really try not to argue in front of them.
So, I went ahead and got in the bed with her because I knew this was a worthy and probably necessary conversation.
She asked why we were fighting.
I was honest and told her it had probably been all my fault. I had been pretty stressed that week and I had been taking my stress out on her daddy. I just hadn’t been very nice.
(Side note: While I knew all of this to be true, I still wasn’t FEELING all lovey-dovey and warm inside after this fight. And I found myself having to admit what a jerk I had been to my daughter when I really didn’t feel like owning up to that. I still felt justified in what I was angry over even though I knew my words and actions towards my husband hadn’t been kind.)
And you know what she said?!?
“Don’t worry, Mommy. Daddy is very forgiving.”
While I wanted to say, “I know I was wrong, but maybe your daddy needs some forgiving too,” I have learned one very important thing about talking to my children about my husband. I always try to remember that even though he is my husband, he is their daddy. And I refuse to ever speak ill about him to them. No matter how angry I am. No matter how frustrated I am with him, my children will not hear me say something bad about him.
So instead of doing what I felt like doing (justifying myself and getting the chance to tell my side of the story to this third party), you know what I got to do that night?
I got to show the gospel to my daughter from a new angle.
We were able to talk about forgiveness in a very tangible way.
My girl and I were able to spend some time talking about how God forgives us and even gave his own son for us. While we were still sinners. While we were still making excuses for our ugly words and actions. And we sat there in that for a few minutes, in awe of how much he loves us.
Then, we talked about how since God went to such great lengths to show us love and forgiveness, we should be willing to do that for others.
I was able to talk to her about how her daddy and I had fights sometimes. How we hurt each other’s feelings sometimes. But how we always came back together and forgave each other because that’s what God has modeled for us.
And I was able to describe for her how marriage is the most tangible, beautiful picture of the gospel that God paints for us on this side of heaven. I had the opportunity to help her understand his purpose and design in marriage: to be a picture of the gospel to a broken world.
I learned (or really re-learned for the millionth time) an important lesson that night:
We are so quick to assume that God can only use our absolute best, social media worthy moments to bring glory to himself. And that’s simply not true.
While he may choose to use some moments of success in our lives to point others to himself, he also really loves to take our failures and make something beautiful out of them. He chooses to use our brokenness to paint a picture that a broken world can understand.
In that moment, I had the choice to try to gloss over my failures and paint an Insta-worthy picture of what a perfect marriage is supposed to look like OR to simply be honest with my daughter and let God be enough to take care of all of my inadequacies.
I am so glad I chose to trust Him to fill in all of my gaps.
*If you are looking for ways to be more intentional in your marriage, whether your relationship is in a healthy place or you’re in a marriage rut, consider our marriage book, Why Toothpaste Matters. If your marriage is already perfect, then this is probably not the book for you- it was obviously not written by people in a “perfect marriage.”
However, if you’re like the rest of us, who need practical tips on how to be more purposeful in painting a picture of the gospel through our marriage relationships, then I know you’ll love it!