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I watch a TV show that observes human behaviors and the social structures that drive them.
You know, The Real Housewives.
Despite all the glitz, the show demonstrates that money can't buy love. Or self-respect. Or a good marriage.
But I am surprised by the flicker of something I see in the eyes of the women on these shows.
Maybe not at first. Maybe not all of them. But more than once, I've seen it in their eyes. Faltering. This is not what it promised to be.
And this is what comes to my mind: I thought so.
When a person wavers at the emptiness of a worldly payoff, I consider that a glimpse of God pursuing them.
God still pursues.
I thought so.
Unfortunately, a lot of the characters just forge ahead by kissing up to the cameras and mean friends and bad relationships so they can maintain the status quo, even if what they gain is … less than what they thought it would be.
Promises of Peace
It turns out that things haven't changed much.
Just ask Jeremiah.
He was a young man at a time when the Israelites had rejected God. God wanted Jeremiah to tell the Israelites to come back to him.
God said, "Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path? Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back? They cling tightly to their lies and will not turn around" (Jeremiah 8:5).
The Israelites were running wild and clinging to worthless gods. False prophets told the people everything was fine—which made them even less likely to listen to God.
"They offer superficial treatments for my people's mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14).
Our marriages face tremendous pressure to build on that same false assurance of peace. It's a call to just keep on doing what's being done around us because it's fine. We're fine! The "Peace, peace" mantra glosses over the impact of settling for false promises and fake love.
To that we all say, "We know. Honestly! We get it already. See the flicker of realization in our eyes? We know that glitz is less than what God has to offer. We know what we are doing."
But if that is true, then why are a lot of marriages—the ones not in crisis or fighting addictions or broken to the point of divorce—still so … mediocre?
Perhaps the problem is that the version of "peace" in most married lives is a little harder to detect. We can all attest that on occasion we claim things are "fine" when they are not really fine. Especially in our marriages. Most often, things stay the same. We might wish they were different, but "same" becomes "fine." And if we look good from the outside, we settle for "fine."
Rejecting the "peace" mantra can take us only so far. If we exchange it for a more kindly but still weak version of marriages that are "fine," we will stay in a cycle of feeling vulnerable instead of strong.
Refuse to Settle
My husband and I very nearly heartbreakingly, agonizingly divorced in our early years. Standing at that precipice taught both of us that God's benchmark for success in a marriage is different than that of the world. Regular churchgoers our whole lives, we also realized that God's benchmark for success in a marriage is often different than a lot of marriages we see in church.
We wanted more than reconciliation. W wanted to reject "peace" and instead draw a line in the sand: We will not settle for less than this promised to be.
It was mostly a mindset. We asked, "Are we becoming the people God intended for us to be? Are we living out God's purposefulness in our lives? We wanted our marriage to support those efforts in a kind, edifying way. We stopped making excuses for ourselves or acquiescing to one another for the sake of convenience. We began to reject stereotypes that were more societal than Scriptural. We stopped running away from hard conversations.
There is a seldom-quoted line in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Just before the "love is patient and kind" business that we've all heard at weddings a dozen times, Paul started with this simple line: "But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all" (1 Corinthians 12:31).
If my reaction to God pursuing people on reality TV was I thought so, then my reaction to the lengths that God will go to keep a marriage from settling for "fine" has been this: I had no idea.
I had no idea it meant so much to him. I had no idea the possibilities he had in store. I had no idea what a distance exists between fake proclamations of peace and the incredibly personal "best of all" that God wants to bestow.
We have to work hard not to buy into easy fixes and alleged balms that are dehumanizing, de-individualizing, and not bold enough to require God to fill in the gap when we reach the end of our rope. He wants us to ask.
To the Israelites, God said, "Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it" (Jeremiah 6:16).
God still pursues.
God cares that your marriage becomes the first, best place for you to find your greatest, strongest, most encouraged self. He cares that you find him there. He cares that you find him in each other.
Ask God to be everything that he promised to be. See what that means in your marriage.
You might be surprised by the steadying effect of something … real.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer focused on integrating Bible stories into daily life. She and her loving husband enjoy their two wonderful children most of the time.