When Karen and I argued, I used to shut down and become agitated (which turned out not to be an effective conflict resolution method. Just ask Karen). I had somehow gotten the impression that having a good "Christian" marriage meant that harmony and bliss were constants. So when tensions crept into our relationship (like when I said, "Honey, it's not like I forgot your birthday on purpose."), they took on ominous proportions. Paradise was threatened. What have we eaten that has endangered our Eden?
Then I heard this anecdote from Preacher Will Willimon (which later appeared in MP): A troubled middle-aged man confesses that his marriage is in shambles: his wife loathes him; they fight all the time. Now he has fallen in love with someone twenty years his junior who makes him feel alive again; he feels God is offering him a chance to end his misery and become happy once more. What should he do?
Pastor Willimon told the man to stop living in a fantasy land. He could never have that much in common with someone so much younger; he would never achieve the closeness with his new spouse that he had with his first during the years when he was launching his career and raising his family. Yes, the current marriage was in a bad state, but whose fault was that? He was a sinful human creature and his wife had the goods on him. She knew when he was being mean, stingy, selfish, vain, and she called him on it. The new wife would not be able to do that but that is exactly what he needed. For the sake of his soul, the man needed to return home.
The anecdote has stayed with me because it nicely captures a Christian view of marriage. Not that we are called to be our spouse's accuser. Rather, our happiness is not the main point about marriage.
Willimon's story made me realize that Karen and I do not belong to an edenic Club Marriage; instead, we are enrolled together into Christ's boot camp of the soul. How better to work off those rough sinful edges of our personalities than to make us accountable to the very ones we live with. It is fine to talk about loving others more than thyself, but try applying that to the person sleeping next to you. Not that we have to give up on bliss, but we have discovered a more secure bliss, one that is not easily threatened by conflicts or other troubles that come along.
The day-to-day, nitty-gritty issues that confront couples are the main context where we work out how to be like Christ. This is why MP publishes articles on clutter, checkbooks, sex, decorating, conflict, communication, and much more. So enjoy your boot camp.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.