When the opportunity arose last year for my husband to throw his name into the race for state representative, we both felt it was a step God wanted him to take. Throughout the campaign, we repeated to ourselves and anyone who asked that we felt Raf was called to run—not necessarily to win. But we believed God would use the race itself for God's glory—and to teach us or show us both something we needed to learn.
I never expected it would be about our marriage.
Honestly, before the campaign started, Raf and I were smack dab in the middle of a rough season in our marriage. The demands of three young kids, two careers, and more bills than we could afford to pay mounted and often left us "short" (to put it nicely) with one another. We weren't necessarily each other's biggest fans. We loved each other and were committed, but our marriage was sort of floundering.
So when we first started the discussions about running for office, I amazed myself (and Raf!) with my encouragement. I wanted him to do this. And not—as he teased me—because if he won, he'd spend half his year three hours away. I wanted him to do it because I too felt his calling—and was eager to support him. I was ready for our journey. Ready to learn.
For me, those lessons—three big ones—came pretty quickly.
1. I Am Really, Really Selfish
While I like to fancy that I am a great encourager (and according to spiritual gifts assessments, I really do have the gift of encouragement), it turns out I'm better at the pep talks and pats on the back as long as they're about something that doesn't actually interfere with my life, my plans, or my goals. Or my sleep.
In the early days of the campaign, while I was busy rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing my husband's efforts, it was easy. It was his thing. He was out knocking on doors. He made the phone calls. He recruited his team. Not me. But then he came recruiting me. He sent me vast lists of policy ideas and campaign issues and asked me to "shape" them into something readable. For the website. For newspaper articles. For brochures and mailings.
Then he used me as a sounding board and a strategist—which I loved—but since I have but a few free moments of the day to do the things I love and feel called to do, I get possessive of those moments. As the weeks rolled on—with more and more sounding and strategizing and shaping—I got plain old crabby. Resentful. Often kinda mean.
So much so that just after Christmas, Raf came to me and said, "I know this is hard on you, but do you think that since this campaign is finite and only has five weeks left, you could just be cheerful and supportive? I'm only asking you for a month."
Hearing him say this broke my heart—and convicted me of my miserable selfishness. I had encouraged him only as long as it didn't affect me. Not exactly a picture of a sacred commitment and godly marriage. I needed to make a big change in my attitude and lose the selfishness. It certainly helped when I encountered these next two lessons.
2. I Really, Really Love my Husband
We all know that politics are ugly. But honestly, you have no idea until you are smack dab in the middle of it. Though ugly isn't even the right word: evil comes to mind. I've pretty much figured out that politics attracts people I call "power junkies," and they will do anything—ANYTHING—to get a power fix. And so it was with one of my husband's opponents. This opponent's entire campaign ran on lie and smear and attempts to destroy the reputation of anyone running against him—pretty much par for the course in American politics, right?
Now as a writer, I'm used to people "attacking" me on blogs and sending me angry emails. Sadly, it happens to any of us brave enough to step out and voice an opinion. When it's directed at me, I kind of shrug it off and move on, but when the attacks were coming at my husband? Whoo, boy. Apparently hell hath no fury like the wife of a smeared candidate.
While my husband shrugged it off—rightly saying, "they don't attack people they're not afraid of"—I moved into "mama bear" mode, ready to pounce and claw anyone who tried to hurt my husband.
While I didn't actually hurt anyone (I'm human, after all, not a bear), this reaction showed me how much I really, really love my husband. Until this point in my life, I only went mama-bear protective for my kids and before that, for my brother or even parents. I thought it was the sort of crazy-protective love reserved for blood-relations, if you will.
But during this time I realized that my love for Raf had gone deeper than any romantic or even "friend" love. My love for him seeped into my bones and into the very essence of who I was. My love—and the reaction it caused—had become primal, instinctual. I couldn't help but love him. That covenant thing apparently took.
Up to this point, I had thought that when we weren't exactly feeling the love for one another, I had to choose to love him. But as it turned out, my love was there—sunk deep, sealed in covenant—and ready to respond in times of need.
3. Marriage Is Really, Really Important
Since I didn't fully understand what a sacrament was until a couple of years after I got married, I never fully understood why marriage would be one. Seriously. But I have to be honest, the early years of my marriage were so peachy that I had a hard time picturing how marriage could be a tangible form of invisible grace—unless it just meant that God was nice and fun and laughed a lot. Like in my marriage.
But when things got hard—about eight years in—I began to understand. When things got really hard in the midst of the campaign, I got it. Totally. Marriage is sacrament and marriage is really, really important.
During the rigors of the campaign, we began to see God's hand everywhere—God's grace abounded—and it bubbled up around our marriage and in our relationship. Ah, sacrament.
Not that we were so perfect to one another during this season (see #1), but we saw God show up and shower us with patience and endurance and strength. And forgiveness. Lots of forgiveness. Tons of that grace. For example, my husband's forgiveness of the opponent who smeared his name—and the freedom he felt from that—spoke more to me than a zillion sermons on the topic. When I feel bitterness bubbling in my soul and starting to sizzle my insides, I think of Raf and his gracious spirit. It's a picture of the Christian life. A picture I needed to see and one that God used my marriage to show me.
But the grace extended beyond this. During this season I learned that our marriage mattered for reasons beyond raising kids or economics or any other reason people get—and stay—married. And I learned that the sum of our marriage is more than him plus me. God brought us together to support one another in our callings, to encourage each other in our kingdom work. While what we are called to do as individuals may differ, our shared calling is to follow God and to cheer each other on while we do that. We are better together. Marriage is really, really important.
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of two books—Mama's Got a Fake I.D. (WaterBrook Press, 2009) and Grumble Hallelujah (Tyndale House, 2011)—and a regular contributor to Kyria, Gifted for Leadership, and the Her.Meneutics blog. She lives with her husband and their three wonderful kids in the western suburbs of Chicago. Visit Caryn at www.carynrivadeneira.com.