I always thought marriage was ordained by God to undermine a bruising human emotion: loneliness. God made the first people, male and female, and blessed them (Genesis 1:27). He gave them the world! The two became one and they were no longer alone.
Then came a bad choice of fruit and painful labor all around.
In a marriage, after the pretty wedding dress and pressed suits are put away, the party of two is left to piece together an enduring, anti-loneliness relationship. "To have and to hold from this day forward?" We're about to find out.
Early in our marriage, my husband said two words that had me believing in happily ever after. We were in our first apartment watching TV when he stood to get a snack from the kitchen and casually asked, "Want something?"
Want something? Were there ever spoken two more beautiful words?
I had grown up a good farm girl with four brothers and two sisters and a big kitchen that I pretended to love. Mercilessly, I scorched potatoes and charred holiday recipes for years.
Yes, I wanted something—I wanted to avoid the kitchen now and as long as we both shall live!
And I wanted a home where I didn't feel compelled to pretend.
I had the idea that a marriage was the first and best place to really be myself. My husband and I had great intentions and we wanted to know how to do up our marriage extraordinarily, astoundingly, miraculously well.
Especially since most people … don't.
We heard a lot of advice. In church one day, a pastor gave guidance on the role of men in a marriage. Then he said, "For a marriage to have a long life of peace, the woman must be the heart of the home."
Sure. That's me.
If falling asleep within the first few minutes of a long car ride is peace. And if "Don't talk, I'm reading my book" counts as heart.
I absolutely wanted to be wonderful for my husband. But would this advice set me up for a strong adult life and a godly marriage? Or a stereotypical one?
I've seen them. They're found among that percentage of American couples who don't get divorced but also don't improve much. At the very least, I longed for my marriage to hit a grade level higher than "didn't get divorced."
I couldn't lock down a step-by-step formula for how two could gloriously, beautifully, edifyingly become one. Most church pamphlets warned that two could really only become support for one, and if you weren't the one with facial hair, you'd better learn to clap and whistle encouragingly.
Heart, heart, how to become the heart? I turned to Paul's letter to the Corinthians, which outlines the sweet behavior of love—surely this would help. After the "love is patient and kind" section I'd heard at weddings for decades, I hit something convicting: "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
In my home, I was no longer a child. If I put away my childish ways, that meant standing firm as a woman with purpose. Where was the marriage pamphlet that captured that? And anyway, do men even think that's … good?
Bible hero Boaz did. At a time when men were stereotypically focused on their professional successes and their myriad of manly lusts, Boaz saw a young woman picking up leftover food in his fields. The young woman's name was Ruth. Even though Ruth was not one of Boaz's workers, he allowed her to keep coming to his fields. Why?
Well, he was a powerful man, and she was a powerless young woman. We've heard it all before. Right?
Boaz had heard that Ruth had left her homeland to listen to God and help her mother-in-law survive. And Boaz respected her for it (Ruth 2:11-12). Interestingly, descriptions of Ruth's appearance are distinctly absent from the text. Was she pleasing to the eye? It isn't mentioned. Maybe God doesn't write about stuff like that in his Bible.
Except a few books earlier, a different woman—Potiphar's wife—eyed young Joseph up and down, decided he was cute, and said, "Come and sleep with me" (Genesis 39:7). Aren't men the ones who are supposed to be interested in only one thing? And women not so much? Looks like even in God's Book, the characters must quash the same "s" word as today.
You know, stereotypes.
No wonder the Bible is bigger than a marriage pamphlet—so are its plotlines. And most definitely, so are the directives from God.
What my husband and I have discovered is that a God-size marriage does not only mitigate loneliness. It promotes purpose. God positions spouses to have a unique voice in each others' lives. When we use that voice to advance God's purposefulness in one another, God rewards us with insight about his intentions. Gleaning that insight seems to come on the heels of obedience. In our case, that means looking at each other through God's lens. I have a photo of my husband as a child to remind me that he has dreams to fulfill. We encouragingly ask each other, "What is God telling you to do? How can I help?"
Our marriage is an inspiring and softening buffer against a sharp-edged world. It is my favorite place to be.
Except that we are a little hungry.
Ask your spouse about God's work in his or her life—about his voice, his directives, and what you see happening as well. Ask God what to say. It takes practice, but you will know when you've landed on the conversation personal to your marriage. You will begin to feel decidedly and purposefully … not lonely.
That is the heart of the home.
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.