Do you remember your wedding day? Can you remember knowing you were marrying your Prince Charming? Your entire being was secure in knowing your life would be perfect—you had found your soul mate. You were a match made in heaven; together you were a recipe for a blessed life.
What happens when your expectations are shattered by reality? What happens when the marriage made in heaven comes face to face with hell's fire?
We expect our marriages, our spouses, and our children to be wonderful, the epitome of The Brady Bunch. Was it not awesome to see all family problems resolved in 30 minutes, inclusive of recording a hit song? Honestly, many of our expectations for marriage differ greatly from reality. They differ especially when it comes to God's expectations. God's ways and thoughts are always different from ours. When our expectations collide with God's expectations, our own kingdoms are utterly destroyed.
We expect our spouses to always listen, remember important dates, love us unconditionally, remain faithful, never forsake us, and live forever. As Christians, we expect to somehow avoid the visitation of trial, tribulation, calamity, or worse tragedy. We also expect that when troubles do hit, we will rejoice, forgive, and carry on with praise. We expect to never question God because we are good Christians and we endure hardness as good soldiers. Truthfully, these harsh challenges are designed to inspect the foundation on which our marriages stand. Contrary to popular opinion, they are often allowed by an omniscient God. It is perplexing to comprehend that God would permit trouble to invade, upstage, and hold us captive to dire circumstances.
As a minister's wife, I expected that if I obeyed all the rules, my marriage would be magnificent. I prayed for a godly man who prayed, fasted, loved his mother, and lived a holy life. I even had a special list of what I wanted in a husband, so I wrote down the vision and made it plain. My expectations were so high, even Jesus would have scratched his head.
Since I had done all the right things, I expected a free pass to happily ever after. In hindsight, I had never realized that God gives you a mate who will usher you into his purpose. Astoundingly, years of marriage, children, trials, and tribulation can teach you what you never thought you needed to know.
Unbeknownst to me, my specific vision gave God an open invitation to partner with me in marriage. Because I married a godly man, I assumed my feelings would never be hurt. They were. I expected to never cry; I did. I expected listening ears and understanding—did not always happen. I expected him to do everything to make me happy. He did not. We were both educated, with great careers, so I thought we would never struggle financially. We did. In fact, we lost everything more than once. I never expected we would question God about each other. And we did. Since we were in pastoral ministry, I thought we had graduated from knock-down, drag-out, outright shouting matches; we have not. What a remarkable gift, to realize that you expect more of other people than you can deliver.
In the Bible, God gives explicit expectations for man and his marriage. God recognized that it was not good for man to be alone, so he created woman. In Genesis 2:18, "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.' " God's expectations for Adam and Eve's marriage were that they be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, and have dominion. God had some really powerful expectations then, and they are still applicable. In order for Adam and Eve to comply, unity was necessary. Believe it or not, although their unity was tested and they failed and suffered consequences, God still blessed them.
How do we fulfill God's command for marriage? Our expectations and our own kingdoms must be destroyed. God allows unexpected visitors to invade and burn our kingdoms to the ground. God has always operated and communicated his sovereignty through fire. But he rewards us when endure the fire. "On the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person's work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward" (1 Corinthians 3:13-14). God expects that after being tried by fire, our marriages remain and commitment is strengthened. When we endure the fire, we will receive from him due promises.
Working through the Tough Stuff
Marriage was instituted by God himself. Marriage is hard, and to have a great one we must work through the tough stuff. We must accept that our expectations for marriage are inconsistent with God's. Even in the tough stuff, God has a plan. I have never lost a child, but my mentor did. The death of her child placed huge stress and strain on her family, but together they endured the fire. This tragedy strengthened their marriage and built an unbreakable bond between the other children.
Marrying a minister, I never expected to experience hell. The contrary is true; we have gone through hell, yet we are standing in unity. Constantly, I rely on the power of prayer, fasting, and the Word of God for survival. In 2004, we belonged to a very religious, spiritually abusive ministry. My husband served as the youth minister, but his work schedule frequently kept him away.
In an abusive system, women are senselessly abused and the men are spiritually emasculated. One Sunday, I ignorantly violated the flow of the service and the command of the pastor. The next few moments left me forever changed. I was commanded to come and stand before the entire congregation, where I was brutally questioned. A chair was placed for me to sit on the altar, and I was harshly rebuked by the pastor before the entire congregation. He declared I had an evil spirit and decreed I was not come to his office with questions—while my small child watched.
Time and everyone stood completely still. Spiritually emasculated, my husband was forbidden to say or do anything. I was demolished. We were left broken and helpless, but we eventually left that church. Through the power of God we were healed, delivered, and restored. And so was our marriage.
Recently, our ministry went through a painful transition which had the potential to grind our unity into powder. My husband stood on his conviction concerning the vision of the ministry, and it ruffled some feathers. These members were strategic in their approach to divide us. They would isolate him and inform him of my shortcomings and how I was hindering his ministry. The devices were so wicked they were even disguised as prophetic utterances, dreams, and visions. These members left, but not without the mission to stain our ministry. The plot to destroy our unity failed.
Working through the tough stuff demands the demise of selfishness and pride. These two culprits alone will devour you in the wilderness of fire. It is easy to love and give encouragement to your spouse when life is wonderful. But when life is ripped apart by calamity, you struggle from the depths of your pain-stricken soul, for invisible words. You must be strength for each other, to battle the fiery darts that will be your reality.
You will have needs that neither of you can meet without God's help. I have found that prayer, fasting, and reading the Word of God helps me work through the tough stuff. It provides the grace to hold onto his promises while traveling through trial.
Committed to For Better or Worse
A lack of commitment to marriage is widespread among Christians, and it is heartbreaking. We have been mandated to set the example for godly marriages. We have the blueprint for how to combat the fiery darts designed to test our unity, love, and faith in God. Instead, I am convinced that we loosely recite our vows. Our thoughts and actions would differ if we comprehended the magnitude of the covenant that we make before God and the company of witnesses. Actually, as Ecclesiastes 5:5 declares, "It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it." The commitment to "for better or worse" is meant to be kept.
All marriages experience trial, tribulation, calamity, and tragedy. How awesome is it to have God carry you through. God rewards us when we trust and obey him through better and worse. To stay committed, we must decide to never leave our partner behind, forgive quickly and often, commit to work through the tough stuff, and love unconditionally. Through the help of the Lord, all things are possible.
Domeniek L. Harris is a freelance writer, speaker, professional educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, inter-denominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She is a co-laborer in pastoral ministry, and pastor's wife at Bibleway World Outreach Ministries in Oakland, Tennessee.