The Army is not the best environment to cultivate a godly marriage, especially during wartime. It views soldiers as cogs in a wheel and often separates families, demands long hours, and creates stress in order to accomplish the mission. Though it has noble goals and a set of ethical standards, it is far from a Christian organization.
My husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage in the Army. We were in a small minority called dual-military couples, married couples in which both spouses are on active duty. Our service placed many obstacles in our path, yet those five years resulted in significant growth in our marriage. That growth was because of, not in spite of, those obstacles. Those experiences remind me that God is always in control, always works for the good of those who believe, and always desires our marriages to be reflections of his love.
Here are four marriage lessons God taught me through the Army:
"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
In the Army we spent a lot of time developing teamwork. We exercised together, trained together, worked together, and ate together. We were taught to always have a "battle buddy." Army units are great teams because they hold each other accountable, obey their leaders, and care for each other.
The same things are true in a godly marriage. I could write about many examples of teamwork in our marriage, but the experience that made me truly appreciate teamwork was when we were separated right after our son's birth. Four days after Isaac was born, my husband, Daryl, deployed with his unit for a training exercise in another state. I was inexperienced and by myself with a new baby for more than three weeks. Isaac was colicky and had severe eczema. Those three tired, tear-filled weeks seemed like an eternity without my teammate. His return didn't make parenting any less demanding, but his help was a blessed relief. It reminded me that God intentionally created man and woman to be companions and teammates.
"But 'God made them male and female' from the beginning of creation. 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one' " (Mark 10:6-8).
Unity goes hand-in-hand with teamwork. In the Army, units are unified by a common purpose and common values. In marriage, God also expects husband and wife to be unified in purpose and faith. But physical unity is necessary for spiritual unity. In Deuteronomy 24:5, God even commanded that "a newly married man must not be drafted into the army or be given any other official responsibilities. He must be free to spend one year at home, bringing happiness to the wife he has married." God emphasized the importance of physical proximity in developing unity and love in a godly marriage.
Of course, America's modern military does not follow this wise rule. Unfortunately, our marriage began with a six-month separation for training. And as a dual-military couple, separation always seemed to be looming just ahead. But God worked to keep us physically unified time and again. Right after arriving at our first post together—Fort Riley, Kansas—we were notified that Daryl would need to move again because his slot at Riley was going to be removed. God worked through my supervisor to convince an uncooperative assignments manager to move me with him. This was against Army policy, but God desired for us to be unified.
When we arrived at our new post—Fort Drum, New York—we were initially assigned to different brigades, and Daryl was scheduled to deploy in two weeks. I was four months pregnant and my brigade was scheduled to deploy as soon as Daryl's brigade returned. We feared that Daryl would miss Isaac's birth and that we would spend the next few years on alternating deployments, never able to be together as a whole family. Instead, God answered our prayers and Daryl was reassigned to my brigade.
I spent the next year praying for God to keep us together for our deployment. We were in two different battalions within our brigade, were assigned to two different operating bases for the deployment, and were slated to deploy on two different days. We fully expected to say goodbye when Daryl's flight left and not see each other for 15 months. In less than a week, God changed our circumstances completely. We ended up sitting next to each other on the same plane for our deployment flight. Then a position unexpectedly opened up and Daryl was reassigned to my battalion. We were not only on the same base for the entire deployment, but we lived together in the same room.
For a dual-military couple, we really were quite blessed in being together so much. Out of five years, we were separated for less than nine months. God used a situation that could have caused physical and spiritual separation, and turned it into a great unifying experience instead.
Love Is Not Circumstantial
"Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance" (1 Corinthians 13:7).
The Army has a knack for putting people in uncomfortable circumstances. If you like the rough and tough of the great outdoors, the Army will find you a desk job. If you love warm weather, the Army will assign you to a post just south of Canada. Then there are training exercises with gut-rumbling meals, anxiety-inducing porta-potties, and field conditions ripe for dysentery. Soldiers overlook the discomfort of these circumstances in order to serve their country.
Spouses sometimes need to overlook circumstances to serve and love each other too. The Bible tells us that love isn't about circumstances. The house you live in, the car you drive, and the vacations you take don't make a marriage succeed or fail. Love isn't a feeling. Feelings change with circumstances; love is faithfulness beyond passing feelings.
Our circumstances in the Army changed a lot. In five years, we lived in six different "homes," including a concrete room in a war zone. We got pregnant at one base, gave birth at a different one, and deployed to Iraq five months later. During the deployment, we tried to "soften" our concrete room with beach posters and pictures of our son, Isaac. We raised our mattress off the floor with concrete blocks. Our room was always either too hot or too cold (yes, it snowed in Iraq). Our circumstances were far from luxurious; they weren't even comfortable. On occasion we let the stress of those circumstances be a source of strife, but mostly we cherished the fact that we were together every day. Our roommates may have been lizards, giant beetles, and mice, but every moment together in that "home" felt like a wonderful blessing.
It's easy to let circumstances tear at a marriage. But a marriage shouldn't be built on circumstances that make us feel happy. Our deployment reminded us that love isn't a happy feeling; it's a source of joy. God desires for our relationship with him to be a source of joy and for our marriages to be a reflection of that joy.
"This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Sacrifice is a key concept in the military. Soldiers sacrifice many of their personal freedoms and, if necessary, their lives. God demonstrated his love for us through Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the cross. That willingness to sacrifice should be evident in godly marriages too.
When it came time for us to choose our first Army base, we both had to sacrifice our ideal choice in order to stay together. Later, Daryl gave up a job that was beneficial to his career in order to accept the position that brought us together when we deployed. His new job took him away from the soldiers he loved leading, but he sacrificed for the good of our marriage. Spouses make many other little sacrifices on a daily basis. Our sacrifices are not nearly as selfless and awesome as Jesus' sacrifice, but they are a reflection of his sacrifice.
Marriage Is a Reflection of God
A godly marriage is a joyful and lasting reflection of God's love. A relationship like that doesn't come easily or overnight. Like a relationship with God, it requires humility, sacrifice, and endurance of hardships. But God is at work in our marriages. He is busy teaching us, convicting us, leading us, and demonstrating his love. Sometimes we learn our lessons in difficult or unexpected ways. But just as he works to draw us close to him, he wants us to work on drawing close to our spouses. He desires for us to see his love in the love of our spouses. A godly marriage holds many challenges, but it holds many great rewards as well, because it is a reflection of the love and joy in a relationship with Christ.
DeAnna Acker is a wife, a mother, and a freelance writer. She graduated from West Point with her future husband, Daryl. DeAnna served for five years and deployed as a U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer, while Daryl was an Armor officer. They now live in Tennessee with their son, Isaac.