Marriage is like an adventurous journey taken together. Ahead there are beautiful vistas for you to discover and lush meadows to enjoy. There are steep trails that can be challenging to climb, and dangers to be avoided. You’ll also find tricky sections where special attention is needed. Here are three places to watch out for as you start your life together.
1. Leave and cleave as you walk through Echo Gap.
Soon after we were married, my husband and I were cooking dinner together. When I asked him to stir the spaghetti sauce, I almost turned around to see if my mother had miraculously appeared for a visit. Without thinking, I had used the same words and the same tone of voice she always used when she asked my father to do something.
In the months that followed, my husband and I were surprised how often we found ourselves repeating expectations and responses we had learned from our parents. We easily slipped into repeating the phrases we had heard growing up, year in and year out.
It was like walking through a canyon of echoes—and those echoes were not always in harmony. We thought we had left our families behind, but in a sense we were still carrying them with us. To cleave to each other, we had to sort through our reflexive reactions. Sometimes, we had to change our expectations or adjust how we related to one another.
We also had to decide how we were going to blend our two pasts into one present. What new patterns did we want to create together? This isn’t always easy because it’s not unusual for couples to come from families that are very different. We found one difficult area was when to open presents: on Christmas Eve like my husband’s family or Christmas morning like my family? Eventually we agreed to open some presents in the evening and some in the morning—and got the extra benefit of extending our celebration.
Leaving and cleaving doesn’t happen overnight. It can take time to uncover what expectations and messages you’ve absorbed without knowing it. But as you examine them with your spouse, you can decide together which ones to keep.
2. Choose the Mountains of Maturity instead of the Swamp of Selfishness.
Picture a mosquito-infested swamp where the clogged water has turned the firm ground into mud and muck. There are dead trees, but no new growth. The air is foul and unhealthy, and in some places, there are dangerous sink holes. Our selfish nature is like that dismal swamp.
Next to the swamp, there are the Mountains of Maturity, a majestic mountain range crowned goodness, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, kindness, and love. Although the path leading to the summits can be steep and sometimes rocky, the air is fresh and clean. Along the way there are lookouts where you can stop and be encouraged as you see how far you have come.
This is the path we are all meant to take. But in the early part of our marriage, it seemed too hard to me and I decided it would be shorter to go through the Swamp of Selfishness. I soon found myself bogged down by:
- Pride that was reflected in an attitude that “my way is better than yours”
- Ingratitude, from not appreciating how my spouse helped me
- Self-indulgence, as I was concerned with what I wanted and ignored the needs and desires of my spouse
- Fits of rage, as I lashed out with anger when I felt thwarted
But Jesus calls His followers to turn from their selfish ways, to take up their cross, and to follow Him. To stay on His path, I had to get out of the Swamp of Selfishness and begin climbing the Mountains of Maturity.
As we press on with God’s help, pride is replaced with humility, ingratitude with thankfulness and affirmation, self-indulgence with patient endurance, fits of rage with self-control. We find ourselves able to sacrifice our own comfort to help our spouse.
3. Cross over the bridge of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is like a narrow bridge over a deep chasm of revenge. To walk across the bridge you have to leave behind the debt that someone owes you. Sometimes the debt is small, and it is easy to forgive. But when the debt is large and your wounds are deep, the bridge looks very long.
To forgive we have to give up our power to get back at the other person. For me, this meant I had to forget the mental list I kept of all the ways my husband had failed me. I had to erase his debt. He no longer had to pay me back. That’s how God had forgiven me, and He wanted me to show the same mercy to my husband.
The mercy of forgiveness also includes forgiving our spouse over and over again, just as God does with us. We will never get to the point where we will be able to say to our spouse, “I won’t forgive you this time because you’ve reached your limit.” We have been given grace without measure and God wants us to be patient with our spouse, not reacting to anger with anger, or fault-finding with blame.
As we cross over the bridge of forgiveness, we find the journey becomes easier. Rather than diminishing us, when we forgive our spouse we gain peace. Our relationship becomes stronger. We’re able to climb up to the rewarding mountain meadows and vistas where we can enjoy marriage as God designed it to be, a rich, intimate relationship that mirrors His love for us.
FEATURED GUEST: Annie Wald
Annie has been making up stories since she was a child growing up in New England. She’s the author of a young adult novel, The Counterfeit Collection and her short stories have been included in the anthology series, Not Safe But Good, edited by Bret Lott. Her allegory of marriage, Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples, will be published in September by River North/Moody. Besides the Psalms and the parables of Jesus, her favorite allegories include C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Walter Wangerin’s Book of the Dun Cow. She now lives happily ever after with her husband in Rabat, Morocco, where he pastors an international church. Visit her at www.anniewald.com or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/anniewaldauthor.