I remember the moment that I stood before my groom and recited my wedding vows. I certainly didn’t expect life to be perfect, but I naturally assumed my marriage would be filled with more of the “better” than the “worse”. With stars in my eyes and blissfully unaware of what the future would hold, I confidently vowed,
“I take you, Jeff, to be my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health for as long as we both shall live.”
Well, that was almost 14 years ago. Little did I know that those fourteen years would hold chronic illness, financial loss, special needs, suffering children, marital strain, and overwhelming stress. I never imagined that I’d experience so much of the “worse, poorer, and in sickness” part of our vows.
However, as I reflect on the unexpected trials that came our way, testing and trying our marriage each step of the way, I look back with gratitude and thankfulness. I’m realizing that in God’s goodness, the “worse” parts of our marriage have been used to usher in a deeper, Christ-centered experience of the “better”.
This, however, hasn’t come without the pain of loss and failure, and we are still a work in progress. Yet, Christ has used the pain to grow us up in him, change our character, and grow our love for each other.
This, of course, is only possible with and through Christ. While God can certainly change the heart of a non-believing spouse and use the pain of unbelief in a marriage to draw both husband and wife to him, the truths that I am sharing are reflective of a husband and wife who, by God’s grace, have put their faith in Christ and desire to follow him.
Similar to the way that suffering either tempts us toward bitterness and anger or drives us to a greater dependency on Christ; suffering in marriage can lead us toward bitterness and separation from our spouse, or toward a greater dependency on Christ and a stronger unity with each other.
If your marriage is struggling under the weight of trials and both you and your spouse have a desire to follow Christ, I would like to encourage you with a few ways that the suffering we endure throughout marriage can be a disguised blessing to bring about a richer, deeper, Christ-centered marriage. And if you are married to a spouse who is not following the Lord, I pray that God will use those trials to draw him/her to a saving relationship with Christ.
So how can the trials that we face in our marriage bring about a greater richness to our relationship with Christ and one another?
Trials expose our inability to meet each other’s deepest needs and teach us to look to Christ instead. Philippians 4:19, Colossians 3:1-3
This is true even when life is going well, but when pain hits our lives, it’s natural to look to each other for comfort, security, happiness, and strength. However, when a husband and wife are both depleted, overwhelmed, or grieving, it’s easy to become impatient and resentful towards each other. As uncomfortable as this is, I believe God allows us to experience seasons where our spouse falls short of filling our emptiness and providing for our needs because we so easily look to each other to fill that void, rather than Christ. However, if we are seeking Christ, the reality that our spouse is not capable of meeting our deepest needs can be God’s grace in our lives. Lord willing, our eyes will gradually be taken off of our spouse and placed on Christ, where they were always intended to be.
As we look to Christ to meet our needs, be our security, comfort our aching hearts, and convict us of sin, we are more likely to come to our spouses with full hearts that are ready to love, give, and talk with openness, rather than hearts full of finger-pointing, demands, and insecurity. Though this is a lifelong process and we will continue to fail each other at times, Christ can use these afflictions to not only grow our character, but our marriage as well.
Trials expose the sin in our lives, reminding us that we can’t change each other’s hearts, but Christ can and will change ours. Matthew 7:3-5
At first, it’s tempting to focus on our mate’s sin that becomes more obvious when life gets hard. However, we will only drive our spouse away if we continually point out where they fall short. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place to graciously and lovingly point out an area of weakness that our spouse may be unaware of, but we need to always check our own hearts first. It’s freeing when we realize that we haven’t been given the role of changing our husband or wife. God alone has the power and wisdom to see the hidden areas of our hearts, open our eyes to our sin, and give us both a heart of repentance and a desire to change.
Trials have a way of drawing out the sin that lurks deep within us. For me, I know that when I’m not feeling well, I quickly become impatient, irritated, and even angry when my spouse or kids rub me the wrong way. In that moment, it’s easy for me to point the finger at my family as the cause of my irritation when, in reality, my sin is the real issue.
As God has used the “pressure” in our lives to reveal our own sin to each of us, it has slowly helped us take our eyes off of each other and has brought us more often to our knees in repentance and dependence on the Lord. As we grow in humility, seeing our own sin more clearly, we have also grown in compassion and patience towards our spouse in their own areas of struggle with sin.
Trials in marriage can teach us to appreciate each other’s God-given strengths. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Suffering can be like a magnifying glass on our lives. It magnifies our weaknesses and it illuminates our strengths. While we often spot our spouse’s weaknesses without having to look too hard, sometimes we don’t appreciate the strengths and gifts that God has given them either.
For example, I knew that my husband was a hard worker, but since losing his job, I have seen that strength in a new light. As I have watched him pour himself into searching for new job opportunities every day for four months, without quitting out of discouragement, I have gained a new respect for the strength that he brings to our marriage. If it were me, I would have been tempted to jump on a plane to Maui, rather than get back up and start over. Trials such as these have grown my appreciation for the strengths God has given my husband, especially in areas that tend to be somewhat of a weakness for me.
It’s a gift in marriage when we learn to appreciate unique strengths in one another. We often grow in unity as we see the blessing of having a helpmate who was created with different strengths and gifts for God’s purposes.
It’s incredibly rewarding to a marriage when Christ works deeply in the lives of a husband and wife by strengthening their weaknesses and growing their strengths through the “worse” and for the “better”.
Trials in marriage can open our eyes to understand that our marriage is meant to reflect the beauty of Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5:21-33
Christ has chosen us, loved us, and sacrificed himself for us. As his bride, we are to submit to him, love him, and follow him wholeheartedly, no matter the cost. Suffering will come, storms will rage, and temptations will arise, but we are one with Christ, and therefore we cannot be separated from his love.
Marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ and nothing puts this on display more than when a husband loves, serves, and humbly leads his wife, even when it takes great sacrifice. Similarly, nothing puts the church’s love for Christ on display more than when a wife respects, honors, and loves her husband, even at great cost to herself.
Therefore, when we face trials as a couple, we can increasingly reflect Christ and the gospel as we grow in dependence on the Lord, learn to humbly confess our sin, encourage each other’s strengths, bear with each other’s weaknesses, and commit to loving one another through the valleys of life. As we do this, we not only reflect Christ to those around us, but we simultaneously reflect Christ to our spouse.
How to move toward your spouse when trials come.
If you and your spouse are facing challenges of any sort, I’d like to leave you with 8 practical steps to encourage you with as you learn to trust Christ for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health-
- Spend time in the Bible everyday and ask the Lord to personally meet you and provide all that you need during this time.
- When fear, insecurity, anxiousness, or frustration rise up, take it to Christ first, ask for his strength, and remind yourself of his promises to you.
- Share with your spouse what you are learning, how you are struggling, and how he can pray for you. Then ask if they’d consider doing the same.
- Ask the Lord to reveal areas of sin in your life and entrust your spouse’s sin to his control.
- Pray with each other (if your spouse is willing) and for each other as often as possible.
- Encourage your spouse with ways that you see him/her growing and where you see their gifts and strengths.
- Ask your spouse to name one or two areas where you can grow, and pray that Christ will help you receive their suggestions with humility.
- Though it often looks different in seasons of trial, try to make time for fun/romance/lightheartedness. No matter how hard life gets, find ways to laugh with each other.
- Lastly, stay connected. Because trials tend to isolate, it’s important to stay connected to a church and, if at all possible, a small group of believers as well. Staying in community will help you keep perspective and allow your marriage to be surrounded by the support of believers.
Marriage is hard work, especially when our expectations going into it consisted mostly of the “better” and we have found ourselves experiencing the “worse”. However, similar to how Christ often works in our lives through affliction to change us into his likeness, he can also use affliction in our marriage to draw us closer to him and closer to each other, while bringing glory to His Name.