25 Aug Marriage is the Hardest Work I Have Ever Loved
Marriage is the Hardest Work I Have Ever Loved
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13, NLT
Several years ago my friend, Patty, said something that I wrote down on a sticky note which still remains on my desk as a reminder of the divine grace of God in my life. She said, “Punk, I’m just struck by the sheer force of God in your marriage!”
And so am I.
15 years ago today I married my best friend, John. I’m so glad I get to wake up every morning and be Mrs. John Tolson, again and again. He is a sweet grace of God to me; the answer in the flesh that God brought to me in response to years of praying for “my husband.” I don’t make that statement casually or lightly. There’s an enormous weight to it; an inestimable cost. Because God’s answers always come with a cost. John was a widower when I married him. He and his children, Christin and Luke, along with many friends, had prayed for years for Ruth Anne, his wife’s, healing on this earth. God chose instead to take her “home” and heal her. As a result of God answering their prayers in a different way, I received the “yes” answer to mine. Sometimes your “yes” comes as the result of someone else’s “no.” My great joy came as a result of their great sorrow. Such a price. Try and wrap your brain around that. This is, my friends, the mysterious, amazingly hard and awesome part about God and His ways; they defy human comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Martin Luther said,
“There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship,
communion or company than a good marriage.”
John and I have a really, really good marriage; not perfect, but good to great. PS: No one has a perfect marriage no matter what they say. On most days ours is truly a wonderful life and I am so very grateful for it. It’s not by accident or any stroke of “luck”. We’ve worked at it, by the grace of God and by keeping God at the center of our lives and marriage…and letting Him work on us. And tonight, we will say, “I do” all over again.
These 15 years have been full. Very full of life and more of it. We’ve laughed until we couldn’t breathe and have suffered losses that knocked the breath right out of our lungs. We’ve cried buckets of tears, smothered one another with kisses, covered one another in prayer, watched hours of movies together, spent many a sleepless night worrying or just being spittin’ mad at each other, struggled through the scorching hot days of uncertainty and sickness, celebrated victories, family, and the gloriously simple and mundane of life together. And when the storms of life blew through our world we found comfort in holding one another and being held by the One who holds all things together.
15 years may not seem like a long time, but that we have reached this milestone and made it this far with the depth of love and friendship and faithfulness and purpose and trust in Jesus that we have together is nothing short of a miracle. When two people, sinners saved-by-grace, come together… to be joined together… along with their baggage… in hopes of living “happily ever after”… after all the contents of said baggage is spilled out all over the place …well, I’m hear to tell you that just does not happen apart from something supernatural. In fact, it absolutely cannot happen apart from some One supernatural. Because here’s the deal- Marriage. Is. Hard.
God is the One who thought up marriage. It was all His idea. (Genesis 2:22-24). Therefore God knows best how my marriage and your marriage should work and how it can work, so that it becomes the beautiful picture of His love, sacrifice and grace, and a model on earth of what heaven is like (Ephesians 5:21-33).
At this point you’re probably like, “ARE YOU FOR REAL??? My marriage is a model of something, but it sure ain’t heaven!” OK, just relax already. Hear me out.
Some marriages are simply contracts; a formal agreement you can just cancel and rip up when you’ve lost that loving feeling, when the thrill is gone and the going gets tough. And that’s hard. And people get hurt. And that’s why God hates divorce. God does not hate divorced people. God hates divorce because divorce hurts people and He wants to help you avoid that kind of hurt.
The kind of marriage God ordained is called a covenant. It’s that “for better or for worse” commitment and there’s a whole lot more involved than having loving feelings (eros). Covenant marriage takes the relationship to the furthest stretch of love, to the highest level, to the most selfless and sacrificial point of our feelings and our flesh… to âgapeo, the biblical (Greek) word for love.
Love is “constructive behavior”-
meaning, doing what is best for my husband or wife
regardless of how I feel about them at any given moment.
Selah! (That means stop and listen, and think about what you just read.)
Anyone with half a brain knows that doing what is best for your spouse or anyone for that matter, on any given day, regardless of how you feel about them is next to impossible. That’s just not the default setting of our flesh. Especially when the one you live with is being unlovable and unlikable, or when you’re in the thick of raising young children, or battling the demands of busy careers, or when you’re hormonal, tired or “hangry”, or when said spouse has not treated you the way you feel you should be treated. This does not mean that we are to tolerate or excuse abuse of any kind. By no means are we. But most “irreconcilable differences” can usually be traced back to someone’s underwear left on the floor, or someone squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle. Come on…
I can hear you right now, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna do what’s best for my spouse right now and give him a piece of my mind!” And just so you know, that would not be the intent of âgapeo. Though it may feel really good for a moment it will not last or suffice and you will sorely regret that precious piece of gray matter you flung at him and which you cannot afford to lose. Âgapeo also does not mean trying to “help” your spouse by controlling them in an effort that they become the best they can be for you.
Âgapeo simply and profoundly means getting up each day, laying down your own life and asking Jesus, “Jesus, You know my husband/wife better than I do. How can I love ( my spouse ) today…serve him/her today?” It’s asking the “what would Jesus do” question… and then doing it. And get ready because in my personal experience whatever “it” is usually goes against the grain of my prideful and selfish flesh, helping to sand me down a little bit more so I hopefully look and act a little bit more like Jesus. Oh, Lord, please let it be so!
Marriage. is. hard. work. And I need help every day. I need Jesus in me being married to John through me. Think about that. I have to allow Christ in me to live out married life through me if it’s going to work and be good to great (Colossians 1:27; Philippians 4:13). On my own I will fail at this “love one another” thing every single time (John 15:12-15). There’s no harder or sweeter oneanotherness than the oneanotherness of marriage. We hold one another close in love, but that same closeness can create a rub against one another with the scratchiness of sandpaper, smoothing off our sharp and rough edges; or create friction that produces heat and fire with flames that both warm our heart, hurt us, and burn away our pride and selfishness. Through marriage God shows us who we really are. And just like the Refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:3), the ugly is revealed and skimmed off the top as we lay our hearts open to Him.
It’s hard. But marriage is the hardest work I have ever loved. The beautiful and painful tool of marriage is a mysterious and sacred instrument in the Redeemer’s hands used to help us become all He wants us to be… making us more like His Son. God help me! I pray I might resemble my Savior a little bit more today, thanks in no small part to the good man I married. The God-fearing, God-loving man I prayed for over decades:
- The man who loves his Lord with all his heart and loves Him more than me (and I wouldn’t have it any other way).
- The man who meditates on God’s truth day and night…and walks it out in the flesh.
- The man who is unashamed of the Gospel and who pours himself out for others so that they might know the hope of Christ.
- The man who gives and gives and gives so generously with no expectation of reciprocation.
- The man who has taught me with his words and his ways to love God more.
- The man who has loved me unconditionally, never condemning me at my worst; generously praising me for even the littlest thing.
- The man who is always encouraging and speaking words of life over me, giving me wings, helping me to become my best and run my race and fulfill my God-given purpose.
- The man who overlooks my snarkiness, scratchiness, and bitter coldness, my pouting and bossiness, and chooses to love me even then.
- The man who made this hairless woman with scars across her chest feel loved, adored, beautiful…and nothing less than a woman. And he still does.
- The man who loves our dog, “Gigi”.
- The man who loves me for who I am and what I am not and never will be, and who has the courage to forgive.
That’s my man. He is not perfect. I’m not perfect. He’s a mess and I’m… messier. But he is my mess. One minute he’s making me laugh so hard I spit and the next minute he’s driving me crazy (emphasis on driving). But one thing’s for sure; I know I love him like crazy. I do. That’s life. That’s marriage. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever loved and I have absolutely loved every crazy, fun, tearful, hard, happy, hopeful minute of these 15 years with John Tolson.
To my man I say, happy anniversary, Sweetie Boy. I love you deeply. I still have a crush on you. I have loved these 15 years of life together with you. I never thought this kind of life was possible. And I am still struck by the force of God in our marriage. A beautiful cord of three braided strands that is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
To each of you I say….all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27). Trust Him.
You are greatly and dearly loved by The King!
My message this week highlights marriage, but there are concepts here for everyone and I want to focus on those. Whether you’re married, widowed, divorced, or hope to be married one day… the picture of marriage is the picture of the relationship we have with God. The husband plays the role of Jesus, the wife/bride plays the role of the church- the “Bride of Christ”. With that, answer and reflect on the following:
1. Look up the Scriptures given in the message above and read them in context in your Bible (meaning- read the verses before and after or the paragraph they are contained in to get the right interpretation). What is God saying to you?
- What do these passages tell you about God?
- Record what you learn about the roles of husband and wife.
- How does that help you to better understand your relationship with Jesus and the love God has for you?
- What does this verse tell you about the kind of love that Jesus commands us to live?
- Why do you think He commands this kind of love?
- Do you know someone who loves like this? Describe some of their qualities and characteristics.
- In what ways do you see or do you not see that kind of love exemplified in your life?
- If you’re married, what are 2 practical ways you can love (agapeo) your spouse this week?
- What are 2 practical ways you can love another person this week- especially someone who is difficult to love?
- What do these Scriptures tell you about Jesus?
- What do these Scriptures tell you about yourself?
- According to these three Scriptures (in context), why are we without excuse when it comes to loving the way God has commanded us?
5. Now it’s your turn to reflect and respond:
- Do you believe God has only His best for you and that He cares about you and your marriage and the circumstances of your life, and that He can help?
- Where do you most need the power of Christ in your life and/or marriage today?
- Tell Him right now and ask for His help. Sit quietly and listen for a few minutes… reread some of the passages you just studied, record and respond to what you hear Him say to you in your heart and through His Word.
Good job, my friend! Keep working on this throughout the week. Keep asking God. Keep surrendering more of your life to Him and expecting Him to be living and active in it!
I’m so proud of you!
xo – P
Copyright © 2016 Punky Tolson