For the past few days I have been mulling over what to get my husband for Christmas. What does he want? What does he need? What does he like? What’s new, different, or creative that would make him light up on Christmas Day?
I kept finding myself at a loss. We’re both the kind of people that if we find ourselves needing something, we tend to get it for ourselves. And as far as our “wants”, well, they are rather minimal. Sadly, being this way kind of takes the fun out of shopping for each other.
But then something happened.
A few nights ago, we got into the most volatile fight of our marriage. It was not pretty—not pretty at all. And the next day, I found myself deeply saddened and nearly convinced that I was not cut out for a lifetime with one person.
I have been married before, as has he. I spent nearly eight years as a single mother and primary provider of four children. I was quite used to being alone. The kids and I had our routine down. It was just the five of us. We were strong and solid. We were close and knew our triggers and soft spots. It wasn’t always easy, but we were comfortable. We were safe in our own little world. Although I didn’t want to be alone forever, I wasn’t sure I had “room” for someone else in my life. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to change what the kids and I had established to share our world with anyone else. Our fight the other night, took me right back to that feeling. “See”, I told myself. “You should have waited.” “Maybe you’re not the marrying type.” “You should have never gotten married. You’re not a good wife.”
During the seven+ year period I was alone, I did a lot of self-reflection and self-work. I prayed and prayed about what was supposed to happen in my life, and theirs (my children). Was I supposed to be a single mom forever? Was I supposed to remain in the dreadful job I had? Was that to be my life? I could do it. I knew I could. But when I got genuinely real with myself, and really listened to my heart, I knew that wasn’t what I truly wanted. I did want to be married. I did want to share my life with someone—but not just anyone—someone who would reflect and help me live out my better self.
God gifted me with Brian.
I knew immediately how special he was. In the past three years, he has gone above and beyond what anyone else in my life has ever done to make my life, and my children’s lives, better. I truly appreciated him. Or so I thought, I did.
How could he be such a great gift, and yet, the day after the fight we had, I could find myself re-evaluating everything?
I never questioned how wonderful he was. The doubts were not about him. They were about me. Had I hardened so much during those years alone, that being available to someone else was an impossibility? Was I wrong about what I wanted? Did I marry for all the wrong reasons? Did I misunderstand and mishear God? I was in the middle of a serious conflict between what I wanted and what I had. And then I read something that turned it all around.
It’s interesting how God sends us the messages we need in the most effective way—the way that is surest to reach us in our greatest time of need. What I read was an article called, “The Will To Do”, which was actually an excerpt from a book written by Ravi Zacharias’s titled I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah. I was going to skip over it. The title was not particularly intriguing, and I was more interested in reading about other things, but I opened the article anyway. Now I understand why.
As I read, I realized that my entire idea of marriage was out of alignment. I had it all wrong. I believed marriage was supposed to be a 50/50 partnership—both parties pulling their weight and doing their part to carry the family forward. That is true. However, what was missing from my perspective was the purity of motive when doing my part. It wasn’t just about relieving myself of some of my duties and helping to relieve him of some of his.
As I read it became very clear that those seven years had exhausted me. I was depleted. I didn’t have the same level of energy to invest in my marriage. And I really didn’t want to. It was a relief to have someone else help carry the reins. The way I saw it, Brian was a grown man who could take care of himself. He didn’t need me. He was his own person. He was fine. I too, was a grown woman. I could take care of myself. I didn’t “need” him either. We just didn’t want to be alone forever and carrying the full load of responsibility on our own. We wanted companionship and someone we could talk to who shared the same values. We wanted someone to grow old with.
You don’t have to dig too deep to see there was no vulnerability and no real intimacy behind my beliefs regarding marriage. I didn’t want to admit my concept of marriage was seriously flawed because that would mean I’d have to risk my heart. But as I continued to read, it became crystal clear that even though I took marriage vows, I took them somewhat superficially. I did promise to honor and respect and be loyal to Brian. And I meant it. But secretly, I didn’t give him my whole heart. I kept a significant part of myself walled up just in case. My vows were more about me than they were about him.
In his article, Ravi explains that when we first marry, we tend to get caught up in the “flutters of the heart”—the superficialities, the beauty if what’s on the immediate surface. For me, marriage felt like a holiday. I could relax and not have to work as hard. I could rely on the strong shoulders of my husband. It was all about me, me, me. I just wanted to breathe. It’s understandable, why I felt that way, but it missed the mark nonetheless.
As Ravi explains, “Don’t be deceived by the flutter of the heart. Love is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that will force you to make some very difficult choices. It is a commitment that demands that you deal with your lust, your greed, your pride, your power, your desire to control, your temper, your patience, and every area of temptation that the Bible so clearly talks about. It demands the quality of commitment that Jesus demonstrates in his relationship to us.” He goes on to explain that marriage is intended to be a “dying to yourself.” He states, “Love is a command, not just a feeling. Somehow, in the romantic world of music and theater we have made love to be what it is not. We have so mixed it with beauty and charm and sensuality and contact that we have robbed it of its higher call of cherishing and nurturing.”
His explanation needled me. My marriage was not about what I could do for Brian, but rather, what he could do for me. It was shameful to have to admit how selfish I have been. So much of that article highlighted how severely deficient I have been as a wife, whereas, Brian, as he has in every area of his life, has given all of himself in every way. My gates were up, and they were fortified behind tons of steel.
As Ravi explains, “The will is that faculty which can only be tested when pain is as much a part of its choice as pleasure is. Let me state it another way. The will is that disposition of the mind that will choose a path and bind itself with love, even if pain is mixed with the choice. In the West, particularly, we have become so resistant to pain that at the slightest hint of it, we prepare to flee by some shortcut or some solution that masks the discomfort.”
I was ready to flee after our fight that day. The work that would have to go into this marriage was beyond what I wanted to put into it. But as I read that article, and reflected on it, my heart changed. I didn’t want my life to reflect selfishness and fear and pride. I didn’t want to give up on us like that. Yet I also knew it would require strength and grace beyond myself to make it work because my walls were built sky high.
I’d be lying to say I knocked down all the walls around my heart that day. Not at all. It’s going to be a very slow, cautious and methodical dismantling of walls. But I do want to dismantle them, and I know it’s critical to dismantle them if I want to ensure the success of my marriage. I have been slow in figuring it all out. But to Ravi’s point, marriage is intended to be a dying of oneself in service to the other.
“Chivalry in love has nothing to do with the sweetness of the appearance. It has everything to do with the tenderness of a heart determined to serve. That is the first hard lesson to learn. You do not act under the impetus of charm but out of a commitment to make someone’s life the joy you want it to be. In the early days of marriage, joy precedes the act. Tragically, as the years go by joy can be severed from the act until finally, the act itself is no more. This ought not to be. Over time it is the companionship that brings joy, and service is the natural outworking of the joy of commitment. Failure to act kills it.”
I have not been a very good wife. At times, I have failed to act. I have felt justified and entitled not to act in service to my husband because of all the years I acted in service to others alone, without end, and with little reciprocity or reward. My failure to act nearly resulted in losing it all. Thankfully, Ravi’s article drove it home for me. He says, “You see, the will is always in a dramatic clash with other wills, including our own wishes. Fear, self-protection, indifference—numerous emotions and concerns test the will and often lead us astray. At the moment, my will is tested to do wrong, it must remember the price that was paid on my behalf by the One who took the punishment for my will. By that act, He invited me to die to my own will, having received the gift of being accepted by Him, which my will alone could not have made possible. In exchange, I receive the will of God by which to live and find delight. Nothing brings harmony more than embracing the will of God. Nothing brings fragmentation more than turning away from the will of God. Marriage is the harmony of God synchronizing two wills with the will of the Father. When that happens, the heart resounds with the feeling, even though it involves sacrifice.”
And so that’s it. That’s my Christmas gift to Brian. I choose to knowingly and willfully sacrifice my heart for him, to help bring joy to his life. It’s not flashy. It’s not trending. It’s not sexy. But it’s everlasting. To say he deserves it is an understatement.
I get it now.
God gifted Brian—someone who would reflect and help me live out my better self. My marriage is not about me, it’s about bringing glory to God and being of service to Brian.
I have little to do with it.
*** Please visit http://rzim.org/just-thinking/the-will-to-do-2/ for the original article that inspired this post.
Glory B's unifies all of what I love most—the earth and its natural elements like stone and wood; the creative arts, whether through the written word, or photography, or paint; and helping others to make the world a better place.