When your marriage needs a miracle, start by remembering that your marriage is a covenant, not a contract.
And [Jesus] answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6
My Aunt Mary recently told me how she and her sister, Ann, sat in the family pew at our wedding, holding hands and praying. She recounted at how they looked at each other and whispered, “Do they have any idea?”
I wouldn’t have known that day what they meant because of course we knew what we were doing. We had all kinds of ideas, all kinds of solutions to every problem we could imagine might threaten our wedded bliss.
But now, 16 years in, I know what they meant. And I can’t help but squeeze Jack’s hand and swallow tears I’ve already cried every time we watch another couple say those same vows because those words are hard. Life chokes out the tulle and champagne. The minute that wedding dress comes off, a bride becomes a wife.
Jack didn’t foresee that, really: how I would morph from a bride to a wife, how I would keep becoming. He didn’t foresee it the first time or the second time I transformed to adjust to the needs of our family. His world changed, and I accommodated. He wanted to be a doctor, and I worked extra so that he could study more. He wanted to take a job in research and travel, so I got used to being home alone. We changed zip codes and careers, doctors and incomes. Children came, and I swelled and nursed and cleaned, revolving like a moon around them. I changed to mourn our first child, I changed to nurse our second. I changed into a heart mama when baby boy #3 came along. Now, as the babies have grown into boys and headed off to school, I’ve transformed again into a room mom and a writer.
But standing on that altar all those years ago, you couldn’t have told me what the becoming and revolving and morphing would do to me. How I would start to feel like stretched leather, unable to give one more time without tearing holes through my soul. How, after the sting of grief settles into the corner of a spirit and festers, a once-beautiful bride gulps down bitterness by the bucketful. How we who are still young can age. How we can forget joy.
Grief, anger, bitterness, exhaustion, monotony . . . they can change a bride into something unrecognizable. Life can steal the spark that binds two people together until they hardly know each other. Then what? When you’re married to someone you didn’t marry and may never have chosen?
We have asked that question. We have gone round the sun enough times to realize that both of us keep changing. What we each wanted on our wedding day is not what we want now. We are in different careers than we wanted then. We live in a different place than we ever thought we’d live. We’ve tasted more of life’s dregs than we ever could have imagined.
We have arrived at the place where we didn’t know if we’d ever make it back to each other. It’s happened more than once. We’ve wondered if it was all just a big mistake, if we would have been better off with other people. Had we experienced more pain because we chose each other, so young and dumb?
All the while, one thing has remained: the promise we made to each other.
We made a covenant, not a contract.
In an overly litigious world of pre-nups and 50% divorce rates, it seems rational and just plain smart to view marriage as a contract. But, that is not how God set it up to be. God meant it to be a covenantal relationship.
1. A covenant is based on trust between parties. A contract is based on distrust.
2. A covenant is based on unlimited responsibility. A contract is based on limited liability.
3. A covenant cannot be broken if new circumstances occur. A contract can be voided by mutual consent.
Choosing to view your marriage as a covenant means that it’s not dependent on your actions or your partner’s actions. Your covenantal marriage doesn’t dissolve just because life has transformed you into different people. Neither is it dependent on life turning out the way you planned.
In a covenantal marriage you are bound not only to each other, but by the God who loves you both so much more deeply than you could ever love another. When you include Him in your marriage, He is an equal partner with you and your spouse. He has a vested interest in helping when you’re googling “grounds for annulment.” He will help you find solutions. His love can soften wills crashing against each other. His love and His power can heal, reconcile, and strengthen when human hearts fail.
If you feel that your marriage will never again be as sweet as it was the day you made your covenant, take heart. Take it to God. Trust that the One who knit you together can repair the holes in your own heart and in your marriage. God can take a beautiful bride and groom, hold their hands through the valleys and the breakings of life, feed them manna and quail in the wilderness, lead them into the promised land, defeat their giants, and tear down the walls standing in the way of the promised land they’ve been given. Then, after all of that, He can restore their souls, heal their marriage, and bring them home.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
A marriage forged in love before God is not easily broken. We serve a mighty, God, friends. I have witnessed many mighty acts, but the one that strikes awe in me the most is the miracles he keeps doing in my marriage.
Take heart. Believe in the covenant you made. Believe in the God who can keep it.