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A friend of mine told me the other day, “Joe, being married is the hardest part of my life and the best part of my life, all at the same time.” I could not agree more. I mean, I love my wife and I love being married to her. All of my best memories are with her, and yet not only is marriage life constantly challenging like I was warned about, but it can be downright brutal at times. It is nothing like dating. When you’re dating you are so focused on the other person that you don’t get a chance to realize how selfish you are. But in marriage it comes out so clearly. When you’re single it’s easy to convince yourself that you are all together. However, once you’re married you realize that you are a royal mess. At least that’s one of the greatest revelations of my year – “I am a royal mess.”
I just read over a blog that I wrote a year ago about how maybe the enemy of a great marriage is a good one. I explained that as long as things are relatively calm (good) there is no reason to amp it up and fight for a great marriage. I compared films that captured my heart, those filled with romance, excitement, and adventure, to the many boring examples of marriage out there. I still agree with my original premise that the good is the enemy of the great. However, I was way off on what makes a marriage great. It turns out that a great marriage may or may not be composed of reckless excitement and adventure. Great marriages are not dependent on having stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. There are lists of terrible marriages that are full of exhilarating experiences. So what makes a great marriage over a good one or even over a poor one?
Sacrifice – it’s the common denominator.
After our Wyoming Christmas trip Ann and I really started our bickering. I would be unloving to her and she would respond with disrespect to me, which would push me away and cause me to act more unloving, which would make her even more disrespectful, which would push me away even farther. And round and round we went. It’s called the crazy cycle for a reason. We both realized that we needed some help so we went to our friends. After talking with them they said very casually, “You are setting the foundation of your marriage; why not go see a counselor?” They were right. Though I didn’t want to spend the money or face the fact that we needed some guidance and help, I knew that the likelihood of our marriage being great instead of good would not be possible if we did’t resolve these issues while the cement of our foundation was still soft.
So I asked around and set up a an appointment with Dr. Penny Freeman. I went in not knowing what to expect but left encouraged and challenged. During our second session she shared with us the Ephesians passage about submission. She told Ann that life is so much better when you are obedient to God and are submissive to your husband. And then she said something that struck me. “You, Ann, are called to submit”, and then turning toward me went on, “And you, Joe, are called to die.” She explained that the passage about loving a wife like Christ loved the church meant that the only way to lead Ann is to sacrifice everything for what she needs. Penny told me to ask myself, “Is this in Ann’s best interest?” every time I make a decision. Ann was beaming at the thought. This conversation lasted less than five minutes but it left me feeling completely exposed. A bit like Adam without his fig leaf. I have a lot to learn still about dying for Ann.
I realized that the thing I want most from Ann is for her to appreciate me, and the thing she wants most from me is to vulnerability sacrifice myself for her. Suddenly it all came together. Marriage really is the picture of how Jesus loved us. A great marriage is not about being wild, it’s about representing the wildest love story ever recorded…the Gospel story. The thought of our marriage being a picture of the Gospel story gives me the shivers. There is no such thing as cheap love. If you look at the cross you realize that loving costs everything. But loving is always worth it.
If you took the time to read our online journal please take a moment and pray for us. We covet your prayers. Pray specifically that I would learn to die to myself and lead Ann.