“You know, your prayers are pretty shallow. Why don’t you pray a real prayer?”
The young man was reeling—was she really going to leave him because his prayers weren’t “good enough?”
“Why are you in this lane? Why are you going so slow? Don’t you think we should have taken the other highway?”
I read a book by an author where the wife was so contentious early in their marriage that my heart just sank. Decades of working with couples has demonstrated to me the damage a critical spirit can unleash in any marriage. In a wedding, you’re proclaiming that your spouse is so excellent you choose him or her above all others. It’s an astonishing declaration of a person’s worth. But from that day forward, some husbands and wives spend the rest of their days trying to “fix” everything that they find displeasing in their spouse, proclaiming to their spouse and the world (whether they realize it or not) that for all practical purposes they entered into a “mercy marriage” with someone they felt sorry for who just needed their help.
Lots and lots of help.
Ten years later, the husband described an ongoing issue in his life that would be troublesome for any wife, and the wife responded with such grace and prophetic (I don’t use that word lightly) truth that I was blown away. She got an A+ as a wife that day; such love and truth-telling mixed with grace and hope. It was amazing.
I took two lessons away from the story of that marriage:
First, spouses can grow. The undercutting spouse who gives himself or herself to the Lord can, a decade later, be a prophetically inspirational, encouraging spouse. Because of Jesus and the promised Holy Spirit, we don’t have to remain trapped in destructive behaviors and attitudes that bring misery to ourselves and others. This wife had earnestly pursued a passionate devotion to Jesus and a life of prayer, and it showed. I’m sure the change wasn’t overnight, but even in the context of a decade, it was dramatic. The wife got very serious about connecting with God, and that helped her reconnect with her husband.
Which means you can have justifiable hope even if you begin noticing some less than pleasant attributes in your spouse after the wedding. Your imperfect marriage isn’t a death sentence. Just know that it may not be a marriage book you need as much as a book on spiritual growth. As we draw nearer to Jesus and mature in Him, our imperfect marriages will benefit accordingly, as this one did. Find a church that your spouse can enthusiastically participate in. Read good books together. Encourage every step your spouse takes toward Christ.
Second, witnessing the same wife display destructive behavior and supernaturally kind behavior reminded me that even the most excellent of spouses are imperfect, and even the most imperfect of spouses have their strengths. The only one who can love us perfectly is God. Nobody gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity because that person doesn’t exist. I know your spouse “stumbles in many ways” because the Bible tells me that (c.f. James 3:2).
When a spouse stumbles, we tend to define our spouse by that stumbling; all we see is whether they are still stumbling in that way. But every spouse is stumbling in some (in fact, many) ways. If your spouse stops stumbling in one particular area, all that will do is free you up to see how they are stumbling in a different area.
When we recognize that marriage is the joining of two sinful people serving one perfect Savior, we can maintain a healthier perspective. We won’t let the stumbling blind us to the evidences of God’s healing grace. Every spouse has strengths and weaknesses, and every Christian spouse still pursuing God is growing. We live in a fallen world, but God’s redeeming touch can reach into every crevice and every soul to display the fruit of His Spirit.
In other words, a Christian worldview helps us be thankful for an unfinished product as we trust in the “author and perfecter of our [and our spouse’s] faith” (Heb. 12:2). We need the same perspective for our spouse that Paul had for the Philippians: “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
So keep your head up. As a Christian, your marriage can get better, especially if you and your spouse commit yourselves first to the Lord, and then to each other. And the fact that you still have something you and your spouse are working on and trying to work out doesn’t mean you married the wrong person; it just means you got married. Every marriage requires this kind of spiritual and relational work.