I Vow to Work
Our oldest, Risa, is just at the age where the world is starting to open before her, full of possibilities. At nearly 4.5 her ideas of the “perfect life” vary several times a day, and often combine into a fairy tale conglomerate of impossible scenarios. “Momma, I’m going to be a super hero queen that has magic ice AND poop powers! I’ll live at home with you and babysit Reyna (her younger sister). But you’ll have to buy me a bigger bed.”
But every once in a while, she’ll have a contemplative moment and really start to think about what she wants to do with her life. She knows that Paul and I have jobs and they are sort of required to be an adult. So she’ll ask, “what will I do when I grow up?” The first time she asked me, I told her she had to ask Jesus, completely bypassing the whole “you can do anything you want, baby!” quip that nearly exited my mouth. When she asked her daddy a few weeks later, he had a different, slightly more level answer: “you can do anything you are willing to work hard enough to achieve.”
As I thought about our responses, I realize that as happens entirely too often, they needed to be taken together to present the whole truth. Every life decision should be run past the Author of our souls, otherwise we are just spinning our wheels. Yet even when we walk the path He sets before us, we often have to work at it. Hard. The path Jesus leads us on is often steep and treacherous and takes more that we ever imagined we would need to give.
Marriage is no exception. Dating, engagement, marriage - all of these should be held up to the Father in open-hearted prayer before we rush in with hormones and affections and Pinterest. Most of us assume that posture rather willingly. However, its hard to grasp that even after we commit our lives to the one Jesus picked for us the road will be difficult and we will have to work at the relationship. (Note: regardless of how you got to the marriage, let me say definitely that the marriage you are in now is the one Jesus wants you in. That covenant is meant to be unbreakable, even if poor choices led to it.)
The enemy’s lie is subtle and tricky: if it’s meant to be, it won’t be hard. He doesn’t scream it from the sky, but he does share it in that novel you’re enjoying, that rom-com you saw on date night, that Campbell’s commercial that made you think for a moment that you weren’t doing it right. Marriage is too hard. This relationship requires too much effort. If he really loved you, he would listen better. You wouldn’t have to remind him of your anniversary. She wouldn’t flirt with that guy from work.
Fill in the blank with the thing your relationship seems to be missing, and the enemy will gladly turn it into a vivid and revealing movie poster in your mind. Once that shame becomes part of the definition of who you are, the comparison game starts. And all it takes is one Instagram post, one ad in a magazine to make you feel like a failure. From there the space between “in life and in death” and “I can’t do this anymore, I need an escape” closes dramatically.
When we define love and marriage by the patterns of the world, our minds are darkened and we lack the transformation necessary to reveal the mystery that is Christ and the church (Romans 12, Ephesians 5). Because the reality is this: marriage is hard. It takes a lot of work. This doesn’t worry Jesus at all. He knows this and equips us to do that work, but we have to commit to the relationship and commit to Him.
Self-pity is such an easy trap to fall into. It’s a quick mental comparison, a valid weariness, a boredom or disappointment when our souls feel empty. And in that space where we give the steering wheel of thought over to our emotions, we ignore the Road Map He gave us, and the enemy hits the accelerator with a lead foot.
So what do we do? We talk often about owning our emotions, how all emotions are valid, and it’s better to address what we are feeling than to stuff it for a future explosion. All of that is still true. What do you do when the weariness of loving her unconditionally while she acts like you don’t matter over takes you? Or he just isn’t as interested in sex as you are? Or he won’t stand up to his mom when she belittles you… again? You own all that gross emotion, and take that pain to Jesus. You pour it out to Him, and you ask what the next step is, and you wait.
You wait on that answer. In my experience, the answer is almost always “Love. Let ME love you, and when you’re overflowing with My Love, let some of it spill on to Paul.” That looks different each time. Sometimes love is honesty, or sacrifice, or boundaries. But it always takes more than I initially want to give.
Jesus knows that. I think He planned it that way. He supplies the supernatural power needed to live covenanted in love to a sinful human being. I think that’s part of the mystery.