I want to preface this post by pointing out that I am not a professional counselor. The following advice is from my own experience, and it is on my heart to share. I’ve been married for ten years and have three children (8, 5, 4) with my beautiful wife. We’ve had our ups and downs and finally seem to have landed pretty solidly on the up side. While the details are private, I believe I’ve learned a few things from the experience. So here it goes…
Relationships are not easy. But they are so important to our lives as people and as Christians. I believe we are made for relationship. We are made in the image of God, Who is a three-in-one (triune) being. God’s very existence is in community. We are made in His likeness.
Point: God wants to be expressed in and to the world. When we live in relationship with others, we are an expression of God. We are an image of Him. So relationships matter.
Alas, God has an Enemy, who stands to oppose any expression of Him. Therefore, this Enemy stands against relationships that bear the image of the divine. I believe that the two highest images of God in the world today are: 1) the ekklesia, the body of Christ living in community, and 2) marriage, a man and a woman living out a covenant bond to each other.
In the Triune Community of God, He expresses Himself as selfless love. I don’t know quite how all that works, but if you read the New Testament, you see Jesus caring for the Father’s purposes, and the Father caring for His Son’s desires. It is a mutually selfless love. We express Him when we live out this kind of relationship.
I didn’t understand this until I was married. For a while. Years, in fact. Fortunately, God and my wife are both full of grace and forgiveness. Looking back, I see some major areas where I went wrong. I’m going to share a big one today. Maybe I’ll share others later.
Contract Relationships Versus Covenant Relationships
In America, we live in a contractual society. Everything is done by contract. Your lawn service, car repairs, mortgage, rental agreement, phone service, and so on are all governed by little contracts. Sign here and we’ll do xyz and you’ll pay 123. If either side doesn’t hold up the contractual agreement, the other side can rightfully do whatever it takes to force them to satisfy their end of the deal. Contract relationships are all about our own expectations. “Are you meeting my needs?” is the main concern. Sadly, some marriages today are even entered into with actual contracts.
The advantage of business contracts is that *usually* the conditions are known to both parties. (Of course, you always have to read the fine print before you sign.) However, one of the pitfalls that I have experienced in approaching marriage this way is that neither side really knows the others’ conditions. This turns into a destructive guessing game as each side swings and misses. Frustration sets in as real needs are not met. Tempers flair and accusations fly. Communication breaks down. People are hurt. Marriages become broken.
Perhaps some of this can be repaired and restored, or even prevented by expressing these things to each other with love. I believe this would help many marriages and marriages-to-be. But I don’t think it is the ultimate answer, because the focus is still on personal expectations and requirements that one feels the other person should satisfy.
In contrast to America’s contract laden society, biblical Israel operated by covenant. God made covenants with His people, and His people covenanted with Him. Marriages were made by a covenant between the couple to each other and to God. And of course, Jesus Christ came to establish with us a new covenant by which we are forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit to indwell us with Christ’s divine life. Covenants in the bible are a big deal!
Israel’s notion of covenant was much deeper than our modern concept of keeping contracts. Contracts are written with clauses that give directions in the event that one side breaks the conditions. But a covenant made by God is permanent and unchangeable, because He is unchangeable. He cannot lie or back out because He is perfect and must abide by His own promise. God’s promises are never “made to be broken”. This theme is seen throughout the Old Testament as Israel wanders from God, but God never forsakes His promises to them. The books of Hosea and Malachi strongly portray this aspect of God’s love, both foreshadowing God’s ultimate fulfilling of His promise in Christ.
The Jewish covenant was not about meeting one’s own needs. It was about meeting someone else’s needs. First Samuel 18:3 says, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” Jonathan loved David just as he loved himself. This was his motivation: selfless love. If you look further into the Jewish covenant, you will find that it is based on deep devotion to the subject of the covenant. In fact the devotion is absolute. The intention was that where a covenant was formed, the two sides became as though they were one. They were no longer seen as two separate entities, but instead were seen as one new person.
Living in a Covenant
Perhaps at this point, if you made it this far, you’re wondering what the practical application of all this is. I can’t say that I have all the answers here, but I have personally seen a world of difference in letting go of all my expectations of what I should be getting out of my marriage, and out of relationships with others as well. It is no easy task to let go of such things. But Christ is both our example and our strength in this area. As He said, “we must lose our life to gain it”, and “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” Living by Christ’s life will lead you straight to the death of your need for self-preservation. He will lead you into selfless, demandless, expectationless love for others. When I walked through this door (I’m not perfect at it by any means), I realized that I could never go back. Nor would I want to. Seeing my wife’s attitude towards me change as I give up competing for my own desires has completely changed my outlook on this. Of course, she is more willing now to accommodate things that I desire or prefer, but that’s not the point. It is truly freeing to let go of the expectations and love others with no demands in return. It changes how you see others, and how they see you. I am confident that you will truly see the heart of God.
So, lean into Christ, and let go…
Some helpful resources: