Five Lessons Learned from Twenty Years of Marriage
In less than a month, my wife and I will celebrate our twentieth year of marriage. While the years seem to have passed by so quickly, my love for her has only grown and deepened. At the same time, I still have a long way to grow in my love for her and in my understanding of what it means to be a faithful husband. I look in the mirror of God’s Word and see so much more work that needs to be done to portray Christ more accurately in my life. Thankfully, God has been with us in our marriage since our wedding vows, and I have been blessed through the Holy Spirit to learn many things over the years in our relationship. So when I reflect back on the time that God has given me with my wife, five lessons come to mind:
My Need for Christ’s Grace in Marriage
My day-to-day life as a husband reveals how sinful and selfish I still am. When I demand things from my wife to meet my desires, when I become frustrated at something that is not happening the way I wanted and take it out on my wife, when I neglect my responsibilities in marriage to feed my pleasures, or whenever I put myself before her, my sinfulness becomes clear. But as a husband, God has called me to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
It is only by the grace of my Savior Jesus Christ that I can love my wife in this way. Christ has revealed to us what love is, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The ultimate display of love is the cross of Christ, where He satisfied the wrath of God that I deserve and reconciled me with God so that I am adopted as His son. Through sacrificing Himself in my place, I am forgiven of my sins and given His righteousness. What a glorious exchange! And since I have been united to Christ by faith, I have received the Holy Spirit to empower me to love my wife more and more as Christ loved the church. It is by His grace that my marriage has matured and thrived, even in the midst of my own sins and the many struggles that we have faced through the years. The rest of these lessons really flow out of the grace that I have been given in Christ.
My Need to Express Love to Her
I am not someone who looks for affirmation and encouragement from others. To me, actions speak louder than words and love is better shown than said. So you can imagine how our early years of marriage went, since I assumed that my wife knew how much I loved her. While I agree with David Powlison’s insightful critique of the Five Love Languages, when I originally read Gary Chapman’s book on love languages, I realized that my wife and I often express love differently. Since she rarely heard me say how much she meant to me, and since I was not quick to offer words of encouragement to her, my love for her was not as clear as I assumed that it had been.
As a result, I have sought to be much more intentional about telling my wife how much I love her. I try to look for opportunities to affirm the many ways that she has been a blessing to me and others. I almost never end a phone call without saying, “I love you!” I like to surprise her with gifts, even though I don’t do it often enough. Our relationship has improved the more I have intentionally expressed my love to her, and I can see the enrichment that my loving words have been in our relationship.
My Need to Spend Time with Her
I am also a person who likes to stay busy. So I make plans and try to schedule my days efficiently. While this may keep my productivity level high, I can be task-oriented rather than people-oriented. And who do you think bears the brunt of my focus on getting things done? You guessed it! My wife. It is easy to fill my days with work, ministry, studying, recreation, and many other things. But in the process, I have far too often squeezed time out of my relationship with her.
Thankfully, we have built our marriage on open communication, so she feels the liberty to let me know if I have not been spending enough time with her. When we go out on a (too infrequent!) date, I also like to discuss how things are going between us and if I should pull back in certain areas to safeguard our time together. Additionally, I have looked to trusted friends and fellow church members to hold me accountable in taking time to enjoy the blessing of marriage. As my awareness has grown over the years, so have the ways in which I have sought to make sure that we are spending time together.
My Need to Care for Her Soul
As the head of my wife in our marriage relationship, God has given me the humbling responsibility to care for her soul by leading her to draw close to Christ. This spiritual growth comes through the ministry of God’s Word. So we try to take time out of each Lord’s Day after the children go to bed so that we can see how things have been going spiritually over the past week. Has my wife been reading the Scriptures daily? What has she been learning from her study of the Bible? Does she have any questions about what she has read? I have also encouraged her to read other helpful books to assist her in understanding and applying God’s Word. The more she is in the Word, the more she is hearing the voice of our Savior!
At the same time, our soul care comes through community with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So I strive to lead my wife and our children through going to church every Sunday. Even when we are on vacation, even when I am tired and would rather stay in bed, even when my heart is cold, I know that the best place for us to be is among God’s people worshipping Christ. I also want to make sure that my wife has the time to be involved in our church’s women’s ministry and other programs and activities that would be edifying and encouraging to her. Have I failed at times? Sadly, yes. Have I confused our priorities? More than I would like to admit. But I want my wife to live a life of vibrant and joyful faith in Jesus Christ, and this means caring for her soul.
My Need to Pray for Her Regularly
Both my wife and I are totally dependent on God to maintain our spiritual health and to grow in grace. It is only through His blessing that we will glorify Him, become like Christ, and live wisely in this fallen world. So I bring my wife before the throne of grace daily, asking that she will receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. My hope for my wife is not found in how good of a husband I am, but in how great of a Savior Christ is! My trust is in Him to bless my wife and our relationship.
As you can see, we still have many struggles. We argue, we can become cold and distant toward one another, and we don’t always see things eye-to-eye. But because of God’s love for us, with Christ’s grace toward us, and by the Holy Spirit’s strength in us, our marriage is like a beautiful flower that continues to flourish with age. With this in mind, I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us in the years ahead!