Thomas and I on our first date July 10, 2008
A baby changes many things. Your sleep schedule, your body, how you spend your time, where you spend your time. But one thing I didn't expect it to change was my marriage. But it did. Amongst the flood of hormones, sleep deprivation and quite possibly going stir crazy for being inside with an infant most of the day I found myself thinking not so kind thoughts towards my husband, Thomas. My once happy demeanor turned into annoyance and belittling. I found myself treating him like an obnoxious kid brother rather than my champion, friend and love. Where there used to be adoration there was now an eye roll and thoughts of "I know better". Pride is a sneaky slithering snake that took up residence in my heart and in my thoughts.
When my daughter turned two months around Easter time and after the sermon on Easter Sunday I began to feel a burden on my heart for our family, friends and community. We tote ourselves as Christians and yet I felt we could "DO MORE". I began to ask myself questions about how we witness and how we live out the love of Christ. This was not out of some performance driven place, but truly out of concern for the "least of these" Jesus speaks of often in the gospels. So I dove in, like I usually do, into this specific topic. I sought hard and fast to try to understand "what would Jesus do", how would He love those around me. I emotionally and spiritually walked off into the great big woods of this topic - service, love, displaying Christ to the world. I went alone, and complained about loneliness, and I resented my spouse for it. Remember though I was the one who walked away (so to speak) unannounced, not really caring what his thoughts were on these topics. Do you see the pattern here?
Walking down the path of my self-righteous "do-gooder" mentality I can say that our relationship was NOT a priority. What others thought about us occupied my mind more than my husband's feelings of being respected and cared for. "Do people think we are greedy?" We should be giving more of our time, money and resources. "Do people think we are self-righteous and arrogant and unloving?" We need to try to love them harder so that they can see we love Jesus. My response to these questions were not entirely wrong, in fact most of them I believe came from the Lord, but I was off on my own little tangent. I also have to admit I was pointing the finger at Thomas, feeling conviction in my own heart about my own self-absorption and trying to get a conviction out of him. I was trying (in my own will) so hard to "be Christ to others", and yet I wasn't even loving the one person that I made a covenant to love.
Before Thomas and I got married we read the book Sacred Marriage the book can be summed up into this ONE sentence from the author Gary Thomas, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?". The whole first chapter opens our eyes into the holiness of marriage, and Gary argues that it is just as sacred as the pursuit of a holy life of celibacy often pursued by monks and nuns. Gary Thomas states it beautifully when he says "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question stay single....But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married." The book was something that set the tone for our marriage, we have gone back to it time and time again, remembering that our marriage (in the Christian Covenant context) is first and foremost for our holiness not our happiness and second that marriage is our first ministry - and boy had I lost sight of that recently.
When marriage is our first ministry, it is not something others see. You do not get accolades for being a good wife or husband or parent for that matter. Furthermore, we all fall short every day in this area. No one is perfect at it - you will never arrive like you might in a position you hold, or a hobby you love, or a sport you play. You don't get a paycheck or bonus. Fidelity and "tenure" in marriage isn't something our world values. It is easy to disregard the value a committed marriage and even miss seeing it as the primary ministry when marriage is something our world does not hold in high regard. As Christians we are supposed to be set apart, but we let our minds be controlled by the popular culture of the time we live in.
"The evangelical world tends to value 'accomplishers', people who get things done. The danger of this is that spouses often pay the biggest price for some of these accomplishments, and 'true' spirituality can easily suffer as a result....
So often Jesus left the crowd to minister to the individual, while we rationalize leaving the individual - particularly our spouse - to curry favor with the crowd. " (Thomas, Sacred Marriage)
So as I was wondering in the wilderness trying to "fix" our family, I heard from the Lord. I was told to cool it, and look at the true state of my relationship with Thomas. My badgering was exhausting and after an encounter with a close friend I realized that perhaps I wasn't so spiritually mature. In this one conversation I found myself clawing for her approval. This friend does not believe in the same things I do, and we value very different things. Yet, in the midst of this conversation I was desperate for her to applaud me and see what a "good christian" I was, and she seemed impressed with how "deep" I thought about the world around me. But after our conversation I felt ashamed and fake. Yes, (surprise, surprise) I am a "conservative" who actually does care for the poor and the broken and the lost. I DO care for the widowed and orphaned and the "forgotten". But what was I trying to prove, whom was I trying to impress - it certainly wasn't God when my own husband wasn't receiving gentleness, love or compassion from me! Yes, service is important, meeting with the poor and giving isn't a mission to overlook, as a rich American and Christian I have a profound calling to "love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself" - but not to the emotional detriment of my own household. But loving my husband and my children well does not receive praise. You will see the only accolades the Proverbs 31 woman receives is from her husband and children because they are likely the only one's who see what she does;
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”(Proverbs 31:28-29)
In this I don't mean to belittle the importance of service and good works, after all "faith without deeds is useless", and out of our love for Christ pours good deeds. And GOD sees everything we do, and surely there are blessings for us in the kingdom to come, but what I had been doing was seeking to please the world and receive accolades.
"Biblical truth finds its basis in community and in serving the community - and this community starts with the marital relationship. If a man or woman is unrelentingly ambitious, willing to ignore or to sacrifice a spouse as they pursue their own agenda, they will almost undoubtedly be unrelentingly ambitious toward others as well, bringing them on board to serve their purposes, not to engage them in mutual kingdom service....
We have valued the wrong activities when we look only at the person's outward accomplishments. Our relationships - especially our marriages - are an integral part of our ministry..." (Thomas, Sacred Marriage)Our actions reflect the state of our heart, whether or not you believe in Jesus. Furthermore, if you are a Christ follower there is great value in self examination "do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (from Romans 12) This process of renewal is an active and vital part of understanding who we are in Christ. As evangelicals in America we often are out of touch with our own wealth and comfort, and that is a topic that we need to be examining more closely. We need to be dialogue about injustice, hunger, greed, gluttony, excess. We need to change - but that change must be inspired and completed by the Holy Spirit not out of our own strength. As a wife, I have to be cognisant to not bully my way into leading this charge by trying to shame and convict my husband along the way. It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict not mine, and I need to humble myself before I start pointing out "dust" in my spouses eye while I have a "plank sticking out of mine".
Slowing down and moving forward I am seeking balance. Keeping in mind that Thomas is not my God, but through my relationship with Thomas and I have an opportunity everyday to be more like Christ, which is what I was wanting to do all along. Thomas is my best friend and I need to WORK at treating him how I would a friend. I have to actively work on admiring him, and treating him with the respect he longs for and deserves - the same that I gave him when we were first married, just like I want him to pursue me and romance me like we were when we first dating and married - it is a two way street. I am grateful that he is the primary provider for our family and I get to stay home and raise our daughter. I am grateful for his silly sense of humor, his playfulness and adventurous spirit, and most importantly I am grateful to my loving God who brought me Thomas. God knew exactly what he was doing and I must take my thoughts captive and see what God wants to show me about his love for me through my marriage. Thomas and I are just a small tiny part of God's giant enormous love story.
"When marriage is placed within the context of God's redemptive plan, we stay married, as far as it depends on us, as a means to express God's commitment to his people; when marriage is ended by God's design - through death - our ultimate purpose hasn't changed. Now we are "free to perhaps more actively serve God in bringing knowledge of his redemptive plan to others. When marriage becomes our primary pursuit, our delight in the relationship will be crippled by fear, possessiveness, and self-centeredness. We were made to admire, respect, and love someone who has a purpose bigger than ourselves, a purpose centered on God's untiring work of calling his people home to his heart of love. We allow marriage to point beyond itself when we accept two central missions: becoming the people God created us to be, and doing the work God has given us to do." (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage)