We all set expectations for the future based upon the life experiences we have had. This is a normal part of our humanity. We can see that play out in our dreams, careers, and our relationships. Our ideas of and expectations for marriage, can be some of the most influential. Whether we are married or single, we all have an idea of what marriage should be or what we want it to be. The reality of marriage, however, is quite different.
The Reality of Marriage: Is it a Gift?
I have only been married for a year. During the first few months of marriage, I remember someone simply telling me that, “marriage is not for the faint of heart.” Now, because we all have preconceived notions of marriage, you might have a strong reaction to such a statement. You might read that and immediately think it portrays marriage in a negative light. Or, maybe you think it actually doesn’t give enough weight to the hardship of marriage.
So, does that mean all the people who have told us that “marriage is a gift” are wrong? Or was my friend wrong in sharing that marriage is really, really hard? No, I don’t think either of those statements are wrong. The reality of marriage is this: marriage is a gift—a grace that God himself established and created for our good—and at the same time, it’s hard!
We often believe that anything good—any gift—must be absent from hard. And often, we want marriage to be this way too. But what I have come to know and understand more in this last year is that good and hard go hand in hand with one another. Take exercise as an example. It is hard, and it is good. Similarly, marriage is good and marriage is hard.
The Bible explains this truth in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Here, Jesus is telling us that we will be spiritually “pruned” so that we may produce good and healthy spiritual fruit.
How Marriage Has Pruned Me
Marriage is one way God prunes us, and I can attest to that. I married at the age of twenty-eight. To some, this may seem young; to others, it may seem old. Regardless, I was quite independent and set in my own ways. I felt confident in my walk with the Lord and I felt confident that I had learned to navigate the way of the single life.
What I was so blind to was the fact that this confidence was purely pride. As I began learning what it looked like to become one with my husband, I was quickly humbled. I realized how lofty my way of thinking actually was. Plus, I realized that I wasn’t really “killing it” when it came to walking with Jesus. The reality of marriage, and what it revealed in me, was hard. I was exposed in so many ways. I was exposed when I found myself not wanting to be the first to ask for forgiveness, or when I found myself thinking my way was better, or when I saw just how much I turned to my own wisdom and insight to make decisions. Marriage showed me how desperate for and dependent on Jesus I actually had to be.
Why Marriage Is Hard. . . and That’s Good!
On many days, this felt—and still feels—hard. Our natural inclination as humans is to want to run away from anything that is hard. I’m not different.
But each time I feel that desire to hide or to flee, I come back to John 15 and how it applies to my life. Jesus, in his kindness, is taking away branches that do not bear fruit (John 15:2). Jesus, in his kindness, is using marriage to reveal that which has always been there within me. And by his spirit, he is making me to look more and more like Him.
Pruning hurts. Growing pains hurt. Being molded to look more and more like Jesus means dying to self—a process that is painful! But, this hard is not bad. This hard produces something so beautiful: more fruit. Healthy and sweet fruit.
The Reality of Marriage: It Is a Gift
This is a gift. To be able to walk alongside another person and see them being shaped more and more into the image of God is truly a gift. And as my husband and I walk longer with the Lord—continuing to grow with each other—we will increasingly see that this exposure is actually what brings the most freedom and joy. What a good God we serve, that he would use marriage as a means of doing this.
The reality of marriage is much more beautiful and much more difficult than I ever knew. Yet, marriage is not hard because it’s bad. Marriage is hard because I am sinful and God, in his loving mercy, is pruning me.
My hope and prayer are that we, whether single or married, may realize this reality of marriage and of life: that which is hard is often used for our good.