‘Marriage is a mosaic you build with your spouse. Millions of tiny moments that create your love story.’ [Jennifer Smith, author]
I was invited to a Bridal Shower. Nothing unusual about that, except that at this Bridal shower, I happened to be the only married woman.
As the only married woman there, I was asked to share some encouragement and wisdom for the bride-to-be and a room full of potential brides-to-be.
(Because obviously, according to the young and single, just being married for a length of time qualifies you as a marriage guru).
Although I felt flattered to be asked and humbled at the opportunity, to be honest, my first instinct was to bolt, much like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride. I just couldn’t find a horse!
What advice could I give to a bride-to be? My marriage is not perfect. I have messed up many times. As a wife I have failed my husband…often. Marriage is not all roses and romance. (In fact my theme song for my husband is Neil Diamond’s, ‘You don’t bring me flowers anymore.’)
I don’t have beautiful quotes like Jennifer Smith’s, ready to roll off my tongue, when asked about marriage.
I realise that as Christians, when asked about marriage, our first response is: ‘Marriage is hard.’
It may be true, but not the most inspiring quotable quote and certainly not the whole truth. Eeyore is not a welcome guest at a Bridal shower. So I decided to banish Eeyore…
‘There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship,
communion or company than a good marriage.’
[Martin Luther, Protestant Theologian]
Here is my letter to the Bride-to-be:
You are on the threshold of one of the most exciting, scary, frustrating and beautiful adventures of your life.
My marriage is not perfect. Your marriage will not be perfect. That is a good thing, because marriage, at its core design, is meant to reflect Christ’s sacrificial and self-denying love to His bride, the Church. What better stage to shadow and point to this greater love than the marriage covenant?
Marriage involves two sinners saying ‘I do.’ The single you resides in the married you. Saying ‘I do’ doesn’t change your heart. It very quickly is going to expose your heart.
The sins you struggled with as a single walking down the aisle to meet your groom, (be they pride, anger, selfishness, discontent, or impatience), will still be there as you walk back down the aisle beside your groom. The only difference is that now you are married.
‘I do’ is not a magic wand and confetti is not fairy dust.
'To fall in love truly, is to fall in love not only with the person as they are, but also with the person you know God is making, that God is turning them into.' [Tim Keller]
I would like to share with you some encouragement and wisdom that I wish I had been told on the eve of my wedding or as a young bride. Perhaps among the glow of being ‘in love’ I wouldn’t have thought I needed it, but it is not my wisdom, it is God’s, and as the Creator of the gift of marriage, it is good advice and worth heeding. God has given us all we need for life and godliness and that includes marriage.
[1 Chronicles 16:11 / Philippians 4:6 / 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 /]
Pray for your heart first and then pray for your husband’s heart.
Prayer softens our hearts and transforms our attitudes. Being on your knees treasures Christ as your first love and as you open your eyes the Holy Spirit enables you to see things with new eyes. You see yourself and your husband through the Gospel lens of grace. That is what prayer does.
Prayer aligns our hearts with God’s heart. Often what I wanted before I went down on my knees is different when I arise from them.
Pray much. Pray for God to increase and deepen your love for your husband. Pray that your husband might grow in godly character and in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Pray that the Holy Spirit will enable your husband to love you as Christ loves the Church. Pray that your marriage glorifies God. Prayer is a powerful weapon in the face of sin and Satan.
[Romans 12:18 / Ephesians 4:26]
If there is one area of marriage that you and your husband can seek to outdo the other in, let it be in apologising.
The best love language that you can speak to one another is ‘I am sorry.’
Even if your husband is 90% in the wrong and your fault is only 10% (an accurate scenario, by the way), don’t wait to apologise. Seek to be first. You will be amazed at the outcome
It might take till 02h00 in the morning. So be it. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
[Matthew 6:14-15 / Matthew 18:22 / Ephesians 4:31-32 / Colossians 3:13]
Forgiving is the biggest object lesson of the Gospel and it is the hardest thing to do. Our natural default, lurking in the corners of our hearts, is pride. Harbouring bitterness is well practised.
Jesus says we are to forgive 70 times 7. I worked that out once. That is 490 times! When I had to forgive my husband at time #491, I thought I was off the hook.
But I don’t think that was Jesus’ point.
‘Forgiveness is a vertical commitment that is followed by a horizontal transaction.’ [Paul David Tripp]
Forgiveness goes beyond the semantics. It is more than words spoken.
Forgiveness no longer holds on to anger.
Forgiveness is a heart action made in the midst of negative and hurt feelings. It is self-denying and sacrificial. It is setting your own rights aside, but this makes it a beautiful expression of love. It illustrates Christ’s love for you.
‘I am hurt. I love you. I forgive you.’ This makes a marriage relationship grow in depth and strength.
(I think you are beginning to see why we need to pray often).
[Proverbs 16:24; 18:21 / Colossians 4:6 / Ephesians 4:29 / James 1:19]
If you are looking for fairy dust and a magic wand, then speaking kind words will do the trick. Words can bring death or words can bring life; we get to choose. Words reflect our hearts and who or what we are worshipping.
‘Winning the war of words involves choosing our words carefully. It is not just about the words we say, but also about the words we choose not to say.’ [Paul David Tripp]
‘Pleasant words are as a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and health to the bones.’
Kind words heal. Kind words give grace according to the moment. Kind words encourage. Kind words uplift. Kind words are beautiful. Kind words change the posture of the hearer.
[1 Corinthians 13:4-7 / Ephesians 2:8-9]
Grace is giving others what they don’t deserve. Grace is biblical, Christ-like love in action. It does not keep a record of wrongs and it covers a multitude of sins. Grace overlooks an offense. Grace enables you to forgive much.
‘When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace.God loves your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change.’ [Paul David Tripp]
Grace is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit.
‘Love is daily admitting to yourself, your spouse, and God that you are not able to love this way without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.’ [Paul David Tripp]
[Deuteronomy 10:12-13 / Proverbs 31:30 / 1 Peter 3:3-4]
To fear God is to have a willing and humble heart that delights to love the Lord, obey Him and walk in His ways. To fear God is to love Him with all your heart, soul and mind.
Fearing God is both for our own good and our own protection.
Even though fearing God comes at the end of Proverbs 31, and at the end of my letter, it is actually the beginning.
Fearing God is the key that will unlock faithfulness, blessing and hope in your marriage. It will sustain you and your marriage.
The fear of God is the reason the Proverbs 31 woman was praised and considered nobler than any others. Her fear of God was the reason she did her husband good and not harm all his days. Her fear of God is the reason for her kindness to the poor and the kindness on her tongue. It was the reason her husband was respected at the city gates and the reason her children arose and called her blessed.
Her fear of God was the reason she could laugh at the days to come.
As I draw my letter to a close, I want to point you to the wonder and beauty of Jesus Christ, your first love. He is the motivation for you to fear God, pray often, apologise quickly, forgive much, speak kindly and show grace.
Jesus Christ willingly lay down His life in humble submission and obedience to His Father. He went to the cross to forgive us much and in so doing showed grace. We were undeserving enemies of God, deserving only of His judgement and wrath. Christ’s sacrificial, self-denying love for us and His death on the cross enabled us be at peace with God and one another.
His kind words on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, they know what they are doing,’ made us co-heirs with Him. As an adopted daughter of the king of Kings, Jesus is praying and interceding for you at the right hand of the father.
So when you pray much, apologise quickly, forgive much, speak kindly, show grace and fear God, your marriage will be exactly what God designed it to be – a picture of His love for His bride, the Church.
That is an honour and a privilege.
That is what you are on the brink of.
I close with a quote from John Piper in his book, ‘A Momentary Marriage:’
‘Marriage is not mainly about prospering economically; it is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. Knowing Christ is more important than making a living. Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. Being united to Christ by faith is a greater source of material success than perfect sex and double-income prosperity. So it is with marriage. It is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short. It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.’
From your Sister-in-Christ