Embracing our purpose with God can help us embrace our purpose in marriage.
I’ve been married for over 5 years now and I think I’m just now starting to get past the false expectations I had built up over marriage. When we were engaged, my wife, Amanda, and I read plenty of books on marriage, we received counseling and we knew that it wasn’t going to be a walk on the beach. What we never really expected is how much one or both individuals could change in the marriage over time. When you marry someone (especially when you marry young), it’s not like buying a car. People don’t come with an owner’s manual and a list of attributes, like “prays consistently”, “cooks well”, or “likes to sleep in” because you take the person as a whole. You may think that you’re getting a completely packaged human at the time, but you’re actually getting a work in progress. That’s what we have experienced.
We’d been married for over two years and we were just having our second child when I began to doubt the existence of God. Previous to this, I had been pretty typical in my faith. I was an evangelical and Amanda married me as an evangelical. We both went to the same church when we dated and we got married in that church. Now, I was throwing this bombshell on her and it nearly tore us apart.
I had lots of questions that had many difficult or unsatisfying answers and so I spent a lot of time on Reddit (note: I’m not saying this is exactly the best place, but /r/Christianity did help me) probing people for answers. Meanwhile, my wife and family were being left in the dust as I spent every night ruminating and nitpicking. I am not saying that my doubt made me a bad father and husband, but I’m saying I became more concerned with my mission for intellectual conquest than I was with caring for my family. I had begun to distance myself even further from my wife and spent more time arguing with people on the Internet than enjoying my family. When I started to come back round to faith and Christianity, the damage was already done and the trust my wife had in me was pretty much depleted.
I reconsidered Christianity again in large part due to the grace and love from my wife. Amanda remained patient and steadfast in her love for me in the midst of a lot of emotional confusion and that did a lot to bring me back. I had eventually started studying the early Christian faith, and through it, the mirror of the Gospel started to reflect back to me exactly how selfish a person I am. I began to see my flaws as a husband and a father with further clarity and I realized that even when I was a believer, I rarely, if ever, actually took up my cross. (Luke 14:27)
As a husband, I have sincerely loved my wife from the beginning. I sure talked a lot about “love”, but I still was lost in the concept of “self” and in many ways I still am. Whenever I’d do something for Amanda, I’d expect on some level some gratitude or appreciation or her to come to my side. When that wouldn’t happen, I’d become indignant. I’d wash the dishes, sweep the floor, pick up the minefield of toys and expect something. Not a word. I continued to see this as her problem and not mine, believing her to be ungrateful for my slaving away at the office and then trying to do something special for her, or her lack of understanding with my struggle over God. How blind I was!
I began to study the Orthodox tradition more and the concept of theosis started to seep more into my heart and the point of my existence now became to please God, to conform to Him and to literally become a New Creation here and now. Ephesians 5:25 gained more significance in my life because I realized that I had not even come close to becoming like Christ in selflessness towards my wife. My expressions of love to her are also to God and even when the feelings of love aren’t as strong, I know I’m still called to love her as Christ would because she deserves that.
After this I took up pleasing my wife and cherishing her as my “ascetic struggle”, meaning that it became a pathway to deification and union with God for both of us. The main reasons I care for her have always been because I loved her, but excelling in that love is an act of faith. Seeing it this way has revolutionized my view on my personal rights….as in, I have none. Everything I have is for God and my wife. I gave up rights when I said “I do”.
“A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged and he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice, but he accepts slander as truth; he does not attempt to persuade men that he is calumniated, but he begs forgiveness.” – St. Isaac the Syrian
“Extirpate two thoughts within thyself: do not consider thyself worthy of anything great, and do not think that any other man is much lower than thou in worthiness. Learn humblemindedness beforehand, which the Lord commanded in word and showed forth in deed. Hence, do not expect obedience from others, but be ready for obedience thyself.” – St. Basil the Great
So now you’re probably thinking, “This guy must be the bees knees when it comes to husbands!” Actually, no. I’m not. I can say I’m sincerely trying to become an icon of Christ in my daily actions to my wife and my family, but there are many days I don’t even come close. I’ve seen things improve in our marriage. We are becoming close again, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. Marriage is a path to true life in God and that means we must daily die to ourselves for one another. To be martyred for one another. Some days, I never even get to the starting line. I am constantly struggling with my flesh and it’s because I’m lazy by nature. Amanda is much more adept at dying to herself than I am. I always presume “someone else will do it” when there’s a task, or I think only of my needs and wants while out in the world outside my home alone. Little things like getting flowers, or calling Amanda to ask if she needs milk seem so miniscule but they speak volumes of love to my wife. Listening. Giving. Thoughtfulness. These are the kinds of things that minister to my wife’s heart and I love to do them for her.
My goal this year is to be continually praying for Amanda and the kids all day. In my downtime at work or at home, I want to take time to pray blessings upon them, but to also be a blessing to them. May God bestow grace to you and your spouse through the sacrament of marriage. May He heal all wounds and reveal to each individual person the sinful desires that bend you towards selfishness. For it’s only when we are emptied of ourselves, as Christ was, that we can find our true selves in Him and the true purpose of our marriage.