Two Simple but Helpful Images For Your Marriage
A solid marriage is essential to display the gospel to the watching world and to our children. Yet, it seems that it has never been harder. Many false ideas, images, expectations, and beliefs seduce both young and old.
In our small group, I recently brought up two simple, classic images that depict vital concepts to building a strong and healthy marriage. These are not original to me and have been around for decades. But they are classic because they hold important truths.
The Three-legged Race
Though it seems to fallen out of favor, the three-legged race was an essential picnic activity of 25 years ago. Two people would belt their inside legs together and compete against others by sprinting to the finish line. Communication and coordination were essential. Those who fell provided entertainment for the spectators.
In a similar way, the Bible’s most oft-repeated verse about marriage tells us that a man and a woman leave their parents, cleave together, and begin the process of becoming one flesh. They are two people who are and are becoming one flesh as they cleave together. Two who are one.
This means there needs to be communication and coordination in this new union. It also means there needs to be care for the other since they are joined together. Two people are meant to finish the race together. Unlike our analogy, marriage is not a race against others, but a marathon before the Lord. We are in it for the long haul. We travel together.
When applied to marriage, this picture makes clear that the person we most need to love and encourage is this person attached to us. Friends may come and go. Work will have its ups and downs, but I have attached myself to this person. He or she needs my encouragement and love. They cannot carry all the weight of the relationship. We are in this together.
Another implication is realizing deeply how what I do impacts the other. Sin makes us self-absorbed. So many times we do not realize the impact our actions have on our life partner. But they do. So mistakes we make, illnesses we endure, and debilitations that happen to us all affect the other party. While this may be part of the “better or worse” part of marriage, it can be wearying to absorb the other person’s changes. Unless the Lord divinely ordains extraordinary suffering, no person wants to carry the other person for the endurance of the race. Even a “I know the decision has impacted you. Thanks for working on this together,” can soothe the relationship.
In summary, this picture helps us realize: we are one, needing communication, what happens to one affects the other, and both need to give to the other. But this is not the whole truth. There is a second truth that lives in tension with this truth.
Another simple and familiar picture for thinking about marriage is the triangle. At the apex of the triangle is the Lord. At the bottom two corners are each party in the marriage. Often this image is used to encourage the about-to-be-married to grow closer to the Lord and thus establish the marriage.
But in this picture we have something else. If one only looked at the three-legged-race analogy then one could become discouraged if the marriage is struggling. Or one could idolize the marriage or partner. The previous illustration focuses on the whole.
This picture, however, reminds me that I am to seek to grow like Christ no matter what the other party does. God has given marriage for our holiness and our happiness. Marriage is not eternal. It is for this life only. On the judgment day, I will stand before the Lord as an individual.
That means I should pursue loving the Lord, loving my spouse, and growing to be like Jesus through hard times no matter what the other party does. I can move up that triangle of holiness toward the Lord whether my spouse is moving up, stagnant, or even moving away from the Lord.
In addition, the triangle reminds me that Jesus, not my spouse, is my Savior. Too many men and women functionally make their spouse their savior. We expect them to provide love, acceptance, control of circumstances, internal healing, and delivery from suffering that only Jesus can provide. There is only one Savior and your husband or wife is not him.
Some Application Questions
How might these truths apply? Here are a few questions.
1. Do I realize that my actions affect my spouse – my moods, my debilitations, my decisions? Am I thankful for the grace that comes from the other? Do I need to be more considerate?
2. Am I allowing enough time to communicate about the direction our race should take us? Or are we moving too fast and regularly falling?
3. Is the person I am tied to my priority to build up and encourage? Or functionally have others become first?
4. Am I idolizing my marriage or my spouse and ignoring my own walk with the Lord? Can I disconnect my own walk with the Lord from theirs?
5. Am I repenting of my sin and letting the trials of marriage make me more holy no matter what my spouse does?
These simple pictures are also profound. The first points me to how the whole displays the gospel and the second reminds us of our individual responsibility to grow toward him and the other.