In a few weeks, Holly and I will celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe we’ve been married this long. It’s also hard to believe that we have a five year old, that we’re pregnant with our second child, and that we’ve known each other for over a decade. Over the past year, we’ve found ourselves transitioning into a new season of marriage. For the longest time, we’ve usually been the young couple in the room receiving advice from the more seasoned ones. And while our marriage is still young and we definitely still need that advice, we’ve recently hit an awkward stage where others are coming to us for the advice too. It’s not like I haven’t learned a few lessons through the years. For instance, if you accidentally eat her leftover cheesecake while she’s pregnant, she’ll end you. And when she tells you she’s pregnant for the first time, a response that starts along the lines of “I did notice that…” is a terrible idea. Also, texting her friends behind her back to help them plan a surprise party in her honor doesn’t look much different to her than the early stages of an affair. When Holly and I are asked for advice about a couple’s situation, our most common response is, “Been there, done that.” From the endless fighting over each other’s bathroom routines to the late night “come to Jesus” meetings, we’ve learned just how normal challenges in marriage can be.

My First Wedding

Recently, I was asked to officiate my first wedding. I taught the groom in Bible Drill when he was in 4th grade. Through the years, he grew close to our entire family. He’s one my “non-biological brothers” – guys who my parents mentored closely through the years. As I thought about my message, it forced me to consider the gospel implications of marriage for the first time in a while. Walking with them through the pre-marital counseling and the hell that is engagement, I found myself reiterating the same point over and over again – “This is going to be harder than it looks.” At the ceremony, I walked through those important verses in Ephesians 5 about the roles of the husband and wife. Paul challenges the couple to submit to one another. The husband is called to sacrificially and proactively love his wife as Christ loves the Church. The wife is called to submit to her husband, trusting his servant leadership. Together, they paint a living picture of the gospel. Their unending commitment and radical selflessness demonstrates the unconditional love Jesus shows the world.

Our Suffering, His Glory

When we consider this idea that marriage demonstrates the gospel, we often think about the sweet times – the romance, the sex, the outward acts of love. We feel this pressure to make everything in marriage seem passionate, seamless, and endlessly joyous. But marriage isn’t two people running through fields together and vomiting sunshine. In fact, I believe God is most glorified when marriage is hardest.

Inevitably, every marriage experiences moments when there seems no way forward. Hearts are broken. Trust is shattered. One or the other is physically and emotionally exhausted. In some instances, the very covenant itself may even be violated. In these moments, it only makes sense to give up, part ways, and call it quits. These are the times when the world says God wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. They’re the seasons when it’s easy to think you deserve more than what you’re getting. They are also the moments that separate a marriage from any other relationship or commitment. When we choose not to give up, it makes much of Jesus. How else can you explain a wife who forgives her unfaithful husband and fights for their marriage? How else can you explain a broken husband who serves his wife in the face of emasculating verbal assaults? There’s no other relationship that could leave two people more vulnerable to heartbreak.   But when we choose to stand in and fight for one another, we demonstrate a supernatural love. It’s the kind of love that led our Savior to his cross and defeated death. This is why divorce is so heartbreaking to God. While unfortunately necessary in extreme cases, it’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate that love.

Let It Out

Whether you’ve been married six months or six decades, you should never be ashamed of difficulties or challenges. You should never feel as if the relationship is failing. These late nights and tearful moments are when God’s love shines through most. They are the very reason you made such a powerful commitment in the presence of all your family and friends. You were telling the world then that you’d never give up. This is where you get to show them. And when you do, you’ll show them more than just two people who love each other. You’ll show them a glimpse of the God who never gives up on them. The tough times in marriage shouldn’t be a place of shame. In fact, they can often be missional. Couples, don’t be afraid to struggle.  Let the world see the love God has shown you by how you love each other through the tough times. Don’t be afraid to let your failures and weaknesses hang out. While uncomfortable, these are defining places in our lives that have the power to draw people to Christ.