Once again I have the privilege of sharing some of my husband’s writings. In this post Matthew vulnerably articulates some of the most difficult parts of our first year of marriage.
In sharing this, my hope is that you will see how insufficient marriage is to fulfill your ultimate desires, but also that you will see how powerful Christ is to use difficult means to further shape his people into his likeness.
365 days ago this Sunday, Lauren and I covenanted our lives together in marriage. In my aunt and uncle’s backyard, before both God and our 65 closest friends and family members we said those binding words: “for better or for worse, in riches or in poverty, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.” Here are some scattered thoughts on that day and the days since.
1. Pre-marital counseling is like teaching a parenting class to teenagers. Technically it’s helpful. The topics covered are all relevant. But the engaged couple sitting on that couch doesn’t yet have a context in which to put the words of advice they are hearing. It’s all conceptual and you have to imagine how you would put that advice into practice after the wedding. Now I think I would recommend post-marital counseling – a 6 month and 1 year check up after you’ve had a chance to learn what problems your relationship has.
2. The ‘honeymoon stage’ is a myth. (At least it was for us). It makes my skin crawl to hear people say, “Oh you’re still in your first year; that’s the honeymoon stage! Just wait, it’ll get harder once the rose-tinted glasses fade.” I don’t doubt that life and marriage will get harder. We’ll discover more of each others’ sin. And when you throw kids into the mix it’s just a whole new ballgame. But honestly our honeymoon stage ended when our honeymoon did. Our first Monday back Lauren returned to a full time job she didn’t like. I went back to full-time school and to working part time. We both went back to serving in our local church. The world didn’t give us a few weeks to slowly transition back. Our responsibilities were waiting for us as soon as we returned. Except now we had to complete those responsibilities with another sinner following us around everywhere we went. It was tough. It is tough.
3. I always imagined that the “in sickness and in health” portion of the vows were something we would have to embrace in our later years; when we’re 70 years old and our bodies start breaking down. But we got thrown into the deep end pretty quickly, or at least Lauren did. We got married in August and I was set to graduate seminary in December. Money was already tight. Almost daily I would hear of my classmates getting job offers. I lost count of the number of churches I applied to. Unfortunately, I can count on one hand how many churches I heard back from. And the ones I did hear back from were “no’s” anyway. My graduation date loomed before me like a guillotine waiting to drop and the repeated rejection from job opportunities took an unexpected toll on me mentally. Anxiety is never something I had ever dealt with. But in our first few months of marriage, many of our nights were spent with my pillow dampened with tears, me gasping for breath, my body convulsing uncontrollably, and Lauren terrified out of her mind, desperately trying to think of a way she could help. And as is often the case, anxiety turned into depression. They’re really just 2 sides of the same coin. During those days, my mind went to dark places I didn’t even know were possible of reaching. At best I would be able to tell Lauren to not leave me alone because I knew I couldn’t be trusted to not hurt myself. At worst, there were times where I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive the next day. We have since begun seeking professional help—counselors, psychologists, pastors, and friends who have had similar experiences. I’m glad to say that I’m doing much better. We’re definitely not out of the woods yet, but I can confidently say that we are on the uptick.
Like I said, most people probably don’t imagine living out the “in sickness and in health” portion of their vows 3 months into their marriage. But Lauren did. She held me through every panic attack. She reminded me of truth when I couldn’t see or hear it. The amount of patience, grace, and strength that she has shown in the past year alone brings me to tears. I know there have been many times where it wouldn’t have been wrong for her to walk away for a few hours, just for her own sanity and well-being. But every time she looked past my faults, fears, sins, and insecurities and held true to her covenant promise. She’s an incredible woman that I am undeserving of. On our wedding day I wrote Lauren a letter saying that she was the greatest gift that God had given me. I was speaking above my own head and my words were truer than I knew at the time. She is the greatest earthly gift that God has given me, and I am realizing that more and more each day.
4. The idea that marriage will fulfill you and that your identity and happiness can be found in your spouse is straight from hell and it needs be sent right back there. And unfortunately, this idea is probably most prominent in the church. For some reason the idolatry of marriage is rampant in Christian circles. Christians think once they have someone to share their life with, to have sex with, to build a family with, and grow old together with…that they’ll be happy. But in the New Testament, Paul made only one promise about marriage: that it would be hard. “Those who marry will face troubles, and I want to spare you of that.” Per usual, Paul was right. Marriage is hard. You both come from different families with very different traditions and styles of relating. You disagree on how money should be spent and saved. You’re unifying what used to be two completely separate lives. This might sound strange, but being married has actually made me appreciate singleness more than I ever did (and I think Lauren would agree). There are days that I think Lauren and I both miss the individual lives we used the live. We learned pretty quickly that having a spouse won’t make life easier. There was some marriage idolatry and soul pruning that we both had to go through. (Here’s an awesome twitter thread that totally blasts the “marriage will satisfy me” notion—I can’t recommend it enough! https://twitter.com/MattSmethurst/status/1011284272680927233)
5. When Lauren and I were engaged I found a new pet peeve. It was married couples telling us, “Marriage isn’t all roses and chocolates. It’s hard work.” After hearing that for the 100th time I vowed to never be that person, even if it turns out to be true. I would think, “You all seem to be complaining a lot about your marriage…I mean, do you even like who you’re married to?” I’ve been pretty hard on marriage so far in this post. And to my chagrin, most of those married couples were right. Marriage is hard work. But I’m still committed to not being that person who only paints it in a negative light. Yes, there have been dark days over the past year. Many more than I think either of us expected. But there has also been great joy. I think I have laughed more in the last year than in any other. I have grown to love another person more than I knew was possible. We moved across the country, which forced us to cling closer to each other, and the Lord has blessed us with incredible friends and community already in the short time that we’ve been here. We both love discovering the other’s idiosyncrasies and lovingly poking fun at them. Those are the things that make Lauren my wife and that make me her husband. There is just an intimacy, a friendship, and a comfort that the Lord has blessed us with.
Ephesians 5 is pretty clear that the ultimate purpose of marriage is to reflect the union between Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sanctifying relationship. It confronts you with your sin and daily forces you to the cross of Jesus Christ for grace. I know that I am holier today than I was 1 year ago. Marriage is a gift. And the last year makes me look forward to year 2 and, Lord willing, to many more years to come.