In Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations, Pip meets the cruel and contemptuous Estella, who tortures him throughout the novel with unrequited love. But Pip doesn’t really love Estella. He loves what she represents — a stratum of society to which Pip hungers to belong. Pip is blinded by his swollen expectations, and only later comprehends the true cost as he remembers the day he met Estella:
That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. (75)
“The formation of the first link on one memorable day” — reading those words made me think about how decisions regarding marriage and within marriage can become defining moments for marriage. God sprinkles the newlywed years with these moments — experiences, events, or decisions that determine (and sometimes alter) a young couple’s direction.
1. The Moment Marriage Reveals Your Heart
Kimm and I had only been married for a few months when she said something that pushed one of my many buttons. I remember this overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t speak immediately, the earth might tilt off its axis. So, I deftly informed Kimm that she was making me angry, making me sin.
“God often uses marriage to draw out our remaining sin, and that’s good.”
From my perspective, this made perfect sense. After all, before marriage I’d been quite the specimen of Christianity. But now that I was married, sin was spilling out all over. My plans for earthly perfection were under serious threat. But God’s plans for my transformation were well underway. A defining moment was before me.
In reality, I don’t have buttons Kimm can push that make me sin. Conflict typically unearths what’s already buried in our hearts. It exposes the selfish things we love more than our spouse — actually, more than Jesus. Christ’s own words clarify the problem: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18).
God often uses marriage to draw out our remaining sin, and that’s good. When our sin bubbles to the surface, we begin to see the hopelessness of trusting in ourselves. God uses that revelation to form humility and dependence in us. When marriage reveals our hearts, we learn that we’re not really triumphant warriors who conquer sin in every battle, but weak and desperate sinners who continually need his grace (1 John 3:20).
2. The Moment You Abandon the Moral High Ground
Typically, when I sit down at a restaurant, I already know what I want to order. I made the decision about one minute after we decided to eat out. For Kimm, ordering is an art, and the menu is a palette of colors — just a jumping-off point from which she can design her own creation.
When we were first married, I believed that my decisiveness was morally better. I assumed Kimm’s apparent indecision — the way she uses menus as a means of creative expression — was a weakness. Sure, my decisiveness could be a strength, but that didn’t justify my self-righteousness or moral superiority. Strengths become weaknesses when they make us smug.
Remember Jesus’s parable of the two sons in Luke 15. The younger son asked for his inheritance early. He split town and then blew his dad’s money on parties and prostitutes. Eventually, the young man repented and returned home, and his father forgave him. In the throes of joy, his dad threw a huge party.
Most people think that the parable is about the prodigal, but really it’s aimed more at the older brother. This dutiful rule-keeper was incredulous over the party and angry at his father (Luke 15:29). The older brother felt morally superior to the younger one. And as Jesus tried to show his listeners, that was the more significant sin.
When we proudly cling to moral high ground, we miss out on the joy of marriage. But when we step down from our perch and see the level playing field through the eyes of a fellow sinner in need of grace, our hearts are tenderized by the gospel, and differences become another reason to celebrate and love.
3. The Moment You Become Best Earthly Friends
Carolyn G. Heilbrun once said, “Marriage has owed too much to romance, too little to friendship.” Touché. But if friendship is going to define our marriage, we must work to nurture, protect, and prioritize the right kind of friendship.
First, being a good friend begins vertically rather than horizontally. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Jesus is the best friend. So to be a good friend to your spouse, you must first cultivate intimacy with the Savior.
Second, your best friend on earth must be the one you sleep with each night. That friendship must be jealously guarded. Your spouse should never be displaced by others with whom you enjoy spending time, as important as those other friendships are to a healthy marriage. It’s great for husbands and wives to have interesting friends in their life — they add richness and spice. But remember: “A man of many companions may come to ruin” (Proverbs 18:24).
Finally, if you’re going to be friends with your spouse, you need to prioritize that old-school face-to-face connection. You know, the kind that involves sitting with, looking at, sharing with, and experiencing each other. Don’t displace that by relying too heavily on online alternatives. No text string or Instagram post can replace the tender words of an embodied spouse.
4. The Moment the Marriage Bed Requires Some Assembly
Marriage is more than sex. Way more. But as far as fringe benefits go, sex is pretty cool. However, those who think sex is enjoyed easily are either selling something, or they’re single. Never in the history of the world have newlyweds brought more baggage into their married sex life as they do today. Bad experiences, past relationships, divorce, abuse, pornography, shame — sometimes the marriage bed is so littered with baggage that newlyweds can barely find each other.
“How newlyweds respond to these moments determines whether they stumble along separately or move forward together.”
I think that’s why Paul was so direct with the Corinthian couples: “Do not deprive one another,” he exhorted (1 Corinthians 7:5). Paul knew that sex in marriage can be difficult and, for that reason, easy to neglect. If you are in that defining moment right now, here’s some counsel.
First, try to talk honestly about how you feel. Talk can only be wise when it happens, so don’t allow the delicacy of this topic to go unaddressed. Talk about the distractions and discouragements that might make sex difficult for you. Ask questions and listen attentively to your spouse’s responses.
Second, serve one another. Sex isn’t something we demand. Rather, a husband and wife give sex to one another as a gift (1 Corinthians 7:3). In pursuing the pleasure of your spouse, you are glorifying God with your body.
Finally, pray for each other. Take what you have discussed to the author and perfecter of your sex life. Ask for his help. Remember that sex is a conversation God has already initiated with us in his word. Believe that he is for you. God created sex and delights in married couples enjoying it. Trust him by talking to him together.
A defining moment — that “first link on a memorable day” — can set the direction of a marriage for years to come. How newlyweds respond to these moments determines whether they stumble along separately or move forward together.
Young couples, mark these four moments as divine opportunities, and allow the good news of the Father’s love for you to be what defines the future of your marriage.