All my girlfriends were in a desperate frenzy to find a husband, and I was the fish swimming against the current. I gave a resounding “yes” to Paul when he said, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Corinthians 7:7).
But my upstream swim was due to a dark cloud of fear blocking my vision. I was afraid of marriage. I was afraid of getting hurt.
Though I wanted to remain single (sometimes selfishly), God kept putting marriage on my heart. I sensed he wanted to give me a gift, but in my heart I kept resisting him. To me, marriage looked mostly bleak and dark. I didn’t want to be put in a vulnerable position, because I wanted a life without personal pain and heartache.
Then I met my future husband.
As I confronted my fears in our dating relationship, I kept walking ahead with faith in my Father. God gave me peace to trust him on that path, and the end result was marriage.
Is Marriage Really a Gift?
But a few years into marriage, I began to question again whether it was truly a gift. Aren’t gifts supposed to make you feel good? There is typically pleasure and happiness in giving and receiving gifts.
Marriage doesn’t always feel like this type of gift, because at times it does not make us happy. Marriage is hard. We humans tend to have a shallow view of the word “gift” against the higher definition and purpose God has in mind. When God gives gifts, his number one aim is not our felt sense of happiness.
I wrongly viewed the gift of marriage through the cultural lenses of romanticism and sentimentality. My perspective of gifts in marriage looked like a dozen red roses, romantic lakeside picnics, balloons, and teddy bears. Paul Miller, in his book A Loving Life, compares this romanticized view of marriage to Disney:
The promise — marriage happily ever after — dominates the popular mind of our age. It is a good but unrealistic dream. When God is removed from the dream, the story turns out badly. Christianity without Jesus just doesn’t work. The Disney dream raises unrealistic expectations and then dashes them on the rocks of human frailty.
Like Miller says, the dream is good; it just needs some tweaking. Romance and sentimentality are a special part of marriage, and gifts we can delight in, but God is taking us somewhere deeper when he tells us marriage is a gift. He wants us to put on his glasses of grace: the glasses of his purposes for his glory and our good.
When God is added back into the dream, our vision for marriage suddenly becomes more clear. The gift he gives us surpasses the gift we wanted, and becomes a true treasure.
Gift from God for Others
When Paul describes marriage as a “gift” in 1 Corinthians 7:7, he puts the focus off of ourselves, and our small Disneyworld dreams for our marriages, and puts the focus on God and on others. Paul is telling us that marriage is a gift of his grace to us whereby we are empowered by the Spirit to take part in the advancement of his kingdom — for his glory, and to serve the good of others.
Marriage is about God and others. Marriage is about fulfilling God’s kingdom purposes on earth and advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a spiritual gift designed to grant grace to us, to our spouse, and to the body of Christ.
For so many of us, our desires for marriage are much too weak, because they revolve around us. When our desires only go as far as ourselves, we will be discontent and disappointed with marriage. But if we put on God’s glasses and view marriage through the lens of the charisma he gives, we will persevere in faith and enjoy the beauty of his gift.
Weak Desires and Small Dreams
C.S. Lewis talks about our weak desires in his sermon “The Weight of Glory,”
It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
We need the grace of God to strengthen our weak desires and redirect them toward the true gift of marriage. This gift is countercultural. Marriage is a form of divine gift — grace in action. Marriage is not about us, but about God. And this is the gift we are given in marriage: more of God.
What we thought was about us and our fairytale dream is turned upside down, and the reality is suddenly before us. The reality is much better than the fantasy, even though it doesn’t feel like it at first. But more of God means more joy, more freedom, and more peace no matter the circumstances in our marriage.
The True Gift in Marriage
When we draw near to God in the realities of marriage, we will find that he was there all along. The dream-chasing was really all about Christ, because the desires we want fulfilled in marriage were always meant to be met finally in him. We just chase weak and pale imitations of the shining reality of glory found in God himself.
Marriage won’t look like the type of gift God intended until we come to the end of ourselves. This is the point where we raise our hands in surrender and say, “I can’t do it,” because we finally know we desperately need the grace of God. We must place our ultimate hope not in marriage, or our husbands, but in God and his word. When our hope is in the right place, we will see the gift of marriage in the proper light.
Now that I understand the true gift God has given me in marriage, I’m no longer resisting his grace, but accepting and receiving it, believing it will change me and draw me closer to him.