It happened at a bridal shower a decade back. The woman sharing a devotional time thought the bride would benefit from tidbits of wisdom given by long-married women. She’d prepared her talk by asking a dozen married friends to give one sentence of advice to the guest of honor.
When she asked me for my thought, Nate and I were going through a rough patch. I remember saying, “Tell her marriage is life’s great crucible.” She laughed, thinking I was joking, but I wasn’t.
During the bridal shower, she shared the statements about marriage gleaned from the “older women:”
- “Remember to laugh at yourself.”
- “Read the Bible and pray together.”
- “Never criticize your husband in public.”
These were excellent nuggets of wisdom, proven true over years of time. When my crucible statement was shared, the bride laughed, along with everyone else. I laughed, too, not wanting guests to know it originated with me. But even today, from my vantage point as a new widow, I don’t think I’d withdraw my statement.
We’ve all heard preachers say, “God isn’t as interested in our happiness as in our growth.” Scripture backs that up. We also know our greatest spiritual growth occurs during times of trouble. When life is a party, we don’t need help; when we’re crying, we turn to God.
What better way for him to ensure we stay close than to put stressful circumstances into our marriages? I’m not talking about the honeymoon or the newlywed stage, although some couples find they’re in a crucible immediately. But even those who’ve had a good launch come to tough stuff eventually.
I think God had our personal growth in mind when he invented marriage. Two people, usually opposites, come together with a desire to make each other their number one priority, not just for a while but for life. It’s an impossible goal, because with the first argument, priorities wobble.
So, God designs custom-made tests for each couple to coax them into pulling him into the mix. Some are like pop quizzes, short, with easy solutions:
- “Can’t you put your dirty clothes in the hamper?”
- “Why don’t you call, if you’ll be late?”
- “You forgot to write down that check amount!”
- “Are you ever on time?”
These are irritants, not crucibles. Over time, we learn the benefits of compromising. If we love our partners, we won’t “go to the wall” over these things.
But some God-designed tests truly are crucibles:
- a retarded child
- in-law troubles
- job loss
- an affair
- a stillborn baby.
Statistics prove that when excruciating tests come, marriage casualties occur as well. So how can a relationship survive if God allows such pain? The only way is to square off with our spouses and say, “We won’t let this pull us apart. Let’s figure out how to pull together instead and pass this test.” Usually the answer involves God.
My husband is gone now, and I’ve been quick to look back and say, “I sure wish I’d done that differently,” or “I definitely failed my test there.” For me, time’s up. Nate and I will be given no more opportunities to pass marriage tests. For other people there are still chances.
Scripture says the way to succeed at this, right in the middle of the stress, is to ask, “What can I do for you, dear, right now? What would mean the most?” We don’t readily set aside our own suffering to ask those questions, and it isn’t possible without God’s strength. But if we do it, God brings us through the crucibles in tact and stronger because of them. There are other rewards, too: harmony, joy, increased love, better sex, a heart for each other and yes, periods of full-on happiness.
But just like when we watch an airplane approach the runway, we see the lights of the next one in the distance. Husbands and wives need to know that more challenges are on the way. With God as our tutor, the Bible as our study guide and a desire to pass every test, high-quality, long marriages will be the reward.
“Be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:2-4)