God’s Love and My Flawed Marriage

My friend Harold called me about a month ago, asking, “Can you come speak on marriage at our church retreat? We have so many couples in crisis!”Mike-and-Jen-238x300

H’mm, I thought. I enjoy public speaking. The date is open. I can promote my latest book. It’s a great opportunity to share God’s love. Everything checked out perfectly. But even while my mouth formed a “Yes,” my stomach churned a “No!” in the fearful defiance of a child being forced to shake hands with a stranger.

I do marriage counseling. I must be somewhat effective, or the referrals wouldn’t keep rolling in. But something about teaching marriage seminars unnerves me. It must be the vulnerability factor. You see, counseling focuses on the client. The clients could really care less about my personal life. I could be on my seventh divorce, and as long as I helped them, they’d pay it no mind.

But when one teaches, one goes on display. Even the most private public speaker (How’s that for an oxymoron?), just by virtue of addressing a subject as a kind of expert, submits herself to the question: Does it work for her? Marriage seminar presenters could very well live in a glass case on wheels with the placard “Exhibit A” attached to the front. Roll them in, they talk, you watch and see if the water in the fishbowl ever gets frothy with conflict, cold with apathy, or murky with negativity. If so, forget everything they said and go on to the next seminar.

Now that I’ve made you wonder if Michael and I hate each other, I’ll assure you that we don’t. In fact, we love each other more with each passing day. Most of the time we live in sweet peace and harmony. We share many passions, including organic gardening, camping, winning souls to Jesus, and our beautiful daughters. We pray together twice a day, almost without fail. Most of all, our shared history (33 years and counting) flows between us, a powerful, surging river, sometimes shooting up in sparkly moments of reminiscence: “Remember how Alison used to call shampoo ‘bubbles-a-rubbit?’” “I wonder where Marsha and Daniel are now.” “Man, you were so good-looking, why did you fall for me?”*

Okay, enough beating around the bush. My husband and I have struggles. Significant conflicts. Philosophical differences. Without giving you the deets, let me say that, ideologically speaking, it sometimes feels like Obama and Romney under one roof. And those differences have pretty much parked themselves in our living room like a dissembled car that no one knows how to fix. Because neither of us handle differences with perfect love, emotions flare at times and feelings get hurt. Sometimes we go on vacation from each other, not talking much for a few days. Humanly speaking, some consider us a complete mismatch. These realities have kept me from wanting to speak publicly on marriage. We love each other, but we’re not always camera-ready.

But one thing makes me willing to pack my bags next Friday and jet off to Dayton, Ohio to stand in front of people and talk about something I haven’t mastered. It’s that I myself don’t want to hear about an ideal marriage. I don’t want to hear from someone who has never cried herself to sleep or lost his temper and thrown something. It’s not that those in ideal marriages are bad people—in fact they may be really, really good people. And quite possibly their marriages really are better than mine. But I need to hear how God’s love can flow into and around and through even a flawed marriage. As a counselor I’ve watched people whittle away at a problem only to make it worse by their “fixing.” But once they started to love one another in Christ in spite of the problem, once they accepted their partner as they were,* the problem shrunk like a tumor, into the perspective of agape, which never fails.

I believe we should do all we can to ensure compatibility before we marry and harmony within marriage. But when inevitable differences arise, and when the flow of human love exhausts itself in the heat of the battle, are we to assume that God has withdrawn His blessing? If I know my God, He’s just pulling back one blessing to make room for a better one. And that better one is the love of Jesus, flowing into us and our relationships in fuller and fuller streams until He comes again.

*Jen talking to Mike. Don’t take the past tense to mean he’s not still gorgeous.
*Abuse and infidelity shouldn’t be accepted, ever.



God’s Love and My Flawed Marriage — 9 Comments

  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for encouraging us to think outside the box.

    You write, “I need to hear how God’s love can flow into and around and through even a flawed marriage,” and I think we all need to know that. Furthermore, I believe that’s how God’s transforming power is best revealed–in flawed human beings learning to love as He loves. And it’s an ongoing process.

    You also mention “the most private public speaker” as an oxymoron, but it may not be that much of an oxymoron. On two separate occasions an outstanding, apparently charismatic seminar speaker admitted to being just that kind of person. One was a man, the other a woman presenting at a women’s retreat. Both confessed to ordinarily being very private and shy persons. 🙂

    I particularly remember inviting the female speaker to sit beside me at lunch, and she was not just gracious, but seemed genuinely grateful. She shared, “I may look like I have it all together, when I speak, and I enjoy speaking. But I’m really shy about meeting new people one-on-one.”

    Just goes to show that we’re all full of contradictions.

    And to our readers, I’d like to say: Don’t be intimidated by apparently successful, charismatic leaders. They’re human, just like you and I, and they need friendship and love. Let’s offer both freely.

  2. I really enjoyed listening to your testimony and hearing your thoughts on marriage. I have been married for almost 7 years and I've learned that selfishness is usually what stands in the way of contentment within marriage. Personally, I feel society and people in general promote self happiness and self-fulfillment. Society says find a mate to gain and not to give, but a marriage is about helping each other and working together. The word "help" implies that everything is not the way it should be alone, a need is present. When God created help-mates, I believe he created us to help us work together to accomplish the same good works. If our values are not in line with one another, things will be extremely difficult, but if we believe our values hold us together and we have the same goals in mind, by putting self aside we can live an enjoyable life together. There isn't a cookie-cutter formula for marriages because all of us have different lives, share different experiences, and desire love that should be manifested in different ways. The sooner we learn how to love and receive love in a self-less way the better we all will be within our marriages.

  3. Welcome Jen to the SSNET!! This is one of my favorite spots. I also like your post which is one of the best you have written.
    Marriage is about committment and not about getting what we want. As my father once told me when I was so unhappy, "You need to give more" and he was right. Anyway, I look forward to your posts.

  4. Thank you Jennifer for this lesson. You are not alone in this situation.
    We just need to refer back to our manufacturer who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
    We also have got the same challenges in our marriage and this is even further
    compounded by the fact that we go to different churches.
    We agree on almost everything that the bible says and yet differ on the SABBATH,
    Please pray for our marriage and our family. It is my blessed hope that one day
    we will have these differences resolved through the GRACE OF THE LORD and be able
    to attend one church as is required by our LORD JESUS CHRIST when he blessed and
    sanctified the SABBATH on creation and also when he ordained marriage in the Garden of Eden.
    May the good LORD bless and guide us as we labor in his vineyard. Happy Sabbath to all his

  5. Dear Makosi, the Lord Jesus has answered you already. My family was in this shamble, my mama attends different church other than the one my father attends; we the children same, before Christ did His miracle. Now the whole family in one faith are Adventist. Yours will not be an exception. God will do it - Happy family and One Faith for You. Happy Sabbath

  6. thank you very much for this post. this is not only happening to you, Jen. Lots of marriages in our church are experiencing the same situation. i want to share this lesson with the couples in our church. Personally as a church leader I'm tasked on some occasions to speak about tips on how to have a happy marriage but I hesitate because there are also struggles in my marriage. I agree with you that if we will allow God's love to reign in our hearts,we can start building our home that it would be like a little heaven on Earth. Let's pray for each other and for all marriages who are struggling.

  7. My husband and I married for the 2nd time. He has already had an affair, an addiction to porn and I believe he just had another affair recently.
    I am trying my best to be the wife God would have me to be, but right now I am discouraged. He believes if he repents to God he is fine. I believe he also should be open and honest with me. He has defiled our marriage vows and our union with God. I can forgive the affair, what is hard is knowing he continues to lie about it. I believe he will continue to be secretive until his heart truly is ready to let it go. I love my husband and he has taken me thru the ringer but I'm hanging in there. Or am I? He has recently stopped watching porn and is trying to live for Christ, but he gets upset when we discuss other women. I just need some truth because I am ready to leave.

    • Torn Apart, I'm sorry for your distress. Your husband is accountable to both God and you for his infidelity. Repeated cheating means he's not repentant at all, to God or to you. Perhaps you should consider marriage counseling to get some perspective. Often when we're in a bad situation we develop a kind of tolerance to it and it can help to have another pair of eyes on the situation.

      • I have asked him to go to counseling but he refuses. I have considered going myself but what would that help? I continually pray, my faith is in God, yet my flesh is weak. Thank you for your response.


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