I remember the day marriage finally made sense to me. I was flying to a speaking engagement and complaining to God in prayer.

God, you knew what I was like and what I would need in a husband. So are You sure You knew what You were doing when You led me to Hugh?

I was convinced God brought the two of us together. I knew He was in it from the day I met Hugh. But certainly God knew that my husband would not be one to express himself verbally in the way I was expecting. Certainly God knew that I would many times need more, emotionally, than my husband appeared able to give. So why did God let it happen? And why wasn't He transforming my husband so he would be the kind of man to meet my needs and expectations?

It was then as if God had pulled me aside and whispered something profound to me:

"Perhaps I was looking at what he needed."

According to the Bible, man was created in the image of God. And woman was created to be man's helper. Woman was created so man would be complete. God didn't create Adam so Eve could be romanced. To the contrary, He created Eve so Adam would have a helper…one suited for him in every way (Genesis 2:18).

In other words, it wasn't all about me. Ouch!

I'm embarrassed to say that for the first 15 or so years of our marriage, I never really thought too much about what my husband needed in a wife…but I thought quite a bit about what I needed in a husband and how he was falling short of my expectations. I hadn't put my own feelings aside long enough to say, "God, show me why you brought me into this man's life and how I can truly help him be all that You created him to be."  I hadn't put myself on the shelf long enough to see the bigger, more beautiful picture of what God has in mind when He brings two people, who are very different from each other,  together to form a union.  

It's tough to leave self on the shelf. Self wants to rule. Self wants its own way. Self suffocates. And self destroys.

The Bible shows us what the opposite of self looks like when it describes love, which is self less:

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn't selfish or quick tempered. It doesn't keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! 1 Corinthians 13:8a, CEV

Sometimes our marriage looks the opposite of the biblical description of love. We can be unkind, impatient, jealous, boastful, proud and even rude! There are times we are quick-tempered with each other. And God knows there are times we keep records of the wrongs we do to each other. But recognizing what we don't want our relationship to look like is one of the first steps to walking together toward a newer, fresher, lovelier one.

When I got home from that speaking engagement, I had a new perspective on my marriage. Instead of praying for my husband to meet my needs, I began to ask God to show me how I could meet my husband's. Instead of looking at his short-comings, I began to ask God to expose to me my own.  Instead of focusing on my desires, I began to pray about how I could meet his.  And it not only gave me grace to extend to his weaknesses (as I became more aware of my own) but it changed my heart. And our marriage.

My friend, Rhonda, told me how she was able to leave herself on the shelf in her marriage, when it came to expecting her husband, Steve, to meet all of her needs.

"As I grew more intimate with Christ, I let my husband off the hook. He no longer had to be my everything. I could find joy, rest, security and peace in my relationship with Christ. My husband no longer had to be my god. He could be my husband, my friend, my ministry mate. The intimacy in our relationship has always been healthier when I pursue intimacy with Christ first over trying to squeeze every ounce of life out of my husband to make me feel like we are intimate. As we each work on growing more intimate with Christ we find we are more intimate with each other."