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How Death Can Bring Life to Your Marriage

How Death Can Bring Life to Your Marriage

“I don’t love you anymore.”

I froze, staring at my husband, the man I’d pledged to love, honor, and respect, until death. In that moment, our past flashed through my mind, sweet, romantic memories alternating with what had become frequent fights.

Way too many. But it seemed this would be our last. This time, he’d said the unthinkable. And I’d driven him to it.

Could a marriage survive without love?

A visceral reaction rippled through me. I felt numb and ill at the same time. I didn’t want to be there, at the end of our marriage, but I felt powerless to undo the years of garbage standing between us.

So I did the only thing I knew to do. I gave our marriage to Christ. To be honest, I did so flippantly, in a throw-my-hands-up, “I can’t do this anymore!” kind of way. But regardless, God heard that prayer, saw our pain, and reached into the mess we’d created to bring healing, truth, and hope. Our journey from the D-word to miraculous intimacy began with surrender. By giving our hurts, our perceptions, and our intentions to Christ. By releasing everything to God.

Life, in our souls and our marriages, begins with death.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV, emphasis mine).

We all long for intimacy—to have a relationship where we can progressively unveil the deepest part of who we are without fear of judgment or rejection. The problem is, we don’t know how to get there. Without Christ’s strength and wisdom, our attempts can actually push our mate from us. When we push for our rights rather than laying them down, our marriage becomes a competition and a battle ground rather than a place of peace and healing.

You see, mankind often approaches life and relational issues with a self-centered view which only leads to isolation. Christ asks us to take a different approach:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
   he did not think of equality with God
   as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
   and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8, NLT, emphasis mine).

Though Creator God, Jesus gave up his privileges or rights. He humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant, and died. For us.

During that painful period of marital turmoil my husband and I faced, the last thing I wanted to do was humble myself to become a servant! I wanted God to fix our relationship! To fix my husband. But God had other plans, and a much deeper way of bringing health and healing to our broken marriage. He showed me the first step of his plan in the middle of a rather lengthy and dramatic pity-prayer.

I was tired, hurt, and frustrated. In my deceived and sin-ravished mind, I’d done everything I knew to do, and nothing appeared to be working. More than that, my husband wasn’t doing what I thought he should. So I told God all about it. Not far into my list, a breath-halting visual came to mind.

It was of Jesus, kneeling in front of Judas, shortly before his betrayal and death.  

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end” (John 13:1 NLT, emphasis mine).

He loved them by humbling himself and taking on the role of a servant.

“So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:4).

He washed all of his disciples’ feet, including Judas’, the man who later betrayed Jesus with a kiss. A betrayal that led not to hurt feelings or distrust, but to his death. A very brutal and painful death.

In the middle of my pity party, God gave me a visual of my Savior, humbly loving the very one who would hurt him most. I knew he was asking me to show my husband that same kind of no-strings-attached, expect-nothing-in-return love.

It didn’t matter whether I felt my husband deserved this selfless act or not. My Savior, the one who’d died for me, deserved my full surrender. I was to love my husband in obedience to Christ. God wanted me to focus not on things from the past nor my expectations for the future, but rather, on him and his cross. That was where my strength, love, and forgiveness would be found.

According to Dr. Bruce Hebel, President of Regenerating Life Ministries, the Cross changes everything. “In our book, Forgiving Forward, one of the key concepts is, ‘The blood of Jesus covers all sins, including the ones committed against me.’” Dr. Hebel says, “We focus on, yield to, and view everything through the lens of the Cross. That’s what it means to focus on Jesus. “

In other words, to have a Christ-centered marriage, it must also be cross-centered, for apart from Christ, we are operating in our own strength, which is powerless to overcome our sinful desires. Not only that, but apart from Christ, we operate on a faulty perception, tainted by past hurts, deception, and sin.

The Bible teaches this in many passages, but my favorite example is found in Matthew 6:22-23, spoken by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” (NLT, emphasis mine).

In this verse, Jesus equates our spiritual vision with our eyesight. When our physical vision is distorted, everything becomes blurry. The same is true of our spiritual vision. God wants us to view our world, our situations, and others, including our spouses, the way He sees them. Otherwise, our interpretation of events will be faulty.  

For example, I’ve always struggled with receiving love. In essence, I came into our marriage with a high level of distrust due to past wounds. This caused me to misinterpret my husband’s actions. If he came home and appeared to withdraw with the remote and ESPN, I’d interpret this as him pulling away from me. In other words, as evidence that he didn’t truly love me. Similarly, coming from a divorce, my husband came to our marriage scarred and distrustful, always on the alert for manipulation tactics. We both operated on false assumptions and distrust, which affected our behavior, how we viewed the other’s behavior, and our intimacy level.

But Christ longs to bring us freedom, restoration, and healing.

“When you deal with the wounds of the past—when you make a conscious decision to forgive those specific offenses—it changes the present and the future,” Dr. Hebel says. “It changes everything, how you look at yourself, your mate, your kids, your circumstances. Our perspective is regenerated when we forgive.”  

We found this to be radically true. Once I surrendered my hurts to Christ and asked God to soften my heart toward him and my husband, I began to view him and his behavior differently. With increased clarity. When he’d come home and head for the couch, rather than seeing him as lazy or emotionally distant, I noticed how tired he looked. This in turn birthed compassion rather than frustration in my heart. Therefore, rather than nagging or arguing, I felt motivated to serve him. Once Christ altered my perception, my actions followed.

Next, I began to pray that God would soften my heart toward my husband and that he’d help me understand him better.

According to Dr. Hebel, a Christ-centered perception is one that focuses on others rather than one’s self. “If I’m looking at someone to meet my needs, I am self focused, which always leads to dissatisfaction.” Instead, Dr. Hebel encourages us to pray, “Jesus, be in me everything my spouse needs from me today!”

This is a prayer Christ loves to answer!

Art Girard, Associate Pastor of Family Ministries at Community Baptist Church in Alta Loma, California, encourages us to make prayer an active part of our marriage. “If we’ll take the time to listen,” Girard says, “I believe God frequently directs us in specific ways to interact with our spouses to enhance love, encouragement, and support.”

For Pastor Girard, God’s direction has been a vital part of the intimacy he shares with his wife. “I have often felt led by the Spirit to keep quiet and give Crystal space or a hug when it seemed she needed it. But also to explore whether she would prefer to talk about what she was thinking, feeling, or experiencing in a particular change. [Similarly], there have been many times when I viewed Crystal’s patience with me as a way of Christ extending grace to me. After all, loving our spouse is a very important aspect of loving others, which is part of the Great Commission. The Holy Spirit is all about that!”

Not only is our marriage an important aspect of loving others; it’s also intended to be a living, vivid example of Christ’s love for the church. Therefore, he is very concerned with our intimacy levels and is committed to help us grow in this area. This growth begins with surrendering our needs, expectations, and hurts to God. Once we do that, we can begin to view ourselves, our spouses, and our relationship with Christ’s clear perception, and with Christ’s help, we can begin to take steps toward increased marital intimacy.  

Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.

Publication date: March 31, 2014