I remember the moment I stood before my groom and recited my wedding vows. I certainly didn’t expect life to be perfect, but I assumed my marriage would be filled with more of “better” than “worse.”
With stars in my eyes, and blissfully unaware of what the future would hold, I confidently vowed, “I take you, Jeff, to be my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”
That was almost 13 years ago.
Trials can test your marriage vows
Little did I know those thirteen years would hold chronic illness, financial loss, special needs, suffering children, marital strain, and overwhelming stress. I never imagined that I’d experience so much of the “worse, poorer, and in sickness” part of our vows.
But I’m grateful as I reflect on the unexpected trials that have tested our marriage. In God’s goodness, the “worse” parts of our marriage have ushered in a deeper, Christ-centered experience of the “better.” This hasn’t come without the pain of loss and failure; yet Christ has used it to mature us in him, change our character, and increase our love for each other.
This, of course, is only possible with and through Christ. While God can certainly change the heart of a non-believing spouse and use the pain of unbelief to draw both spouses to himself, the following truths reflect a husband and wife who’ve put their faith in Christ and desire to follow him. If you’re married to an unbelieving spouse, I pray God will use the trials to draw them to a saving faith in Christ.
Trials can make your marriage better
So how can the “worse, poorer, and in sickness” parts of marriage bring about a “better” richness in our relationship with Christ and one another?
Trials reveal our inability to meet our spouse’s deepest needs, teaching us to look to Christ instead (Phil. 4:19; Col. 3:1-3).
When pain hits, it’s natural to look to each other for comfort, security, happiness, and strength. I believe God allows us to experience seasons where our spouse falls short of filling our emptiness and providing for our needs because we so easily look to each other to fill that void, rather than Christ. However, seeing that our spouse is incapable of meeting our deepest needs can be God’s grace. Lord willing, our eyes will gradually be taken off our spouse and placed on Christ, where they were always intended to be.
As we look to Christ to meet our needs, be our security, comfort our aching hearts, and convict us of sin, we are more likely to come to our spouses ready to love, give, and talk with openness, rather than finger-pointing, demands, and insecurity. Though this is a lifelong process and we will continue to fail, Christ can use these afflictions to grow our character and marriage.
Trials expose our sin, reminding us that we can’t change each other, but Christ can change us both (Matt. 7:3-5).
When I’m not feeling well, I quickly become impatient, irritated, even angry when my spouse or kids rub me the wrong way. In that moment, it’s easy for me to point the finger at my family as the cause of my irritation when, in reality, my sin is the real issue.
It’s tempting to focus on our mate’s sin when life gets hard. But it’s freeing that we haven’t been given the role of changing our spouse! God alone has that power and wisdom. As God has used the “pressure” to reveal our sin, he has slowly helped us take our eyes off each other, bringing us to our knees in repentance and dependence on him. As we grow in humility, seeing our own sin more clearly, we also grow in compassion and patience toward our spouse in their own struggles with sin.
Trials teach us to appreciate our spouse’s God-given strengths (1 Cor. 12:12-27).
I always knew my husband was a hard worker. But since he lost his job, I’ve seen that strength in a new light. As I’ve watched him pour himself into job searching every day for months without quitting, I have new respect for the strength he brings to our marriage. (I would’ve been tempted to jump on a plane to Maui, rather than start over!)
Trials have grown my appreciation for the strengths God has given my husband, especially in areas that are weaknesses for me. It’s a gift in marriage when we learn to appreciate our spouse’s unique strengths. We’re often unified as we see the blessing of a helpmate who was created with different strengths and gifts for God’s purposes.
Trials help us grasp how marriage reflects the beauty of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33).
Christ has chosen us, loved us, and sacrificed himself for us. As his bride, we are to submit to him, love him, and follow him wholeheartedly, no matter the cost. Suffering will come, storms will rage, and temptations will arise, but we are one with Christ, and therefore we cannot be separated from his love.
Marriage reflects our relationship with Christ, and nothing displays this more than when a husband loves, serves, and humbly leads his wife—even when it takes great sacrifice. Similarly, nothing displays the church’s love for Christ more than when a wife respects, honors, and loves her husband—even at great cost to herself.
When we face trials as a couple, we can increasingly reflect Christ and the gospel as we grow in dependence on him, learn to humbly confess our sin, encourage each other’s strengths, bear with each other’s weaknesses, and commit to loving one another through the valleys. As we do this, we not only reflect Christ to those around us, but we simultaneously reflect Christ to our spouse.
Trials can help you move toward your spouse
If you and your spouse are facing challenges of any sort, I’ll leave you with nine practical steps to encourage you move toward each other as you learn to trust Christ for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health:
- Spend time in the Bible every day, and ask the Lord to meet you and provide all you need during this difficult time.
- When fear, insecurity, anxiousness, or frustration rise up, go to Christ first, ask for his strength, and remind yourself of his promises.
- Share with your spouse what you’re learning, how you’re struggling, and how he can pray for you. Then ask if they’d consider doing the same.
- Ask the Lord to reveal areas of sin in your heart, and entrust your spouse’s sin to his control.
- Pray with each other (if your spouse is willing) and for each other as often as possible.
- Encourage your spouse with ways you see them growing and where you see their gifts and strengths.
- Ask your spouse to name one or two areas where you can grow, and pray that Christ will help you receive their suggestions with humility.
- Though it often looks different in seasons of trial, try to make time for fun, romance, and lightheartedness. No matter how hard life gets, find ways to laugh with each other.
- Lastly, stay connected. Because trials tend to isolate, it’s important to attend a church and, if possible, a small group. Staying in community will help you keep perspective and will surround your marriage with support.
This article originally appeared on the ERLC.com, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Used with permission.
Sarah Walton is a stay-at-home mom with four kids under eight years of age. She writes at Set Apart: Hope on the Road Less Traveled.
Publication date: August 29, 2017