Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13, I attended a women’s Bible study covering the topic of marriage. It was one of those Wednesday night studies where the chosen book provided detailed and insightful commentary into a prominent, Biblical, female character and was typically written by a prominent, female, religious author. Keep in mind that I probably wasn’t even fully pubescent yet. That being the case, I’ve always known that being a wife and mother was all I wanted out of life. So I was the token child that wanted to grow up before her time, and it was cute that I was there. I sensed the general attitude of “Bless her heart,” and “How sweet…she has hope in her eyes,” but I knew they meant well. I could also see that the light had gone out of the eyes of many a woman in that circle, and it terrified me. This is worth noting: I had known many of these women for a number of years. I was observant. I knew their husbands; I knew their children; I knew enough of their own personal struggles, personalities, and tendencies to appreciate and silently respect their weariness. My naivety didn’t cloud my sensitivity.
I don’t remember what Biblical woman they were studying or how the topic arose, but I vividly remember the discussion that particular night pertaining to the difficulties of marriage and the conflicts that arise in any relationship… arguments, disrespect, misunderstandings, etc. Every wife had a personal tidbit to share, an anecdote, a piece of advice, and they all had their own opinions. It felt like a support group. “Hi, my name is _____, and my husband and I fight.”
The air drastically changed when one of the women timidly broke her silence and said, “My husband and I never fight. I don’t remember a time when he’s ever spoken to me angrily or in a disrespectful manner. We’re generally very peaceful.” It was like she’d spoken blasphemy. Immediately, women started passively attacking her, insinuating that maybe she and her husband didn’t actually have a healthy relationship, much less any relationship at all. How could that possibly be? To be married and have never fought? Something must be wrong with her. Or with them. Or she must be implying that she’s better than the rest, that she’s better at marriage. Of course that could never be. It blew over rather quickly in the name of Christian charity, but I saw every sideways glance, every look of feigned compassion. The damage had been done. Passive, cold shoulders had been turned her way, judgements had been made, and lines were drawn. I truly don’t have many memories of this woman in church much after that (which may or may not be accurate, but I know without a doubt that she remembers this exchange more clearly than I).
I have to admit that even in my inexperienced, hopefully romantic heart, I felt a twinge of disbelief at her statement. How dare she admit to marital happiness in the midst of the obvious pain being discussed around her? I almost felt sad for her, that in some way she must not be experiencing true marriage. She must be lonely to have never had a fight with her husband. It just didn’t make SENSE. I’d grown up in a beautiful home with two parents that love the Lord and love each other. We’d never been given reason to doubt their commitment, and yet I and my siblings knew that even THEY weren’t immune.
I’m married now. It’s been a little over one year since I married Matt. Everyone says the first year is the hardest. We often look at each other and think, “If THIS is the hardest, then this is really nice.” We’ve had our moments, it’s true. But even in the hardest, most heated and emotional arguments, there’s been no yelling, no slamming of doors, no stomping off, no name calling… but even for all of that, there have managed to be some hurt feelings, because there simply is no way for two people who were once strangers to live in the same house without there being some form of misunderstanding. We have had to do some heavy analyzing, some heavy talking, and some heavy forgiving. I don’t know that I would ever speak up in a Bible study and say that we have never fought, that we’ve never once said an unkind word or spoken out of hurt. But I do know that every day Matt and I make conscious, poignant, hard, real, decisions to not respond to each other in ways we would have previously. In our own ways, we’ve “been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.” We’ve had the gift of learning a lot about our own mistakes and tendencies before being thrown into the ring together, and it has benefited our relationship. I’m sure there’s a wise woman leaning back in her chair, nodding her head saying, “Their time will come.” And we know it will. We’re not afraid to disagree, and we know better than we thought possible that it’s not about thinking alike; it’s about thinking together.
I’ve recently seen a marriage close to me go through fire. Hell. They went through hell. They went through an experience that I’ve honestly never personally seen a couple survive. They’ve come out stronger. They know this is due to utmost humility and total submission to the Lord and His will. They’ve experienced nights of absolute heartbreak, unbelievable pain, and unprecedented confusion that left both of them stripped down to shreds of bone, desperately trying to heal and rebuild. They gave themselves over to the Lord and asked Him to change their hearts. Not the heart of their spouse, but their OWN heart. And it didn’t happen at the same time. They did away with the myth that you wait for the other person to be sorry first to apologize. There was no punishing. No groveling. No performance. So I’ve seen that marriage is hard. I’ve experienced that marriage is hard. But I also know that nothing is insurmountable. (For the sake of political correctness, which seems to be necessary because someone will undoubtedly jump in with their exception to the rule, let me just say that there are obvious marriage/relationship situations which are not healthy and in which God has provided ways of escape, and it does take two to tango. But there is no shame in that, only grace.)
In reality, my point here is less about marriage. It’s actually not even about marriage at all. Everything I’ve just said is to somehow and insufficiently “prove” to whoever reads this that I have grounds and experience to voice an opinion on this matter in the first place. Which, I offer, is exactly and ironically the problem.
What happened that night at the Bible study was appalling. I was so taken aback and shocked. I’ve never before mentioned it to anyone, but I’ve thought about it often. If I am truly honest with myself, it’s the reason I’m not attending the women’s Bible study I just bought a book for (and am loving). As I voice this for the first time, it’s also the reason I never attended hall worship in college if I could help it. As selfish and immature as my reasons behind that may have been, and of which I am well aware, the point is that WE ARE SO UNKIND TO EACH OTHER. It is a human problem that spreads across denominations and cultures. Vulnerability is attacked rather than commended. If someone opens up, we judge rather than rejoice. We determine someone else’s worth based on our own inconsistencies, and often the things that bother us most in others are the things we need to address in ourselves. This is a heavy concept.
I came across an unpublished, unedited article written by Elisabeth Elliot on her website, and it’s one of the most beautiful depictions of marriage I’ve ever read. It’s titled, Marriage: A Revolution and a Revelation. It’s hardly a romantic name, but it is compelling and hopeful. That woman—thanks to my precious mother who spent countless hours reading to us, playing audiobooks on cross-country drives, and praying endlessly over her children—has long fanned my flame of what it means to be a Godly woman. Everything else comes after that. She has shaped my view of feminism, a concept that seems like a moot point to me in light of what it means to be a leader, a servant, a human being created and saved by the God of the universe. I highly, highly recommend it as she states many things about marriage in an undeniably beautiful, humble, commanding and convicting manner. But what prompted me to write this today was the firm belief that we as Christians MUST BE KIND TO EACH OTHER. It’s as simple as that. Yet, it is the HARDEST thing we are called to do. We were told that to love our neighbor as ourselves is one of the most encompassing commandments. It sounds like child play, and yet we find it nearly impossible to do on a daily basis as human beings. God knows that this requires complete selflessness. He knows that it is only possible when stemming from a relationship with Him. That that kind of love and forgiveness doesn’t exist apart from him. This is the beautiful reality… in telling us to love one another, He directly reveals our need for Him in its deepest, rawest sense.
In closing, a simple excerpt from the article by Elisabeth Elliot:
“In the mercy of God a still small voice broke through my anger–Love gives up itself. I knew then that I was every whit as sinful as my husband. I needed grace. I slid out of bed, tiptoed to another room and opened my Bible. Providentially ’it fell’ on that clear-as-crystal passage in I Corinthians 13:
‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Those were hard words to swallow. But what about him? I said to myself. The Spirit of God broke through my self-pitying armor, prompting me to replace the word love with my name:
‘Elisabeth is patient, Elisabeth is kind. She does not envy, does not boast . . . keeps no record of wrongs.’
I could go no further. Each statement was a lie, and God was speaking unequivocally.”
Copyright 2010, Elisabeth Elliot, All rights reserved. Page 17-18
Marriage: A Revolution and a Revelation, by Elisabeth Elliot