Is Your Focus on Your Marriage Rating Where It Needs to Be—On You?
Growing and Maturing
There’s a fancy theological word the Bible uses when talking about our continued spiritual growth while on earth—sanctification. For example, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” And the apostle Peter wrote about “the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). Basically, what this means is that God, through His Holy Spirit, is always at work in our lives, growing and maturing us as Christians. And as long as we are breathing on this earth, our sanctification is not complete. There is still room to grow, for both the infant believer at the beginning of his journey and the lifelong disciple in her last days.
My wife, Sarah, and I are well aware of the sanctifying work still going on inside each of us, as well as how far we have to go. In fact, Sarah, a farm girl, often says to our kids, "If I stop growing, take me outside and shoot me." Even those not as comfortable with such language can still identify with her. Basically, if we’re no longer growing and maturing as disciples of Jesus, then why should we still be here?
God calls us to keep growing. And this applies to our marriages too. Scripture’s command in Ephesians 5:33 for the husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband is an ongoing one. We must be intentional to do our best to love and respect our spouse every single day. It will never become something we do on autopilot, without fail. We’ll never receive a checkmark next to “Love” or “Respect,” as though we have perfectly fulfilled these commands.
Yes, we can always improve, but we will never arrive, at least not on this side of eternity. In a sense, we need to focus not on the “end game” of having perfected marriage (because we never will) but on enjoying the journey of becoming wiser and more skilled in marriage, even though the journey will be replete with mishaps.
As well, our focus should be not on the marriage as a whole or on our spouse, but on ourselves. Just as God’s sanctifying work in me is about my personal sanctification, not on the sanctification of the church or body of Christ as a whole, my command from Ephesians 5 to love and respect unconditionally is also about me, regardless of Sarah’s response. We should all come to the place where we say to ourselves, “This is who I choose to be and become regardless of my spouse making that choice.”
Are You Rating Your Marriage, or Rating You?
We are a society that likes to rate things. From Yelp, to Amazon, to TripAdvisor, we love to place stars or other ratings on different types of things, giving our personal opinion on how well someone or something is doing. We often do the same for our relationships, giving it three stars, or six stars, or maybe even nine. But when we do so, more than likely we are rating the marriage relationship as a whole, or maybe even our spouse. However, what we should be focusing on is rating only that which we can control—ourselves! And when we focus on our own responsibilities within the marriage, it is very possible that though your marriage could rate a 6 on a scale of 1-10, you can be at a 9 as a husband or wife. Let me explain.
A husband emailed me, "Even though, on the outside, to many, it looked like we had a great marriage (we do), there are several areas of our marriage that I had secretly given up on. On a scale of 1-10, we were living with a 5-6 marriage most of the time. We both wanted a marriage that was characterized by being in the 9-10 range (at least some of the time)."
I like his comment, "at least some of the time." There will be no perfect 10 all the time. We are flawed. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all fall short in marriage. However, we can minimize those imperfections that reveal just how ugly we can be. We can do it differently. We can be more aware and enabled as we apply the information and tools that Scripture provides for us for both our spiritual health and our marital health. We can allow God’s sanctifying work in us to help us become better husbands and better wives. We can become better at showing unconditional love, better at showing unconditional respect. But never perfect. Not on this earth, at least. We must see ourselves as works in progress.
And keep in mind that we cannot control the outcomes in our spouse. They, too, are works in progress who will have their good days and their bad. So as great as it would be to rate a marriage at an 8, we really can only control how we rate as individual husbands and wives. We can only control our own actions and reactions toward our spouse. Though the marriage hovers around 5 or 6, the individual husband or wife can do marriage in a way that is a 9 to God. A husband can be loving (9) even when his wife is disrespectful (4), rating them a 6.5. Or, a wife can be respectful (8.5) even when her husband is unloving (3.5), rating them a 6.
It’s only human to try and “rate your marriage.” Is it an 8 or a 9? Could it be as low as a 3 or 4? But as a wife cannot control her husband’s obedience to love her unconditionally, and a husband cannot control his wife’s obedience to show him unconditional respect, we should focus less on rating the marriage and more on rating ourselves as individuals. How are you doing in God’s commands to you to love and respect?
How is God’s sanctifying work in you helping you become a better spouse? You will never be perfect, and neither will your marriage, but are you growing as a husband or a wife? Are you progressively moving from a 4 to a 5 to a 6, and so on? That is where your focus should be.
Questions to Consider
- Is it more discouraging or encouraging to you to know that you will always be in need of growth here on earth, that you will never be able to love or respect perfectly? How so?
- Emerson says that we should all come to the place where we can say, "This is who I choose to be and become regardless of my spouse making that choice." What is most challenging to you in learning to love or respect better independent of your spouse’s actions?
- Have you ever attempted to “rate your marriage”? Why should our focus be on rating ourselves and not the marriage as a whole?
- In what ways has God’s sanctifying work in you helped you become a better spouse? Is there still more work to do?