I’m one of those girls who would rather watch a superhero movie than a rom-com, the kind who had no idea there were different kinds of engagement rings, and the sort who planned on traveling the world being a free spirit (well, while Instagramming).
The irony of sharing my thoughts on marriage is certainly not lost on me. A few years ago, I had given up on commitment after a series of highly dysfunctional relationships. I often found myself thinking how much easier it would be just to serve God solo. The idea of being known, loved, and challenged sounded…just gross.
A few months ago I hit my second wedding anniversary, and my relationship with my husband Aaron has been the single most spiritually transformative element of my life. I’m confident that there’s wisdom to be found in good marriages whether you’re single, married, or in a relationship with pizza on Facebook; so I’m thrilled to get to share a piece of my experience.
At this point, I’m fairly convinced that marriage is actually about courage.
COURAGE TO CONNECT:
The first thing to become apparent when I married Aaron is that I craved connection, but often lacked the courage to get it. We all want to be known and loved, but we don’t want the negative, messy parts of who we are to slip out in the process. I only wanted Aaron to see my good sides, and while we were dating, I was horrified when my humanity would rear its ugly head.
Marriage taught me that when you get truly close to someone, there’s nowhere to hide. They see all the best parts of you, and you’re appreciated like you’ve never been before— but they also see the parts of yourself you’ve managed to keep secret from friends, coworkers, and everyone else you’re desperate to impress. Everything is on the table.
They see you when you surprise yourself with how loving and compassionate you are, and they observe the moments you wish you could scratch from the record. It takes real bravery and honest strength to accept that someone wants to connect with you even after they authentically know you. It takes courage to lay your heart, your battle wounds, and your brokenness on the table. But it’s the only way to create the connection we crave.
COURAGE TO RECEIVE:
What that connection means is that you learn how to be fully loved. You learn how to accept kindness and admiration from someone who’s seen you fail…more than a few times.
I actually think that’s the trickiest part of a marriage. Just letting myself be loved in the lowest moments when I’m sure I don’t deserve it. We learn that “love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrongs,” but it’s harder to receive it than to recite it. The practice of accepting steadfast love is incredibly humbling; my natural instinct is to fight to earn every drop of generosity Aaron tries to give me. Of course, that’s impossible. We can’t keep up a scorecard of how much someone is allowed to love us based on our behavior. But boy, do I try.
Last summer, I went through one of the toughest seasons of my life. I felt like I had nothing to give. Nothing to offer that deserved his affection. When he kept on loving me, piling on the acts of kindness as I lay in bed hurting, I came face to face with a fear I didn’t even know I had: a fear I couldn’t pay him back. Did I dare to just take the gift of genuine love? Was I brave enough? The answer was eventually yes, but it was a hard-fought battle to get there.
I had to develop the courage to not only receive love, but to believe that someone else could see more worth in me than I sometimes see in myself. Once I gave into that kindness, though, it radically changed how I approached myself in the mirror each morning. I started to see a woman who was loveable. Fun. Bright. Secure. And I loved others more when I worried about myself less. Once I was brave enough to receive real love, it taught me how to love myself, too.
COURAGE TO GIVE:
Now, for the part that almost sent me screaming from the man I loved: the fearlessness to not only receive, but to give, that unconditional love.
We have built our entire culture around avoiding rejection, from ghosting second dates to hiding behind screens to hurting someone before they hurt us. The most counter-cultural thing in the world is to give affection with no strings attached, risking everything we fear to gain everything we want.
To love Aaron open-heartedly and without restraint has been the Mt. Everest of my marriage. The risk of hurt seemed too high to climb, and it took almost a full year after we were married for me to truly commit to that kind of love.
Here’s what happened: last summer, Aaron confessed to pain he’d been dealing with since he was 13, and it shook me to my core. It seemed like my world was crumbling too as I watched my husband face his demons, and a big part of me wanted to stand aside in case they hurt me too. But as I pushed him away, I realized that the only thing that had ever changed me was love. The love of Christ and the echo of that love I received from my husband had rescued me out of shame, insecurity, depression, and so much more. And didn’t the Bible say that it was better to give than receive?
I realized that our only chance at making it out alright was if I radically loved Aaron through his past, pain, and pretenses. I had to flood him with that undeserved love he so often gave me. I brought myself back in from my isolated tower of judgement, watching him deal with a problem alone. As I re-engaged, I watched my freely-given love provide him with the strength to fight. He beat the pain and the past, and the second year of our marriage blew the first out of the water as I finally mustered the courage to give.
Giving my unconditional love away might have been my Mt. Everest, but on the other side of the mountain is freedom to love without fearing the consequences.
The single biggest revelation of all has been this: I’m learning how to love someone with a shadow of the love Jesus gave to me. When I force myself to let Aaron love me in my darkest moments, I remember that there’s an ever-present God that wants to show me an even greater affection. When I feel my heart craving to connect, I recall that God longs to connect with me too. And when I give Aaron my love instead of judgment, I recognize the one who gave mercy to me.
So I’ve been asking myself: how can I love my husband, and then my world, in a way that shows what unconditional means? Aaron’s love is a glimmer of hope… if he loves me so well, how much more does Jesus? And so every day I pray to go out into my life and relay the message to someone that they’re already loved. Marriage isn’t the end-all, it’s the beacon leading us to the One who loves us most.