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How God works in hard seasons in marriage

A few years ago I heard a couple say, “We’ve been married 50 years, but we’ve been happily married 49.” I remember laughing as I watched them hug each other, surrounded by countless friends and family joining in their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

There’s a hint of truth in the statement though, right?

One of my favorite books on marriage is Gary Thomas’s classic, “Sacred Marriage.” I read the book when it first released in 2009 and was immediately struck by this question: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

It’s a compelling question, isn’t it? The very notion that our happiness is not a primary consideration in anything flies in the face of everything our culture suggests. But when we look into Scripture, it’s easy to see the fundamental aim of God in our lives is for us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Peter, reiterating the Levitical command, said it plainly, “For it is written, Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 CSB).

What does it look like for us to be made holy through our marriages? How does the husband-wife relationship offer us opportunity to grow in holiness?

Marriage isn’t always happy. Even the very best marriages will face hard seasons. But what if the hard seasons are the very spaces when God is doing the deepest work in our own hearts?

Three ways God works through the hard seasons of marriage

First, hard seasons open our eyes to our own self-centeredness. I know, I don’t like to think of myself that way either. But the truth is, we are. We see the world through our own view. We can’t help it. And in marriage, as much as we are willing to serve and sacrifice, the truth is, there are times when nothing is clearer than how much we want our own way.

Second, hard seasons create a deeper desire for God. I’ve found that the more difficult days in my life, especially in my marriage, are the days when I realize my desperate need for the Lord.

Third, hard seasons peel back the layers of sin in our lives. Scott and I typically don’t have a lot of conflict. After 20-plus years, we’ve learned what will trigger a disagreement and ways to circumnavigate potential conflict.  But there are times when we don’t agree. It’s during those tense times in our marriage when I’ve been most aware of my own sinfulness.

Hard seasons will come.

In 2004, Scott was diagnosed with ITP, a life-threatening blood disorder. For seven years his platelet count was so low he was always at risk of spontaneous brain hemorrhaging.  I lost track of how many times he was hospitalized between 2004-2011. He endured surgeries, chemotherapy and multiple other treatments in efforts to elevate his platelet count. Nothing worked.

He did experience those spontaneous brain hemorrhages and even spent several days on life support following a small nick of his esophagus during a minor procedure.

Sometimes the hard seasons we face aren’t because of a sin issue or spiritual failing. Sometimes they are just the result of living in a fallen world.

I say that because I hadn’t considered that possibility prior to Scott’s illness. I assumed if we were committed to a God-honoring marriage, it would be relatively easy.

I was wrong.

Marriage is hard because we are sinful people who live in a broken world.

Nonetheless, God works through all the brokenness to teach us more about Him. For that truth and the hope it offers, I am deeply thankful.