“Bear with each other.” Colossians 3: 13
My husband Edwin and I have this little ritual after we’ve had a disagreement. Once we’ve talked through things as best we can, we each take turns saying, “I am the problem in our marriage.”
Full disclosure: sometimes I say it with my teeth closed and jaw clinched, and it can take me a little while to be able to utter the words. It honestly shocks me as I think about it now, how good it feels to hear Edwin say it. I stand fully vindicated and proud...that is, until he looks at me expectantly to say it back. We got this idea from someone with a long, successful marriage; a humble, loving, joyful couple that we admire.
Lots of friends had told us that marriage was hard, so while I wan’t surprised at that fact, I was surprised at the specific way marriage is hard. For example, I thought by “hard” they meant your spouse would have annoying habits that (although you find them cute now) would grate on your nerves so badly you’d eventually want to run for the hills. This is true, no doubt, but the hardest thing is this: when someone knows all your habits intimately, if you let them, they can show you real ways that you could stand to change. There’s not someone there just nagging you to pick up your socks, but to show you that leaving your clothing strewn across the floor is inconsiderate to those around you and for that reason, you should stop.
Letting someone see you that closely, with all your bad habits, imperfection, stray hairs...that requires a crazy amount of trust. Knowing someone like that and loving them enough to call them into being better...that take gentleness. It would be much easier just staying single and being left to do whatever you want with your socks, but if I know I am not perfect, how will I ever change if not by this process of being loved?
More than the annoyances of living in close proximity to someone else, being in the kind of a relationship where you see each other clearly, loving each other as you are, and yet, loving your spouse too much to let them stay that way— this is what’s hard, and amazing, about marriage.
And when we both say “I am the problem in our marriage,” we are submitting to one another in love, knowing that we have both are working to be better and that this relationship is a place we can do that together, with each other’s help. Who was at fault in each particular instance is less important than admitting that we are both working to change, and it is by submitting to each other that we will.
The picture you see at the top of this post sits above the sink in our kitchen. I can’t remember who’s idea the picture frame guest book was for the wedding, but boy, am I glad we did that. As I stand before it everyday washing dishes, I feel the love and support of each one of those people who witnessed us making the promise to stick around no matter what. It sits on the wall as a benediction over the kitchen. I hear those people whispering to me, our friends and family, young, old, married, single, reminding me to bear with Edwin, to be at peace, to be grateful, and to remember that marriage is one of the ways that we are being made new in this life. Edwin is calling me into being the most glorious version of myself, while simultaneously loving me just the way I am. Allowing someone to do that—to see all the way to the bottom of who you are and not go running for the hills—is not easy.
This marriage thing was not meant to happen in a vacuum but with a collective community of support and encouragement, and their names on that frame remind me we are not alone in our promises to each other.
The first time I learned that the church was nicknamed “The Bride of Christ” I found it a little strange. Frankly, I was uncomfortable with this metaphor. As I live into my marriage, I’m becoming more and more ok with this idea, and I’m even starting to find it beautiful.
Knowing that Christ loves his people like a good spouse: seeing us all the way to the bottom and loving us just the way we are, while calling us gently into being less argumentative, less prideful, less selfish, more considerate, loving, and patient, like a life-partner— that is a metaphor that melts my stubborn and cynical heart.
It’s true what they say, that you shouldn’t marry someone thinking that you can change them. But, if you’re lucky, you will find yourself changed by marriage.
And so it is with loving God: God doesn’t love us because God believes we can change or because we have changed, but we are able to change because God loves us. I trust Christ in his gentleness to help me see the ways I am the problem, and I am thankful for that great cloud of witnesses who stand in support of these endeavors to love and commit ourselves to each other and our Creator.
Turns out the whole Bible is a love story between God and God’s people, and every good love story ends in wedding.