By Shawn R. Jones
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
If you were to peek through my windows tonight, you would find me tapping lightly on the computer keys in a huge chair by the fire with a knitted white blanket across my feet. My husband would be sitting a few feet away from me, flipping through Hemmings Motor News, occasionally adjusting his bronze-framed glasses. If you were to listen closely enough, perhaps you would hear the jittery fire sizzle, pop, and crackle within its brick walls, and maybe you would even hear our black pit-bull’s teeth scratch across her large bone. There are no other sounds in the house, and it looks as if things have always gone smoothly for us. Looking through our windows tonight, you only see the benefits of our investments. There is no hint of struggle.
Oh, but there was struggle of multiple kinds and varying degrees. We did not always live where we live and how we live, and we did not always think the thoughts we now think (Romans 12:2) and speak the words we now speak. When you look through our windows tonight, you are looking at a couple who gradually learned to depend on God for everything and believe in His goodness regardless of their personal circumstances and the world’s condition. Tonight, for the most part, everything appears as it seems. Because we trust God, joy fills our hearts and our home (Romans 15:13) even though we still have problems and the world’s condition has not improved. Although it took some time, we now realize we cannot allow our human perspective to weaken our faith. Our circumstances are not always going to be good, and there is nothing characteristically human about maintaining a positive attitude in difficult times, but since God is good all the time, hope, joy, and peace are always attainable (Romans 15:13). Like the Apostle Paul, we “have learned to be content” despite our challenges (Philippians 4:11), but there were moments in our marriage when contentment was not easily accessible.
Our first few years of marriage, my husband and I fought like toddlers throwing temper tantrums, physically destroying items that were within our reach, like plates, chairs, clocks, vases, and wall thermometers. The only positive things about our arguments were that we only had them a couple times a year, and we never hit each other (mostly because I had a bad aim). However, our tone and our language made up for six months of peace. Had we been two Hulks, we would have turned from brown to grass green in a matter of seconds. I cannot imagine how we would have reacted had we had serious issues to fight over because we had full blown arguments over insignificant things, like dust, unwashed dishes, cluttered tables, and dirty laundry.
In actuality, we were just learning how to consider someone else other than ourselves. It is not easy to transition from “me thinking” to “we thinking,” but decades later, I am grateful that we figured it out. If you were to look through our windows now, you would find it very difficult to believe that we are the same couple who once rattled the walls on Washington Street. Becoming “we thinkers” took a long time. It was an on-going process, but we relied on God completely, and there were a couple tough incidents that helped get us there.
My husband and I would probably agree that the most difficult situation we have had to deal with in our marriage was our child’s illness. Over the years, our daughter has had several appointments with pediatric specialists and a couple surgeries at Children’s Hospital. At first we tried to tackle the situation separately, coping with the stress in unhealthy ways; I ate less and he ate more. However, what saved us both was my husband’s faith. I trusted God less and less with each unanswered prayer, and my husband trusted Him more.
At first, I didn’t understand my husband’s perspective, and I became angry with both him and God. At the time, I felt that neither of them could have possibly loved my daughter as much as I did. I figured (Proverbs 3:5-6), if God had loved her as much as I, He would have healed her, and if my husband had loved her as much as I, he would have cursed God for not healing her. That was exactly how I felt until my husband convinced me that no matter what happened, we were living in God’s perfect will for our lives. He told me we had to be a team and remain a team whether our daughter lived or died. I wanted to hit him for thinking I could ever be part of anyone’s team if such a horrific event had occurred, but I also wanted to hug him because I realized I would never be alone in any situation, unless I chose to be. I had him, and I had God, and the only one isolating me from my support system was myself. Upon realizing this, I allowed the situation to make me, my marriage, and my relationship with God stronger. It was the strength of those relationships that got us through.
Prior to my daughter’s birth, there was another event that called for great strength, my father’s horrific death. My father died when I was two months pregnant with my daughter. The circumstances around his death made me more vulnerable, not vulnerable to my dealings with others, but vulnerable to my own thoughts about death, unfairness, and God. I was twenty-three when my father died from a drug overdose, and even though I knew he was addicted to heroin, at twenty-three, I still believed in happy endings.
After his death, my husband and I both had to deal with my guilt, depression, and dwindling faith. I felt guilty because I couldn’t save my dad and depressed because he had lost his battle against his addiction. In turn, I lost faith in God because I trusted that, after much prayer, God would deliver him. It took some time for me to realize that he was delivered. When my father died, so did his addiction.
Ironically, there are situations that are much worse than death, like the excruciating pain of withdraw that makes an addict steal from his children, beat his loved ones, and harm whoever comes between him and his next hit. Indeed, my father was delivered. In fact, we were all delivered. His addiction had put unbearable stress on our family, and after he died, God was there to help us deal with the aftershock and devastating residual effects of the tragedy.
Looking through my windows tonight, you do not see the weight of the burdens we have carried. You only see the strength that is the result of carrying those weights and the relief we now feel after giving each burden to God. My husband and I are not more or less human than anyone else. We are no better or worse than any other couple God has put together. However, in order to make your relationship work, you have to pray consistently, together and separately. And most importantly, you have to be deeply committed to God and each other.
Dear Lord, please allow us to be positive role models for other couples. Through us, I pray they will see the beauty of the institution of marriage and build their lives together with you at the center of their relationships. Thank you so much for your guidance and unconditional love. Amen.
By Shawn R. Jones
Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames http://t.co/BxiNwWRG
and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain,