Last weekend Matt and I had the opportunity to attend a marriage workshop right here in W-S. Now, I know what you're thinking when you hear the words, "marriage conference." Probably a bunch of middle-aged couples sitting around in a circle telling each other their marriage trials and tribulations. Or having to sit knee to knee with your partner, gazing into their eyes, while repeating back to him/her all the ways you have loved and hurt each other through the years. Y'all, this was so far from that. We are firm believers in growing and cultivating our marriage at ALL times. What's the point of waiting until things get bad before you decide to work on your marriage? Plus, there are always ways that we can be working to be better partners to each other and better parents to our children. So, needless to say, I was pretty psyched about attending.
I had heard a lot of great things about Jeff and Debby McElroy and we jumped at the chance to attend their marriage conference when we heard it was coming to town. They have been speaking for many years on subjects like marriage and parenting, and they are the founders of Forever Families. The conference met over the course of an evening and the next morning, and we learned a lot about communication, intimacy, and conflict. It really helped us talk about some things that we never would have broached ordinarily. Sometimes all you need is a little nudge from someone else to get you thinking about ways you can become a better partner to help create a better marriage.
Of all the sessions, my personal favorite was the final one. Each session focused on a section of the marital vows - To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and, my favorite, in sickness and in health (or, in good times and bad). The verse that this section ultimately focused on was:
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.
Basically, the focus of this verse is that God allows us to go through struggles that are bigger than ourselves to help us realize how much we really need Him and each other (our spouse). This concept really spoke to me. I always knew that God was with me during our battles with infertility, but I always wanted to know why. Why was He putting us through this? Was I being tested? Did I need to learn patience? Was I being punished? I know now that He simply puts struggles in everyone's lives in order to strengthen our reliance on Him and on those we have chosen to walk alongside us during this lifetime. Our struggle with infertility was one of the first times I was unable to get something I wanted no matter how hard I worked to get it. It was gut-wrenching. But God revealed so much of my vulnerability through the process that I had no choice but to trust Him and grow with both Him AND Matt. What a gift. (If you haven't read anything about our infertility struggles, HERE is a good place to start).
We also talked about what we actually promised on the day we stood at the altar to get married. We made a promise to God that we would love each other with Him as the center of that union. But why did we do that? Why did we make that promise in front of Him? The simple reason is that so God could paint the picture of the gospel on the canvas of our marriage. The gospel is a story, as is our marriage. And God wants to use the canvas of our marriage - our trials, our successes, our failures, our growth, our love, and our story as a couple - as a way to show others what the gospel of Jesus is all about. How incredible is that? And how honored should we be that our God would believe in the sanctity of marriage so much that he would use it as a template to tell the greatest story ever known to man? It is amazing and awe-inspiring that He loves us so much that He would choose to glorify our marriages in this way.
For me, this idea helped put so much of the marathon that is marriage into perspective. As we are painting the canvas of our married lives, God is also painting His story uniquely through the marriage. We will have hardships and trials and we will have joy and successes, things similarly found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is all bound up in the God-blessed union of marriage. I have only been married for a short time (coming up on seven years), but I have already seen how God can work in my marriage and through my husband. I have learned to trust both Him and him, and the knowledge of my need for both of them has been greatly magnified. My prayer is that my trust in both of them continues to grow and that my Father in heaven will continue to bless our marriage by vibrantly painting on our canvas until the end of my lifetime.
... He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine ...