Marriage: Being All In

A few months ago, we had a friend visit us. It was a timely visit for me because our friend was a huge encouragement.  One of the things that he told Jeff was that at some point in marriage, when the attraction and the passion and the romance may not necessarily be what they used to be, you just have to decide to be “all in.” You have to say at some point, “okay, I’m with this person.” It doesn’t matter how fat or sick or bald or whatever this person gets, you’re there. Period.

I have not always been emotionally present in my marriage or in my family. I’ve been physically present, but not emotionally there. For a very long time, I told myself the lie that there was something better out there for me; that there was another person who would fit me better;  that there was that ever elusive “soul mate” who could meet all my needs, and that I had somehow missed this dream of a man. For a very long time, I honestly believed that I had chosen the wrong person.  I was deceived, and I deceived myself.

It’s hard to be all in when you think the grass is greener elsewhere. And so I struggled with emotional affairs for many years. It was a form of escape for me. Emotionally, I didn’t have to be where I was if I always had a fantasy of a different life in my head. But a few years ago, Abba gave me much needed victory in this area. And I am grateful beyond belief.

But victory in this area didn’t resolve all my issues or the issues in my marriage. Because marriage is still supposed to be about two people covenanting together to sacrifice for the greater good of the other. And that’s just hard. Because I want my own way; I want my needs met. And Abba has had to strip away many things for me to see my own selfishness and greed.

Jeff and I just had our 20 year anniversary. And, I think, this year, by far, has been the hardest year yet.  Financially, we have really struggled. Jeff has had off and on work for three years, and I was just sick of this being our life. I wanted to be provided for; I wanted my children to be provided for. I didn’t want to have to worry about whether we were going to be able to pay the bills or lose our house or eat rice and beans forever.

But I think my real issue was with God. I was mad at God for giving me this man who couldn’t provide for me in the way I felt I needed to be provided for. And then questions and doubts about whether I was even worth providing for kept screaming in my head. Those were lies too. But it’s really hard to see the lies when you’re wallowing around in self-pity.

Honestly, in the last year, there were many times that I questioned whether or not this marriage thing was even worth it. I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t the best thing for my children either. More lies, because I had had enough of my needs not being met. This was more than I could handle and instead of supporting and loving my husband, who is in a tough situation, I threatened him and made demands and put pressure on him that only made things worse.

For me over the last three years,  Jeff’s main value became whether or not he was able to provide for our family. And so, what happens when the person you’re relying on doesn’t provide what you think they should provide? When the relatively “normal” no longer exists, what does the relationship look like then?  These difficult circumstances that were beyond my control really cut to the heart of what my relationship was all about.

I thought marriage was about having a companion who could meet my needs and who could  help me figure out who I am. I thought marriage was supposed to be this sentimental, exciting  romantic in love feeling forever. I wanted Jeff’s theme song to be “Everything I Do I Do It For You.”

Recently, I read Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. In it, he wrote “self-centeredness is a havoc-wreaking problem in many marriages, and it is the ever-present enemy of every marriage. Self-centeredness is easily seen in the signs Paul lists: impatience, irritability, a lack of graciousness and kindness in speech, envious brooding on the better situations of others, and holding past injuries and hurts against others.” (56-57)

After reading Keller’s book, my paradigm of marriage shifted dramatically. I finally came to the realization that I don’t really know how to love and that I haven’t really understood marriage. It struck me that I bought into our culture’s view about marriage. I bought the movie version of what love and marriage look like, instead of the biblical view that Tim Keller describes by saying that “marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ.” (15)

What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection.  You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married. (123)

I was just playing at being married. Because, honestly, it just feels good to have someone around, someone there, until it doesn’t.  And then I had to ask myself, Do I really love this person? And not for what he can provide, whether it be financial security, romantic passion, a great father-figure for my children, a person to keep me from being lonely, but do I really love Jeff, in a Jesus kind of way? And I’m not talking about the “in love” feeling that quickly fades away when a few tough years come crashing into a marriage. But having Holy Spirit power to love and keep committing  to him when I want to scream and run away…run for higher ground, run for something better,  just run.

Because what happens when you realize you’ve made a vow but don’t want to do it anymore?

“This means we must say to ourselves something like this: Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us–denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him–and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. (109)

Because He stayed, I now have His power to love when I don’t feel it.  It’s because of Him and His love for me that this vow that I made 20 years ago before God and family and friends makes sense. It’s not about me. In a marriage, it’s about pointing each other to Christ…spurring each other on to love and good works…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness , in health…till death parts us.

We’ve hit the “for worse” part and the “for poorer” part pretty hard at times. When Jeff said his “for poorer” part twenty years ago, he kind of laughed and winked at me as he said it…I think he knew something I didn’t. When you’re in your wedding dress on your wedding day and you’re happy and you’re young, and you say the words, but you don’t honestly think that that’s ever going to be you. And when it is you; when the poorer or the sicker or worse part becomes part of your life, what in the world do you do?

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up.  And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. (104)

I have to realize that my feelings will be all over the place at times. There will be hard days. And then, there will be even harder days. But I’m with Jeff. He is the man for me. I’m all in. I’m all here. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’m not going anywhere. And I’m beginning to get really excited about our future and the amazing person Jeff is becoming. And even though our financial circumstances haven’t changed, it doesn’t matter. I’m just humbled and grateful that Jeff”s all in too, even on my “for worse” days.

So, 20 years. Some good, some way, way less than good, but still good because all of them have brought us to this point in our journey. They’ve brought us to this road that I wouldn’t have been on any other way. It’s a long road sometimes, but it’s a road worth traveling; it’s a story worth seeing through. It’s my story. It’s Jeff’s story. It’s our story. But it’s also bigger than us too. And I’m grateful that  it’s a story that is being redeemed.

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. (1 Cor. 7:17, MSG)


16 Responses to “Marriage: Being All In”

  1. 1 Patty
    August 20, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thank you for writing this. I so relate and needed to hear these truths today. God used you to speak right to my heart.

  2. August 20, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Hi KIm! I just picked up The Meaning of Marriage from the library this morning! I requested it weeks ago when I saw you had recommended it on Goodreads. Your transparency is humbling. Thank you for sharing your heart. And pointing us to the One who redeems us all!

    • August 20, 2012 at 10:25 am

      Lynn, I’m so glad you are going to read that book. It was such a timely read for me! I’m looking forward to you writing your book and being able to request it for the Nashville library!

  3. August 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Beautiful words Kim, beautiful transparency. As Andy and I face our tenth this month I’m so encouraged by this. I’ve got that book on my bedside table too, I REALLY need to get into it. Thanks so much for laying it all out there. Congrats on your 20! See how much grace!?

    • August 21, 2012 at 5:49 am

      Thanks, Beth. Congrats on your tenth! It is definitely the best book I’ve read on marriage…no series of 10 steps that I couldn’t possibly do anyway. It’s just honest simple truth. I keep telling people about it and quoting different passages, which is funny because I rarely remember what I read. It made quite an impact! I’m so thankful for your husband. He is such a good friend to Jeff!

  4. 7 Cyndy Hooks
    August 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Wow Kim! Awesome blog. It’s amazing how many years it takes for those marital vows to bite you in the butt. Stephen and I just celebrated our 28th and the last couple of years have been some of the hardest for us too. Moving our family 3 years ago and college kids leaving the nest didn’t help-took us out of our comfort zone and we’ve had to continually come back to our covenant before God and obedience to our vows. We’ve had to remind each other that we aren’t enemies-we are on the same team. Our love is growing every day and I know God will honor your’s and Jeff’s commitment to each other as He is ours…and maybe, just maybe we all need to stop pretending and make sure all our married friends know how hard this marriage thing really is. God is waiting on us to throw our hands up in frustration and have to rely on Him. Hang in there girl. Will be praying for God’s blessings on your family. Keep writing truth! Love & miss ya’ll.

  5. 9 Curt Finnamore
    September 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    All I can say is, Bravo…and Ditto.

  6. September 16, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Honest, humble and inspiring post. I am a big fan of the Keller book too! Glad to find your blog.

  7. 12 lhug143
    September 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I had to catch up so I read about 4 blogs of yours tonight and I am soooooo glad I did! I miss you girl! I felt like we were sitting in one of our living rooms catching up! It was great and exactly what I needed. BTW, we never did get those shirts made, remember? haha – I luv ya girl! You’re always close to my heart!

  8. 14 Melissa
    October 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

    thankyou. so much.
    somebody shared a link to your blog, and right here, in my face on the computer screen was my story.
    well, my struggle. the way i feel towards my husband.
    always searching (in my mind at least) for the one that got away, because surely, if God wants what is best for me, he knows that i have to leave my husband to find him. and that’s crap. but it was so comforting and reassuring to here it in someone else’s words.

    please keep being honest and keep writing, because i am going to keep reading!!

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