It was 3:47 in the morning. My husband and I had been up with our 11 month old since 2:30am. Some very weird stomach bug had hit him and our newly 2 year old. This was night 4 of cleaning up vomit and diarrhea, changing bedsheets, holding buckets, and soothing back to sleep.
We were exhausted. Our “alone” time comes in the evening and we tend to stay up (too late!) watching our favorite show or just talking and, “connecting”. This night was no exception, so we had gotten roughly 3 hours sleep before the dreaded puking sounds came from the baby’s room.
Four years ago, irritable words would’ve been spoken, simply from pure exhaustion. But after being married for 10 years, we have evolved past such immaturity (eye-roll) and didn’t bite each other’s heads off.
We each took our task – I changed the baby, rocked, and held him; he cleaned the vomit piles off the carpet and changed the soiled sheets.
After two more episodes of upchucking, the baby finally settled back down. As I closed his door slowly, I heard the kitchen sink running.
My husband was doing dishes.
At 3:47 in the morning.
He shrugged. He wasn’t going to be able to sleep anyway for a few hours, so he might as well do them, was his reasoning.
As I headed back to the baby’s room to sleep in the rocker next to his crib, one thought flooded my mind.
This is what marriage was about.
God created us with the desire to need companionship and love. Young women are sometimes obsessed with the concept of “love” without even understanding what it is. I remember as a teenager I would pour over romance books (Janette Oak, definitely was my favorite!) and envision a time and future where I would live alongside my own soulmate. God created us to have desire and longings, that first point to Him, our Maker. And then that desire is directed to man, whom God created women from and for.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not afraid.” Genesis 2:24-25
This is what woman was created for – to be man’s companion, his helpmate (because, let’s face it, men need help! God says, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper fit for him” Genesis 2:18). Of course it’s not surprising for a woman to then desire to be with that man early on.
But sin entered the world, and our pure desire became marred by our sinfulness. Our own personal sinful nature twists and turns our God-given desire away from Him and it focuses on what WE want, need, long for.
We create in our imaginations the perfect mate and actively look for him, even if it means telling ourselves “we can change him to be my prince charming”.
We make the wrong choices when it comes to choosing a mate, because we desire love and to be loved without waiting for God’s direction.
We enter into marriage, both as sinful beings. While having the best intentions, it’s only inevitable that our selfishness and pride is going to get in the way.
We fight so hard to always be the “right one”, to have that “ha” moment towards our spouse. We selfishly want our spouse to cater to us and acknowledge that we are, in fact, the one that is right.
We desire for our spouse to love us in the way WE want, but withhold our own selfless love if we don’t feel our needs are being met.
The devil exploits and uses to his advantage the many issues that arise in marriage. His goal is to sever relationships, even tear man and woman apart from one another, and ultimately, from God. A strong marriage, rooted in faith with Christ at the center, terrifies Satan.
But if only it were so simple, right?
The beauty that lies in that word is undeniable and yet, we don’t really know what it looks like or means for our life. And our marriage.
Think back to when you first got married. It was utter bliss, that “honeymoon phase” that everyone talked about (always with a hint of sarcasm, in hindsight!). It was a period of time that you were just so thrilled to be with this person that you loved so much, and everything was perfect. And then reality set in, and you realized that this person actually wasn’t perfect and had all these little habits that annoyed you endlessly. The toilet seat was left up, empty toilet paper rolls mocked you, underwear was left everywhere, dishes were left in random places around the house (because there was already a mountain of them in the sink)…all those little habitual things that you faced day in and day out suddenly became huge problems!
Your marriage slowly turned into a battle of wills. It wasn’t about married bliss anymore; it became about who was right or wrong. Who was the wronged one? Instead of working together, it became a life of tug-of-war, each person fighting for their voice to be heard rather than listening with their heart and not just ears. It became anything BUT simple.
Selfishness is the predominant factor in the divorce rate in our society. We live in a culture that focuses on our self, rather than others. In a marriage, because we know them so well, it’s so easy to pick apart our spouse and highlight all the things they do wrong instead of right. I remember so vividly our own marriage in those first several (ok, like 5!) years. It was so difficult to say the words, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” And why is that? Why is it so challenging for us to say those words? Because it requires a humble heart, a truly penitent spirit, and an honest look at our OWN SELF. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
So why is doing dishes in the early hours of the morning symbolic of what marriage is about?
It is an act of sacrifice. It represents the unselfishness that needs to exist in a relationship. How many of us, knowing we couldn’t sleep for awhile, would turn on the television? Play video games? Read a book, listen to music? All perfectly acceptable activities – but all focuses on our self.
The humbling act of doing dishes (let’s be real, dish washing is NOT glamorous!) demonstrates the spirit – the mindset – of selflessness when done with the right heart. It’s a demonstration of love even in the darkest of mornings, in the onset of exhaustion. An act of sacrifice as others are thought of before one’s self. For the sake of our family, my husband chose to sacrifice his time for our benefit. He did not put his needs first; he acted selflessly. And that is what struck me that early, sleep-deprived morning and made me so incredibly thankful for this man God had given me and our marriage.
It can be a daily struggle to sacrifice your “self” (i.e. needs, wants, desires) for your spouse’s, especially if you both are stuck in a pattern of selfishness that seems almost impossible to change. There are days you might feel unloved and you think, “Why should I consider him/her first?” Maybe you’re caught in an ongoing disagreement where neither of you are budging from your self-justified “I’m right” position. Two people, two wills, two ways of thinking. How do you “meet in the middle” to find your unity as one?
Change does not happen on its own. It’s a chain reaction of events, but ultimately it starts at one singular point. The question is, at what point does a change of heart take place in a marriage? Personally, in our marriage, it was one person making the committed decision to stop the familiar habit of wanting to always be right. Words were carefully thought of before they were spoken in anger. Consideration for the other person was shown. Over time, we both began to change the way we viewed the other person and the way we communicated. We became more loving, more united because we finally weren’t fighting to always be the “right” one.
Habits were definitely a challenge to break and it was a daily commitment to think of our spouse first. We failed, many times, and it took a humbled heart to admit when we did (and it rarely happened immediately!). However, over the years we built a trust in each other that was upheld during our failings. Yes, we get angry and don’t agree 100% of the time. But our faithfulness to our vows we made to one another in the presence of God and witnesses, will keep us united in heart, mind, and body. We know we are in this journey of marriage together. One of the several reasons God instituted marriage is so that a man and woman would “cleave” to one another (Gen 2:24). In this whole world, your spouse is the one person to fully give yourself to in every way. As Genesis 2 says, they were both naked and not ashamed. Our bodies, along with our faults and failures, are laid bare before one another. What a completely beautiful picture of the selfless union God created and intends marriage to be!
Even with that said, and perhaps you resonated with parts of this (maybe the failures part), be assured: this is not a union we create on our own. We can only possess this selflessness we need in Christ. God is love. He created out of love. He gives us things out of love. We do mess it up, we misuse it, we degrade it, we break it. We don’t deserve it, but God keeps loving us, for that is His nature and character. We know God loves us because He showed us the ultimate selfless love by sending His precious Son for us. Jesus took the burden of our sin upon Himself. “In this is love, not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the [payment] for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Jesus has healed the broken relationship sin has made with God. Forgiveness is love. A marriage built on forgiveness and love lasts. It takes time, commitment, and a heart of love to place our spouse’s needs before our own. As Christ gave Himself fully and completely to the world on the cross, so we also learn to live selfless love in our marriages “till death do us part.”