There’s a new-but-quickly-played-out thing making its pesky rounds on social media where challengers challenge challengees to post a picture of them and their spouse for seven days in a row, “to promote marriage” and “keep the celebration of love going”.
I was challenged by someone whose marriage I’ve seen the biggest miracles come out of. I’ll play along because hey–who doesn’t love posting a good throw-back picture, especially one in which you were thirty pounds lighter and your spouse looks like a friggin’ toddler wearing gangster jewelry?
It’s been fun and only slightly nauseating to scroll through miles of happy couple-selfies. But hear me say this, adorable young ones who haven’t been broken and bloodied by the harsh realities of life with an actual human being who hasn’t put his dirty clothes away for 14 years in a row: there is no challenge whatsoever in posting a picture on Facebook. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.
I totally heart my husband by all online appearances, but I could not–in any way, shape, or form–love him even close to the way he needs without Jesus, because Caleb? Isn’t perfect. And it turns out, neither am I.
I know. I was just as shocked as you guys are, believe me.
I think the real challenge should be posting pics of yourself and your spouse taken the day after a fight, perhaps with the caption reading something like, “Aw, here we are, right before I broke a glass bottle over his head.” Or “In this picture he had just intentionally farted on my pillow, the little scamp!”
In fact I think marriage itself could be renamed “The Spouse Challenge”. Because of reality, which can be so elusive in that carefully-constructed Facebook facade. Don’t fall for it, blessed little newly engaged cutie-pie babies. I’m being a friend, and I wish someone would have given me a very frank heads up back a thousand years ago when I was blissfully naive and dreaming of a a happily married future that required from me simply the passage of time and the occasional back rub.
“Do you, Toni, take Caleb to be your lawfully wedded husband, in sickness, like when your dog vomits 80 times an hour and he swears he can’t be the one to clean it up because it makes him gag? Or when he is sick like with a runny nose and he needs to lay down or he might die, but you just got over the walking pneumonia and handled 3 kids, 3 dogs, a grueling softball schedule and a mouse in your car all while he was out of town for a week?
“Do you, Toni, take Caleb to be your lawfully wedded husband, when your baby is colicky and no one is sleeping and everyone is cranky and all you want is someone to order a freaking pizza but you have to stay on budget so it’s rice and beans, and no you can’t buy new shoes or have the designer purse unless it’s from Dollar General, and GONE are the days of him spoiling you with random pedicure treats, but hey–YOU take the trash out and buy $800 worth of groceries with $400, and then act like you’re not suffering from an eternal migraine?
“Do you, Toni, take this man as your husband, even when, for example, he is a pack rat, and your garage looks like the worst episode of “Hoarders” but he pays the bills so you park in the driveway with a smile on your face, and he buys a three-foot rabbit from Atwoods but doesn’t clean it or feed it but he loves that rabbit so you end up taking care of it, even though it scratches you and makes the whole downstairs smell like ammonia? And nothing is adorable or calming about your living space and nobody helps you clean and your OCD is making your face twitch and you can’t start a “Save Toby” website because he just loves that bunny so damn much?
“Toni, look at me. Can you stick it out in a marriage that is unhappy? And not just, “Oh, today was mildly sad,” but I mean do you know that you will not always be happy? Do you know that Caleb will not make you happy? In fact, do you know that Caleb has the ability to make you sadder than any other human being? Can you take it when you spent 90 minutes getting ready for the day and he brushes past you without so much as a ‘nice shirt’? Will you be able to handle it when he works long hours and travels and comes home pissed off and wanting even more space?
“Will you leave when he hurts your feelings again and again, either accidentally or on purpose, but not that it matters because he rarely apologizes? Can you lay beside someone who seems to hate you with every bone in his body? What happens when he brings up the idea of divorce? What will you do? What will you say? How will you act?
“What if he literally gets hit by an Avalance and his neck pain prevents him from doing yardwork, or sleeping comfortably, or moving much at all without almost crying? Can you accept the fact that there will be some goals the two of you will not reach? Will you take care of him, unselfishly and tirelessly, on his rougher days, even when you have a zillion other things on your to-do list?
“And Caleb–do you take Toni to be your wife forever even when you find out how extraordinarily bad she is at stress management? Can we talk about that ridonkulous ability to gain weight more than any other human simply by thinking about eating a single potato chip? And oh–that money you’re working so hard to make; all that traveling, those long hours, those car dealers slamming doors in your face? It will be gone in an instant and you won’t even know where it went–certainly not towards her appearance. Will this push you over the edge? What about the cold shoulder for no reason? What about her stunning lack of logic examplified in her thought processes? What happens when she is angry and withdrawn and tired and lethargic and she is displaying absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and she isn’t snapping out of it, and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel?
“Will you accept this Spouse Challenge by actively verb-loving your spouse even when they aren’t making you feel good?
“Will you seek divorce or divine intervention when shit hits the fan? And it will hit the fan. Rest assured it will hit the fan.”
Life is hard. People are harder. Your spouse is the person you’re closest to, so the potential for great love and great hurt both exist inside of any given marriage. And while most people realize they will not always “be happy” with their husband or wife, it is no easy task to decipher when things have gone off the rails from a healthy, functioning, growing relationship, into something damaging, soul-sucking; sometimes even abusive. There is a huge difference between seeing it through and actual martyrdom.
But I am here to tell you, you can come back from that boneyard. I know it’s possible for forgiveness, healing, and complete restoration to occur because I have experienced it first-hand–however, with 2 very imperfect people at helm, it would have never happened. God’s hand has been all up in our guts and with His guidance, our marriage is breathing again. I hope that we are on our merry way to flourishing, and I’m ready for the obscene amount of prayer and hard work it’s going to take to get there.
You guys, if you’re married, there are days when you want to quit. This is when the real Spouse Challenge kicks in: when you don’t feel like trying. When it doesn’t feel like your spouse is trying. Days, weeks, seasons. We can all be selfish and lazy and stubborn and hot-tempered and impulsive, at the same time; seek. Help. Alone, or as a couple, or both. It’s ok. Fix what is broken–and yeah, as soon as you fix it, something else will probably break but that’s nature’s way.
Pray for guidance. Pray for patience, and wisdom and discernment. Sometimes you even pray for the will to continue living. But PRAY.
Love your spouse everyday regardless of how you actually feel. Serve them. Build them up. Protect them. Pray for them.
Love your spouse by taking care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep. Spend time alone with God.
Find good friends who are good for you and your spouse. Find people who will listen but not coddle; who will encourage you to do hard work but not instigate drama. Friends who are committed to seeing Jesus move in your life as much as their own are more valuable than a hundred yes-men any day.
Prayer partners. Christian counseling. A little crying in your closet is cool, but don’t let it become a thing.
Most of all, don’t wait around to see if things pan out. Don’t treat your marriage as though it’s on some sort of probationary period, and you’re just going to give it some months to see if what you have is good, if your spouse is worth it: your spouse is worth it. You can make it good.
Marriage is not just something you test out, and as long as it’s mostly good, it must be meant to be. You don’t give it the old college try. You don’t treat it as a theory, kind of like your Pinterest fitness board.
Your marriage is a living organism designed by God, given to you by God, and needing God like a fussy plant needs a certain amount of water and indirect sunlight. It is the deepest kind of heart promise you can make, and when one of you suffers, both of you suffer.
And with that suffering comes some straight-up wonderfulness. So keep the celebration of love going: post them pics all over social media–but tell the stories. Be open and honest and real. Cultivate the kind of love that will last beyond a Facebook photo album, and take that Spouse Challenge by promoting the mind-numbingly difficult, yet incredibly beautiful, holy covenant of marriage, with every ounce of your being.