For many years as a Christian, occasionally the thought would cross my mind, I’m tired of always being hitched to God. How would it be if I didn’t have to worry about Him but could just do things on my own? Naturally I’d try to banish this thought, but sometimes it would linger a little longer than you might expect in a believer who truly loved his Lord.
The same can happen in marriage. In either case, the antidote is John 19:19: “The Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing.” Here Jesus reminds us that even He was never allowed to be independent or to act on His own. Like every child of God, and every married couple, Jesus was hitched, always having to take someone else into account. He lived entirely in submission to a will other than His own.
In our self-absorbed culture this seems very foreign, even inimical. But it is the way of love, and as such it is a wondrously beautiful strategy that can only work between two people who do deeply love each other. Indeed this is how human beings are fundamentally designed. We are made for love, created never to be entirely alone and always to put love first. Love is our native tongue; when we speak love, or act love, we are most ourselves, most real. The very things that are difficult in marriage are suddenly made easy the moment you look candidly into your loved one’s eyes or let yourself rest in the other’s embrace.
The same is true of our relationship with God. As Christians we began this relationship in much the same way as we began our marriage: by asking another person, Christ, to come and live with us. Now that the Holy Spirit has indeed taken up residence in our hearts, we cannot do anything without reference to His every thought, mood, and inclination. “You are not your own,” says Paul; “you were bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20). To the extent that we try to think or act on our own, we will suffer. What we think as individuals no longer matters, for whatever Love says, that is what we must do.
This is precisely where marriage can save us—can save us from ourselves. For love, if we let it, will take everything that is unbeautiful in our lives and make it radiant. This sacrament of marriage is far too big for our hearts to encompass; all we can do is let it encompass us.
A profound trust in this reality makes it very difficult to engage in marital strife. After thirty-three years of marriage, I confess that I just don’t see the point of fighting any more. I’ve become a marital pacifist! Anyone who has read my bookThe Mystery of Marriage will know that I began my Christian life aspiring to be a monk, but instead fell in love and got married. Ever since then the metaphor of marriage itself as a monastery has been a powerful one for me. Marriage is a practical means God has given through which I may surrender myself absolutely to Him. Of course I can do this myself in prayer, but that way can be overly subjective. It takes another human being, another enfleshed will, to face me squarely with the things I need to surrender. To the extent that I fail to do this in marriage, fights will occur.
James puts this bluntly in 4:1-2: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
“But I’ve asked God over and over,” you may argue, “and He hasn’t come through.” No, you haven’t truly asked, because truly to ask begins by submitting fully—first to God Himself, then to whatever His answer may be, and finally to the person He has put in your life to train you in the ways of love. In the presence of love, the appropriate posture is always one of absolute meekness and vulnerability. To abandon fighting is to take up the cross.