He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young
. {Isaiah 40:11}

29 February 2012

Marriage and God

Some of you may know that my husband, Brent, took a trip to Africa for 11 days last month during the very same time that my very special guests came for a visit. It was the first time we had been apart for that long and during that time contact was sparse to non-existent. Looking back 11 days doesn’t sound that long but I can assure you that in the midst of that it may has well have been a month.
Now… some of you may also know that I love a challenge. But I suspect that very few of you know to what depth. For example, I HATE emptying the dishwasher so I often time myself (aiming for under 2 minutes) or determine how many moves from the dishwasher to the cabinets will be required to empty the load. So for me, I did my absolute best to come up with some sort of personal challenge to get me through those 11 days.
What I noticed, in those days leading up to his departure, was that my biggest concerns were not for his safety while traveling for hours over an open ocean or even that he was headed to one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Rather, I realized that I was going to miss the companionship of my best friend, my “bud”.  And this is where I found my challenge…
I have heard time and time again that God likens our relationship with our husband with our relationship with Him. I began to wonder what the specific similarities there are as well as what made my daily marriage and communion with Brent so easy while I often struggle to maintain any valuable connection with God. 
As I thought about all of this many questions came to mind and I wanted to share some of it with you…
First, Brent and I wrote one another letters. One for each night that we were apart. I found that it was incredibly hard to wait to read Brent's letters to me. I had the stack of letters sitting on my night stand and wanted them to be the very last thoughts I took in each night. Meanwhile my Bible lays on my night stand right next to my pile of letters and well within reach and yet I often have to force myself to read it's words. It's a love letter from my Heavenly Father. It is full of His words of how He loves me and I am His special and chosen child. It tells me about how He is preparing a place for me to be with Him forever so that we never have to spend a day apart. I cannot think of even one time that I have put off reading His words to me solely so they could be the last words that grace my thoughts before I fall asleep. Instead, I'm usually happy to consume my thoughts with my own concerns and desires as I pray myself to sleep. I tell myself that it’s sweet and nice to end my day in prayer but then I ask myself “What would my relationship with Brent look like if I treated him that way?”  I realize how selfish and one sided it would be. There would be no depth because he would know all about me and what I think and I would know nothing about him because I never took the time to get to know him. To hear his thoughts. That's not a passionate, long-lasting relationship. That is what you do with your therapist but in God's case, He doesn't even get paid.
When Brent had only been gone for 24 hours, I stood in church singing songs of praise and glory to God. Now, I can't say that I do this very often in my marriage… certainly not as often as Brent would like… but I can tell you that there are often times where my mind is so consumed with life and everything in it that my praises are just words. I belt them out…often in harmony. I can close my eyes. I know the lyrics well. And I can feel nothing. I don’t mean to say that I believe you must have goosebumps to truly commune with God but for me, I know the difference between holy surrender and “talking the talk”. I thought about how this would look with my husband and what it’s effects would be and I pictured myself extolling his goodness and generosity while texting a friend or blowdrying my hair. I would seem uncommitted and insincere to say the least. Once again, it would be bad for our marriage.
There were other things…like…when something happened... and I mean anything... Brent was the first person I wanted to tell. It could have been exciting or depressing, major or minute, victorious or defeating, about me or someone I know. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted Brent to know about it.
I find that most often I only go to God when I want something be it material goods, sleep, patience, or health, I often treat Him like a magic genie or, at best, a "Sugar Daddy". As the bride of Christ, I make a lousy spouse. My passions and desires are not for my beloved. They are steeped in the me-ness of my life and, once again, one sided. I would be a miserable friend and a unpleasant lover if all I ever did was ask of my husband and not offer care, love, compassion, and willingness to lay my desires aside.
Along with the above, I had a particularly rough night with the kids one night. After a full week and a day with no husband we all had one big giant melt down. Yes. Me included. In the midst of it I was able to pray for wisdom and peace but I couldn't shake the thought that it was time for Brent to come home. Up until this point I was surprised at how well I was doing. It took 9 days for the kids and I to have a bad moment. I had worked hard, I had been extra patient, I gave the kids extra time to get things done and gave them more freedom then normal. By the time our “bad moment” arrived I was tired. I was at my end. I nearly cried as I allowed my frustrations of "going it alone" bubbled to the surface. The problem… I got all the way to my wits end and I then began to feel entitled to Brent's presence. What was it that took me so long to realize my need for help. Why didn't I begin to want his help until I was at my breaking point?
I find that I often do this with God. I wait until the very end, when I’ve “done all I can do”, I’ve come to the end of me and THEN I ask for His “help”. The reality is that I never need to struggle and work hard at it to begin with and all my water treading just exhausts me but leaves me where I started. God cares for me, and all I have to do is ask. Why do I needlessly struggle when He’s there all along?
As the week went on, I began to see my “personal challenge” change. At first I thought that this time apart would show me what I was missing out on with my relationship with God as it stands. Over time I began to wonder if it was more a chance to see what it would be like if I didn't have the relationship with God to begin with. Every day things reminded me of what my usual day to day includes with Brent. Things like “quiet coffee" when the kids go to bed, his warm hairy leg to rub against at night, kisses as we pass closely in the kitchen, someone to share my strange and simple thoughts with, my feelings with, my frustrations with, someone to bring my concerns to God with, someone to speak inside jokes to. So often it only takes a single word or a look and we'll be bent over laughing together. Only a moment would go by before another reminder of my husband came along. How long could I stand to be without him?

Back to the letters that Brent wrote me… Why don't I drip with anticipation to read God's love letters to me each and every day? I've take the availablity of Him for granted. I've expected Him to be handy when I need Him and, in essence, use Him to my gain and comfort. I've come to understand that I don't need my husband by my side and I don't need to be by his but the fact is that I WANT to. In contrast, I NEED Christ and yet I don't see m to want Him and I wonder, why is that?
As I prepared for Brent’s return I went through the house and picked up all the clutter, all the stray toys, and all the dirty clothes. I wiped down shelves, cabinets, bathrooms, and I emptied the sink of dirty dishes. I readied the house for his return because I knew that he would appreciate the work I had done while he was gone, he would be grateful that his investment in our house wouldn't be wasted or left uncared for while he was away. He expected me to maintain his possessions and his children while he was gone and I did everything I could to ensure that he would be happy when he got home. As I cleaned, I began to wonder how I would have handled the mess if I hadn’t known when he would return? I'm a neat freak by nature so the clutter would have been managed and counters wiped clean but would I have put off the dusting and thorough scrubbing if I knew he could be home at any moment? Christ promised to return in His time and I often wonder how prepared I am for this. I often feel as though I have simply put away the clutter that I look ready for a quick glance. The thing is, God doesn’t promise a quick once over when He returns. He promises that one day I will stand alone before Him to give account for every thing I have done. Do I live my life to be “white glove” ready?
So the day finally came for Brent to come home. My brother was set to pick up Brent and my dad but I decided that the kids and I would drive a little under two hours to pick him up ourselves. I felt like we were dating again as the excitement built for me and I wanted to present myself and our kids at our best. I showered, brushed, dried, "make-uped", primped, perfumed, etc. I dressed the kids in cute clothes, made sure they were clean and ready to see dad. I didn't want my husband to see me half-done, unkempt, or worse, in my usual comfy worn out, faded and stretched sweats. I wanted to present myself to him at my best. Shouldn't I always be ready to present myself before the Lord? Because I do not know the day or the hour, shouldn't I be at my best and in my most presentable state at all times? And the kind of long lasting beauty that I am looking to present to both Hubs and God requires time, work, and preparation. I couldn't just go to the gym, get all dirty, slap on some lipstick and body spray and hope Brent doesn't notice the sweat and hair stuck to my face. I couldn't let myself go and eat all the bon-bons I wanted while he was gone and just before his plane landed run a mile in the hopes it will fix all the damage I’d done. In the same way, I need to prepare myself for Christ's return. I need to be on constant guard against the distractions, temptations, and messes of this world to be ready for Him, blameless and clean and I cannot simply live a messy life and fix it at the last minute.
Though I walked away with a deeper understanding of what it means for me to be the bride of Christ, I am most appreciative of one thing. Time and time again over those 11 days, I was given the gift of seeing that though my love for my husband is deep and vast, it is not what keeps me alive. It is not what sustains me and gives me joy. I could not ask for a better suited man for me and all my quirks but I believe our time apart was a gift that allowed me to better understand where God and Brent should stand in my life and for that I will be forever grateful. 

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to let you know that God spoke to me through your written words at times. Thank you.


I always love a good comment.


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