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Confronting Marriage Struggles: Before and After

Written by Juli Vesiania, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

“And they live happily ever after.”

That’s what I gathered from the movies how marriage would be like. Two people unite and start their married life together. Marriage was supposed to be something beautiful, wonderful, and heartwarming.

The other reason why I looked forward to getting married was because I wanted to be close to my children in age. I wanted to be a friend to them, just as my mother was to me.

However, when the opportunity to get married finally came at the age of 24 years old, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

 

My struggle before getting married

For one, I wasn’t sure my boyfriend was “the one”.  How could I know for sure that he was given to me by God? Am I sure I can live with him? Am I the right person for him? Can I be his helper? I had so many questions and they overwhelmed me.

That’s when I had to remind myself why I started dating him in the first place. At the start of the relationship, I had asked my boyfriend some basic questions. Does he fear God? Is he responsible? What if this relationship progressed to marriage?

When I remembered his answers, the commitment we made to each other when we started dating, and after getting to know him better through our relationship, I became assured that he was the right one and finally agreed to marry him.

 

My struggle after getting married

After getting married however, I realized that marriage was not always beautiful, wonderful, and heartwarming; it was certainly not a party. Marriage was in fact, life after the party. Married life involves two people with different backgrounds trying to live life together—and that can be very challenging.  

Before we got married, my boyfriend and I only met once a week, so our differences didn’t really bother us. But after getting married and having to live together, our differences have become a lot more noticeable.

I like savory food. My husband likes sweet food. So now when we go out for dinner, we must consider each other’s preferences. And when I cook at home, I need to cook two different meals to fit both our taste buds. Our differences have become something that we have to deal with for a lifetime.

Another conflict involves our sleep schedules. I am an early bird, and I’m full of energy in the morning. So I go to bed early and wake up early. My husband, however, is a night owl. This is a problem because we sleep in the same room. My husband might still want the lights on in order to work on something, while I just want to hide my face under my pillow, cover my ears, and yell, “Turn the light off! I want to sleep!”

These might seem like simple problems, but if they are not resolved well, they can be detrimental for the relationship.

One day, I came across a prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It was a beautiful prayer which inspired me to deal with my marriage problems wisely:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,

courage to change the things which should be changed,

and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Reading that prayer reminded me that there are things we can’t change. Instead, we need to adapt to and accept those things. I can’t change the fact that my husband likes savory food and is a night owl. What I can do is to learn to adapt and accept his preferences.

Sometimes, it can be a challenge when my wants differ from his wants. But if it’s just about what I want, I need to compromise—to do something just because it’s important to my spouse. If I want to guard the peace in my relationship (Romans 12:18), I need to learn to give in.

When we learn to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), we are able to build a harmonious marriage. The little differences don’t bother us anymore.

In the first five months of my marriage, I felt God refining and shaping myself through every good and bad experience with my husband. Though we still face differences in our characters and habits, I am reminded that the purpose of marriage is not the pursuit of happiness.

Instead, as American author Gary Thomas writes in his book, marriage is a means through which God refines us, so that we become more like Him.  When someone gets married, they go through God’s refining and shaping process. Happiness is not the purpose, but an extra that God gives to us when we go through the process.

 

So, is marriage wonderful? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any problems, or that everything will be peaceful, or everyone happy. Marriage isn’t like the movies. Instead, it is beautiful because my faith and knowledge about God grows, and also my character.

Why I’m Not Pursuing Gay Relationships Anymore

It was past midnight. I was with the guy I had liked for more than a year. We had just left a gay bar and, for some reason, started to talk about Christianity and homosexuality.

We were both Christians, but he and I held different views on this matter. He believed that it was not compatible with Christianity to act on gay desires, while I was convinced that God would bless same-sex relationships between Christians.

This wasn’t the first time we had talked about this. Every time we broached this topic, we’d disagree sharply with each other. I’d argue that since being gay wasn’t a choice, God surely would not forbid us from acting on what was natural to us. He’d contend that the Bible was very clear that homosexual behavior was sinful and not part of God’s will.

In the thick of our disagreement that night, God planted this thought in my head: “Your belief that Christianity is compatible with homosexuality is based on the borrowed arguments of others who hold such convictions. Why don’t you look into this matter for yourself and come to your own conclusions? Besides, if this is true, what do you have to lose?”

Until that moment, I’d been unreservedly gay-affirming. I was 13 when I realized I experienced gay desires. When I was 17, I went onto the Internet to find out what Christianity had to say about homosexuality. I came across and accepted many arguments that interpreted Scripture in a way that condoned the pursuit of gay desires in a loving relationship. So when I started to look for romantic love, I did just that—I sought a loving, committed, and monogamous gay relationship.

But when God prompted me to pursue the truth on homosexuality, I decided that I would conduct an intellectually honest inquiry. So, from 2008 onwards, I began to look at arguments on why homosexuality wasn’t aligned with God’s will, even though I didn’t agree with them at that point. I also figured that I ought not to get into a gay relationship as well, since that would compromise the integrity of my quest.

Over the next seven years, even as I examined arguments in favor of the traditional reading of Scripture on homosexuality, I remained largely gay-affirming and was actively looking for a gay relationship. In spite of that, God led me on a journey in which He showed me His heart on the matter and the beauty of His design for my sexuality.

 

Discovering Loopholes

As I re-examined the arguments that said Scripture permitted loving gay relationships, I found that they weren’t as convincing as I had initially thought when I first came across them. I discovered many loopholes in those claims. Besides being built on presuppositions that remained to be tested, there were leaps of logic that begged further questions, and the isolation of biblical verses from their proper context.

The more I read, the more I realized these arguments were not watertight and the more I started to ask questions such as: If homosexuality is so good, why did God forbid homosexual behavior so consistently all throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments? Why did He not clearly hold up committed gay relationships as something to be aspired toward, just as He did with committed heterosexual marriages? If gay relationships are part of God’s will, why couldn’t He have made gay people with sexual parts that complemented each other? What am I to do if it’s indeed wrong to act on my gay desires, even if it’s out of love? How else would I find love?

At the heart of my grappling, I had to address core questions of surrender and trust: Am I just holding on tightly to my own views out of fear or pride? Am I really open to seeking out and believing what God has to say about homosexuality? If His will is indeed different from mine, am I willing to trust Him to provide for me in His ways?

 

The Beauty of God’s Design for Marriage

As I began to move away from gay-affirming theology, God used numerous occasions to solidify the conviction in my heart that homosexuality was not aligned to His will. One of these decisive moments was when He opened my eyes to the beautiful design of heterosexual marriage.

By this point, God had already led me to understand how the key differences between men and women led to a harmonious complementarity between the two sexes. So when He showed me that human marriage between a man and a woman was a powerful, compelling picture of the divine, complementary marriage between Jesus and the Church, it made sense to me.

I learned that marriage is meant to be a beautiful, lasting, and holy covenant in which the husband lays down his life for his wife—just as Christ sacrificially laid Himself down for the Church, His Bride—and the wife submits to her husband’s loving headship—just as the Church is called to pour herself out in willing submission to Christ, her Bridegroom and Head (Ephesians 5:22-33).

I saw that the Word of God consistently referred to Jesus as the Bridegroom (male) (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:29) and the Church as His Bride (female) (Matthew 25:1-13, Revelation 21:2; 9-10), and that the consummation of history was described as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God (Revelation 19:9). This sealed the conviction in my heart that God has created us male and female for very good reasons (Genesis 5:2). One of them is that He intends for marriage to be a union between a man and a woman so that the marital covenant can be lived out as a profound sacrament that embodies and expresses to the world the way Jesus loves the Church and the way the Church loves Jesus.

I remember having tears in my eyes when I learned this truth that day. Firstly, I was very moved by the beauty of God’s design for marriage and how it displayed the glory of Jesus’ covenantal love with His Church. Secondly, I knew that this truth meant that acting on my gay desires did not glorify God and it demanded a reorientation of my life.  

 

Understanding the Underlying Issues

That was how God convinced me on the theological and intellectual fronts. What He did next was to address my emotional concerns.

Throughout my gay-affirming years, I had firmly believed that being gay was a natural part of who I was and that I was born gay. Then God helped me to become aware of the issues that likely led to me having same-sex attraction.

The Lord showed me that all my life, I’d longed for my father to give me more attention, affirmation, and affection. Though my father did the best he could and I’m thankful for him, he could only give me the kind of love he had received from his own father. There were also other reasons why I didn’t perceive and receive his love very well when I was growing up.

In primary school, I constantly wished that someone would show me the ropes and how to be a guy. And throughout my secondary school years, I struggled with not fitting in with the rest of the boys in my class. I neither felt secure in my identity as a boy nor did I feel like I belonged with the guys.

I’m now aware that it was not a coincidence that it was also in secondary school that I started to have crushes on my male classmates. My longing for the attention and affection of my father, coupled with my desire to have for myself the masculine traits of other guys, turned into a romantic longing to have the attention and affection of desirable guys. It became what I began to experience as same-sex attraction.

When God surfaced these underlying issues, He led me to understand that my same-sex desires was not a natural, innate part of who I was. Rather, it was a symptom of deeper issues I needed to address.

I realized then that the way forward was not to keep looking for a gay relationship to try to meet these needs, but rather, to meet these needs in healthy ways—in the ways that they should be met. I also needed to seek healing for these wounds, so that God could build up in me what had been lacking for years.

As I came across the life stories of others with same-sex desires, the issues they faced were similar to the ones I dealt with. And I knew that if I were to act on my gay desires with someone else, I would not only be deepening my own wounds, but I’d also have a hand in deepening the wounds of my romantic or sexual partner. It’s like two people feeding each other sand in an attempt to sate their hunger, when their real need is for food that truly nourishes and satisfies. Not only does the sand not fill their hunger, it’d further bring ill health to their bodies, and misdirect and ruin their actual appetites for food.

 

A Life-changing Journey

Needless to say, those seven years of searching and researching were life-changing. Although I started out being gay-affirming and had no interest whatsoever in changing my stand on homosexuality, the Holy Spirit planted and deepened the conviction in my heart over the years about God’s wonderful design for my sexuality.

Though my heart was often unwilling to accept what I had read, I found myself gradually giving intellectual assent to what was written and, eventually, realizing that these words were true because there was a deep witness in my spirit. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth [who] leads [us] into all truth” (John 16:13).

That night, when God challenged me to look into this matter, He asked me, “If this is true, what do you have to lose?” Well, I lost my right to hold on to what I would prefer to be true and a way of living for myself that would have felt so much easier. But I gained a deeper trust in God, knowing that because He is who He says He is, His loving and righteous ways are much better than mine. And I gained a way of dying to myself that led to God’s truth, healing, and abundant life—to true, lasting happiness (John 12:24-26).

So today, even though I still experience same-sex attraction, I’m no longer pursuing gay relationships because I want to pursue a loving relationship with God, who first pursued and loved me.

How Long Should I Wait for Marriage?

Written By Emily Hoosier, USA

At my Christian college, I quickly learned that most Christian couples marry young. We even have a phrase for it, “ring by spring”, which refers to two people getting engaged (ring) before graduating from college (by spring).

I used to assume that if a Christian couple dated for too long, they were either refusing to commit to holy matrimony, or were enjoying sex before the big day. Waiting one year was reasonable, and two years was commendable. Beyond that, it looked suspicious and sad to date without an engagement ring.

But when this story became my reality, I came face-to-face with my own prejudices.

When my now-fiancé and I started dating over four years ago, I told him, “I don’t want to date for five years. If we decide we want to marry each other, let’s just get married.” These words may look aggressive in print, but they represented the honest overflow of my fearful and foolish heart. They also echoed advice I had heard from trusted leaders. I was afraid of making a mistake, and I thought marrying quickly was the right thing to do.

We both knew we wanted to marry each other since the early days in our relationship. With that in mind, I thought we should begin discussing venue locations and cake flavors. I did not see any value in waiting to marry. To me, it actually seemed harmful. How is it possible to practice abstinence for years with the one you love? Why would we choose to live separately when we could choose to live together?

But for my then-boyfriend, choosing to live apart for a time was a matter of responsibly stewarding the gift of our relationship. He wanted not only to finish college, but also work in a good job before asking me to join his life as his bride. He believed our purity was possible, even when I cried in fear of failing such a daunting standard.

I wanted to live near my boyfriend, but God led us to colleges in different cities for most of our dating experience. Even after I finished college and could move closer to him, God provided me a career opportunity which required me to temporarily live in a city farther away. Each choice to follow and trust God’s leading in my life became a way for me to express love to Him.

God never changed my desire to marry my boyfriend as soon as possible. He did, however, change my view of the waiting. God let me see that dating for years was not necessarily bad and unhealthy. It could even be good and purifying. God used that experience, like no other, to redeem pain in my past, strengthen my love for Himself, and purify my love for my boyfriend. Because God called us to it, waiting was the most loving and faithful thing I could do for that time.

Marrying quickly is not inherently good or bad, but following God is always good. The paths God led me along were not always comfortable or approved by everyone, but I had the promise of Psalm 23:2-3: “. . . He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

While friends and family affirmed us in our walk together, not everyone in the church did. New friends and acquaintances asked how long we had been dating. When our answer did not include a wedding date, a few expressed concerns about our marital status and advised us on how to solve it. They offered stories about getting engaged or married before finishing college or finding jobs. Comparing those stories to ours only hurt my sense of security in God’s plan for us. At worst, I felt shameful and defensive about our dating story.

Those years brought almost as much pain as they brought joy. Despite the pain and loneliness in our waiting, we chose to live in that tension for years. I journaled frequently; those journals were my personal Psalms. When my boyfriend and I laughed together or simply enjoyed being around each other, I sang my thanks to God for His faithfulness and good gifts. When we went weeks without seeing each other, or wanted nothing else but physical intimacy together, I cried out to Him in my frustration and loneliness.

Going to God in prayer was essential. Through it, God received my weary heart and gave me strength to keep going. One day in prayer, my attitude completely changed. I realized that God understood what I felt. He understood what waiting for marriage was like. It was as if God planted the thought in my head―Jesus is also waiting to be with His bride forever. He knows what I feel. This revelation of God’s empathy for me in my pain drew me deeper in love with Him. This deepened love sprouted deeper trust. And I could see more clearly that years of waiting was the “right path for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

By God’s grace, I was able to give up my expectations of what life ought to look like. By His grace, I was able to surrender my own selfish motives for marriage. That was when we knew that our marriage would not be a selfish decision, but a solidly good one.

Marriage after dating four months or four years will have its own set of advantages and challenges. If God’s story for your life involves more waiting that you planned, take heart. No waiting is wasted with God. We can rest knowing from Romans 8:28, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Ways to Die for Your Spouse

Last year was a crazy year—I got married.

As a “new husband” trying to score brownie points with my wife (and also because I wanted to get our first Valentine’s Day together right), I had been thinking of ways to “die” for my wife (Ephesians 5:25). It doesn’t necessarily mean an actual physical death, but it sure will feel like it on some occasions!

These were some of the ideas that came to my mind:

Do Little Acts of Love

My wife is a teacher. Every day, she wakes up three hours before me in order to reach school before 7 a.m. My sleeping habits on the other hand, are terrible. I don’t usually sleep before 1 a.m.—a habit that started in my student days.

So one of the things I try to do—with much difficulty—is to wake up earlier occasionally to have breakfast with her near her school, especially if I know she has a long day ahead. On other days, I pack little containers of food for her to bring along to work. I figured since I usually stay up late, I might as well spend the time doing something nice for my wife.

Little acts of service like these show our willingness to go the extra mile to spend time with our loved ones. So go ahead, surprise your spouse with little acts of love, and I am certain he or she will notice and be touched.

Be Gentle

One of the challenges of marriage is that it throws two people with likely contrasting lifestyles together.

So they clash.

We are often warned of this “clash of cultures” in marriage preparation courses. With things like differing sleeping habits and whether we squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or bottom of the tube, marriage requires us to make new discoveries about each other—and not all may be things we like!

Through my many interactions with my wife, God reminded me that I have much to work on. Gentleness has never been a strong suit for me—I am the sort who usually speaks my mind, and usually not too tactfully. Be it communicating something or receiving feedback, I have a terrible tendency to be quite blunt.

But Paul and Peter gave great advice to husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Col 3:19)

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Pet 3:7)

So to my fellow husbands out there, play nice. Be understanding and gentle, even if that is not the usual you. If not, you may have to be doing much of the following . . .

Say Sorry

Apologizing would be the death of most men (most humans, for that matter). A recent sitcom I watched reinforced this in a humorous way. The wife in the sitcom wanted to invite a couple over for dinner, certain that her husband would love to meet them. However, her husband was not particularly thrilled; he believed he did not need more friends. When they finally met, both husbands realized they shared many common interests and hit it off right away. But because the husband did not want to admit to his wife that she was right, he would not tell his wife whom he was meeting whenever he met the other husband.

I’m pretty similar. I would rather get into an argument than admit I’m in the wrong, which often sees me bickering with my wife even in scenarios where I am clearly in the wrong (think leaving unwashed bowls on the computer desk for hours after eating).

Recently, in a thought-provoking interview with online ministry Desiring God, Ajith Fernando, the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, said: “Until I apologize, I am a bad example to my family . . . For a Christian, apologizing should not be a big deal, because we get our identity from God—and that identity is a gift that has been given through grace.”

Many times, I don’t want to admit an error or something is my fault because of pride, image, or reputation. Ajith’s quote prompted me to correct my thinking: “If our identity was in our performance, then apologizing would be a big deal. But our identity comes from grace. When we do wrong, grace is hindered, and we can’t live without grace.”

Dying to our pride and humbly apologizing to our wives, whether in little or big squabbles, tells our wives we are committed to working things out and that we recognize God has been gracious to us.

The Mystery of Marriage

One of the first few things I learned during our marriage preparation course is that marriage is a one-of-a-kind journey of sanctification like no other. It is a journey where two sinful human beings come together in the Lord and sharpen one another.

One key thing I’ve learned about being a husband is that headship as described in the Bible is not about the right to command or control. It is the responsibility to love like Christ: to lay down my life in servant leadership. Holiness as a husband means spending yourself for your wife. It is costly. For me, it is a lot about giving up the comforts and bad habits of singlehood, and realizing that I now share a life with another who is equally wondrously made.

Marriage is a journey of the constant death of two individuals, that they may become one in Christ. So to my brothers out there, would you die for your wife?