Happily Ever After

I find I write about marriage a lot because there is a big gap between what we are taught culturally and the reality of it.  In our Christian communities it is an especially wide gap because there is a lot of implied perfection that creates unreal expectations.

A couple of months ago, after spending time with someone close to us who is divorced, I asked John if he thought 'happily ever after' really existed.  His response surprised me:  Happily-ever-after is there for everyone, but you have to work your ass off for it.

Definitely not a line we are told in the fairy tales.  We all know how those stories go...the hero and heroine work through terrible perils to be together.  Fighting dragons, slaying giants, pursuing the truth in a world of deceit.  But then, when they finally embrace...when there is one last magical kiss...the story ends in an orchestral crescendo.  Except in real life, it doesn't. The story goes on.  And there are still more dragons, giants and deceit waiting in the wings.  And I'm pretty sure someone should be honest about that which is why I'm saying it here.

Every couple is completely unique.  And I actually think that the work each couple has to do to stay together is unique.  I read Mary Burleson's post about being married 50+ years.  She said for her there was a shift when she learned to stop blaming.  When I asked John what he thought the work was, he paused and said..."I am third."  [There is a billboard campaign in our area called "I am second."  It is people telling their stories about how they put God first in their lives.  John said in marriage, he had to learn to put himself third.] The work is infinite in variety and can sometimes be about simply allowing yourself to be open enough to let people in. (It is hard to be married when your spouse has an 18" guardrail around the heart.)

The dragons, giants and deceit are probably infinite in variety too, but the one lie that always deals the death blow for a marriage is the "I married the wrong person" lie.  The truth is we all married the wrong person.  We thought we knew who we were marrying but after a few years we discover the catastrophic flaws.  The ones our spouse doesn't admit even to themselves (and often are completely blind to).  We have our own catastrophic flaws...but if we see them at all, they are too painful to admit.  So we look away.  And we pin our lack of happily-ever-after on the things our spouse lacks. And the story we write in our head casts our spouse in a different role. That of dragon or giant. And we either pull out our sword and fight or look desperately for a way of escape.

If the work is different for every person, the one thing that is common is the need for telling a true story. We need complete naked honesty not only in our dealings with our spouse, but also in our prayers and in the stories we tell ourselves. God can do the work it takes to gearshift a couple beyond a crisis and into the next level, but He seems to have little use in doing that in a way that lets us keep our illusions about ourselves. AW Tozer captures the thought well in his Pursuit of God 

If the longing after God is strong enough within him, he will want to do something about the matter. [Note, I think the longing for love can also be inserted here as often they are one and the same.] First of all, he should put away all defense and make no attempt to excuse himself either in his own eyes or before the Lord.  Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense and he will have no other.  but let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself. Let the inquiring Christian trample underfoot every slippery trick of his deceitful heart and insist upon frank and open relations with the Lord.  Then he should remember that this is holy business.  No careless or casual dealings will suffice.  Let him come to God fully determined to be heard.

I've written many posts in this love series about grappling in my own heart in standing on the sidelines as couples we've loved split apart. About how John and I hit the wall and had to make a decision.  Oddly enough, our initial decision wasn't even for each other; it was about following God and what we believed He asked us to do. I can now say without flinching that God is in the business of resurrection, but He doesn't wave a fairy godmother's wand.  Apparently brokenness and honesty are the ticket for entry. (They also hurt like hell and require sweat equity.)

Whether a couple stays or whether they go...and I know many times there is no choice for one of the spouses...this commitment to honesty and letting God uncover weakness in you is key. You can do all the things the world says to do to get "happily ever after"--advice which is usually delivered with a healthy dose of chutzpah...and wind up in exactly the same place you were before. (Like our friend who in her new life still doesn't seem to have found what she left her marriage for.)

Surrender is counter-intuitive.  But when we are fighting the wrong enemy it is the only successful move.

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall