My dear wife, Luella, and I recently celebrated fifty years of marriage. It is mind-boggling to think that a girl from Cuba and a boy from Ohio would end up in the same lunch line, at the same college in South Carolina, on the same day, at the same time.
When I first noticed her in the cafeteria, I was captured right away. For me, it was, without a doubt, love at first sight. For Luella — it was just first sight! As the weeks progressed, and I got to know her more, I became convinced that I loved Luella. I had never felt this way toward anyone before. So I began looking for an opportunity to say those amazing, life-altering words: “I love you.”
I wanted the moment and the location to be just right. I knew this was an important moment, and I didn’t want to blow it. I finally found what I thought was the perfect moment, and I ventured out and said what I had wanted and waited to speak. I looked into Luella’s eyes and said, “Luella, I love you.”
I thought I would hear birds sing and violins play. Instead, Luella’s response was swift and pointed. She said, “You love me? What do you know about love? Don’t ever say that to me again!” I heard birds dying and violins breaking. I couldn’t believe it! After all my waiting and planning, she had thrown the words right back at me. But she was right. That 17-year-old Paul Tripp didn’t have a clue about the nature of love.
Fifty years later, it should be evident that she eventually responded in kind and said, “Paul, I love you.” Things have never been the same since. We reminisce on those early days and joke and laugh and celebrate. But we also worship. The only reason we bumped into each other in the lunch line in college is because a God of awesome sovereignty was weaving together our life stories.
In this aspect of our marriage, we find it easy to worship our sovereign Lord and his choice to bring our lives together. But when it comes to another area of our relationship and celebrating and worshiping God’s choices, I know that I have struggled. I would imagine you have too.
Celebrating What God Has Made
A healthy, flourishing marriage requires this essential spiritual discipline: worshiping God as Creator and celebrating his choices. Scripture repeatedly calls us to worship God as we stand in awe of his created world, but how often do we remember to celebrate his creative decisions in our spouse?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are certain aspects of you that God has created in which you didn’t have a choice. He determined how tall you would be, whether you would tend to gain weight, your natural degree of physicality or athleticism, the color of your eyes, the tone of your skin, the texture of your hair, the shape of your nose, and the size of your hands. All those qualities are choices of the Creator. How can you look at another human being, as vastly different as we are from one another, and not see the glory of God?
Here’s a fun activity that I would encourage you to do (but be subtle about it!). Take notice of all the different noses you see today. A weird ask, I know, but of all the billions and billions of noses he created, God has yet to repeat a single model. I’m not an ear, nose, and throat doctor, but how incredible is the nose as an aspect of our physicality? Think about everything it can do. Imagine if your nose were upside down. Not only would that look very weird, but you couldn’t go out in the rain.
Although some Westerners are obsessed with the shape and size of our noses and seek to alter them, I don’t think many Christian marriages fall into conflict because of this specific body part. However, the same is not true for many other aspects of our created person (and I’m not talking about body parts).
Who Designed Your Spouse?
God created every aspect of your spouse’s personhood. He administrated every choice of hardwiring, tone of voice, innate personality, natural gifts, and whether he or she is mechanical, analytical, or relational. Neither you nor your spouse chose any of these qualities. You didn’t wake up at six months and say, “I think I’ll grow up to be a mechanical guy,” and your spouse didn’t determine at 5 years old, “I’m going to have a natural inclination for intellectual pursuits.”
All these choices were made by the divine Artist, who has infinite creativity. But there are moments in our selfishness — when that other person is in the way of what we want — that we all wish we could rise to the throne of the Creator and re-create our husband or wife into our image (or at least into someone who would be easier for us to live with). The way to fight against this selfishness is to return to the essential spiritual discipline of worshiping God as Creator and celebrating his choices. When we forget to do that, here’s what tends to happen: the very differences that attracted us to our spouse in courtship now irritate us in marriage.
I once was counseling a husband and wife, and the woman was an academic type. She loved books, learning, and discussing high-level intellectual and philosophical theories. Her husband was a mechanical man. He liked books, too; he just wanted to prop things up with them! This woman was convinced that her husband was less than her because he didn’t enjoy reading. Now, is reading a beneficial activity? Of course it is, but this woman was so obsessed with trying to re-create her husband in her image — with her personality, giftings, inclinations, and preferences — that she was suffocating her husband and causing tremendous conflict in their relationship.
Before You Were Even Born
We cite verses that celebrate God’s choice in creating us in his image from before birth, but often in marriage, in subtle and not so subtle ways, we question the Creator and thus dishonor and disrespect our husband or wife. We end up criticizing the other for choices he or she didn’t make.
Consider these Scripture passages the next time you are tempted to ask your spouse to change in areas where change is simply not possible:
You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24)
When we celebrate God as Creator in our marriage, we can begin to look at one another with wonder and joy. When you look at your spouse and see the Creator’s glory, you feel blessed by how he or she is different. You are amazed and respectful of the experiences and perspectives that your spouse has brought into your life, which you never would have had without this person. And you look for ways to communicate your appreciation and gratitude.
Where in your marriage are you grumbling against the Creator and telling yourself you would have been a better creator in designing your spouse? When are you criticizing your husband or wife for choices that God made? This type of attitude never results in the esteem and honor of your spouse; it never results in unity, understanding, and love.
God’s Beautiful, Uncomfortable Plan
First Corinthians 12 talks about the variety of spiritual gifts and the need for a diverse body of Christ, but the same principle can apply in your marriage. God’s goal in marriage is not uniformity; his goal is unity. Unity is what you pursue in the face of difference. God’s good and beautiful plan is to put someone next to you in marriage who is different from you and doesn’t see the world the way you see it. That’s a good thing that God does to mature you and create dependence on him.
When dealing with differences and the creative choices God has determined in your spouse from before he or she was born, treat your husband or wife with appreciation and grace. Don’t demean and criticize for choices the other did not make. When you forget to worship God as Creator and celebrate his artistry, the sinful nature defaults to cursing the Creator’s work. If you think you would have been a better creator than the Creator, you will never treat your spouse with esteem and respect, forming a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.
But when you celebrate the creativity of God and how he formed your spouse and brought you both together for his glory and your good, you quit being irritated by the differences and start celebrating how they have enhanced your life. As a result, you will not only give room to your spouse’s unique giftings and perspectives, but you will honor him or her in what you do and say, even (and especially) in the moments when you’re confronted with your differences.