In the book You and Me Together, Francis Chan writes, “The problem many couples [have] is that they spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other, but very little time staring at God.” These words point us to the importance of placing our focus on Him.
A poignant love story was told in an August 2016 New York Times article. The title of the article, “I Have No Choice but to Keep Looking,” reflects the tenacious affections of a Japanese man who was still exploring the ocean floor for the body of his wife who died during a devastating tsunami in 2011. After spending two and a half years looking in and around their home city, he took scuba diving lessons and began searching the ocean floor for Yuko’s remains in 2013. Though the darkness of tragedy had enveloped his life, he continued seeking to find the one he deeply loved.
My friend was overjoyed. Following years of failed procedures, she was going to give birth to a daughter. With only weeks to go, however, my friend discovered her husband was having an affair. The weight of pain threatened to drown all hope of happiness.
Two different friends from different spheres of my life—one a man, one a woman—told me about their unfaithful spouses during the same week. Both felt betrayed and angry. They wondered if they would ever feel whole again.
The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.
Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church, and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him, and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.
Our pastor read this verse during a sermon: “It’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Quite happily wed himself, he followed the reading by saying, “Marriage complicates things.” Seconds later, a masculine voice emitted a long exaggerated “Aaaaamen.” The congregation broke into laughter.
She glanced at him with a tender smile and began reading the carefully crafted words held in her trembling hands. The vows revealed a deep love for the young man standing before her. Toward the end of her lyrical, beautiful expressions, she said, “I promise to love you under all circumstances, the good times and the hard times—whatever it may be—for the rest of my days.”
I know a couple who share freely about a devastating time in their marriage. But the focus of their story isn’t the hurt or the wounds they inflicted. Instead, they talk about how God used that experience to reveal deep-seated issues that needed to be addressed and dealt with. As a result, they emerged from the painful pruning closer to each other and to Him. Amazingly, they’re grateful for it and the good that has come from it.
In 2013, John and Ann Betar became the oldest known American married couple as they celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. Their advice on staying happily married includes the following: “Don’t hold a grudge. Forgive each other. Live accordingly,” John advises. And Ann adds, “It is unconditional love and understanding. We have had that. We consider it a blessing.”
It started out with my friend doing a little drinking with friends—hitting a bar after work. But then the heavier drinking began and poor decisions ensued as his abuse of alcohol escalated. His weak relationship with God became nonexistent. Today, my friend’s marriage is in shambles and his relationship with his kids is strained. It’s been hard to see him slip into the abyss by degrees.
Get married. Make babies.” That’s the annual clarion call from the Singapore government due to a declining population challenge. As a single woman living in this small country, I know the message is targeted at me.
When counseling young couples who are preparing for marriage, I always ask these questions: “Why do you love each other? Why do you want to spend the rest of your life with this person?” What I really want to hear is a flash of passion, a quake of desire. I don’t merely want to hear rational judgments (“We complement each other,” “Our families approve,” “I think we’d have the necessary elements for a successful family”). These observations are good, but I also want to hear how their souls yearn for one another, how they become more of their true selves in each other’s presence. I want to hear some indication that all they are is engaged in their transforming relationship that will culminate in marriage.
As I greeted my friend, I asked, “How are you?” She immediately began to wipe away tears. Burdened with loneliness, she had watched as countless younger friends had married over the years—but she had not. As two more were set to wed soon, she wondered why she remained alone. Her heart’s desire remains, but as each year slips by, her fears of growing old alone intensify.