How many of you have ever had a Lily and Griffith kind of moment? Maybe out to dinner, maybe for a special celebration, or maybe while cooking dinner, or settling into bed, or driving to see family….one that reveals your hurts and resentments and struggles all at once? Their exchange makes us laugh a little because there’s truth in it that resonates for each of us. The specifics of their story may be their own, but really, each couple has similar struggles.
As I read through the scriptures for the story of a couple, there were a number of possibilities…though no one really had a flawless moment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to point to. Even the couples in the Bible struggled and had messiness in their lives. Being among God’s people didn’t protect them from that. And one of the couple’s with the richest story is Sarah and Abraham. And I read through Genesis marking their story and those two faced a lot together. And we couldn’t narrow it down to just one moment, or just one story to highlight…it would have been unfair to them. The richness of who they are is highlighted in their ups and downs. They start out with a lot of years behind them before they even come together as a couple, then Abraham is called to be God’s leader and Sarah to give birth to the generations that will outnumber the sand on the beach…a notion she laughs at. They struggle and struggle to get pregnant and finally recruit Hagar to have a son for Abraham, a decision that Sarah later regrets. –She and Abraham went to Gerar where she played coy— and Abraham pretended Sarah was his sister, which only got them in more trouble down the line. They continued to try for a baby of their own and finally Sarah got pregnant and then she kicked Hagar and Ishmael out. And then there was the time Abraham felt called to sacrifice Isaac and took him up on the hill in obedience to God, only to have his son question what exactly was taking place up there. And it wasn’t long after that Sarah passed away.
This couple went through it—the ups, the downs, a few more downs—they were stretched in their commitment to each other and to God. And they aren’t the only couple like that—not in the Bible or in the modern day. I think most of us would like to think that if we are called by God, and faithful to God we will be exempt from facing trials, but that’s simply not the case. We all face challenges.
So what is our hope? Why do we even bother to get married? Well, I think the hope is that the love we share will continue to make us better as individuals and as a couple and that we’ll find peace and joy and comfort in our relationship. And it can be easy for that to fall apart…that’s why marriage takes constant investment…you have to talk about how you’re feeling when all you’d really like to do is slam doors or drive away. You have to be forgiving when forgiveness isn’t deserved. You have to show love even when you don’t feel loved. You have to laugh at the trivial stuff that gets your goat. You have to remember that you too are wonderful and loveable and incredibly flawed. Sticking with it requires a lot. Divorce is a testament to how hard it is—life together isn’t successful on a whim. And when you risk the greatest vulnerability and openness, you’re likely to get hurt—by a breach of trust, by infidelity, by a betrayal, by trauma, by unmet expectations. And sometimes those hurts become insurmountable.
I don’t say that to be a nay-sayer about marriage—I believe in it. I stick with and work on mine because it’s worth it. But I also want us to be honest, it’s hard. They tell you that when you’re young and engaged…”Marriage is hard” but nothing really tells you how hard it is until you walk the journey together and you face financial struggles, or a major illness, or the loss of a parent, or struggle with infertility, or lose a job, or move away from family—“hard” doesn’t even begin to describe those realities. And if you are married or have been married or live in a committed partnered relationship, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know…I just want us to be honest about it all. Because if we pretend it’s all roses and chocolates and cuddling on the couch, then we set ourselves and those who look to us as an example up for failure.
We’d like the world to think we’ve got it all together, and really, we shouldn’t be airing our dirty laundry out for everyone to see, that violates trust and often creates some irreparable harm, but we do need to be able to own our imperfections. So, we’re going to do a little exercise together. It’s easy to look at another couple and think they’ve got it made, or they haven’t struggled like you have, but there’s a whole lot that lies below the surface that we don’t all talk about on a daily basis.
For our exercise, I’ll ask that if you are married or partnered and you’re able that you stand up. And I’m going to share some situations and if it’s true for you and your significant other, you should sit down. And once you sit, if there’s another that’s true, if you raise your hand so that we can visually bear witness to what we face as couples. Now, these things relate to what we fight about…some of us call it fighting. Some of us call it quarrelling, or a discussion, or an argument, or a disagreement, or a squabble, or yelling…whatever we call it, it’s the thing you do when there’s tension and dissent. Now, stand up, and when I say something you’ve “fought” about, I want you to sit back down.
· How to load dishes into the dishwasher
· Which way the TP goes on the roll
· Putting the toilet seat down
· Dirty clothes that don’t make it to the hamper
· How fast or slowly you drive
· Where to spend the holidays
· Whose turn it is to take out the trash
· The temperature for the thermostat
· Who will get up with the baby in the middle of the night
· How much money you spend
· How much time you’ll spend with your inlaws
· How you parent
· How much you work
· Who is more stubborn
· What show to watch
· What car to buy
· What amount of debt is reasonable
· How you communicate your wants or needs
The point is, none of us is immune. None of us, as couples walk through our relationship without struggle. Being a couple is hard. It’s hard for Lily and Griffith, for Sarah and Abraham, and it’s hard for us. We’re two different people trying to come together and make life work. We fight over big things and over little things—almost to the level of ridiculous sometimes.
Rick said I could share a personal story of ours, so I’ll give a simple example…but one that shows just how easy it is to get into it—and how ridiculous we can be. One Saturday morning about a month ago, I wanted to get a bunch of things done and so I asked if he would help with just 2 of them…moving the couch, and pulling out the big oriental rug in the living room and he said sure. And as I worked on other things, he started to wash the cars and had the hose on, so I went to turn it off, and he barked at me. So I walked away and left him to wash the car on his own. I walked back in ticked off, and decided I didn’t need his help after all….so 6 months pregnant I started moving furniture and vacuuming so I could pull out the oriental rug. I knew it was ridiculous as I struggled to get around, but I was determined to show him. At one point I went back out and he said he was ready for the water to be off, I told him to handle it himself and walked back in. (We practice the utmost maturity in our house!)
Not long after, he finished with the cars and came in to see that I had moved all the furniture on my own. He shook his head and started to help with the oriental rug. It’s a huge heavy rug that’s really impossible to move on your own…it easily weighs 100+ pounds and there’s no way I could have managed on my own, but Lord knows I would have tried. We managed to work together to put the room back together and each asked forgiveness a couple of times over. It’s nothing big, especially in retrospect, but without humility and a bit of laughter those moments can build on larger hurts and resentments.
But our covenant to love one another, to forgive and be gracious keeps us striving for better communication, for a deeper affection, and for laughter through it all. Hopefully for each couple, it’s worth the effort, because we are better with our partner, because we find laughter and joy when we are together. Because they bring us peace. Because despite all the fights, they still love us and we still love them and we find ways to make it work. Because we don’t want to do life without the other. Because they’ve seen us at our worst and choose to stick with us anyway. Because in being open and vulnerable we are shaped and transformed by the power of love to become better in who we are. So we stick with it.
There may not be any perfect relationships, in this room, or in the Bible, but there are certainly ways to be better in our relationship—and that’s when we follow godly wisdom and advice. When we live the words of Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 13, we become closer as a couple. Listen again to Paul’s words to the Romans:
9 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. 11 Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 12 Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.