My wife, Jen, and I recently celebrated 16 years of marriage. I guess we can’t be labeled “newlyweds,” and we aren’t exactly “veterans” yet, but 16 years does give us a unique position to help those who are just beginning or close to their wedding date. We aren’t so far ahead that 50 years of marriage seems like an unimaginable future, but we are no longer naive to the real fight that marriage is.
The longer you are married, the more you learn. No one starts and has everything figured out in their marriage. Sometimes couples I counsel will ask me, “What would you go back and tell your 22-year-old self about marriage?” The following is a list of what I would say to my younger self from my current seat as a Christian, husband, and pastor––five things I wish I had known when I got married.
“Marriage is a big deal.”
Maybe it was pie-in-the-sky thinking or youthful unawareness, but neither Jen nor I knew exactly how big of a deal marriage was. I had taken marriage classes in college, we had completed premarital work, and we even had mentor-couples pouring into us. None of those necessarily prompted the profundity of marriage.
Most people have very few life-altering moments over the course of their existence––but marriage is one of those experiences that changes everything.
Within Scripture you see how God himself instituted marriage as a special covenantal relationship between Adam and Eve, the most special of all his creation. The first man and woman were called to leave, cleave, and become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Now that I know the proper biblical framework, I would tell my younger self to study that text and look at the theological significance of what God did. God’s crowning union for his highest creation was marriage. It is a big deal to God; it should be a big deal to us.
“Lay the tracks that your marriage will run on.”
If I spoke directly to myself, I would say, “Listen here 22-year-old self, you think you know what it takes to make this relationship work, and you mistakenly believe that you’ll be able to make adjustments and grow your marriage later. While you can always change, start now. Start making good habits for yourself, for your future wife, and for your home right now.”
I would be frank here with the younger version of myself. 22-year-old me might fight me, and that’s understandable: What 22-year-old doesn’t think more of himself than he should? I would stress disciplines, communication, and physical health. In the end, I would try to encourage him that good habits made over time will serve his marriage well.
“Expect suffering, but don’t let it consume you.”
I couldn’t have given you a decent explanation of providence when I said “I do,” but the experiences God has lead us through have opened our eyes to see how clearly he works out his sovereignty in the lives of his people.
We assumed having and raising kids would be easy. We assumed conflict was for other couples. When we got married, we learned how selfish we really were. We had kids and learned how angry we were. We assumed that every child we were given would have a long and happy life. We didn’t know the bitter, dark providence we would walk through the death and burial of our four-and-a-half month-old son. Losing grandparents, losing homes, and transitioning to new cultures for ministry were all part of God’s plan for us, and each of these stages was hard.
I would’ve told myself very calmly in the most patient tone I could muster, “Jerrod, this life will be hard. But you can trust that God is unceasingly good in the midst of hardness. Your flesh will want to have fast answers to questions with deep, practical implications. Trust in the goodness of God and take tragedy one day at a time, even one second at a time. Tragedy won’t define you, but it certainly can consume you. Don’t let it consume you. That type of thinking will only lead to bitterness, resentment, depression, and hopelessness.
“Strive to be like Job who at the end of his very difficult life was able to say to God: ‘I had heard you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you’ (Job 42:5). God will make himself personally known in the middle of the darkness and that is a good gift.”
“Stand strong for what God has designed.”
Little did I know in 2002 that within 15 years the US government would overturn a court ruling and redefine marriage into something God never intended it to be. I would encourage my younger self to study, practice, and preach on the importance of God’s design and how it affects every area of society. I’d warn myself about the future of a culture that rejects God and what he intended for marriage.
I would calmly sit myself down, look myself in the eye, and say, “Jerrod, if you really do believe what God has revealed about himself in the Bible, you will find yourself at odds with the culture soon. You are going to have to find ways to speak truthfully and lovingly. In every stage of your marriage, fight to remember how important it is to hold true to a covenant. Regularly invest time in teaching and training your other married friends about God’s design for marriage.”
“The gospel is your only hope to stay married.”
As the music started and I had the last few moments to talk, I would say: “Jerrod, the biggest problem in your marriage will be you. Your old life will want to call you back to selfishness, personal gain, and self-justification. Marriage is going to show you how selfish you are, and children will teach you how angry you are.
“Remember that the good news of Jesus Christ will be your sustaining hope. Remember your sin had real, eternal consequences, but the personal God of the universe did something about that sin: He sent his Son so you could live. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection changed your life forever, and you always need to keep that good news foremost in your life. The same gospel that saved you will sustain your marriage. You have a great picture here of how the gospel plays out in your marriage with the imagery of Christ and his Church. Live to lead and love like Christ did, and lead your bride with sacrifice and love.”