“I can’t do it!” That was what my daughter moaned in her frustration at missing another problem as I was quizzing her on multiplication tables one evening.
“Of course you can do it,” I replied.
“Then why did I fail my test at school today,” she snapped back almost tearing up.
“Just because you haven’t done it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.”
While that kind of logic is not very inspiring to an elementary age child who’s struggling with homework, there is a reality to our exchange that profoundly affects marriage. It would be nice if a healthy, God-centered marriage was an instantaneous process; if as soon as you said “I do” you were completely, selflessly in synch with each other, if communication was perfect, if holistic intimacy was second nature, if all of our annoying little quirks and our big struggles were suddenly gone. But that is not the reality of the world in which we live. It takes time.
Each week, as I post thoughts, ideas, and advice about ways to enhance and strengthen marriage, I have no choice but to speak in broad-stroke generalities. The circumstances of each couple’s specific situation will of course be different. Everything from a couple’s family of origin, to each spouse’s individual health, to length of time married, to the number of children in a family, to an infinite number of other factors plays into exactly how someone reads, interprets, and applies a blog post.
I say that to say this. Building a healthy marriage takes time. The fundamental building blocks—recognizing marriage as a God-centered relationship, really understanding the concepts of “one flesh” and “helpmate,” healthy communication, holistic intimacy—these things don’t happen automatically. Healthy marriages require time, commitment, sacrifice, making hard choices, and a whole lot of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion. The easy thing to do when you become discouraged and frustrated is to quit, give up, throw it away, and hope that the “true love” and harmony that you failed to find in your current relationship can be found in a subsequent relationship. But that’s the call of the world, not the call of God.
When talking about healthy, God-centered marriage, it is important that we keep the ideal in front of us because we don’t need to ever settle for “good enough.” But intentional movement toward an ideal marriage takes time. So, when I say “when we are paralyzed by our fears, we are not truly living in a loving relationship…There is no fear in loving communication, even when we have to say things we don’t want to say”–well, that level of communication is the ideal we strive for. Just because you are not there yet doesn’t mean you won’t get there. It just means you are not there yet. It takes time.
When you read “In a Christian marriage, shared prayer is a priceless connection that helps bring husband and wife closer together and centers their marriage in Christ,” that doesn’t mean you will instantaneously being praying together like a couple that have disciplined themselves to pray together for 40 years. Shared prayer is the ideal we strive for. Just because you are not there yet doesn’t mean you won’t get there. It just means you are not there yet. It takes time.
Whether it is practicing forgiveness, having a positive perspective, encouraging your mate, or putting aside a habit or behavior that is destructive to your marriage, we strive for the ideal that God is calling us to. But we must also never forget that He is also always present in the reality of our current situations. If you're not yet where you want to be, don't get discouraged. It takes time.Remember, God has promised us that he will not put upon us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and we cling to that promise when it comes to individual temptations and trials. But have you ever considered the certainty of that promise applying to your marriage as well? Don’t quit when things get difficult, when things become uncomfortable, when it’s easier to see temporary superficial distractions as more pleasant than working through the problem that vex you and your marriage. Often, rather than putting in the required work to master our selfish, broken human nature, it seems easier to focus on the negative and accept a defeatist attitude toward our spouses and our marriages. But remember, it takes time. For you and your spouse, it takes time.