During one recent excursion, my two young boys played at the park, and they became filthy from throwing "dust bombs" — fistfuls of dust thrown at warp speed. At the end of the long afternoon, we headed home so they could take much-needed baths.
And then the battle began.
For some reason, my younger son, Blaise, decided he was done with baths. Water was not for him. I insisted that he go upstairs to take one anyway.
Then, with his eyes sparkling raccoonlike from a dust-covered face, Blaise looked me straight in the eye and challenged, "No. I don't want to."
I was about to unleash some superhelpful response such as "I don't care what you want," when my husband, Josh, stepped in and redeemed the moment.
"Blaise," he said firmly, "we don't talk to our mama that way. We respect Mama; I don't want to hear that again."
My husband's words and wiser approach to the situation reminded me of two things the Bible teaches us about marriage. First, marriage is a partnership, and, second, God designed our differences for our benefit.
Genesis 1:31 shows us that God surveyed the world He had created and called it "good." In the next chapter, God made a startling observation: "It is not good that the man should be alone" (2:18). And so in verses 19 through 25, the Bible tells us that God created Eve as a companion for Adam. The first two chapters of the Bible — Genesis 1-2 — show we were created for relationship, first with God and second with one another.
During the sometimes-long days of mothering small ones, I am especially thankful for the institution of marriage. Ecclesiastes 4:9 explains the value of partnership, "Two are better than one." This is not only because two people are more productive as a team but also because someone is there to help during troubles: "For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow" (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
I love that imagery. I felt lifted up when my husband urged Blaise to respect his mama. In fact, Josh's words could not have been sweeter if he had said I was the most beautiful woman on the planet.
Marriage is also a special covenant because God promises to inhabit our marriages. The entire passage of Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 is about the benefits of having a two-way partnership, and then, almost inexplicably, Solomon wrote that "a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (v. 12).
Biblical scholars tell us that this passage is speaking about the Holy Spirit. Christian marriages, then, are not easily broken because the Holy Spirit inhabits and binds them.
So that this truth settles in your heart, I'd encourage you to curl up in an armchair and write down the ways that two are better than one in your marriage; jot down everything from dividing up the carpool duties to affirming each other. While you're at it, remember that a "threefold cord" represents your marriage and thank God that His Holy Spirit inhabits your relationship.
The blessings of differences
Chances are you and your spouse have different personalities, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. As 1 Corinthians 12:4 puts it, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." The church is dependent upon each member contributing his or her individual gifts. Indeed, every part is essential to the well-being of the church (1 Corinthians 12). Just as the Lord uses individual gifts to build a church, He uses different gifts to build a family.
For instance, my husband responds to conflict much better than I do. This is no accident. The Lord knew our two boys would need Josh's strength, courage and vision. He also knew they would need my empathy and quiet flexibility.
The makeup of your family, especially the differences between you and your spouse, is not an accident either. God can use you and your spouse's combination of personality, spiritual gifts, strengths and even weaknesses for the good of your family.
Marriage can be difficult because it lays bare our selfishness and our bad habits. Our differences can also be a source of emotional chaffing. As two unlike individuals strive to become one flesh, they experience growing pains. When the inevitable conflict comes, try making a list of the ways in which your spouse's personal gifts contribute to the household and share them with him or her. Write out your spouse's character traits that benefit your marriage: her honesty, his dedication, her work ethic, his strength of character. Next write out his or her specific gifts: her creativity with the home, his way of encouraging your children. Write out as many things as you can think of — whether it is the actions he or she takes at home or the integrity he or she demonstrates in the workplace. This exercise will not only help you have a better attitude toward resolving disagreements, but it is also almost guaranteed to make his or her week.Erin Hawley is a lawyer and an associate professor at the University of Missouri. She is the author of Living Beloved: Lessons from my little ones about the heart of God.
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