“The purpose of marriage is to make us holy.”
“Marriage is hard, but it’s OK because it makes us holy.”
Have you ever heard a variation on this theme? People may not say it so explicitly, but I’ve heard this a bunch, and I think it’s dangerous. It’s almost like we looked around and said, “Well, marriage is really difficult, and a lot of folks never experience intimacy, joy or happiness in their marriages, so let’s just tell them marriage is supposed to make them holy instead.”
We sound so spiritual when we talk like this, and we think we’re elevating the institution of marriage, when in fact, we’re simplifying it and cheapening it. We’re robbing it of its beauty.
And we’re insulting the people who aren’t married.
How are they made holy? Are they doomed to a life of lesser holiness due to their marital status? Are we implying that our single brothers and sisters, widows and widowers or folks who’ve dealt with the trauma of divorce, don’t have access to the thing that can make them holy? Namely, a spouse?
Can marriage make you holy?
Any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough edges, point out selfishness, expose sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, make us holy. But saying marriage can make you holy is very different than saying that the purpose of marriage is to make you holy.
The real-life implications of this belief are what scare me the most. If marriage is to make me holy, and if what I really mean by that is the hard parts of marriage make me holy, then I’m actually completely justified in staying in the hard parts, without any hope of or desire to change. There is no impetus to seek deeper intimacy with the person I’ve promised to be with forever.
Instead of hitting conflict or hardships and deflecting to “holy,” we need to start asking the tough questions, like “Why are we having this conflict?” or “Is there deeper emotional pain that’s making this so hard?”
Marriages are not meant to be endured.
Marriage is for intimacy.
The sharing of souls, dreams and flesh.
Marriage, the joining together of two unique persons, predates sin and exists beyond it. Marriage satisfied Adam. It excites Jesus.
The first marriage was designed by a loving Father, for joy and companionship. He called it good.
Marriage is the mysterious coming together of two people; the blending of heart, vessel and marrow. The tearing of the veil. Intimate. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.
But intimacy can be a scary thing. It’s vulnerable and exposed and leaves us naked. It’s also amazing.
The opposite of intimacy is withdrawal. Distance. Disconnection. Ask yourself and ask your spouse, “Are we close? Are our hearts even in the same room, communicating easily? Have we settled for a dull disconnect?”
It’s worth talking about. And for the record, if one spouse feels like there’s distance and disconnection but the other spouse thinks everything’s great, the first one’s right—the marriage needs help. If you’re the spouse that’s denying distance, I beg you to stop.
Every relationship will have seasons. Seasons of grandeur, awe and warmth, and seasons of darkness and winter. But there’s a big difference between a season of winter and an ice age. If you’re living in an ice age, it may be time to seek the support of a pastor or marriage counselor.
When One Partner Doesn’t Care
It’s my assumption that most married couples want to grow closer together. I’m assuming you both want a healthy marriage characterized by deepening intimacy.
However, I realize that many people live in marriages that aren’t like that. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s missing something and you already know it and it’s breaking you. Maybe you wish things would change, but they haven’t, and you don’t think they ever will. If that’s you, I want you to know that I totally believe you. I see you, and I’m so very sorry.
It is not good to be alone. But being married to someone and still alone, now that might be worse still.
If that’s you, you may find yourself in a valley of grief, and that might be right where you need to be for a time. Grieving the loss of dreams. Grieving for the broken places, and the broken things.
If you’re in that hurting place, seek God to surround you with his love. Be honest with friends and confidants who will walk beside you, encourage you and strengthen you. Connect to a church that is a welcome and warm place, full of people who care about you, about seeing you. Not you, the part of the “bad marriage” or the “failed marriage,” but you, the child of the King, who is worth so much. Seek intimacy, with your God and with his people.
Marriage is a great gift, and we honor the Giver when we accept the gift with joy and excitement. We honor him when we treasure each other, respect each other, know each other.
We miss the Father’s heart when we think he gave us marriage primarily “to make us holy.”
Marriage is sometimes hard, and life is not all peaches and cream, but if your default description of marriage is “hard” as a journey to holiness, I’m telling you, there’s more. Look for that. Pray for that.
has lived in Southeast Asia since 2012 where he serves as a pastoral counselor and helps lead an international church. Before moving overseas, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and an inner-city trauma nurse for three. He can be reached on Twitter: @trotters41 and his website: trotters41.com