When Kevin popped the question—"Will you marry me?"—no one asked us a bigger question: "Why do you want to get married?" At the time, the question would have bordered on blasphemy. After all, Kevin and I were in love—anyone could see that. We shared a commitment to Christ. Who needed better reasons than those? We assumed that from then on, things would happily take care of themselves. For a long time, they did. We had no money, but who cared? We were happy. Some evenings after dinner we would take long walks with no clear destination in mind, holding hands, talking and dreaming of the future.
But before long, tremors began to rumble along hidden fault lines in our relationship. Increasingly the question ”Why are we married?" didn’t seem out of place. Other situations forced us to question the meaning of marriage. Good Christian friends divorced. Weren’t their common beliefs enough? A man we admired became entangled in an affair. Wasn’t his marriage satisfying enough? Our income fell behind our expectations, causing friction in a hundred daily decisions. We know we’re not married for money, but do we really share goals other than finally getting ahead?
Marriage hadn’t taken away all our problems. It wasn’t a babbling brook of happy kids and an ever-rising standard of living. We wondered, "What is marriage for?" As Christians, we knew that marriage was God’s good idea. But what exactly did He have in mind?
Is this good for our marriage?
Through trial and error, we began to discover new ways of looking at our marriage, ways that surprised and excited us.
One day the pastor at our church asked if we would help lead the youth group. We were new to the church, so we didn’t know this particular group of kids had driven away several previous leaders.
"Sure," we said eagerly. "We’ll help with the group." We thought it was something we could do together. Visions of campfire sing-alongs and decisions for Christ filled our heads.
Trying to be relevant, we led one Sunday school discussion on contemporary Christian music. Apparently it didn’t win the attention of John, a thin young man who wore tattered jeans to our class. During the middle of class we noticed he had a lighter in his hand, and he was using it to ignite the cotton fringe on his jeans, then watching his jeans smolder and glow.
The group reached new depths when the kids parroted a guest speaker—while he was speaking.
The youth group began putting a strain on our marriage. "I’ve never seen such rude kids," I told Kevin. "I want to quit."
”We can’t quit," he said stubbornly. "The kids need us. Besides, we can’t let them think they drove us away."
So on we went with what seemed like a recipe for marital disaster. Leading the youth group was the one thing we were doing together, yet it was extremely stressful. And we were failing at it. The group literally drove us to our knees. Before each event, we began to pray for the youth and for ourselves.
The group also forced Kevin and me to talk more than we had since we had dated. We needed to plan together and present a united front to the kids. As we did, we found out a lot about each other. All the prayer and planning seemed to help. The kids began to talk more in Sunday school. The following year, the students decided to start an evangelistic Bible study, and the group grew from five to 15.
The biggest surprise, however, was that through the process something good was happening to our marriage. We were working together at something. When we failed, at least it was our failure; and when we succeeded, it was our success. During most of each work day, we were miles apart. But when we led the youth group, we were arm-in-arm and heart-to-heart.
Another surprise was that Kevin and I began to respect each other in new and deeper ways. I watched in admiration as Kevin taught the group and saw the best in each kid. Meanwhile, he discovered that I could give kids firm love and organize a group. What a puzzle! That youth-group ministry, which by all rights should have pulled our marriage apart, actually bonded it in a new level of intimacy. Without trying to work on our marriage at all, it had become richer and deeper.
A third hunger
Had we studied our Bibles more carefully, we might have discovered this marriage-and-ministry mystery a lot sooner.
The Book of Genesis, for instance, takes us back to God’s drawing board, where we see what He designed for man and woman. Marriage was meant for companionship—"It’s not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18 NASB). It was meant for raising children—”Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28 NASB). Most Christians would agree on those two goals. But Genesis assigns a third meaning to marriage: joint, fulfilling service. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and said: "Take care of this, you two. It’s a big job, and you’ll need each other. Together—till, plant, replenish, create" (see Genesis 2:15; 1:28).
We hunger for this today: cooperating together, meshing, working like a mountain climbing team, ascending the peak of our dream, and then holding each other at the end of the day. God has planted this hunger deep within every married couple. It’s more than a hunger for companionship. It’s more than a hunger to create new life. It’s a third hunger, a hunger to do something significant together. According to God’s Word, we were joined to make a difference. We were married for a mission.
Marriage expert Dennis Rainey says, "One of the missing ingredients of couples today is they do not have a mission; they do not have a sense of God having called them together to do something as a couple."
But often, as we begin to feel this basic longing, we don’t know what it is. We get the "seven-year itch" or the "12-year anger" or the "18-year blahs." We think: What’s wrong with us? Our companionship may not be perfect, but we have each other. So what are we missing?
We may be missing one-third of what God created marriage for—serving Him together. Counselor James H. Olthuis writes, “To try to keep love just for us … is to kill it slowly …. We are not made just for each other; we are called to a ministry of love to everyone we meet and in all we do. In marriage, too, Jesus’ words hold true: in saving our lives we lose them, and in losing our lives in love to others, we drink of life more deeply."
Recently a wife in San Diego expressed this experience when she wrote to the editor of Marriage Partnership magazine. "Over 10 years of marriage, I have found that when my husband and I focus on our own needs, and whether they’re being met, our marriage begins to self-destruct. But when we are ministering together, we experience, to the greatest extent we’ve known, that ‘the two shall become one.’"
Our television never told us about this. Our parents probably didn’t mention it. Premarital counseling may not have covered it. Regardless, God has given every Christian couple a desire to serve Him together. He has placed you in your home, your family, your work, your church, your neighborhood and has said, in essence: "All this is yours. I’m giving you a mission together to care for the people around you. It’s a big job, and you’ll need each other. Together, join hands and make a difference."
Your mission may not be a youth group. It might be inviting people for dinner, letting someone stay in your home or helping neighbors pack a moving van. Perhaps one will help with a crisis-pregnancy center while the other watches the children. The possibilities are limitless.
But whatever marriage mission God has for you and your spouse, it will refresh your marriage and will re-ignite your reason for being together. As you venture out on your marriage’s mission, you will discover your marriage’s meaning.
This article is excerpted from More Than You & Me by Kevin and Karen Miller (© Kevin and Karen Miller). Used by permission.