Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and apart from purchasing the necessary supplies for my daughters’ Valentine’s Day school parties or get togethers, it’s not a holiday I think a whole lot about. Usually Jason and I exchange cards and a quick kiss over a crock pot meal while hustling everyone out the door to swim practice, ballet, or basketball games.
But all week I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day because of a conversation I overhead between my seven-year-old daughter Caroline and her friend Tess.
Tess was at our house before basketball practice, and I was feeding the girls a healthy, protein-packed dinner of cinnamon crunch cereal and apple slices with peanut butter (don’t judge me; it had been that kind of a day), and I was half-way listening to their conversation as they talked and ate, and I puttered around the kitchen. Well, ok, let’s be honest – I was REALLY listening to their conversation because Tess talks at a volume LIKE THIS, and sometimes it’s hard NOT to listen to their conversations.
And out of the blue, between cereal bites, Tess says to Caroline, “Yeah, I’ve heard that boys don’t like to get married as much as girls. Girls like to get married, and boys like to stay single. But girls are more organized than boys, so boys get married so they can have someone to help them get organized.”
Out of the mouths of seven year olds…but yep, that pretty much sums it up.
And the best part about it is that Caroline listened like she was listening to Dr. Phil, and Tess’ comment led to a deep discussion about who they were both planning on marrying once boys were ready to have a little organization in their closets and in their lives. (My lips are sealed; I’m not telling who their choice of perspective mates are, but at least I know now to start praying fervently for the spouses of this dynamic duo!).
But ever since Tess made that comment, and especially with Valentine’s Day coming up, I haven’t stopped remembering and thinking about the fiery trials of dating, romance, and wondering whose manpiles you would end up organizing one day (if you need a definition of “manpiles,” click here).
Because let’s face it: figuring out who in the world you are going to marry is tough stuff. Awkward stuff. Confusing stuff. And sixteen years down the road into marriage, I am still relieved I emerged in one piece from the search for a soul mate.
I remember one Valentine’s Day my senior year of college, a friend of mine asked if we could have a “talk.” Notice I said, “friend.” We were not dating, nor had we ever had any discussions of dating, nor did I ever want to have any conversations about dating. Yet during this “talk,” at a cafe decked out for Valentine’s Day with red roses, chocolate cake, and a man walking around singing operatic love songs, my friend proceeded to tell me that after thinking long and hard about it, it turns out I wasn’t the girl he was supposed to marry, so we were free to just be “friends.” Which is so weird because I thought that’s what we already were. And at the end of our incredibly awkward conversation with a man singing a love song beside our table, he proceeded to tell me he forgot his wallet, and I had to pay the $60 bill (which might as well have been $560 to a college student).
Like I said, dating is a fiery trial and an awkward experience, one I would rather not have to repeat in this lifetime if I can help it.
But with Valentine’s Day coming up, I know lots of thoughts are going on in the minds of seven-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, and forty-seven-year-olds about love in general, or at least about love according to our culture’s definition of the word. Because our culture is crazy-consumed with talking about love, which has really become another word for self-serving sex and ways you think another person should make you happy.
But after spending sixteen years married to a man who has lots of piles for me to organize, my definition and understanding of love within the context of marriage has changed dramatically.
Jason and I started off our journey together on rocky footing. After dating for almost a year, we were engaged and then broke off our engagement two months before we were supposed to get married. Both of us were carrying around a hundred pound sack of unresolved issues from our past that felt like deadweight in our relationship. In God’s mercy, as painful as it was, He allowed us to begin to unpack that deadweight outside of marriage instead of inside. It took a lot of counseling and a lot of humbling ourselves before God and one another, but we were re-engaged and then married seven months after our original wedding date.
During that time of separation, counseling, and healing, we learned how to come back together as two broken pieces that would humbly and dependently make a whole instead of two whole, independent pieces dead set on our own way or the highway.
During that time, Jason read Sacred Marriage, a book by author and pastor Gary Thomas that completely changed his view of marriage and set the trajectory of our relationship for the future. In the book, Gary writes, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?,” a thought that bears as much weight in our marriage now sixteen years down the road as it did so many years ago.
Because it’s true. “If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single,” writes Gary. “Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” Because marriage, as my mom says, is holy sandpaper. It is designed by God to rub off and wear down the edges of our self-centered habits, goals, and desires and transform us into others-centered, Christ-centered creatures. And let me tell you, it can be one painful process.
Three weeks into our marriage, we were knee deep into wearing the selfish edges off of one another. It was Thanksgiving week, and we were preparing to leave to go to celebrate the holiday with one of our families. And we. Got. Into it. I mean voices yelling, doors slamming, anger rising, “what-in-the-world-have-we-done” kind of arguing.
I ran into my closet, slammed the door, locked it, and curled up in a heap on the floor crying.
Not a great start to start a first holiday during the first few weeks of marriage.
And Jason says in that moment, he knew he had a choice. He too could slam the door and leave me and my hurts to myself, continuing the same pattern and cycle of leaving he had always done in relationships, or he could stay and pursue me, choosing to let the unconditional, covenantal love of Christ wear the edges off of his leaving and teach him how to stay, even with a wife who was an emotional, crying mess on the floor. And he chose to stay.
And his first act of staying was kneeling beside our bed and praying, “Lord, I don’t know how to do this thing called marriage. But I know you do. Help me to love her as You love her, and teach me how to stay.”
And the next thing I knew, I heard a knock on the closet door. He chose to pursue me, even with all my faults, and work through the issues at hand.
I wish I could say that after that incident, marriage was rosy…but it wasn’t. We had a hard first few years because both of us had such hard hearts.
But more than we stayed committed to one another, we stayed committed to Christ, and because of our love for Him, we stayed committed to our love for one another.
I want to offer this hope and healing this Valentine’s Day: a good marriage is not built on the foundation of two good and perfect people. A good marriage is built on the foundation of two broken people who have committed together to love Christ, the Only One who can put our broken pieces back together. Our marriage is living proof of that great reality.
Men, if you really want to love Christ and love your wife this Valentine’s Day, can I tell you what the most attractive thing about my husband is to me? It is his position of humble prayer before the Lord every morning. Every morning, Jason wakes up at 4:30am and spends the first hour of his day on his knees in God’s Word and in prayer for his family, his co-workers, and his friends. I usually stumble out of bed about an hour after he does, and my favorite part of the day is catching him in this act of prayer.
I do not know what the day holds for me or our girls, but I do know that we have been covered in prayer by the person whose prayers are the most powerful and effective on our behalf. And Jason’s habit of praying and humbling his heart before His God helps me trust him and trust his leadership and decision making for our family. And it helps me stay attracted to him in the day in and day out routine of marriage, work, and kids. Someone who serves me like that, loves me like that, is someone I can safely give my heart to, even when life is hard or circumstances are tough.
And ladies, can I tell you what Jason says is the most attractive thing about a woman? It’s not her wardrobe, or her body, or her achievements, but her confidence. A confident woman, confident in her God, confident in her identity in Christ, confident in the body God has given her, confident in joy, confident in grace, confident in contentment, no matter what her circumstances may be. And it’s a confidence that can only be gathered from time spent before the face of God.
I wish I could say I have arrived in this area of confidence and have figured it all out, but I am still a learner. But I can say with confidence, I am further along today than I was sixteen years ago as a newly wed in a heap on my closet floor. As I have dug into my commitment to Christ and listened long and hard to who He says I am, and then learned to confidently embrace who Jason says I am through his love and faithfulness, I have become more confident than I used to be. And it’s a confidence in which I am continuing to grow.
Maybe it seems like feeling love or tenderness towards your spouse is just asking for too much this Valentine’s Day. That’s ok. Maybe it is asking for too much. But what’s not asking for too much is cultivating or feeling tenderness or love towards Christ, the One who never leaves or forsakes you, and who then helps you act in love towards one another.
Like I said at the beginning, marriage is tough stuff. Dating and engagement is tough stuff. It’s a journey that forces you to face yourself as you really are, and not the pretty, flawless person you’ve convinced yourself you are.
And having those pretty edges worn off through the holy sandpaper of marriage is a painful process. But it’s also a beautiful one. Because through a fierce commitment to loving Christ and loving one another, you can actually become the person God has called you to be.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you are in touch place when it comes to love and marriage, don’t be discouraged by the hearts and glitter and chocolate that abound. Cultivating holiness and happiness in marriage is hard work. But it’s good work.
And if you are knee deep in hurt or curled up on a heap on your closet floor, take heart. Don’t leave. Stay. Stay committed to Christ, committed to prayer, committed to confident relationship with your God and with your spouse, and His faithful love can heal any heart. One step, one season, one year at a time. And that’s what the real love of Valentine’s Day is all about.