Holiness in Marriage1
What does holiness look like in our marriage? That was a question my wife and I asked each other one evening as we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary at a tea shop in Southeast Asia. We offered our thoughts concerning this question, but neither of us were quite sure we had nailed the concept. Furthermore, we were unaware at the time that God was probing our hearts for what he would later begin to teach us.
Since moving to Southeast Asia in the fall of 2017, refinement and sanctification have been close friends. My wife and I have had many conversations and opportunities to confess our need for Jesus. One conversation centered around a root of hurtful comparison connected to our individual spiritual growth over the past few years. Here is some context. The last three years included two babies, a master’s degree, a career change for one of us, a shift to only working part-time for the other, starting and leading a missional family, a downsize to move overseas, and finally a move overseas. During these many events, my wife and I developed our marriage mantra: “togetherness.” To stay connected in the business of life, we desired to be grounded in things we could do “together" (e.g., dish washing, laundry folding, dinner hosting). We also tried to make it a point to talk about the things we were learning about Jesus. But there were days, probably more than we realize, that we didn’t connect on a spiritual level. And because of the nature of our typical day we were afforded different opportunities and amounts of time to devote for individual spiritual growth. Often, there were days that I would come home and share encouraging nuggets I received during lesson planning, or interactions I had with students and co-workers. What I thought was aiding in spiritual connectedness was in actuality contributing to gradual layers of comparison that was producing spiritual polarization in our marriage. So, it was from this context that we have experienced the kindness of Jesus to expose our collective need. What we needed was “togetherness” with Jesus.
What has this looked like? It has simply meant reading, praying, and worshipping together daily. We committed to reading through a one-year Bible reading plan. We start our time together in prayer, confessing our need for God to teach us and convict us of sin. Next, we read the chapters for the day given in the reading plan, focusing on how the content connects with the person and work of Jesus. While reading, we take turns reading every other verse (yes, this takes more time, but it is really worth it for the shared experience and it helps with engagement). We have also enjoyed reading from two different translations, which often provides opportunities to make further observations of the text. After reading, we typically end with a time of prayer. We don’t rush this part. We take turns praying, and we may switch back and forth many times. In this process we are learning how to listen and pray for needs as the Holy Spirit directs. Honestly, this is one of my favorite times together because we take what we have just read and discussed and we together-talk to God about it. When I hear my wife pray and intercede for people, it helps me to see deeper levels of her heart and love for God. As I write these words, I am also compelled to note that in the past two months, we have had several nights of weary eyed reading and praying that were less than spectacular, in an emotional sense. But those moments are valuable too. We, together, come to the feet of Jesus as weary, tired, and done with the day people.
In the last two months, my wife and I have experienced deeper levels of spiritual connectedness, which is seeping into all areas of our lives and marriage. We have seen God unifying us in our parenting, friendships, intentionality with the unconvinced, and even the thoughts or lessons we learn during the day. We have experienced more awareness of our unconfessed sin toward each other, which has produced honesty, transparency, and humility. Polarizing layers are harder to form when we are routinely confessing our need for a Savior. This process has given us a way to expose and peel back the layers of hurtful comparisons. We have confronted the lies of Satan that aim to spiritually polarize us by simply having the shared experience of consistently enjoying His presence together. Through collective reading, praying, and worshipping, we can nurture and encourage each other to see Jesus more clearly. Likewise, we have learned more of what becoming one flesh means. As most guys will admit, it was easy for me to make sense of becoming one flesh physically, but to become one flesh spiritually was more abstract. Now, I can say the abstract is becoming tangible. Becoming one flesh spiritually looks like taking time to enjoy Jesus together.
In addition to these lessons, my personal view of what it means to lead my wife spiritually has been altered. When I saw the need for my marriage to have a collective gospel connectedness, I realized I needed to be the first to initiate, lead, and sacrifice (Eph. 6:25-30). My days look different now. My wife is a partner in my pursuit of Jesus. Instead of the focal point of my pursuit of Jesus being about me and my routine or schedule, it’s also about my wife and her routine. We have learned to adjust our collective time in the word and prayer together based on what the needs of that day look like. For instance, if we have a busy night, or we will be home late, we will wake up in the morning to read and pray. We have also found that I prefer doing it at night and my wife prefers doing it in the morning. Balancing those preferences furthers the gospel “togetherness” experience. My focus has been shifted to realize her needs as more important than my own, especially in the need for a husband to sacrificially shepherd her heart (Phil. 2:1-4). If you were to ask my wife, this shift in priority has been one of the most valuable weapons to refute polarizing comparisons.
A good friend from Crosstown would often challenge me to consider a communal response in my answer of how I was doing in pursuing Jesus. Instead of focusing on how much I had read or prayed individually, he often asked whether or not I was reading and praying with others. At the time, these questions were formative to shift my view of communal living. I am not downplaying individual time with Jesus. I am simply suggesting a communal view of loving Jesus within marriage. I caution couples, especially the men, who primarily devote themselves to individual and segmented pursuits of Jesus, to consider what that produces in their marriage. Is it unifying or polarizing? Is your spouse edified by what you are individually experiencing from the Lord? God has given us the gift of community within marriage. This is to reflect the greater community we have with the triune God and the body of Christ. And we see now how the experience of communal and missional living within our marriage is the core that allows us to reflect intentional living within a larger community setting.
Now after all of these thoughts, do we have this thing figured out? Absolutely not! It is noteworthy to add, although we have experienced great freedom from the effects of spiritual polarization in our marriage, it still surfaces as insecurity or hurt; and when it does, we are again confronted with our need for a present Savior. Even as I write this article, I’m not sure I have a full grasp of what holiness in any area of life really means. But maybe that is the point. Maybe holiness is about pursuit and longing (Psalm 42:1-2). Maybe pursuing holiness is about a desire to treasure the One who is holy. And if you are married, how much more valuable is it to run “together” to the Holy One?
So, what does holiness look like in our marriage? I think we are closer to this answer than last fall. We confidently say that it is collectively treasuring Jesus more than anything else, more than solid communication, biblical oriented parenting strategies, or edifying conflict management. Holiness in our marriage looks like a commitment to reading the word, praying, worshipping, speaking and receiving gospel truth, honestly confessing our need for Jesus, and consistently repenting.
I challenge you to ask the question, “What does holiness look like in our marriage?” This question will likely invite refinement and sanctification to your marriage as well, and when it does, rejoice! God is at work!
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Mindy Janssen May 18, 2018 @ 12:04 pm
Thank you so much Derek for this exhortation! I am encouraged that growing in holiness is not a solo pursuit!