The Power of a Strong Marriage
by Sabrina Beasley
Art class is a place where you have the opportunity to meet a group of fascinating individuals. I sat up front near a 4 foot 11 Japanese girl who spoke English with a high-pitched accent. Next to me sat an ambitious freshman, and in the back was a suppressed middle-class man who used art for expression. Our philosophical professor was at the front of the class. He had taught Sunday school for 12 years until he decided to stop the "charade." He now decorates his office with original artwork and a collection of Buddhas.
It was the Japanese girl who brought up an interesting discussion one day. During her time in the U.S., she was staying with a Christian host family. They had been witnessing to her, telling her the blessings of believing in Jesus Christ. How wonderful, I thought to myself. I'm so glad to hear that they are taking the opportunity to witness. She may never have another chance to hear the gospel. She continued, "They tell me that this Christianity is wonderful, but the husband and wife fight all the time; all the wife does is cry. If that's what it means to be a Christian, I don't want to be one. That is not the kind of life I want to have."
Our professor only encouraged her. "That's why I left the church; I saw the hypocrisy." Then everyone chimed in. The middle-class man and the freshman were just as confused. They wanted to defend Christianity, but weren't they just as guilty? Didn't they have the same questions? I spoke up, using God's grace as my answer. I explained that we are helpless humans, guilty and unable to be perfect, but God's grace makes a way so perfection isn't required. That's the beauty of the Christian life.
We who believe are thankful for and understand grace, but non-Christians only see the way we live. This girl saw that this "Christian" marriage was a wreck, and their "God" was doing nothing for them. Her answer was, I'd rather have my own religion. That day I learned that the term "Christian" doesn't just describe what kind of marriage we have, like a "barbecue" sandwich or a "red" dress. To the unbelievers watching, our marriage is our witness to a hurting world. It's our opportunity to practice what we preach. This couple had said all the right things and followed all the rules on how to lead a person to Christ. But by letting their own marriage drift and break apart, they had invalidated their case.
At the Beasley house, there's no foreign exchange student watching the intricacies of our everyday lives, but there are people who are influenced by our marriage. An ongoing example of this kind of influence takes place at the salon where my husband, David, and I get our hair cut. I first met Lucy* the week before my wedding. Being the giddy bride-to-be, I noticed that she also wore an engagement ring. "When are you getting married?" I asked. "I don't know," she said. She told me that she had been living with her boyfriend for three years and wasn't sure if he even wanted to get married.
Then she asked, "How did you meet your fiancé?" I began by leaving out the "Jesus stuff" in an attempt to not offend her. But the story was impossible to tell. So I stopped and said, "Let me just be honest with you. I'm a Christian, and the truth is that God brought us together." I shared openly God's orchestration in our lives and the lessons I learned along the way. Since then, I have had several opportunities to talk to her about relational topics, like the importance of communication, and how differences affect marriage, like the fact that she's family-oriented and he's not.
David also visits Lucy for trims, and while there, he speaks of me with respect. "Your wife is so sweet," she once told him. "Yes, she is," he replied. "She's the sweetest woman I know." He didn't have to say that. He could have told her how mean I can be when I'm angry or how cranky I am when I'm tired. But instead he chose words of honor. Relationship conversations are the main connection that Lucy and I have, but they always seem to lead to witnessing. During one conversation, I invited her to church. Another time I gave her a book about Christ with a pamphlet to learn more. It might have been difficult for Lucy to see the love of Christ in me if she never saw love between David and me.
The mini-sermon I gave on grace in art class is true - Christians aren't perfect. We have problems, difficulties, and arguments in our marriages just like anyone else in the world. Just last night, I made a comment about one of David's decisions and hurt his feelings. The night resulted in a great misunderstanding. So what happens when Christians encounter difficulties? And how do we address those problems so that they don't affect our witness?
For David and me, there are three main actions we take to help make sure our marriage is where it should be:
We Openly Communicate Our Feelings
In the case of our fight last night, as soon as I made my comment, he told me how it made him feel. If he hadn't told me, I might never have known. Those kinds of situations often cause bitterness; and yet it is completely unnecessary. Because of his openness, I was able to apologize and ask for his forgiveness. He graciously accepted, and with that, the matter was settled.
We Consciously Choose To Lift Each Other Up In Public
It's easy to be critical of a spouse. We witness every annoying habit that person has from drinking from the milk carton to leaving dirty laundry on the floor. And, oftentimes, those annoyances stand out more than positive attributes. We come to expect the good as "the norm." The next time you talk with your friends, make a point to share something good about your husband. If you don't remember positive things about him anymore, start a list. Write down the little things. Is he a loving father? Does he work hard? Is he talented at something? As your list grows, his virtues will become easier to see.
We Make Our Marriage A Priority
David and I work through Bible studies and read books on marriage building. We also go on regular dates and attend marriage enrichment seminars. In the Bible, marriage is the example of what it looks like to be in a relationship with Christ. Paul says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church ( Eph. 5:31-32, emphasis mine).
*Name has been changed for privacy.