My journey toward full intimacy in my marriage has been filled with unexpected lessons.
One particularly striking lesson has been about the role of my marriage in my journey of faith. I often read the phrase, “Marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy. It’s supposed to make you holy.”
My Christian walk and my marriage journey seem to be laid on the same path. When I spend more time with God and strive for obedience to Him, I find more joy in my marriage. Likewise, when I spend more time with my husband and strive for intimacy with him, I find more joy in my faith.
Whenever I take any kind of journey (even just a walk around the block), I carry in my head the woven-together journeys of my life, my faith, and my marriage.
As I began to work on our marriage, when I sensed that I had important questions to reflect on, I would head out to the local nature center for a couple hours to spend time with God in looking honestly at myself. Being away from everything and everyone left me with no distractions—just me and God, His creation surrounding me while I walked the trails. My natural inclination is to get caught up in my emotions. While I was mostly alone at the nature center, the knowledge that I might run into other people helped me not get too emotional, thereby helping me think more clearly as I did what I needed to do.
Since late last week, I have been working through the next steps in my life’s journey. I’ve sensed that I am at a crossroads in my professional life; I’ve begun to put things into place that will take me from a path I’ve walked for nearly three decades. God’s arms have wrapped around me, and I knew I needed some intentional time with Him, away from the distractions of my household.
After a sleepless night, I arose early Sunday morning to drive to the nature center. So desperate to be where I needed to be with God, I didn’t even have coffee first. I was the only person there (no other cars were in the parking lot). It was about 14 degrees, with some wind and heavy snow flurries falling.
The journey of intentionally improving my marriage began when we were at a cold, passionless point in time. At many times, I felt like I was the only one walking this journey. My husband had learned not to count on me to stick with efforts to improve the marriage. He didn’t know that this was a real journey and not just, well, a walk in the park.
The trails were still snow-covered, but because of the recent thawing that had begun but had not finished, what looked like snow was actually very lumpy and slippery ice. Although we are supposed to stay on the path that has been laid down for us, my safety required that I walk off-trail, trudging through pinecones or dried prairie grass. I still slipped a lot, but I didn’t fall down.
Much of the journey of my marriage was slippery. I was frequently in danger of falling. The trails that I thought others had laid down for me didn’t always work; I had to find my own way.
I walked a short stretch in the woods. My conversation with God was mostly me saying that I was scared and unsure about whether I can really walk this new path in my life. As I prepared to emerge from the woods and enter an open area of dried prairie grass and more icy trails, I stopped for a moment, wanting to look ahead of me instead of down at my feet. I took a deep breath and said, “God. I’m trying. I’m trying to have faith.”
After the movie Oh, God! came out, God’s voice always sounded like George Burns to me. After Bruce Almighty, God’s voice sounded like Morgan Freeman. Yesterday, God sounded a little like Yoda. “I’m trying to have faith,” I said. I heard, “No. Try not. Do . . . or do not. There is no try. Have faith, or do not have faith. There is no try.”
As I walked the path to improve my marriage, I spent a lot of time scared and unsure, asking God if I could really make a difference by continuing that journey. There were moments when I was about to emerge from a stretch of something and enter a new area of growth. I would stop to see what was ahead of me. Always, I said, “God, I’m trying.” And I would hear, “Have faith. Just keep walking.”
I wasn’t sure how much farther I could go on these trails, and I looked behind me to see how much of the icy trail I’d already traveled.
When I was overwhelmed by how much farther I had to go, I would turn around and recognize how far I’d come. Simply seeing that I was not where I had been was enough to turn me back around and get me moving again.
I resumed walking. Standing still was just going to make me cold, after all. And as I carefully placed my feet to the side of the designated trail, I thought about how I was making my own way and it was right. At that moment, I heard God very clearly, telling me to have faith that my new path is right. I looked up, and right ahead of me was a bend.
One of the unexpected lessons I’d learned on my marriage journey was that the path laid down by others wasn’t always the one I should walk. I had filled myself with ideas about what I was supposed to be doing based on what the world was telling me about marriage, what I heard some Christian women say about doing their duty in bed, and my own simple stubbornness at being unwilling to walk where I needed to in order to get to where I should be going.
My husband, too, thought our lifeless marriage bed was normal. He picked up on media representations of men who wanted too much sex and the women who needed to limit their out-of-sexual-control husbands. He was miserable, but he didn’t know that it really was okay to be miserable about it. Our marriage is unique in all the world, with two individuals who needed to pay attention to God and to each other and not so much what everyone else told them they should be doing.
Sunday morning, I decided not to continue the path that would take me into a heavily wooded area. The icy trails made me nervous, especially with no one else on site, so I decided to simply soak in being where I was. I stood and looked out at the wintry prairie vista in front of me. It is a somewhat colorless view at the moment, shrouded in the browns and grays of dried prairie grass, dormant trees, and a sky filled with snow flurries. As I stood there, my mind’s eye added the color I’ve seen in that spot in the bursting-with-green spring and the rust-and-orange autumn. I saw many seasons layered beneath this vista.
As I’ve walked my marriage journey, I have faced many views that looked somewhat bleak and colorless. This journey toward full intimacy has not always been easy, nor has it always been pleasant. But at every view, I’ve sensed the layers of other seasons, just waiting for their time to burst forth in color.
The Path of Life
When I shared with some people that I was planning to spend time at the nature center for careful discernment, someone sent me this verse:
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11
A Christian should always be growing in faith, not standing still to stagnate, but shining God’s light into the world.
A marriage won’t grow if you stand still. You must travel a path for growth to happen.
The trails may be slippery at times. You need to work with God to know where to put your feet. Trust in God to help you get back up when you stumble.
Your marriage is unique. Follow God’s guidelines but know that your marriage journey will require you and your husband to step away from the beaten path at times. When you stumble, dust yourself off and pick up where you left off.
Behind the bleakest views are other seasons, waiting to burst forth.
During the bleak seasons of your marriage, reach for the color and life that is waiting for you.
Do . . . or do not.
The only way to see the vista of possibilities in front of you . . .
. . . is to make the journey that will take you there.