Whenever you see an elderly couple out at the park or in a restaurant together, and they're tender with each other, holding hands or talking sweetly, aren't you moved by that? Maybe he opens the door for her or helps her out of the car. Maybe she wipes food off his chin or helps him order because he can't see or hear very well. They are affectionate with each other in a sweet way, so that you see how in sync they are, how the rhythms of their life have led to this great romantic togetherness in their old age.
Regardless of your life stage, continue to pursue your spouse's heart. Continue to press the gospel into his or her spirit. Continue to want more.
No matter how long we’ve been married, we will never arrive at a place where we can say, "I know you now," because it simply wouldn't be true. Each day we are called to know and pursue our spouse more deeply.
The Song of Solomon gives us an example of what this type of pursuing, committed love looks like:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
For the record, the word for "love" in this passage is that word ahava. It's the clinging love, the "I’m not going anywhere" love.
Ahava is as strong as death. Its flashes are fiery, sourced in the consuming fire that is God. All the oceans covering the earth cannot drown ahava. It is worth more than all the treasures of the world.
If we're going to be faithful to the end, we will often have to lean into the covenant that we made with our spouse and with the Lord. We will need to access again and again, by God's grace, this devoted ahava, which says, "It's not an option for me to go anywhere because Jesus would not abandon his bride."
At my worst
I have been physically fit my entire life. I am tall and lean and have always been strong for a man as lean as I am. I have been told I have a powerful presence. I like to have fun, I like to goof around, and I have been blessed with what seems to be a boundless amount of energy. These were things that attracted Lauren to me. She often described me as our family's "recreation coordinator."
But then I got sick.
And all of that strength and vitality, in a matter of months, simply vanished. The ability to be playful, the ability to be creative, the ability to goof off was gone. Not only that, but my ability to really take care of myself, to do fairly simple tasks, vanished. I couldn't even take a shower by myself, and the kind of accompaniment I needed was not that sexy, all right? I lost the ability to even stand.
I lost so much of my ability to, in a way, be myself. There was no way I could romance my wife. My desire for sexual intimacy was gone. For a while I began to wonder what the brain surgeries had done to me. I wondered if, should I ever get over this cancer stuff, I would always be unable to do some of the things I enjoyed so much. Maybe I was going to be broken this way for a long time.
Lauren saw me at my worst. I wasn't in that kind of depressive "I hate everyone" mentality, but I was at my worst in terms of being very weak, unattractive, unstable, unable to get myself to the toilet so I could vomit and lie on the cool tile of the floor. I was a mess. And in those moments, I praised God for ahava love. As I look back, I still praise God for ahava love.
I praise God that this flighty kind of Cupidian, Valentine-y emotive love isn’t what we’re hoping will hold us all together! Praise God that the love we trust to keep us from falling apart is ahava. Praise God that as miserable and messy as I was, my wife was a regular reminder of God’s grace to me. She didn’t turn and run. She stayed with me, helping me, loving me, and carrying me. Lauren demonstrated her love toward me in this: that she lived into an ahava love even when I could not reciprocate.
A dark heart
The first seven years of our marriage were very difficult. My heart grew dark on multiple occasions. I remember one occasion in particular because it marked a real turn in our marriage. I had said some very cruel things to Lauren that day. I was frustrated; I was angry. I thought she was selfish and self-absorbed, and I told her so. I admit with shame that I wanted to wound her.
I was in the kitchen, and she was around the corner, sitting in a chair in the other room. I was being a terrible person, just hateful, and I threw some words out there that I knew would cut deep. I didn’t even regret that I said them; I wanted to hurt her.
I’ll never forget this: Lauren came around the corner. I was steeling myself for whatever she’d throw back at me and getting ready to fight back. But she just came up and grabbed me. Then she pulled me really close to her, and she began sobbing. She cried and cried and cried as she held me. She said, "I don't know what happened to you, but I'm not going anywhere."
Those were maybe the most powerful words I'd heard up to that point in our relationship. I was at my absolute worst, and she had every earthly reason to say, "Forget this. Forget you. I'm done." But she didn't.
"I'm not going anywhere."
Can you believe that?
It broke me. It wounded me in the good way, in the right way. It startled me and helped me in a way I could never foresee or imagine.
''I'm not going anywhere," she said.
And that's when I said, ''I'm going to get help."
You will be disappointed
Do you see? That's ahava. That kind of love isn't "Oh, he's strong. He's funny. I love the way he does this or that." That kind of love is "This is awful and it hurts a lot, but God is good and God is mighty, and by His power, I will endure and give grace."
Ahava is faithful to the end because Christians are a people who lean into the covenant of grace. We're people who say, "No, I won't bail. I've given myself for better or for worse to this person."
It doesn't mean we don't get help. It doesn't mean we stay in abusive situations. It just means we're faithful to the covenant we entered into with God and our spouse.
I think one of the bigger lies we tend to believe is that whomever we end up with is supposed to complete us. But the reality is, whomever you are married to is going to disappoint you. In fact, the person you're married to will likely be responsible for your deepest hurts.
Even in the best of marriages, there will be hardships to overcome. There will be difficult days. There will be frustrating behavioral patterns. There will be crises that expose parts of the heart you didn't know were there.
Ahava will never die
On your wedding day, you made the vow, "Till death do us part." Ahava love says:
Bring on the flood! Many waters will not quench ahava. It can't be flooded.
Bring on poverty! Ahava is better than all the riches in the world.
Bring on death! Ahava will never die.
Prepare yourself now to lean into that covenant. Be prepared for dark days, dark months, dark years. It's a broken world, and nobody gets out without bleeding. So in our minds and in our hearts, it's a wise thing to know this life is going to be difficult.
Given the “normal” sins of marriage, the messiness and the brokenness, as difficult and wearying as it can be, we must remember that the vows exist for precisely such experiences. You don’t really need to make a vow to stick with someone in the best of times. The inclination to run doesn’t exist then. It’s the low times the covenant is made for.
Isn’t that a reminder that grace exists for sin? We would not need grace if we weren’t sinners.
As you plan for the future of your marriage, as you look forward to those twilight years, remember your vows to ahava so that in the darkest days, in the lowest moments, when all hope seems lost, you can say, “I’m not going anywhere,” and when you’ve finally arrived, you can rejoice that you endured to the blissful end.
Copyright © 2015 Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson. The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex & Redemption is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.
1. Listen to Matt Chandler’s FamilyLife Today® series on marriage (audio available through the end of March).
2. Read Matt’s new book, The Mingling of Souls.
3. Learn more about God’s plan for marriage at a Weekend to Remember® getaway or The Art of Marriage® video event.