You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but years ago I was a skinny, long-haired distance runner. Injuries eventually forced me to switch to walking for exercise, but I still enjoy watching the distance events at track and field meets.

My love for running led me to adopt Hebrews 12:1-3 as my “life verse”—my favorite passage in Scripture:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Of course, the author of Hebrews is not speaking of a literal endurance race in this passage. He is alluding to the race of life, the race of faith. I’ve heard a number of speakers read this verse and say, “Remember that the Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon.”

While looking at this passage recently, it occurred to me that marriage is much the same. But many people today seem to approach it as a 100-meter dash. We would be wise to heed the wisdom of Hebrews 12 if we want marriage to last a lifetime.

For example, consider the exhortation to “… lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us…” If you run long distance, you stay on smooth paths or roads, and you avoid surfaces covered with branches, debris, roots, or rocks. In a race you wear light clothes—you don’t want anything to weigh you down or hold you back.

In the distance race of marriage, it’s important to lay aside anything that hinders your ability to hold true to your vow to remain committed to your spouse “for better or for worse … in sickness and in health … till death do us part.” These encumbrances and entanglements may be attitudes, expectations, or habits, or outright sins. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is keeping me from loving my spouse as I should?
  • Am I harboring any anger or bitterness over something my spouse has said or done?
  • Am I relaxing too much in my marriage relationship—have I stopped working at improving it?
  • Have I learned from past relationship failures, or am I repeating my same mistakes and sins?
  • Am I stuck in an unhealthy pattern of relating that I learned from my parents?
  • Do I have unrealistic expectations of how my spouse should act?
  • Do I have unconfessed sin in my life?
  • Do I forgive my spouse’s sins?
  • Am I maintaining an unhealthy dependence upon my parents?
  • Am I tempted to spend too much time on activities that don’t build me up in my faith or in my marriage relationship?
  • Do I have an unhealthy relationship with a friend or co-worker that is drawing me away from commitment to my spouse?
  • What is preventing me from putting my spouse’s needs above my own?

Often we do not recognize encumbrances until we are honest with ourselves and ask questions like these. You may be surprised to learn that you are trying to run the marathon of marriage while wearing 80 pounds of extra clothing.

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