I’m whisking my wife away to an undisclosed location for a few days before the school year starts, so I was all set to write a brief post explaining that my usual Thursday article would not be forthcoming. Then that brief explanation grew somewhat less brief and it appears we have something of a Thursday article after all. (This is one of the hazards of being a writer.)
With our rare and long-awaited weekend getaway fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about marriage and the kind of work that goes into cultivating delight. It seems like every stage of a marriage throws up some different barrier to staying in love. Leah and I are still in a relatively easy stage, but we have already discovered that the premarital advice was true and we do need to work to tend the spark which flared so naturally when we were dating. So we work at it. Which may not sound especially romantic—and frankly, it’s not. Planning and scheduling and prioritizing aren’t exactly the stuff of poetry, but then they aren’t supposed to be. They are about preparation, not poetry.
It is so easy to fall into one of two opposing errors: We expect the Hollywood happily-ever-after of perpetual romantic delight without any effort, or else we rebel against that mistake by grimly anticipating effort without delight. Either way, we miss the lesson of the gardener who knows you must work to create a space where delight can bloom.
Because we ought to delight in our spouses, you know. Sadly, there is a “Love is work. Marriage is about sanctification”–strain of thought within the church which commits the classic fallacy of taking a truth and turning it into the truth. Marriage isn’t just about cultivating fruit of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul exhorts, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It is natural, and correct, to focus on the sacrificial side of Christ’s example, but let’s not miss the fact that Paul is calling us to love as Christ loves, not just give as Christ gave. Don’t forget that in Christ’s favorite metaphor for himself and the church, he is not a bloodied sacrifice but a joyous bridegroom.
Jesus delights in us, and husbands and wives should delight in one another. In fact, just to make sure we don’t miss the point, there is an entire book of the Bible devoted to painting a sometimes startlingly vivid picture of heart-fluttering love. The Song of Solomon tells us that we can delight in our spouse—and that we should. Ever since God led Eve to Adam, the expectation of Scripture has been that men and women would enjoy the good gift God gives us in marriage.
I have hardly been married long enough to tell anyone else how to improve their marriage, but I think I can say this with something approaching certainty: There is some little bit of work, some little change you could make, which would clear a bit more space for delight to grow between you and the one God gave you as your lover and your friend. It might be worth asking yourself what that fruitful bit of work could be.