Meanwhile, just across town…

Not long ago, my husband Warren and I attended the wedding of a dear young friend and celebrated another lifelong commitment, a God-given covenant between two people to love, honor, cherish and serve each other – no matter how hard life gets – until death parts them. The ceremony was sweet, the reception was lively, the smiles could not have been wider and laughter abounded.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, just a few miles from the champagne, dancing and well-wishing toasts, another young woman we know was hard at work packing up her home, a sad, bitter task which included the toys, books and furniture of her small children. She was moving out of the place she and her husband had once called “home,” a place which she could no longer afford apart from two incomes. Her husband, after making exactly the same kind of covenantal marriage commitment to her some years ago – also promising to love, honor, cherish and serve her, no matter how hard life gets – had changed his mind. As we enjoyed the warmth, laughter and love playing out in one part of Columbia, her life and the lives of her children were being put into boxes and turned upside down.

It was difficult to keep this other young woman out of my mind as the vows were being exchanged and the evening’s festivities unfolded.

I am going to guess that the physical distance between the wedding ceremony and the “moving party” was only a handful of miles, but the spiritual and emotional difference could not have been more vivid. How is it that so many of us travel that “distance” – from committing our entire lives to someone else, to being willing to break that promise and cause so much heartache in the process – so depressingly often?

The demise of any marriage is a complicated thing, of course, but very often the path it takes is insidiously tame.

Little things that don’t at first seem to be “deathward” for a relationship – on their own, at least – begin to stack up and make a difference. (Warren and I have written on this topic previously, and you can find links at the bottom of this post if you care to read further.) Typically, though, it is no single thing that destroys a marriage, but rather a collection of irritations and attitudes that accrue over weeks, months and years.

As I think more deeply about the two very different life events that played out in Columbia on that specific Saturday, I want to point to one common, overarching heart attitude that, left unchecked, will begin to create that slow deathward trend, namely ingratitude, an inability to appreciate how richly God has blessed our lives.

Why do we argue with our spouse? Because we think we deserve better than we’re getting in any given situation, and “we want what we want.” Why does a husband begin looking at other women? Because at some point, he began thinking he deserved more/better sex, or a more physically-attractive and attentive companion. The same is true for a wife who becomes emotionally attached to another man. The details change, but the core heart attitude that begins to destroy a marriage, in our opinion, is ingratitude: “I deserve a better life than this person is giving me.”

Selfishness and ingratitude are obviously common sins for all of us. God’s Word tells us that we need constantly to be on guard against thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3) and in humility to look after the interests of others before our own (Philippians 2:3-4). Over and over, God patiently exhorts us to serve and sacrifice for each other as a way of living out God’s call to love each other as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 5:28-33).

Cultivating a heart of gratitude for all of God’s blessings in our lives is hard to do when we live under the same roof with another selfish sinner. No one knows that better than me, and my husband would readily agree that my love for him is one of life’s greater mysteries. And too, how he can tolerate me some days is a testament to the grace of God in my life and the power of God in his. Like most married couples, we both have days when we can’t think past our own noses – my wants, my desires, my needs.

Left to ourselves, of course, our folly, self-centeredness and self-focus will ultimately destroy every relationship we are part of. As fallen human beings, we simply do not have what it takes to live out selflessness in all our relationships, let alone the high calling given to married couples by Paul in Ephesians 5. But praise God that He does not abandon us to ourselves! It truly does take the work of the Holy Spirit within us to keep us focused on the promises we made on our wedding day. Otherwise, we too will flame out when, for example, our husband puts on a few too many pounds or loses his job. The constant changes that are a normal part of everyday life will eventually challenge the way we imagined our lives would turn out, and can tempt us to feel as though we had our ticket punched but stepped onto the wrong train.

For me, the first cure for ingratitude is to be in right relationship with God, constantly reminding myself that nothing I have – including my very life and every breath I take – is something that I deserve; it’s all on loan from God! Life, breath, and everything else are gifts that He has given me, and I am to use however many days He has ordained that I live cooperating with His Spirit and participating in the redemptive plan of Jesus. In other words, “my kingdom” is all a gift from God to be used to further “His kingdom.” This heart attitude is the “frame” my heart really needs to put my marriage to “the overweight jobless guy” (or whatever) in its proper perspective.

Reminding ourselves that we have been rescued from what we really deserve, and then graciously given a role to play in God’s Kingdom plan, will foster humility in us and will bear the fruit of faithful gratitude in our relationships with our spouses, guaranteed. And by God’s grace, it will allow us to celebrate the anniversary of our wedding day rather than find us packing up our lives and starting over, broken and brokenhearted. May God have mercy on us all as we consider how we approach His good gift of marriage and covenantal commitment.

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