Dream a Bigger Dream in Marriage

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I didn’t even know her name, but she looked at me with tears in her eyes on that international flight and said, “Well, it’s no coincidence we are sitting next to each other because I am just finalizing my divorce.”

The woman sitting next to me on the airplane had noticed I was typing on my computer about marriage and apologized for appearing nosy. When she asked what I was writing about I told her it was about our unmet expectations in marriage, and how God meets us there. She teared up and told me about her impending divorce. “That’s exactly it,” she said, “All these unmet expectations. I mean, he was a pastor’s kid!” With searing pain in her voice, she told me how after many years of both she and her spouse being unhappy, she had an affair. At the end of our long conversation, she heartily agreed to let me pray for her. 

I listened with deep compassion, because I could relate to the painful realization when marriage itself doesn’t make us ultimately or sustainably happy. My husband and I did multiple premarital books and counseling sessions before we married, inexhaustibly talking through this very thing and reminding ourselves that neither one of us could ultimately make each other happy. But nothing can prepare you for the reality of marriage and unfulfilled dreams, and how at times, marriage makes one so unhappy in the midst of strife and conflict. 

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The Bible doesn’t teach us to stop dreaming, however. In fact, through the life of Jesus, we learn we should pursue bigger dreams. Jesus dreamt that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when the painful road of the cross and separation from God lay before him. His dream—that “this cup would pass from me” (Matt 26:39)—that He would escape the impending cross—was one that seemed to offer ease and comfort.

But Jesus clung to a bigger and better dream—the dream for the Father’s “will be done” (Matt 36:42) through the laying down of His own life. And though this dream of following the Father was marked by a road of suffering, He knew it ended in true, complete, lasting  joy:

“Who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2)

You see, we don’t have to give up the dream of happiness in this life. We just need to dream bigger than the empty promise of happiness reliant on an earthly means, like our spouse, that shifts like sand. The common saying is true, “Marriage isn’t made for our happiness, it’s for our holiness,” but we often swallow this “holiness” call as though it’s an obligatory pill of drudgery. But Scripture tells us another story about holiness. Scripture tells us that it’s actually through holiness that we find true happiness— a.k.a. joy (i.e. Psalm 119). Holiness doesn’t replace happiness. Multiple times in Scripture we are told we are “blessed”—translating in the Hebrew as happy—when we seek holiness and obey God and His word (i.e. Psalm 1:1-2). 

And while the fulfilled promise of joy through obedience has been proven to us through the life of Jesus, the journey along the way can be painful. It’s difficult to follow Him when it hurts, when we don’t get our way, when dreams are crushed, and when the person we are married to seems so unlovable. But it’s for the hope of greater and more lasting happiness than fleeting and changing seasons of marital ease and peace that we persevere. It’s laying down the empty promise that marriage itself will make us happy and picking up the lasting dream of happiness in God. My husband and I have each been deeply unlovable at times, and we’ve caused each other significant unhappiness in moments, but our underlying and lasting joy is tethered to a steadfast God who has made us happier in marriage than we’ve ever been, sixteen years in. As our love for God has increased, our love for one another has deepened. It’s through the pursuit of God that we find His love and joy pouring through our veins.

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My friend Rebekah’s story demonstrates that in the absence of two people pursuing holiness in marriage followed by the devastation of divorce, God can grow that same joy in our lives even when the circumstances around us are so bleak. That precious woman on the airplane? By her own admission, divorce hadn’t provided the happiness she sought. Just as true happiness isn’t found through marriage, true and lasting happiness can’t be found in leaving a marriage either. 

So keep dreaming in marriage, friend. But dream a bigger dream of soul-saturating, uncontainable, and eternal happiness found only through God.