Marriage: When a Contract Becomes a Covenant

As with any new home or house renovation, friends drop in and want to see the new space, the updates, and the décor. After two years of planning, architect drawing and redrawing, bidding and re-bidding from contractors, I was ready to show off the transformation of our 200-year-old home. After a few such tours though, I realized I am uncomfortable showing the master bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, it received as much attention and forethought as the other rooms, including the coolest room darkening shades I hadn’t even known existed!

We built our bedroom as our sanctuary. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s minimalistic. It’s off the beaten path being the farthest room at an end of a rambling home. It’s our place to lay our heads at night, side by side, preferably under a blanket of thanksgiving to our Father.

I realized the tours were making me feel awkward because it is our intimate space. Don’t worry readers, I’m not going to share those details. It’s intimate in that our bedroom is a safe space, where my husband and I can have pillow talk, speak frankly and vulnerably, and pray aloud over all that is troubling our souls.

Our bedroom is our sanctuary, our marriage is what is sacred.

When Marcus and I fell in love, we weren’t strong believers. We had faith in God and desired a church ceremony, but we didn’t understand that a covenant marriage was more than the vows we spoke. This is not to say we took our vows lightly. We had numerous conversations about our dreams and aspirations of wanting to create a marriage that would last the tests of differing opinions, struggles, children, and aging.

Maybe you thought you had covered all the topics too. During this exciting time of life, with engagement parties and showers, opening gifts, receiving compliments over your venue, flowers, and tiered-dessert selections, do you remember anyone pulling you aside and saying that marriage will require flexibility? Did anyone write you a card that said there will be hard times, maybe so difficult that you will want to leave, but it’s worth staying? Did anyone wrap up the How-To Guide on what to do if your spouse cheats, becomes an addict, gets injured, or dies? Sadly, no one shared these insights with us either. No one even hinted at these outcomes. So, crossing the finish line of our 22nd year, we both agree that marriage is difficult…amazing, and worth it. But hard.

Not having faith role models to follow, we’ve taken marriage classes, talked to counselors, asked advice from wise friends ahead of us, and prayed together aloud. From early on, we’ve said divorce isn’t an option, which initially was the extra push to keep striving for better. Now we know it is the Holy Spirit that is the glue that connects our spirits into the oneness that God created.

This oneness is what keeps marriage sacred. Not only is it combining man with wife, but it’s connecting the marriage to God. It’s building a deeper relationship with each other and with the Lord. We strengthen this oneness as we actively create a deep sense of companionship, typically with a common, even silly language and playfulness that comes with intimacy. It’s about figuratively and physically standing naked and unashamed in front of each other, knowing they will love you more as you share your vulnerabilities.

“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being…. The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (emphasis mine)….Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man….That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”. (Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:18, Genesis 2:22, and Genesis 2:24).

If I was hand-selected to be the perfect helper for Marcus, shouldn’t I be acting like his biggest earthly advocate, his loudest cheerleader, his most knowing support network? Shouldn’t I be anticipating what he needs and not complaining and nagging? Even writing and re-reading my words, I know there are days I am failing at my job (Proverbs 31:10-31).

I can keep our covenant sacred by choosing not to put myself in areas I know are tempting. It’s making the choice not to bad-mouth my husband in public. It’s choosing to adore him and keep intimacy alive, even on the weeks we are passing like ships in the hallway. It’s about asking God to pull up a chair and be part of our everyday, our decisions, and our desires. It’s about putting in the hard work each day, seeking out advice and counseling when it’s difficult, and sharing the tough times with friends so that they see our marriage as it is – forever, but not perfect. It’s about protecting one-on-one time, even when the calendar is already too full.

I encourage you to consider, when was the last time you were shoulder to shoulder with your spouse, sitting in the car together, without anyone in the backseat – no kids, no carpool, not another couple? Or maybe on a couch, shoulder to shoulder, just you two alone. Talking. Enjoying music. Maybe even reading in silence. When was the last time you were sitting in the same space together? When can your next time be? (For more ideas of asking God into your marriage, read What God has Joined, Let No One Divide (Thoughts From our 21st Anniversary)).

I cannot tell you the exact date our marriage went from contractual to a covenant, but it was years following the ceremonial vows, after our kids were born and our careers were taking off. The beauty and blessings came once we both sought God as Father and Lord. Contract switched to covenant once we both humbled ourselves to seek His advice (together and separately) and when we could both recognize His voice in answer. It was when a Kingdom decision was more important than a business decision. Our marriage strengthens as we desire more of His ways. All of which will bring wrestling with God, submitting to each other, giving of self in areas where pride wants us to hold very tightly. It’s about learning and living by dying to my ideas, which means I might lose every single fight going forward. Period.

“Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:-3-9.

As we model covenant marriage to our children, we also teach them God’s desire for true love – to Him and their spouse. Words like abstinence, purity, save yourself for marriage are all but canceled in today’s culture of sex-positive and exploration. I am so saddened for our youth and the additional hurdles they will need to undo. We verbally tell our children that marriage is hard AND that we are already praying for their God-given mate. This also means that the Gospel of Matthew verse above is to prepare us – our children will be cleaved to someone else. (Cue the tears…and rejoicing!).

What should you do if trust is broken, if the spark is drenched, if indifference or infidelity has taken root? I’m not trained or qualified to offer professional advice, but please read this as HOPE! I have seen redemption in couples fighting addiction, health scenarios, and financial burdens. I’ve met couples who have chosen to stay together AND to do the hard work of re-sparking their relationship, as they are rebuilding the lost trust. This is counter-culture! Today’s society will tell you “You’re crazy, don’t take them back, they will do it again.” Instead, seek God’s advice. Seek His voice. Listen to Him. Preferably together. Seek a resurrected and sacred commitment. Strive for His oneness.

Today let us end with the words Jesus prayed to the Father, for oneness between God, Son, and each believer:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” Amen
John 17:20-21

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