The more contentment expands within the soul, the less our unrequited dreams suppress our confidence in God’s sovereignty. We trust God’s goodness is intentional, not accidental. We adapt our desires to the unfolding of God’s will. We respond to our spouses in ways that say, “Yes, this is hard and unexpected. But God is faithful, and, by the way, I love you!”
Do you ever feel like your marriage was an accident? Do you ever wonder, “Did I make a mistake?” Maybe your new life together started strong, with hopes that beamed like the sun on the horizon of your life. But now your dreams have lost altitude; a few have even crashed to earth. Marriage, quite honestly, is not what you expected.
John and Teresa get it. It’s been three years since they said, “I do.” But when asked how often they make time for each other now, they confess, “We don’t!” The difference between their pre-wedding hopes and their post-wedding reality is hard to reconcile. Marriage has become the place where their dreams went to die. I thought it would be different by now, they each think.
What do you do when marriage begins to feel accidental — like an error that slipped past God’s all-seeing gaze? How can a couple be content and confident when marriage turns out to be so much less than they desired?
To desire good things from marriage is not wrong, of course. It’s a sign of health to want to flourish with your mate. At issue is how we relate to God and respond to our spouse when our hopes for marriage don’t materialize — when we don’t get what we want when we want it.
When our dreams are delayed, we can fear that we will never get what we most desire — a great sex life, a quiver of healthy kids, a shared vision for life and work, a spouse that affirms us instead of nagging us (or maybe a spouse that will actually give us a few minutes alone). We also can fear being stuck forever with the opposite of what we most desire; in some form of reverse-providence, our dreams expire while our greatest fears spring to life.
When Kenesha dreamed about marriage, abundance was always in the picture. She never imagined herself living month to month or clipping coupons to score deals at the grocery store. “It isn’t just hard — it’s humiliating,” she tells her husband. Money is now a source of constant conflict between them. Last night, Kenesha caught herself thinking, “I love my husband, but I certainly don’t like marriage. Was this a mistake?”
When dreams go unfulfilled, the danger is that our desires become demands before God. If this happens, we find ourselves blindly striving for what we feel life lacks. When desires become demands, discontent devours our confidence in God’s sweet sovereignty. God’s goodness shrinks. And marriage feels like an unhappy accident.
Imagine reading the following passage for the first time:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Believe it or not, the apostle Paul penned those words when he was in prison. Paul was chained and jailed, yet he was quick to say, “I’m not in need.” How?
Paul learned to adapt his desires to his circumstances. Whether he was abounding or brought low, facing plenty or hunger, in abundance or need, he could be content. He did not question — due to his unexpected losses — whether his life’s path was a colossal error. For Paul, flourishing and happiness did not rest in a satisfied dream.
How does that work? I’m tempted to think that’s just a Paul thing. “Sure, if I got to log an afternoon in the third heaven, I’d be content too!” But it wasn’t like that. Paul’s contentment was not a unique grace or a spiritual gift unavailable to other Christians. It was learned: “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger . . .”
What does that mean for your marriage? Think of contentment as a heart that trusts God and confidently adjusts to unsatisfied desires. It’s okay to have dreams for your marriage, your family size, your standard of living, your stress levels, your sex life. But marriage often turns on how we deal with delayed or denied dreams. The more contentment expands within the soul, the less our unrequited dreams suppress our confidence in God’s sovereignty. We trust God’s goodness is intentional, not accidental. We adapt our desires to the unfolding of God’s will. We respond to our spouses in ways that say, “Yes, this is hard and unexpected. But God is faithful, and, by the way, I love you!”
Richard Selzer was a surgeon who observed a married couple in the throes of one such defining moment:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. . . . To remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.