During our wedding ceremony nearly four years ago, our Pastor presented us with an incredible challenge.He said that each of us need to lay down our individual dreams for the dreams of our spouse. At the time, I thought, Oh, what a fantastic challenge. I absolutely agree with this 100%. I’m sure this will be hard, but also great! I can not wait to practice laying down our dreams for each other.
At that time, our church was barely three years old, and we were one of the first couples from our young church to get married. In the past four years, we have been to more than two dozen weddings, many of them friends from our church community. So at nearly every wedding, we hear a variation of these words repeated to our friends.
Every wedding homily our Pastor gives serves as a time of reflection for those in attendance. As a married person, my mind begins to ask: Do you remember when you received that challenge? How are you doing? Are you living up to the call to love your spouse as yourself? I find myself excited for the new couples about to walk down the aisle into a new season of their relationship, but also experiencing a serious gut-check about the state of my relationship.
If marriage has shown me anything, it is how selfish I really am. During my dating days, I was so focused on what the other person in the relationship had to offer me and how they met my needs. I knew that marriage would require sacrifice and compromise and putting my husband first, but I do not know if I quite understood that I should show up every day with that mindset. Four years in, I still wake up every morning thinking about my plans, my to-dos, and my goals. It requires far more work to ask myself what my husband wants and needs today and how I can support him in that. If I am honest, each day I fail miserably.
While we were on vacation this summer, after a morning at the beach Nick and I headed home to have lunch. We were too busy enjoying the waves to pay attention to the time, so when we finally arrived home I had pushed past mild hunger into the full-blown if-I-dont-eat-right-now-I-swear-I-might-pass-out stage. I was in the kitchen making myself lunch when my husband asked if I could make him a sandwich. I was so focused on getting my own meal into my mouth as soon as humanly possible, and immediately my hanger-fueled internal response was:
Is he serious? Am I a slave? I make him things all the time at home. I am on vacation. I don’t deserve this. Why can’t he make his own damn sandwich?
I said no. I was too hungry, and if he wanted to eat in a timely manner, he had best do it himself. In that moment, my selfish nature reared its ugly head. The reality was I wasn’t actually going to pass out if I didn’t eat at that very second. I could have fought through the hunger for five more minutes, but instead I chose to serve myself. I decided that quelling my hunger pangs were more important than loving my spouse. I should have made the sandwich, not out of obligation, but out of love.
Choosing to serve one another in marriage is not about keeping score and who has served who more. It isn’t about traditional gender roles or appropriate division of labor. We have even agreed that in this season of our marriage, I will do more of the housework since I am not working a full-time job because its simply more practical. Yet I am still tempted to tally exactly how many times I have unloaded the dishwasher or cleaned the litter box. Nick and I are equal partners in our marriage, and we should be trying to one-up each other on how much we can love, not secretly counting how many times we have proven our love and the other person has fallen short.
A friend of mine often talks about “becoming love.” For me that means first being in relationship with God and relying on Him to be source of love in my life. It does not matter whether I succeed or fail – I am deeply loved regardless. I constantly need reminding that love looks like Jesus. He poured his life out serving others, with no requirements. It is only by being reminded whose example I am following and knowing who God has made me to be that I can love and serve my spouse without expectation. Love multiplies, and if we both pursue the goal of trying to out-do the other person with more love, we will never lack for it.