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Marriage: The Happy, Holy, Beautiful Mess

Marriage: The Happy, Holy, Beautiful Mess

MARCH 21, 2024

/ Articles / Marriage: The Happy, Holy, Beautiful Mess

Ever hear the old adage: “Marriage isn’t primarily intended for your happiness, but for your holiness?”

Well, it’s true and it’s a glorious thing. The growing in holiness part doesn’t always seem blissful. But it means that God isn’t finished with you yet, either. The purpose and hope in marriage isn’t defined by you or your spouse, but by God.


Let’s talk about weddings. I’m no veteran, but of the seven or so years I used to be a volunteer, I had the privilege of officiating a handful of weddings. It’s fun to be part of a couple’s huge life event. Two lives come together in the sight of God, family, and friends; it’s a pretty big deal. I love the excitement of it all and the awkward amusement of watching the controlling mother-in-law fiascos behind the scenes. And selfishly speaking, I’m always up for the self-restraint exercise that performing a wedding entails. Allow me to explain…

My wife and I have this unofficial tradition in the car as we’re driving on the way to weddings. We’ll be driving in silence when out of the corner of my eye, I’ll see her smirk. Then in unison we both burst out in our best impersonation of a sinister sort of laugh,


There is a singular, profound meaning to this shared laugh. You see, the couple that’s about to get married has no idea what they’re in for. The self-restraint part of me is not laughing sinisterly during the ceremony. If I did, I’m sure it’d be misunderstood.

After the wedding, many couples forget that God is still up to good even when things don’t seem good between the couple. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Get that? ALL things. Including trivial frustrations involving toilet seats and dirty laundry on the floor as well as decades long disagreements and everything in between. Take a breath. ALL things.


To paraphrase my old pastor friend Phil Smidt, you can find all kinds of info online for “wedding planning.” But try typing in “marriage planning” and Google gets confused. No doubt, wedded bliss is a beautiful thing. Enjoy it. Just don’t panic when you realize that sometime between saying your vows and after you get home from the honeymoon (maybe during), there will be a clash of wills and most certainly disagreements. And not the cutesy, romantic comedy type that resolve in a half-hour either. When the inevitable tensions rise, there is an insidious temptation in these moments. You’ll want to check out, hold a grudge, or demand your “me time.” But this is the Great Physician’s surgery prep and you’re slated for a spiritual operation asap.


Years ago I received some simple, wise advice that is highly applicable to marriage. Here it is: You can’t change people. That’s up to the Holy Spirit. Facing dilemmas in marriage is a fact of life and many times there are no clear answers. But remember, the dilemma is a gift. Because when you’re at a standstill, in a disagreement, or lacking resources, you are put into a place of dependence: dependence on Jesus. And this is the best place to be.

So here’s a word specifically for the guys in the room: sometimes you just can’t fix it. All you can do is step forward in faith with Jesus at the center of your family. The ultimate goal is not for you to be a hero husband or dad; the goal is pointing your family continuously back to the good news of what Jesus has done. This is the women’s goal too, by the way. Keeping pointing to Jesus, Jesus Jesus. This can be done in the midst of disagreement and the unknowns of life. In faith, you can walk into the unknowns with confidence that God is not finished yet.

You can’t change people. That’s up to the Holy Spirit.


When our marriages become about telling our stories instead of God’s, we’ve got it completely backwards. The temptation is either to live for personal fulfillment through your spouse or to get stuck in a sort of hand-wringing self-involvement over how you’re going to be a better spouse. Both sides of the coin are selfish. This may seem like a rabbit trail but the summation of God’s law comes to mind here. Just stick with me and you’ll see what I mean.

What is the greatest of the commandments? To love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:36-40). I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly encouraged by this summation. Because I know I’ve failed at it miserably. Heart, soul, mind, strength. Have I ever done even a single one of these perfectly one day in my life? No. And neither have you. Okay, how about love your neighbor as yourself? Well, come to think of it, my next door neighbor has been pretty annoying lately with his 7am lawn mowing. I’d have to admit that when I come home from work and he’s in his front yard, I avoid eye contact. So….yeah, no. I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself. And who is more like a neighbor than your spouse? Loved them as you love yourself? Perfectly? Everyday?


See, you and your spouse need much more than improvement. God requires perfection (Mt. 5:48). And we’ve easily dismantled the notion that you or I are perfect. So where do we get that required perfection? Jesus. We need His perfection and a foundation of forgiveness and absolution in our marriages. Marriage trouble has less to do with he said, she said, he did, she did and more to do with what God has already done in Jesus. We have everything we truly need in Jesus; we just forget as we busy ourselves telling our story by pointing to our hard work (or failure), our good moral record, or super-spouse self-image. Marriage is not about what we accomplish or even hope to accomplish. All life flows from Him in a worshipful response to what He has done that works itself out first and foremost in neighborly love to our spouses.


The Christian life is less about the upward progressing staircase of personal potential building (i.e. building a perfect marriage) and more about returning again to the cross where we tell it like it is. We all have failed at loving our neighbor. When we turn to God for grace and forgiveness, we are empowered to love our neighbor the way that God wills. Now you don’t have to live for spouse approval or grovel when you fail because you are already infinitely loved, forgiven, and accepted in Christ. Once you realize this (and RE-realize this) you’re free to love your spouse no matter what.


My beautiful wife and I have been married fifteen years. We’re not veterans but we’re not exactly beginners either. Here’s one profound, awe-inspiring, worshipful truth that we’re beginning to learn along the way: Marriage isn’t primarily about the love story that exists between us, but it’s about what God has done in love to involve us in His story.

There’s a whole lot of happiness to be had in marriage. But God-wrought holiness does not always come easily or feel happy—at times, it feels more like a mess. But it is beautiful. Not because it’s about your story or mine, but because it’s about God’s.

Get Matt Johnson’s Key Life book, Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity.

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Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Matt is a husband, father to two little girls, and is an armchair student of theology. He is a freelance writer and editor with a penchant for redemptive snark. Until […]

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