A few months ago my husband and I celebrated 37 years of marriage. Quite a feat considering where I came from: broken home and a long lineage of divorce. I am sure our marriage set some kind of Fleig family record. Yet the most incredible, miraculous thing in all this is not our longevity; it’s that I am not the same person this man married so long ago. And I don’t mean the kind of change as in getting older, more mature (although that has happened too). I brought many things into my marriage, broken, wounded things, that had become ingrained patterns and rhythms of relating and living. These things don’t heal on their own or simply over time. Some people can go their whole lives and never receive healing from the wounds of their past.
But I was fortunate enough to marry a man who became a safe place for all my brokenness to come out. He was a man who steadfastly “out-loved” the unfinished places of my soul. His unwavering love created the safe space for healing to take place in big and small ways, day in and day out. I think this is what marriage is supposed to do. God uses our marriage to “save” us; to heal us; to restore our souls. To redeem our lives from the wounds we’ve received from the world. If marriage brings out the worst in you, it’s doing its job. (I know that sounds crazy!) Having the worst in us come out, however, is not as an opportunity to make excuses, blame our spouse or condemn ourselves but that we might come to terms with the brokenness still in us and perhaps in this sheltered place reach for healing. For what remains hidden cannot be healed. It’s in the safety of marriage these things can be offered to God for God to do what only He can do.
Too often we think of marriage as an end game. “I want my marriage to be…” I think when think in terms of “achieving” a desired state, we miss all the kinds of healings that come everyday in our ordinary moments. Often our view for our marriage is “out there” and we tenaciously pursue an imaginary static ideal, (like “happiness”) all the while missing the daily transformative opportunities to live with patience, walk in grace, and extend forgiveness.
In the same way, when we approach the spiritual life this way, as a static “place” to be achieved, we simply focus on the techniques, methods and programs to produce or reach this desired state. When we do, we can miss the healing, correction, joy, strength…the moment-by-moment, creative work of God in our lives. Marriage, like salvation, is much more about the process of becoming (not perfecting); becoming our truest selves in the safety of love.
Western culture’s linear thinking predominantly focuses on an end goal, often being absent in the present moment and the grace it offers. We hang on for retirement but miss the redemptive purposes embedded in showing up everyday on our jobs. We try to just get through school or through our kid’s preschool years or put in our time serving at church and can remain unaware that in the struggles, the sacrifices and the momentary joys lie our own healing.
Perfectionism (another “end game”) blows past the small beauty and the wholeness life offers in the mundaneness of our daily lives and declares at the end of the day we are failures for coming up short yet again. And we are robbed of living with any kind of abandon, adventure or relief dogged with the nagging voice that we should have done better. We vow tomorrow we will do better and determine to double our efforts. (I am exhausted just writing this!)
The work of grace in our lives is nestled in the ins and outs of our ordinary lives. When we begin to view life (marriage, vocation, parenting, etc.) as a dynamic, on-going process of transformation, I think that’s when we begin to discover all the ways God is moving through our lives and how we are being invited to respond. Surprisingly, it’s then we can release our own plans and expectations and pay attention to what is actually unfolding within us.