In Christian marriage two saints, who still have plenty of sin’s remnant clinging to them, form a lifelong union. This means then, with the baring of the soul’s wiring that marriage exposes, sparks are going to fly. Marital conflict is inevitable.
So when the sea of anger begins rising, the emotional waves start rolling, and the marital boat is rocking, what is one immediate way to batten down the hatches to prevent the ship from capsizing? Bring to mind that this conflict is for your benefit, to help you become more like Christ. Remember that Jesus did not only speak peace and calm the sea for his scared disciples out in the boat in the storm. Before this, while watching from a mountain above as He prayed, He sent the storm to them so they could grow in their holiness by experiencing Him in new ways.
In his book Renewal as a Way of Life, Richard Lovelace states that one great purpose of marriage is as “a contract to aid in one another’s sanctification.” So all of marriage is God giving us one intimate friend, someone fashioned by God Himself to be our complement, who will see us like no other. Your spouse becomes then, as Lovelace states, an expert in what is wrong with you. You see, your husband or wife is designed by God to be the sandpaper to your bumps. Ouch! But, viewed from God’s perspective, that is a good ouch.
The Apostle Peter addresses this idea of what we might call “spousal-aided sanctification” when he tells husbands to live with their wives in a tender way so their “prayers may not be hindered” (I Peter 3:7). If a man is so frustrated with his wife that he cannot even focus while praying, he needs to humble himself by going and speaking peace to her. One of the ways the humbling begins is viewing his wife as a conduit of God’s sanctifying grace to him. Rather than first focusing on whatever the conflict is, he can step back and see that this conflict is God’s means for making him more holy. Undoubtedly, God’s Spirit is using this clash purposefully to bring forth more fruit of love or patience or gentleness in the hubby’s life. Viewed in this way men, whose balloon-like egos seem to pop any time a criticism is raised by their wives, might even learn to welcome their critiques.
That one, I must confess, is still hard for me. It amazes me how so often other’s criticisms can just roll off me, but a hint that my wife is displeased with me cuts my soul to the quick. Yet knowing that this is part of God’s grand design to cut out the remaining sin in me brings soothing with the pain. Seeing by faith that the Lord’s hand is, so to speak, “holding the knife” causes me to trust the conflict will work for our good. Remembering that He is using such a beautiful vessel to do His soul work makes the sanctifying process and the peaceful fruit of righteousness that it brings especially sweet (Hebrews 12:11). And the hugs and kisses that usually follow – so undeserved – make it all the more so. How tender the Lord truly is!