September 11, 2001. It is a day that changed all of our lives in one way or another. The terrorist attack that brought down the once stately towers in New York City has thrust upon us a new, somber reality of uncertainty. Since that day, countless people have paused to listen to many stories of tragic loss and heroic sacrifice and to ponder about life.
One story in particular stands out in my mind. It is the story of a wife who lost her husband on the ill-fated flight that went down in Pennsylvania. In spite of her loss, this woman took comfort in the belief that her husband was meant to go on this flight.
To her, his presence helped thwart the evil plans of the hijackers. Her conviction was absolute, and it enabled her to transcend the anguish of losing a loved one so that she could achieve a sense of peace.
What strikes me the most about this woman is her understanding of the purpose of her husband's life. Few people seem capable of recognizing this kind of purpose in their own lives.
Her conviction inspired me to reflect upon this question: Can we proclaim as boldly as this woman that we are living our marriage with a sense of meaning and spiritual direction?
As Christians, I think that we can only attain this conviction if we know God's will for our marriage. You may think that it's strange to ask, "What is the divine purpose of my marriage?" After all, getting married is a natural part of life.
We grow up, get married, and then have a family of our own. Generations have come and gone in this manner. And yes, it seems clear that God created Eve to be Adam's helper. Two are better than one to keep warm, to build a home, and to raise a family. The reasons go on. The answer seems straightforward enough. But I challenge all of us to consider this: out of billions of people in this world, why has God joined us specifically with our spouse?
The Bible tells us that each hair on our head is numbered (Mt 10:30). Not one falls except by the will of God. If even a seemingly miniscule matter such as the fate of our hair is under God's control, He must certainly have a purpose for our marriage!
God knows that our union with a particular person would serve a purpose that cannot be achieved if we were not with this person.
Few people would argue that an important purpose of marriage is having a spiritual companion who can help us reach a higher spiritual level. We often need our spouse to pick us up when we stumble on the heavenly path, and we in turn are there when our partner needs a helping hand. This is the beauty and preciousness of a marriage built on mutual encouragement and companionship. These moments bring us joy and give us a taste of heaven on earth, for walking together will not feel as lonely or as vulnerable as walking alone. Naturally, we hope and strive for this kind of relationship with our spouse. God's desire in every marriage is for each spouse to be a loving spiritual companion to his or her partner. He also wants us to establish a spiritually sound marriage so that we may raise God-fearing children. But all too often, we stop at these more obvious purposes and fail to recognize other ways that our marriage may help us grow spiritually.
People always raise their eyebrows in dismay when I tell them that what one of the things I value most about my marriage is how my spouse helps me see the worst in myself. That's right. Being able to see my shortcomings is what I consider the "hidden treasure" of marriage. You see, unlike my relationships with other people, the unique chemistry and bond that I have with my spouse allows not only the best, but also the worst, parts of my personality to be revealed in our interactions. To be able to learn about my flaws is much more spiritually valuable than seeing my bright spots. It creates precious opportunities for me to reach a higher spiritual ground. As I become aware of my shortcomings through my spouse, I can begin to work on improving myself in ways that I was blinded to before. From this perspective, each argument with my spouse becomes a treasured opportunity for me to learn about myself. Don't get me wrongâ€”I don't try to stir the pot just for the sake of having a conflict. But over time, I have come to recognize that what I bring to feed the disagreements holds the key to unveiling my shortcomings. It could be a hurtful act stemming from the unwillingness to let bygones be bygones, or an unfair criticism born out of an impatient streak. No matter what it is, once the situation allows me to recognize it, my blind spot is uncovered and I can see how I can work toward repairing not only my marital relationship, but also the spiritual blemishes in myself. In this way, God unites us with our spouse so that we can help each other recognize and round out our rough edges.
Beacon of Light
Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the light of the world... Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Mt 5:14-16). Paul wrote, "We have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (1 Cor 4:9). He also admonished us to "live the rest of [our] time in the flesh... for the will of God" (1 Pet 4:2), "that in all things God may be glorified" (1 Pet 4:11). It seems clear, then, that as children of God, we ought to live our lives in a manner that will bring glory to the Lord before men and before angels. As a couple, Aquila and Priscilla were repeatedly lauded in the Bible for their devotion to God's ministry and for their unfailing assistance to God's workers. They became a husband and wife team that worked together, and their godly labors brought glory to the Lord's name. Looking to this couple as an example, our marriage ought to be a living testament to others. In our success, we should give credit to God and let others see how Christ has helped us succeed as a couple. In our distress, the strength and peace that God brings to our marriage ought to point others to see our joy and hope in Him.
Number Our Days
No one likes to think about the dreams we build with our beloved spouse coming to an end someday. Instead, we like to think about our days with our spouse as endless, forever, and knowing no bounds. The events of the September 11th tragedy have made us pause and listen to many heartfelt stories. We ought to also stop and take heed of God's will for the lives we lead with our spouses. There are countless ways that we may bring glory to God through our marriage. I'm sure that if we pause and consider this matter from time to time, we can easily come up with a lengthy list. A common problem, though, is that we do not stop and consider. Caught up in our daily hustle and bustle, we lose our perspective about time. The fact that each day is a divine gift often eludes us. Though we plan for the future, we have no ownership of tomorrow. But we don't think about it, perhaps because deep down, it frightens us to face this fact. I am not saying that we ought to live in fear and existential angst, watching for death at every corner. "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps 90: 12). Scripture instructs us to seek wisdom by remembering the finitude of our lives. Let us not fall back to our old pattern of living life with a timeless mindset, for it can lead us to live foolishly. Rather, let us learn to number the days we have with our spouse so that we will treasure our time, and always strive to make each day of our married life truly meaningful.