Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

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If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity? 

How Do I Know if I'm Settling in My Search for Spouse?

For a lot of years I thought I was going to have to settle for a husband. I was never the girl getting asked out dozens of times and having to perfect my "I think Jesus is calling me to be single...for now" refusals. I dated occasionally, lots of first dates, usually with men I knew fairly well already, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. I began to think maybe my expectations were wild, maybe my requirements were too extreme, maybe I was waiting for some guy who didn't exist. 

I don't know when it happened, somewhere in my 33rd year, but I began to believe being single was actually better than all the mid-life marriages I was surrounded by. Many of my friends were getting divorced or on the brink of divorce or just sort of "meh" about their spouses. I heard more about how hard marriage was than about how good it was. I watched couple after couple face circumstances they didn't expect and end up in the arms of another or just passively facing life together as roommates. I knew that wasn't what I wanted, but I also knew I was getting older and the pickin's seemed slim. The question, for me, became not "Should I settle?" but "What is settling?" That's a hard question to answer for any unmarried person because it doesn't really have a solid answer. You have nothing to compare what not settling looks like because, well, for obvious reasons, that person isn't on your radar. There were plenty of guys I admired for their work and theology ethic, and for their love for the local church and their families. But either they were married to someone else or they hadn't noticed me in any fashion. It was easier to answer the first question (Should I settle?) than to answer the second: What is settling?

It turned out that I didn't need to ask the question or find the answer, because at the proper time and not one minute sooner, Nate and I began to have conversations.

Friends, there was no spark. There was no voice from heaven saying, "This is the one." There was no giddy butterfly in my stomach fluttering up into my heart. There was no chorus of angels announcing my wait had come to an end. There was none of that. There was not one bit of assurance that this guy would be anything other than a guy with whom I had a series of cool conversations about pacifism. The question of settling didn't come into the equation, it didn't have a chance to, because in the space we'd embarked on, I began to think of him as my friend.

Without doubts, without questions, without "What ifs?" Nate was simply my friend. I won't deny there was the hope of something more, but there wasn't space for it to breathe, not much. Not really at all. He was so completely clear with me from the very beginning that it was friendship, and not until he picked up his phone and called me to ask me on a date, could I assume it was anything more. And once it was something more, he continued to use his voice to ask me on more dates, ask me how I felt about continuing to date, and then ask me to marry him. And since then, there have been thousands of more asks from him to me. 

He was not the first to ask me on a date, but he was the first for whom there was a complete absence of doubt for me. People ask: "When did you know he was the one?" I never knew he was the one (I don't even know if there is a such thing as one.). What I knew was day to day to day to day, I was going to walk forward as long as I had faith as it led me to the altar. And then, only then, would he become my one, the question of doubts and fears and what ifs and expectations always taking a backseat to the vows we said standing in front of our friends, family, pastors, and elders. 

We have a really beautiful marriage. It's not perfect. It's not without disagreements or failures or misunderstandings. But it's a really beautiful marriage built on a singular point: faith. Not faith in one another to never fail us, but faith in God that we came together without doubts, with the confidence of our church family and elders, with the joy of our families, with the cheers of our friends. There was faith that we weren't settling. 

God, in his goodness, gave me a husband beyond any of my wildest hopes and dreams, with specificity and precision, with attentiveness to my needs and my wants. God crafted a husband for me as specifically as he crafted me himself. I have not one single doubt that my beloved is mine and I am his, and I never have had one doubt. 

I wanted to say this because since we've been married, I've encountered so many couples for whom doubt was a big part of their dating and engagement. A feeling they couldn't flee from, an uncertainty they couldn't get past, a sense they couldn't shake, a feeling of settling. Or there were doubts of others: concerns of immaturity, fears of unequal yoking, desires to protect from what seemed not good. And yet, they got married just the same, and every day since then their marriage has suffered for it.

These marriages began on what they could see and feel (looks, money, chemistry, security, appearance of godliness), and not on what they could not (faith from God and in God, hope from God and in God, love from God and in God). They made a pragmatic decision to marry for whatever reasons, and now their marriages have suffered for it. It might have seemed to them and others that they were not settling as they said their vows to one another based on appearances, but deep in their hearts they were settling for less than "perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). 

Listen to me: if you are married or will be married, there will come hard times when money will be scarce, looks will falter, houses will be lost, jobs will be gone, churches will be difficult, and children will be a source of ache: what sustains you in those times is that strong and certain faith in the God who drew you to one another. If you married your spouse, or they married you, without a certain faith and an absence of doubt, ask God today to give you the gift of faith that this is your beloved and ask him to give your spouse the same gift of faith. God wants to give you that gift! He's longing to give it to you. 

If you are unmarried, trust God. You will know you are not settling because there will be not only an absence of doubt in you, but an absence of doubt in them, and an absence of doubt in your community.  If you do not have community, then do not get married. I mean this. Wait. To get married without a strong, loving community who will speak truth to you even if it's painful, is to invite trauma into your marriage before you've even started. If you feel the presence of doubt, the question of whether you're settling, might that be the Holy Spirit, protecting you from future angst and trauma? Marriage is so full and so fun and so wonderful. I want that for you, but you have to want it for you and you have to believe it can exist for you. God wants to give good gifts to his children! Believe that he wants to give you bread and fish instead of a stone and serpent. 

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11

The enemy is crouching at your door, waiting to devour you. He's waiting to devour your singleness, your future marriage, or your present marriage. Do not give him a foothold by moving forward without faith. Trust the Lord: it would be better to remain single than to be in a marriage headed for divorce as soon as the vows have been said. 

*I also recognize that there may be some couples who thought they had this absence of doubt in themselves and their community and moved forward, only to find themselves in a train wreck of a relationship today. I ache for you and pray God would show himself to be enough for you in the wake of disappointment, failure, and sin. He is enough. Put your faith in HIM and not in a fixed, healed, or whole marriage as you would see it. I'm praying for your marriages today.