Marriage as a Process, Not a Product

    A few weeks ago, my first grader brought home a little book he had made in school. He was zealous to show it to me, reading the text for me himself as he turned the pages. It was filled with affirmation, but it was unique in that the text focused on growing rather than achieving.

    My seven-year-old, standing there with his book, has some unique challenges in his life. Because of this, I am a mastermind at praising the process for him. Words of growth affirmation flow from my mouth in his direction frequently:

    “Way to keep working at it, even when it’s frustrating!”

    “I noticed that this is hard for you, but you kept at it!”

    “You are feeling overwhelmed. Thank your brain for letting you know!”

    Then, I look up from the book and I see my husband.

    Sometimes you need reminders in seven-year-old Technicolor to really grasp the principles you’re trying to live out in your own home.

    It dawns on me that I want a product from my husband, from my marriage, rather than a process.

    I want him to do things for me, be a certain way. I want him to just get it. When he takes out the trash, I’m happy. When he inevitably forgets at random, I’m quick to comment on his forgetfulness. When he buys a present for me, I think, “That’s nice.” But I also think of all the hints he missed and the eighteen years of marriage that should be enough for him to know me a little better than that.

    God is concerned with growth. God is concerned with the journey. The product of life in Christ—our salvation—matters to Him, but we have that once and for all through Christ’s death on a cross. What we really get worked up about though is sanctification, our walk in Christ, our maturing in faith. We expect people to be less in need of grace once they profess Jesus; less in need of discipline, correction, and learning. We apply this to ourselves and our spouses as well.

    Sanctification is a process, not a product.

    Ephesians 4:11–16 has something to teach us on this particular topic:

    And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    Ephesians 4 precedes Ephesians 5 and its traditional marriage passage. These verses aren’t vaguely connected. They’re intimately connected. We exist in our homes as small pieces of the Body of Christ. We are growing, each of us, as individuals, but also as marriages. We are becoming one-flesh clearer and brighter every day as we journey toward Christ’s return for His own Bride.

    Why do I expect my husband to just get it?

    Why do I want the perfect marriage today—no arguments, no rehashing, no challenges?

    Just as I am growing and my husband is growing, in truth and love and in the fullness of Christ’s sanctification, so is my marriage. We are living, breathing beings, learning and maturing together in forgiveness, grace, knowledge, and mercy.

    Here’s a concrete suggestion for seeing growth, honoring growth, in your marriage.

    Make a note on your calendar for a certain day of the month, just as you would to pay a bill, or every time you go on a date, use fifteen minutes that day to ask this question with your spouse:

    How have we grown since last month?

    I guarantee that you have. Christ is growing us. It’s an Ephesians 4 biblical promise.

    Can’t see it? Join a Bible study together, have a post-sermon lunch discussion, start a couple’s date night at church. Remember, Ephesians 4 also tells us that He gave us all of that—shepherds, teachers, evangelists, the Body—for a reason. The entire Body spurs us on, gives us the Word, and grows alongside us.

    How have we grown?

    Look for it. Watch for it. Christ Jesus is at work in you and in your marriage.

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