“I believe that marriage is a form of suffering.” I put my arm around my wife, we looked at each other and laughed last year when we heard Andrew Peterson say this at a concert in Houston. We laughed not because it was untrue, but because of how true it was!
You see, I used to think that I would be a good husband and a good father.
In my mind, I was already the best husband and father years before becoming either one. I had diagnosed all the failures of marriage and parenting, proposed the remedies, and was ready to apply them to any and all who asked (which was no one, of course). Having already solved these maladies, I was ready to move on to more important tasks such saving the world. The world needed a “super Christian” like me and I already had family-life figured out. I mean, a good family-life was merely a pre-requisite for “real ministry”. So, I thought…
Why did nobody tell me
just how hard it is to be
the man I always thought that I’d become?
I feel just like a kid who can’t grow up
“Rest” by Andrew Osenga
Now I have been a husband for more than eight years. I have been a father for about four and half years (now with three children). Everything I thought before has been shattered—thoroughly shattered. And I’m not talking about “I always said my kids would never sleep in our bed, but…” or “I always said I wouldn’t negotiate with my kids, but…” That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about real brokenness. I’m talking about knock-down, drag-out, ready to walk out on it all brokenness. I’m talking about moments that make you question everything. I’m talking about wounding each other so deeply that you ask if God’s grace is really what you need… I’m talking about nights when you wonder if your family will still be a family this time next year…
And the question I am left with is the one proposed by Andrew Osenga, “Why did nobody tell me just how hard it is to be the man I always thought that I’d become?” I assumed that loving and serving my wife would be natural and easy. I assumed that focusing on my children, disciplining them, and guiding them in their knowledge of God and the Scriptures would be second-nature.
I have found both far from true. I do not—I repeat—do not naturally love and serve my wife. And I certainly do not naturally train my children up in the way they should go—far from it!
Why didn’t anyone tell me?
Why didn’t anyone tell me when I spouted off about marriage and parenting that I was a foolish youth who needed to put my hand over my mouth (Job 40.4; Prov. 30.32; Rom. 3.19)?
Why didn’t anyone tell me that loving my wife selflessly and self-sacrificially would be the most challenging and sanctifying journey that I would ever embark upon? Why didn’t anyone tell me that “training up my child in the way he should go” would be a constant, exhausting fight—one that can take the “super” out of the “superest” of “super Christians”? (And is there anything more neglected by “super Christians” than their spouses and children?)
In these 8 years of marriage there are a few paradigm-shifting things I have learned:
- The world doesn’t need me. The world needs Christ, and I need him as much as anyone does. God has the world taken care of. He doesn’t need me to save it. He just wants me to be faithful in the very small tasks he has called me to—first and foremost to my wife and children.
- Marriage and parenting are the two most challenging things I will ever do—but they are also the most rewarding. It is not insignificant that these are the two primary ways we relate to God—as spouse (his Bride) and as his children.
- I’m not a “super Christian”, “radical Christian” or a “world changer”. I’m just a normal guy. God has saved me by His unconditional grace in Christ according to his own choice and design—completely unrelated to my worthiness compared to anyone else. He has equipped me with special gifts and talents—I do not intend to undermine that. But the fact of the matter is that I am just one sheep among a flock of 100’s of millions of other sheep—no better, no worse—just a regular ol’ sheep, seeking to following the Shepherd in my tiny place in the flock.
- God’s grace really is what I need. Sure, there are plenty of other things that can contribute to my well-being—counsel, medication, exercise, food, rest—all can be gifts from God’s hand. But there is one thing that I need deep down—one thing that is a “game changer”—that one thing is the sufficient grace of God in Christ. His grace has met me in my deepest brokenness, sin, and pain. And the most significant way that God has communicated to me his grace has been through marriage and parenting (chronic illness has certainly played a big part as well).
So, why didn’t anyone tell me?
Well, to be honest, they probably did, but just like others who are blinded by “Christianized” pride, I just didn’t listen to them.
So, here’s to hoping that maybe someone might listen now.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3.14-19