CHAPTER Eleven:

Marriage Skills

God never promises to give us an easy road in life, but He does promise to give us one in which He is faithful.

I make David’s coffee every morning. It makes my heart happy. It’s a simple task, one that might benefit my soul just as much as it benefits his messy wake-up hair and tired eyes. It’s a gesture of service and care; it’s a common task that I delight in because I delight in his enjoyment and in the provision of serving him.

David and I were blessed to have leadership and counsel in our lives at the time we got engaged.  We had a host of community and friends who had walked through healthy marriages for years and had godly and practical tools for us as we started into our own life adventure.  I won’t ever take that for granted.  We were graciously given skills, boundaries, ideas, and support in order to learn how to live out marriage well.

Marriage takes work; it takes commitment, and it takes sacrifice. We start to lay down other areas in our lives when we decide that two are better than one.  When we are single, we get the opportunity to explore, grow, be who we want to be, and serve.  This is a beautiful gift of freedom and independence where life is honestly mostly about ourselves. We make our own roadmap and follow it with our own resources.

When we get married, we decide to merge that roadmap with someone else’s roadmap. We melt two paths together into one, learning how to travel side by side, holding hands, sharing a milkshake with two straws. After a while, we might realize that one person would rather not have a milkshake but might need a glass of water instead, or maybe we want our own flavor of milkshakes and don’t want to share one, and so we tweak our arrangements in order to meet each of our needs and desires while still being together.  It’s a learned art, the complementary life of commitment to another person.

If you’re married, you already know that being a husband or wife takes selflessness, a learning curve, and consistent practice.  No one is a pro from the start, and we all fall into grace and truth in a journey that somewhat parallels the journeys of our parents and grandparents. You don’t only marry your spouse, but you also marry his family and he marries yours.  And it’s in that package, that we all receive both blessings and curses, strengths and weaknesses, and joy in the process.  

It’s also in this process that we understand more about one another’s learning styles, dreams and goals, areas of contentment and areas for growth.  This is somewhat easy in the sense that if you got married in the first place, you must have wanted the same, main ideas for your life.  It also can be somewhat difficult in the sense that you are still two different people but are now merged onto one timeline.  So, things might need to speed up in one area in order for one person to get ahead, or it might need to slow down in another area in order for one person to rest or heal.  It’s a lifetime process of learning how to ebb and flow with one another’s desires, healing, and strength.

It takes grace, gentleness, and truth to be able to do this if both people are movers and shakers.  Like I mentioned earlier, we tend to be both movers and shakers, and so it’s taken concentration to let one person ahead while the other rests and then to let the other person ahead while the other grows. It’s given us the opportunity to take turns, learn self-control, surrender our immature cravings, and give our callings a greater maturity.  Marriage is such a tool for Christlikeness because as two become one, one also can multiply to many more.

God never promises to give us an easy road in life, but He does promise to give us one in which He is faithful.  Our young married life consisted of a lot of what we didn’t have a grid or plan for and also much more of God’s grace for us in our process.

We spent the first few years simply getting to know each other more intimately, realizing that each of us had quirks–like me not being able to cook much and him not being able to put his clothes in the hamper. And so it was in our first few years that I would have to learn how to make a few good meals that we both could digest and he’d also have to learn how to get his inside-out socks into the dirty clothes bin (and sometimes even into the washing machine). We learned compromise and also growth.  We gave each other grace when we messed up and also a bit of a nudge when our negative patterns became repetitive. Sometimes this nudge showed up as nagging, and so we embraced the struggles of married life just as much as we learned the grace of it.

The beauty of this process was that we did have some guidelines to help us, and they proved to be very helpful.  And had we not had them, we could have fallen into that sinking category of statistics of marriages that don’t work out because of irreconcilable differences, or because one person decided to be too harsh, or one side decided to look elsewhere, or one person decided to embrace passivity instead of joy. All those cards can be in any marriage’s deck; no one is immune to humanity and its failures.  And at the same time, everyone has the opportunity for grace, choices for growth instead of short cuts, and His perfect redemption of every ounce of our lives.  Everyone has the ability to pray, to ask God for help, to look in His word for direction, and to see God show up.  Sometimes what might seem impossible isn’t; it’s just simply choosing the path that takes courage.

Every day, I see God show up for me in my marriage by making my husband a cup of coffee.  He smiles at me when I set the cup down in front of him and when I smile back and give him a full-blown, old-fashioned curtsy. It’s a simple, funny and inside joke (that you all now know) of my daily dedication to him. David, my beloved, I am here to serve you with grace, my whole heart, and some humor.

Every day, he sees God show up for him by providing a salary that allows me to stay home and teach our children without worry of financial lack or the stress of mandatory outside work. And so when he leaves early in the morning, and we are still in pajamas because our day hasn’t fully started yet, he looks at me with grace and says: Sarah, my lady, I am here to serve you with my hard work, providing for our family with diligence, integrity, and by speaking to you in a foreign language.(Most of his team at work speaks primarily Spanish–and so he has also learned Spanish.) And so in this process, we both have merged into one another. I sing him silly songs that I learned during high school Spanish class; every color of the rainbow, in fact, in order to show him I’m with him in spirit.  He provides money for me to buy us whatever kind of gourmet coffee we’d like to try that week. We each become more and more grateful and more and more thankful.

And in this gratefulness, we create a life together.

I would say that it’s been our experience that simplicity works the best for us in order to foster this kind of growth for our family.  And I think we learned it from the beginning because we needed to. 

We came home to our first apartment in Bowling Green, Ohio with mounds and mounds of wedding gifts, from new sheets to new dishes, Mikasa statues of the Mother Mary to gift cards for groceries. We even had free housing because David was in a grad school program that included a job, and the housing was part of this salary.  We had a lot. We were always given much as far as opportunity and material possessions; we were never in lack in those categories though we did go through seasons of trimming our budget.  

And for me, the excess gifts at times could almost become overwhelming because as a young girl growing up on acreage, all I really desired was a cow and some sunshine. And soon enough, as I desired to look into finding that new acreage like this for us as a couple, we decided to move. David had graduated from his Master’s program and was also looking for new advancement. And so we decided: simpler is better, let’s get rid of a lot of stuff and drive our life to the new land of Arizona.

And from here, the simplicity started to bring about more room, not for excess stuff or scheduling, but for emotions and healing and art.  

The desert hue brings out parts of wilderness in our souls but also the vibrant beauty of wild flowers, cacti, and oasis.  And as much as we decided to move to the desert in the natural, it was also a desert time for us in the spiritual realm of our lives. This wasn’t because we had done anything wrong but simply because God had a new way of showing us Himself through landscapes we weren’t necessarily familiar with.  And in this time of still newly marital bliss, we decided to try it out. We decided to dive in deep instead of staying in shallow, to get rid of extra things that didn’t matter in order to find the deeper places of each other’s spirit.

And what we learned from this place was that David was graced with many skills to lead, develop, and provide.  I was graced with many skills to support, inspire, and add beauty and adventure to our lives. But in the mix of that, we needed to learn how to work out our feelings and our wounds, our dreams and our present life.

And so began the real beginning of married life. This is where we would learn commitment and passion at a deeper level, going beyond date nights and young love and moving into finding ourselves in more vulnerability and intimacy.

If you know anything about becoming vulnerable, it’s that it’s a bit uncomfortable.  It’s unnerving to feel a bit out of control, or to put yourself out there, or to embrace yourself and all of your insecurity.  We were in our twenty-somethings and just starting out; we were high on energy and professional newbies at adulthood.  And yet it was in this season that God told me that He didn’t need me to be a professional, He wanted me to be an artist. 

An artist?

I mean, I liked to write in my journal but I was never asked to be in the creative writing groups my schools offered.  I liked to dance, had taken some classes, and could keep up with choreography, but I didn’t have the professional skill set to consider myself a dancer. I liked to paint but never thought of doing it more than for a side hobby every once and awhile. 

And then everything shifted.

“I don’t mind what you think you can or can’t do. I just want to spend time with you. Let’s learn how to be creative again.” God said to me.

And so it began that the desert place in me became a whole new life. It not only added to my current life, but it also healed up parts of the old one and gave me the identity I was still, at times, looking for: Daughter of the King.

It would also stir up these same gifts and spaces in my husband’s heart.  He would find new skills and depth from time at the easel. He would embrace the unknown by creating from scratch instead of following a plan. It would open us up to being together in a whole new level of love.

This type of vulnerability brings forth joy.  It brings forth legitimacy and the hidden sacred spaces of marriage.

Practical skills helped us get to this place. I am so thankful for the practical skills we grew with and still do grow in; they are needed and valuable and they set the stage for our deeper journey of marriage.  Just like the Proverbs 31 woman takes practical skills and turns it into provision, the Song of Songs takes us into romance and delight. Both include art and both include practicality, but most of all, they include intimacy.

Because in the deeper place of calling and advancement of marriage is surrender, laying down our lives, willingness to embrace tenderness and anointing, willingness to give away parts of ourselves in the meshing of two becoming one so that we steward the prize of oneness over the prize of independence.

It’s where we learn Christlikeness.  Paul says in 1stCorinthians that if you want to serve, stay single.  If you want to be like Jesus, get married.  And so that’s what we started learning to do and are still learning to do.

I still make David’s coffee every morning.  It’s a precious, practical gift.  But even more so, I know that I’ve given dreams a rest at times to instead be with David and to see him come further into his fullness in spirit–because that brings Jesus to the forefront of our lives.  It brings Jesus out of me. It shows me what true love is. It honors the commitment that I made from the beginning to be his wife and his helpmate.  And in finding him there, I also find myself.  Because God gave us this covenant of marriage to look to for that guidance.  He gave us the practical gift of each other because he knew that Adam needed a helpmate; he needed a lover, a friend, a mother for the children that they would bring forth together.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not living my best life because I gave certain things up to serve him.  It means that in honoring true surrender in marriage, I’m doing my part to serve us both. His best life is my best life. And in his best life, he is also always serving me.  I lack no confidence when I have this husband with me; I lack no resources and no desire. I am filled with enough to make everything in my world shine because just as I am supporting him, he is providing for me.

It’s the work that we do together, designed for this gift of “us”. We make a life and add the happier ever after. And so, every day, we do offer up practical skills like holding hands, date nights, listening to one another, picking up after one another, giving one another gifts, and encouraging one another.  But we also go deeper into love by laying down our lives, giving each other our bodies in health, allowing dreams to rest in order to come to full birth, surrendering our personal desires to blend into a fuller version of our combined calling, and then offering that to the world.

This is the beauty of covenant.  It’s His gift to us in His design of us.  It’s bringing who we genuinely are to the table because we let ourselves be truly seen and known. Intimacy can come in many flavors, but it’s in the beauty of marriage that we see it ever so brightly.  So when we think of companionship, we think of this. 

How do you offer yourself to your husband in practical ways? Are there any dreams or desires you’ve had to let rest in order to serve him better?  Are there any dreams or desires he’s had to let rest in order to serve you better? Two are better than one, practically speaking and in service.  Let’s celebrate the beauty of marriage through this lens of grace and also surrender.

Twirling Tips for Chapter 11:

What are three practical ways you can serve your husband?

What are three ways practical ways he can serve you?

What is your favorite (outside of normal) activity to do together? Make it a priority to adventure together!

A Prayer:

God, thank you for the gift of practicality in marriage! Help me to consistently see new ways to honor my husband, be vulnerable with my husband, and have fun with my husband.  Thank you that you are just as tangible in real life creativity as you are in Spirit! Help me to remember that daily in my life. Amen.

Copyright Sarah Elizabeth Humphrey 2018. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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