Spiritual formation is essential for a dynamic maturing marriage. When marriage vows are made, they are made to each other but the covenant commitment is with God. It is our relationship with God that helps us be faithful through being rich or poor, sick or healthy, until death parts us. Let’s unpack the importance of this truth.
Recently I read the book “Forgiven” by Teri Roberts, the mother of the shooter of the Amish School Children on October 2, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. How can a marriage survive a crisis like that? Teri and Chuck Robert’s marriage survived because they each had a relationship with God that was even more vibrant and dependent then their relationship with each other. Their relationship with the Lord helped them survive the biggest crisis of their life and was the glue that held their marriage together and so it is with yours.
Often our faith is steady and unquestioning until it is challenged and marriage is a place where faith gets challenged. It may not always be a challenge as big as the Roberts, but sickness, death, finances, sexual intimacy, communication, children and life itself brings challenges that help us realize we can’t do marriage alone. What do we need? We need conscious awareness of God through His Spirit at work in us. Are we aware? We need to be looking for God’s good in the midst of the challenges. Are we looking? We need someone greater than ourselves to depend on? Are we depending on Him?
If the answers to these questions are “no” or “not often,” than we may be aware in marriage only of ourselves, looking out only for our own good, and dependent on ourselves to get through the challenges marriage brings.
Marriage is the crucible that God used to grow us so we reflect more of himself, creating God’s best depiction of himself to the world. In marriage we are to reflect the relationality of the trinity being three in one as God is. The trinity, as our model demonstrates how commitment in marriage is to be lived out. They are equal in value, individually distinct, and united in mutual love, thereby depending on each other, empowering each other, and building each other up.
How can this be true in our marriages? Here are some practical ways to model this in marriage:
When trusting your spouse, put God first in trust.
“Jesus did not commit Himself unto them…for he Knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25)
Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, said,
“Our Lord trusted no man; yet He was never suspicious, never bitter never in despair about any man, because He put God first in trust: He trusted absolutely in what God’s grace could do for any man. If I put my trust in human beings first, I will end in despairing of everyone; I will become bitter, because I have insisted on man being what no man can ever be – absolutely right. Never trust anything but the grace of God in yourself or in anyone else.”
Our spouses are not perfect, we cannot change them, but God can.
When in conflict with our spouse, seek out God in prayer first before discussing the conflict with each other. Pour out your anger, your disappointment, your frustration and then ask, seek, and listen to what He sees in you as David did in Psalm 139:23,24:
“Search me, O Cod, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Seek in prayer where He is at work in you in the conflict. You can only cooperate with what the Spirit of God is doing in you; you cannot change your spouse.
Share with your spouse what God revealed to you about what the Spirit of God is doing in you. Share it by using the pronoun “I’ not “you”. Allow space for pain, anger, and differences to be expressed. Embrace the differences knowing that there is strength and power in uniqueness and that God knows your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance and will bring unity to your differences.
Revelations 2:2,3 – “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”
Look together for God’s good in the midst of hard circumstance. Keep a journal of God’s accumulating goodness in your marriage. Be thankful for what He has done in the past and have it empower you to move forward in hope in the present. Teri Roberts had stage-four cancer (prior to her son having committed his crime) and God got her through. This was God’s goodness for her to recall and give her hope that He was good now too in her desperate present need.
Seeking God’s face together brings strength and courage in taking whatever may be the next steps He is calling you to. Invite His covenant anointing of love and unity in your marriage to be realized. He loves you both.
Change and transformation does not take place in isolation but in community. Friends, counselors, spiritual directors, pastors – go to whom God sends and asks you to see. Teri Roberts, when her husband wasn’t ready to visit the parents and relatives of those whose children had died by her son’s actions, sought a loving friend and trauma counselor to go with her until her husband could join her on those visits.
When God brought the two of you together in marriage, he did not intend that you should do life alone, He made a covenant with you to lovingly do it with you and had those who witnessed your marriage support you along the way.
“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. Ecclesiastes 4:12
 Roberts, Teri with Windle, Jeanette. Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, A Mother’s Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace. 2015 Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Judy TenElshof is a professor of spirituality and marriage and family as well as a professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology. Her goal as Director of Talbot’s Spiritual Formation program is to have all Talbot students understand the nature, process and practices of spiritual growth and to have them experience deeper intimacy with God and others. Her expertise as a teacher and conference speaker is in helping individuals and families grow relationally, morally, and spiritually.