A few months ago, Selena and I got to meet one of our heroes in person: Gary Thomas. We were walking into the dining room of a retreat center when we saw Gary and Lisa approaching. Before I could awkwardly introduce myself, he warmly and enthusiastically greeted me: “Hey Ryan!”, he said. I couldn’t believe it. “He knows who we are?” I thought. (In hindsight, it makes sense since Gary graciously wrote the foreword to our book earlier this year!” That small encounter, as I’ve discovered, really encapsulates Gary’s heart for people. In fact, it’s probably why his work has impacted so many people for decades: he takes a genuine interest in others and genuinely wants God’s best for them.
The below article is a guest post from Gary, and it echoes much of what I’ve already said: he cares. I hope you’ll read it, as I know it will encourage you. If you’re dating or engaged, I also hope that you’ll check out his latest work: Preparing Your Heart for Marriage: Devotions for Engaged Couples. Also, follow him on Facebook. Any investment you can make into your marriage is well worth the time! Now, here’s Gary!
As couples prepare to get married, they’re often focused on finding a venue, picking out a dress and tux, getting flowers and a band, but more important than all of this is preparing their hearts spiritually for the relationship that will follow. That’s why I’ve written Preparing Your Heart for Marriage: Devotions for Engaged Couples. The second half of the book is based on the traditional wedding vows so that couples can pray, talk and think through ahead of time all that they will promise each other on that special day. This opening devotional is meant to be an encouragement for engaged couples, but hopefully will also serve as a helpful reminder to all married couples of the joys of being married. We speak often about marriage’s difficulties, but let’s take a moment to celebrate what’s so amazing about marriage.
I thought I was one of the world’s biggest fans of marriage until I asked a question on Facebook (“What do you love most about marriage?”) and found out there are a ton of marriage fans out there. Perhaps it’ll encourage you to hear so many positive reports about what married people love about being married as you prepare to become married.
In Sacred Marriage I wrote, “I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”
Sacred Marriage admits how difficult marriage can be, but also points out that when it is good, it can be very good. Jillian told me, “Marriage is hard…especially when you’re acting selfish….but it’s also an absolute blast!”
So many singles who have witnessed some truly awful marriages ask me, “Is marriage worth the risk?” Accordingly, I asked married couples on my Facebook pages to brag about the benefits of marriage and here’s some of what they shared:
The most common answer to what people love most about marriage was “friendship, companionship and sharing life together.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 captures this gift of marriage:
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”
Second, married couples talked about the spiritual benefit of pursuing God together. You don’t just gain a husband or wife when you get married; you live with a brother or sister in Christ. You will never experience such a level of accountability and the possibility of encouragement and inspiration with anyone else quite like you can with your spouse. This reminds me of Hebrews 3:13-14a:
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ…”
Shelly wrote this about the spiritual benefits of her marriage: “It has caused me to grow closer to God than I ever imagined possible and strengthened that relationship first, so that I can see my husband, my best friend with more of His eyes and consequently love my husband in a deeper, more meaningful way that is connected to Christ. Without my marriage, my relationship with God and others would be less complete.”
Third, couples praised the wonder of sexual intimacy within marriage, when there is an amazing spiritual bond, relational bond, and incredible physical sensations, not to mention the exhilarating feelings of closeness afterward. Few highs in life will ever come close to sexual intimacy in marriage. Song of Songs 5:1 exalts,
I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!
There were times when our kids were young and Lisa and I would do “date evenings” at a hotel. There’s just something different about hotel sex. I don’t why, but there is. Not having to be quiet, having a door that is locked and barred and clean sheets that you won’t have to launder afterwards… Driving to the hotel was half the fun. Knowing what would soon happen, that I was with the woman I cherish above all others, and what we were about to do wasn’t just acceptable to God but blessed by God and celebrated by God!
Having each other’s back was another common response to the benefits of marriage. I love the way Lindsey captures her marriage with Steve: “Knowing that no matter what the world, the family, friends, or even the church tosses at me — my man always has my back and loves me even when I am wrong. It’s the peace of knowing my heart is in his hand.”
Reed says something similar from a man’s perspective when he praises “The warm embrace and kindness of my wife when I come home after the world has beat on me all day long and her heart of defense for me and our marriage as a team and unit.”
Other benefits of marriage people identified:
- Knowing to whom your first call will be (for good news or bad)
- Facing sickness and life disappointments (unemployment, the death of loved ones, etc.) together
- Someone to celebrate with
- A treasure trove of inside jokes
- Alison mentions, “Being each other’s sounding board! Offering each other an ear when one needs to vent or one wants to share ideas or ask questions! I love it!”
- Quiet evenings or mornings where you’re doing nothing, but you’re doing nothing together
- Growing old together
- Sharing parenting duties together
- Reno wrote about “The sharing of life experiences…. the look across a crowded room that says “let’s go home.”
I personally love having someone to bless, and several others said the same thing. The Bible calls us to be devoted to good works (Titus 3:8, 14), and it’s a great joy to do things for your spouse that makes her or his life easier or more pleasant. If you live a life of worship and walk in grace, you’ll feel compelled to love and serve others. God’s Holy Spirit orients you toward a life of blessing, and marriage provides the most immediate context in which to live that out.
More good news for engaged couples: many couples testify that marriage tends to get sweeter with time. Jaime puts it this way: “There is a buried treasure that seems to only be discovered when you’ve stuck it out through the years and the hard stuff.” Bill adds, “The longer you are married you begin to realize what true relationships look like. It goes to higher levels, unlike anything I could have ever imagined.”
Alison’s words capture the wonder of marriage as well as anyone could. In fact, her words are so beautiful and true to life, let’s end this devotional with her reflections: “I realized this summer what I love most. I have gone on a few trips to visit family with just my kids. Greg has stayed behind to work. After a few days, I was ready to go home. I missed being home. This summer our family of five took an almost two-week road trip and there wasn’t one second I wanted to go home. I looked at Greg one evening and told him he was my home. Wherever he is, I am home. Thinking about what home represents summarizes marriage to me–so much security, love, family time, rest, quiet times with Jesus, safety in storms of life; that is my husband and my favorite part of marriage.”