This coming July will mark 17 years of being married to my husband. This coming October will mark 22 years since we started dating. We’ve been together since we were 17 . . . more than half of our lives, and we’ve been through a lot together. We dated long distance for four years while I attended college, and we got married just a couple months after I graduated but a good solid year and a half before Patrick was finished. After trying for quite a long time to get pregnant, we were finally expecting our oldest in November of 2007, only to be surprised with a premature emergency C-section five weeks before he was due, along with the news that any future pregnancies would be extremely high risk. We’ve been through losses of loved ones and the immensely huge loss of the first little one we were in process to adopt which was probably the most devastating thing through which I would walk. We adopted, the most feisty, beautiful, amazing little girl with some pretty large special needs that have brought me to tears and us to our knees more times than I can count. And all of those things are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Had you told me, 22 years ago, what our lives would look like today, I might not have believed you. Had you told me, 22 years ago about the ups and downs we’d go through to get here, I might have headed for the hills . . . just kidding . . . sort of. All joking aside, because I really did end up with the best of the best, there’s a reason God doesn’t show us what the future holds before it happens, and I’m convinced it’s because most of us would never choose the path intended for us. Human nature tells us to avoid hard at all cost, but it’s in the challenging times, the hard times that we grow. I think marriage is one of the many tools God uses to refine us, to mold us, and to transform us, and it’s the challenging times, the really hard times in marriage that can either tear us apart or push us together.
Here’s the thing, I’m no marriage expert nor will I ever pretend to be one. But over the past few years I’ve seen marriages of people I love fall apart. And it makes me sad. I’m not here to point a finger or stand in judgment. But I’ve seen people I care very much about do some really mind blowing, self destructive and marriage destructive things. I’ve seen friends and family have to walk away from dangerous* and heartbreaking situations. And if you’ve walked the road of a bad divorce or are currently walking this road, please find a support system that will love you and help you through this. Do not walk this alone.
At the same time, I’ve watched other marriages collapse, not because of any one thing done wrong, or any one person being to blame, but because everything and everyone (in the most generic and general sense of the word) became more important than their spouse, and one day they looked up and realized they just didn’t care to make it work anymore. And those right there are the marriages I want people to fight for. Those are the times I want to shout, “This isn’t hopeless, but it takes work!” That’s what makes me want to work to make my own marriage work. It is very easy, after being together for so many years . . . after two kids, and work, and the busy-ness of daily life, and laundry to be done, and dishes to wash, and mortgages and bills to pay . . . you know, all the mundane, boring, not exciting or romantic, everyday things . . . to put your marriage on the backburner . . . or even worse, to not even have it on a burner at all. And here’s the thing, many couples do this and don’t get a divorce. They don’t separate. They don’t cheat with another person or abandon their spouse . . . but they do become lazy. They become lackadaisical and complacent in their marriages, and they reach the point where they just exist in their relationship.
If you’ve been around for a little bit, you know I’m not a big beginning of the year goal setter. I don’t do a “word of the year” or resolutions. Those just aren’t my things. I do ask God to give me a scripture of the year, and this year He gave me this one:
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!” Isaiah 5:20-21
And I thought,”Well that’s nice, God. I mean it’s not exactly screaming ‘inspiration’ at me, but okay, I’ll go with it.” Let me tell y’all, sometimes we want inspiration when what we really need is truth. And God was absolutely telling me the truth. One area that I began to strongly feel I should be praying more about and asking God to bless and grow was my marriage. I would never have said, our marriage was bad or even just “okay”, but the truth is, we both, as most couples do, had areas where we let laziness creep in. And I’m kind of embarrassed to admit, that other than an occasional whine fest when Patrick made me mad, I wasn’t praying for my marriage with either the frequency or the fervency that I should.
Then in early February, Gateway Church (in Southlake, TX) had a series of messages given by Jimmy Evans, the founder of Marriage Today, entitled the Four Laws of Love. My attitude when I first saw the sermon series was, “Oh . . . been there . . . done that.” Before Patrick and I were ever married, we listened to Jimmy Evans’s Marriage on the Rock teachings . . . on cassette tapes, no less . . . yeah, that’s how old we are. The teachings were excellent and full of sound advice, but we were young and newly engaged, and while a lot of “stuff” stuck from those teachings, a lot didn’t because we just didn’t have the frame of reference we have now. So you’d think that my attitude would be one of wanting to re-learn and re-listen, but instead it was one of “I can’t be bothered with this right now”. And God immediately showed me that this was just one of example of what was meant by “wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight”. I thought I knew too much to learn more.
So I listened, and I realized that I still have a whole lot to learn. I needed to look at my own life . . . at my own marriage . . . I needed to look at the places where I was calling “evil good, and good evil”. I read my bible, and I prayed, and I finally came to a place where I asked God to show me the things that needed to change about me. Not my husband. Me. And. Oh. My. Gosh. Do you know how easy it is to ask God to change your spouse and how absolutely hard it is to ask God to show you what needs to change about yourself? Y’all I saw nothing wrong with anything I did. But I was often annoyed, not always supportive . . . I would nag and gripe about the most trivial things and would pick fights rather than calmly communicating my feelings .
I often tell my youngest, “Use your words rather than throwing a fit”, but I wasn’t living what I was teaching on any level. And I would often find myself justifying my actions by saying, “Well, we may argue and not always communicate well. We may fight, but we would never __________.” Fill in that blank with any awful thing you can think of that a married couple might could do to one another. We’re Christians so “we would never . . . “. And quite frankly, that’s an extremely prideful and dangerous attitude to have. Maybe that was true. Maybe it is true . . . the “we would never _______”. But the bottom line is, the work we put in today creates the marriage we will have 10 years from now. And I realized I didn’t just want an okay, complacent marriage where we just exist together. I want a phenomenal marriage full of all the good things that God has for and intended for marriage.
So yeah, my marriage is not a goal in and of itself because there will never be a point where we’re done working on it. Yes, we still disagree and fight from time to time because I’m still 100% Courtney and my husband is still 100% Patrick, and we’re both 100% strong willed and stubborn, but I can honestly, say that, maybe for the first time ever, I’m ready and willing to let God do the work in me that needs to be done in order to have a great marriage. I’m just sorry it took 17 years to get here. And don’t worry, I won’t be writing a marriage help book or leading a seminar for couples anytime soon (which is why I linked the sermon series and Marriage Today website above . . . I’m sending you straight to the experts). I’m here to tell you that God wants good for you, and He wants good for you in your marriage. But like I’ve said before, obedience is the key that unlocks God’s blessings, and prioritizing your marriage, your spouse, is absolutely an act of obedience to God that will lead to huge blessings.
*I’ve addressed this before, but I want to reiterate, if you’re in a marriage where you’re being abused, emotionally or physically, you’re not in a healthy marriage, and at the very least you need to separate from that person and seek professional help on what your next steps should be. Abuse of any sort, adultery, ongoing substance abuse and refusal to get help, abandonment . . . all of these things are not healthy, and it needs to be noted that no one is perfect, but in order for a marriage to work you both need to start from a safe and healthy place.
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