Dan and Myra (not their real names) were young, in love and eager to get married. People wondered if they were rushing it, but they just knew it was right. Plus, Myra’s parents were going through some tough times in their marriage and were selfishly putting their daughter in the middle of it. Dan’s mother loved Myra, and suggested they go ahead and get married soon rather than waiting until their planned date nearly a year away. Her son could marry the first girl he had brought home that Mom liked, and Myra’s parents could focus on the problems in their relationship. There were no complaints from the young couple about moving their wedding to just three months away.
They had a lovely wedding, then moved out-of-state for school. Within months, things started moving down hill…
Myra was deeply discouraged. They were arguing regularly, especially after Dan’s addiction to nicotine — which he had promised was no longer an issue — was exposed. His hiding and lies coupled with her fearful, condescending attitudes were eating away at love. She was homesick and tormented with “should we have listened to the don’t-rush-things advice” questions, while Dan wrestled with feeling insecure and ashamed of his willingness to deceive his wife over cigarettes. He wanted to believe her when she said the issue wasn’t cigarettes but trust; he hated the hurt in her eyes but didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal about it.
There’s no easy answer to that question. But one thing is common: Completely understandable (and even biblically commanded!) desires for understanding, honesty, respect, affection and being valued by another often morph into demands that must be met…or else. Dan and Myra’s disappointments cascaded downward in a common journey through unmet expectations to the unknowing end of punishing one another for unfilled desires. Their once-passionate desire for each other became now-passionate hurt, anger, disappointment and hopelessness that things would ever change. They had good times together but the culture of their marriage was becoming sour.
Living in a city with no friends and family didn’t make it easy. But what would they have heard if they had opened up to others? Here are some things they, like others, would likely have heard:
- “Wow. That’s just not right, Myra. He’s being a jerk. You can’t trust a man who started lying to you this soon! It’s time to lay down the law with him before he starts lying about other things.”
- “Dan, I know how you feel and let me know if you wanna see a counselor. We did, and she really helped my wife to get a clue about how tough she was making it on us.”
- “I’m not gonna watch you keep having to deal with this, honey. Your dad and I want you to know you’re always welcome here if you decide you need a break.”
- “Oh, you two will be just fine. Every marriage and ups and downs. Just be patient and everything will work out.”
- “Yeah, the same thing happened to me. You were just too young to get married. You hadn’t grown up enough to know what you really wanted. But if you end up hanging it up, you’re still young enough to find someone else.”
What Dan and Myra and every suffering person in conflict needs isn’t “fix it” advice but hope. You see, they wanted to stay married; to walk out the covenant they made; to have their spouse listen and take their concerns seriously; to believe they could work through their problems and actually have a better marriage in the end. And a part of each of them knew the responsibility for their problems was shared.
Hope acknowledges there are problems and sin patterns and weariness. Hope says:
- He/She needs to change.
- I’ve been wronged. Hurt. Overlooked. Disregarded. Not taken seriously. Unappreciated. Used.
- This relationship is damaged. Broken. Frustrating.
- I’m tired. Unmotivated. Angry. Fearful. Done.
- But, wait…there is Someone Who was tempted to feel all things things and more.
- And my spouse (or friend, sibling, parent, child, co-worker) probably feels those same things. too. I’m not the only one hurting in this situation.
Hope doesn’t pretend things are okay because when things are going well we don’t really “need” hope, right? We need hope when things are hopeless. And hope, by definition, means I really think what I desire may actually happen.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines hope this way: “A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable. Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”
Dan and Myra learned that unmet wishes and desires had led to pain and anxiety in their relationship; which resulted in punishing one another with hurtful actions, unkindness, trivializing each other’s pain, and withdrawal.
Thirty-eight years later Dan and Myra are still married. Only their real names are Benny and Sheree. The early years of our marriage are a confusing mixture of prized and hurtful memories. We were alone with no books or Christian teaching on marriage; no wise counselors; no married friends who understood.
But we had a Helper who sustained us with grace and hope.
When no one else is there, He is. When strife and sin damages relationships, the One who hung on the cross to bridge the impossible-to-close cavern between a holy God and sinful man lives to declare, “There is no relationship that I do not have the power to reconcile.”
Benny and I still disagree and hurt each other. But we’ve learned a lot from Dan and Myra about communication, comfort, honesty, humility and patience. The thing we’ve learned most about, though, is hope. When Christ died and then rose again, He proved that relationships can be healed and reconciled…however many times are needed.
And we’ve needed that hope over and over for four decades. He lied to me recently and I reacted with angry self-righteousness. Dan and Myra live on but they are weaker; quicker to ask forgiveness; more humble; and much more deeply in love.
All because He said “it is finished” so he could start and complete a good work in us.
That good work continues.