Get Lucky and Double Down

Eager-to-learn, college students at my work frequently ask me for tips on how to have a successful marriage.  Yet, it is often in passing, while we are on the go, so there is not much time to delve into the truth of that question.  So I have this standard little answer I give… “Two things: Choose Well and Work Hard.”  I’m always hoping since it is so short that maybe they will take it with them in life and remember it later.
Recently, in the public restroom, late for a seminar at a retreat, I got that question again and I gave my little answer..,  but it wasn’t enough for her.  “Tell more…  What should I look for in a spouse?  What if people change?  How hard do you have to work in the beginning, instead of having it come naturally?  Are there limits?  Are there guarantees?  Really… tell me.”
So she and I talked.  And I told her the longer version of the story of us, the story of Eric and I, and where we are now.  Every marriage has its own rhythm, but I hoped our story might help her.  I hope now it might help you, too.
Looking back, if I am honest, I approached dating (and marriage) with the goal of making me happy.  If this relationship makes my life fun, then it stays.  Maybe publicly I would have said it was about shared goals, but in truth it was about outings with adventure, phone conversations with laughter, and being with a boy I thought was cute and he felt the same… finally!
So I dated Eric because he has biceps and blue eyes; those are my weakness.  He took me rock climbing and to the beach… fun, fun.  And I did respect him tremendously in his ministry, (so I suppose that was one shining light in me choosing him, yet I wonder if that was less about character and more about professional admiration.)  And then three years later, I married him.

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If I had to do it again, I would still choose him, but for such different reasons.  If I were to ‘Choose Well’ in a partner, I would look for someone who has integrity, is patient and works hard. 
We all want to marry a good person, but what does that mean?  Let’s seek (and be) people of integrity: people who actively seek protection for goodness and protection for those who are weaker.  This is about so much more than integrity as it applies to fidelity with the opposite gender.  You want someone who pays for things they could easily steal, perhaps on the internet.  You want someone who works through hard conversations to make out workable solutions rather than avoiding others or barreling through, insisting on their way.  You want someone who works the hours they say they work to their employer.  There can be no cheating or shadiness or short cuts.  True integrity breeds trust and you will need that for the long haul.  Without trust, you end up living with a stranger, or worse, your enemy.  “The integrity of good people creates a safe place for living.” (Prov 14:32, The Message).  We want someone who will draw a line and stand on the side of goodness, even when it’s challenging.
We also want and need someone who is patient.  We want someone says ‘try again’ and who gives second chances.  We want someone who’s ‘in it to win it’ but not just for themselves but for everyone.  So they can take their time to get it right with us, (and with any future kids you might have.)  They are flexible and extend grace and let us start fresh, because love is patient. (1 Cor 13:4)
Life is actually hard.  Sometimes, really challenging experiences come our way and break our hearts. Yet, even in the good times, life is hard then too…  life is filled with thousands of mundane but important chores.  Your mama was right to make you do chores when you are young because they just keep coming.  So choose someone to share the work with; choose someone that works hard.  Eric and I operate on a ‘divide and conquer’ mentality and split up the labor and often do not know what the other one is doing when it comes to school reading goals or car maintenance, but this works for us.  Regardless of if you do the work side by side, or partition it out, team work does not just make it look easier, it actually makes life easier.    “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps.  But if there’s no one to help, tough!” – Ecc 4:9,10 (The Message)
So with Eric, I didn’t choose him because of these things, but I got lucky and he sure is them.  Now, I no longer think of marriage as a place to make me happy but as a source of help to survive and even thrive in this world.  For God made an ezer, a help, a helper, a helpmate for the first human and thus began the first marriage in Genesis 2.
This Hebrew word, Ezer, has a sense of tangible, practical aid or assistance that comes with personal involvement and connection.  We get a glimmer of this meaning in Psalm 33:20, as we are not only ezer to one another but God is also our ezer.  “We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help, (our ezer) and shield.” (Psalm 33:20, NIV).  And so that is what I now see as the purpose of our marriage… help in all its forms from a most trusted source, help for me and help for him, and hopefully if we get this right, our marriage can bring help to some of the brokenness of our world as it makes us stronger and better able to fulfill our mandate to bring God’s goodness into the here and now.
But it is not easy.  We have to keep choosing ‘us.’  Actually as I wrote this, we hit a rough space.  A time that happens every now and then when we do not feel like ezer to each other, a time when we feel lonely and frustrated.  But I am doubling down on us, in spite of this!  I see the good thing we have; I see the potential.  I am aware that this winning match is not for free and I am willing to do the work.  Rather than pulling away, I’m leaning in.

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So I’ve declared my 2017 resolution is ‘more us,’ (with special thanks to Shauna Niequist who coined that phrase and gave wings to the leanings in my heart.)
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Of course, more time together…. But also more choices that look like I’m his helper.  More hours commuting so he has a less complicated schedule.  More running, which I do not enjoy, and listening to books about people that run, which I enjoy a little more, because obstacle course racing is his great love after us and Jesus.  And more apologizing when I miss the mark because patience is not my strong suit, but I know he needs it, too.
So if you are already married, I hope you got lucky and if not, I hope you choose well.  And for all of us, in family relationships, lets double down and work hard in one of the best gifts God has for us… finding ezer in the other.
Sending you love,
Jeanine
PS – For all my committed complementarian and equalitarian friends, whose pupils just dilated when I used Genesis 2:18, read on.  I wanted to avoid this Christian quarrel but it seems really hard to talk about the purpose of marriage and not mention the stated purpose of the first marriage.  I’m really open to letting each marriage find its own rhythm.  If there are a thousand marriages, then there are a thousand ways to do it well, which may include gender based hierarchy or roles, for some.  But this little Hebrew word, ezer, sometimes translated ‘helpmate,’ cannot be the bases for that.  Ezer is found a dozen times in the Bible, and most commonly it is referring to God as our Ezer, our Help, such that inferiority cannot be read into the meaning of the word.  So in the story of us and our marriage, I am referring to ezer without hierarchy, because that is a faithful reading of the Hebrew word.  Again, find a rhythm in your own marriage that works best for you two.
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Comments: 2

  1. Ron English March 22, 2017 at 5:02 pm Reply

    Great writing. Send us more!

  2. Clara March 23, 2017 at 11:32 pm Reply

    Beautiful

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