“My husband is going to be a real man of God. We are going to pray together, worship together and have the most amazing sex life. We are going to do ministry together and show the world how amazing it is to be married in Christ. I am going to serve him and submit to him without question and he is going to love me like Christ loves the church. My husband will always put our family before his needs. He will never disrespect me or make me feel like less than the daughter of God I know myself to be. We are going to raise our children to be disciples of Christ. We are going to preach the gospel together and live Christ for all the world to see. I can’t wait!”
If you had asked me eight years ago to describe what my future marriage would look like, the above statement would just about capture it. As beautiful as these words may be to some people, for me they were highly problematic. Because these words were not based on my desire to please God in marriage more than they were rooted in the need to “win” in the game of marriage. Marriage had been painted as the pinnacle of a Christian woman’s life for my entire adult life and as a new believer I just assumed that I would be married. But I did not want a marriage that others would look down on – I wanted a marriage that would impress others as well as pleased God. If God would have asked me to marry someone that did not fit my idea of “the perfect Christian husband,” I would have likely refused and missed God’s will for my life.
The man I wanted to marry was going to be the suit and tie type, someone who was comfortable in the pulpit, as well as one-on-one with others. Someone who was versed in the bible and in business. Someone who everyone could see was a catch. When my husband showed up looking more like a regular guy and less like a pastor (one of the cool, young ones with a nice haircut, facial hair, and designer sneakers), and being more comfortable in the back of the church than center-stage, I was temporarily confused. Every Christian circle I operated in made it acceptable to desire and marry only one type of Christian. Anything less than what I described in my opening paragraph meant that you “settled.” And there was a point when I was more afraid of being viewed as a woman who settled than actually missing the will of God for my life.
My idolatry of marriage was deeply based in my identity as a church girl before I was a true believer. Among Christians who are raised in the church, doing ministry and well-versed in church culture, marriage had been treated like the pinnacle of our Christian walk. It was not enough to be like Christ, you had to be married as well. One without the other made you incomplete. For me, marriage was a given. I was going to get married, by any means. But once I came to Christ, I knew I had to marry a fellow believer. It never occurred to me that marriage was not a given. I did not even consider it. I had to be married. If I wasn’t, everyone would assume there was something wrong with me. I would assume there was something wrong with me.
The residue of past hurts and rejection had me approaching marriage as if it was my “big chance” to get everyone (fellow believers) to see my worth. Those who previously did not want to be in community with me would be impressed by how well I married and how well I performed as someone’s wife. My pastors and leaders would finally see me as worthy of ordination. My church would legitimize me as a good example to others and even other believers would see something in my life worth emulating. But the kind of affirmation I was looking for regarding my marriage would not be forth coming unless I married the prototype of the ideal Christian man and presented the picture perfect image of the “godly couple.”
Whenever my intended-husband or I showed signs of being flawed human beings, I panicked. Maybe I “settled” after all. Because if we were both truly saved we should not be dealing with all these struggles (physical, spiritual, financial). The idolatry in my heart was unspoken but persistent, even as a woman who genuinely loves Christ. The hope that should have been squarely placed in Christ was placed in a “Christian marriage.” Marriage to a fellow believer was supposed to save me from struggle and the various trials that were not particularly appealing to my flesh. If I marry in Christ then I should never have to deal with a spouse who sins against me, or lacks wisdom or is prone to any kind of personal failings.
Thanks to a steady diet of ‘Christian media’ that elevated relationships to the same level as salvation in Christ, I was trusting in my marriage to save me from the tribulations that Christ himself promised that we will have in this world. The first time we experienced our first significant hardship in marriage, I was convinced it was because we were not good Christians. True Christian marriages did not endure these types of heartbreak, did they?
The unfortunate reality about idolatry is that not only is the object of our worship unworthy of our adulation, it is also inadequate to extend to us the amazing grace of a merciful God. Had I made Christ the object of adulation from the jump rather than equating Him with my marriage, I would have quickly discovered the grace that I did not previously extend to myself or my husband.
I thank God for His course correction in our lives. It did not take long for me to see the difference between placing my hope in Christ versus placing it in my marital status or my union to a believer. The weight of my idolatry would have crushed us both into dust but for the intervention of the Holy Spirit who opened my eyes to the truth. The disappointment I was dealing with in my marriage was because I had placed my hope in the wrong thing. I thought being married to a believer, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching the gospel and even raising godly children would insulate me from the challenges that faced other marriages. But I was trying to bypass the growth in my character that can only be worked while I am in an imperfect union with an imperfect husband, yet fully committed to serving the God of all perfection.
There is nothing wrong with desiring a marriage that looks like Christ from all points, and even checks the boxes of your personal preferences – but I am a big proponent in examining one’s motives at every point. Why do we want what we want? Are we more committed to our preferences than we are committed to trusting the God who knows us better than we know ourselves? If we are not careful, even our once-godly desires can begin to unseat Christ at the throne of our hearts. And that is the very definition of idolatry. Take it from someone with firsthand experience – a church girl.