Rejoicing in the Differences

My husband and I met in student ministry when we were 12 years old and started dating when we were 16 and 17 years old. We had amazing marital counseling during our engagement and managed, by God’s grace and protection, to practice purity our entire dating relationship. By the time we were 22, we were celebrating our 1st anniversary and moving to the Midwest for new jobs. These things, coupled with the fact that we had known each other for almost 10 years, gave us both a false sense of security in our understanding of each other and what we thought it was going to take to maintain oneness. We had done everything right – surely God was going to reward us with life-long passion and intimacy that came naturally.

My female tank of newlywed sexual energy was, surprisingly and disappointingly, emptied quickly. We celebrated our 2nd anniversary in the hospital welcoming our first child. Ryan’s job was not as amazing as we thought it was going to be, my career was done since I became a stay at home mother years before I planned to, and after three moves in two years, we were broke and lonely. Life was not going according to our plan. Even in all of the stress and changes, Ryan still wanted to have sex. I viewed the path to sex as a linear equation; time plus talking equals great sex. Since we hadn’t yet learned to be intentional about making time to spend with each other, there were things missing from that equation for me. I didn’t feel like having sex, so I thought that meant I didn’t have to. Truthfully, I did not understand him at all, and I wondered if there was something wrong with me since I did not want to be physically intimate as much as he did. I began to despise that desire in him because I felt guilty.

“We had both been treating our marriage like it existed for us, and our selfishness was slowly killing our marriage.”

We had arrogantly banked on our tenure as a couple giving us an advantage, believing we had put in so much groundwork in the beginning that our marriage could operate on auto-pilot. We couldn’t have put it into words at the time, but we were both completely discouraged with how difficult it was to maintain unity in our marriage. How was it possible that we were finally married and felt less intimate and unified than we were before we wed? Life was so hard already, we thought, our marriage should not be.

While we did have a solid foundation, any further development of our oneness was stalled out in a pit of selfishness and self-pity. We had both been treating our marriage like it existed for us, and our selfishness was slowly killing our marriage.

The truths that came out of the One series six years ago shed light on our sinful patterns and ways of thinking.  The truths of Ephesians 5 were made new to us. The idea that as a man and a woman we can be radically different, yet equal in value, was life changing and freeing for me. Marriage is not about roles or self-fulfillment, expecting the other to pull their weight and meet in the middle. Marriage is about sacrifice, and we had failed to practice that kind of loving sacrifice in our marriage. Sacrificing and choosing others first is hard. It’s uncomfortable, and more often than not, I don’t always feel like being obedient to Christ and sacrificing. When it comes to practicing faith in Jesus, emotion is not a necessary predecessor for obedience; obedience is an action, not an emotion. The act of sex within a marriage, while there are many emotions tied to it, is just one of many avenues to create intimacy within a marriage. Sex is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Instead of thinking we wanted different things – my husband sex, and myself connection – God showed us we actually want the same thing from our marriage: intimacy. We just go about moving towards it differently.

“Instead of thinking we wanted different things – my husband sex, and myself connection – God showed us we actually want the same thing from our marriage: intimacy.”

Just like we cannot operate on auto-pilot in our marriage, our faith cannot operation on auto-pilot either. If we want a thriving spiritual life that grows in dependency on the Lord, we must make time for Him, listen to Him, and talk to Him daily. Following Jesus takes hard work, and a vibrant, life-giving marriage takes hard work too. God showed us that marriage is not about us at all. It is an opportunity for Christ to show the love He has for His people. It is a reflection of the unity and intimacy of the trinity. It is a glimpse of the beauty and perfection that awaits us as participants in God’s kingdom.

We have to work hard for the marriage God wants for us. The fact that we want a marriage God wants, instead of a marriage for ourselves, is a testament to the change that the Holy Spirit has wrought in our lives. Armed with faith in what God will do in our marriage and the understanding of how He made us different but equal, image bearers of Himself, we can rejoice in the differences instead of allow them to separate us. The differences are actually what make our union so beautiful and exciting, and we now allow those differences to connect us instead of divide us.

-The Burns

As part of our One series, we’ve asked several people to share some of their experiences and stories as it relates to each sermon topic and how it has played out in their marriage or in their life. We appreciate the Burns taking time to share their struggles with maintaining intimacy and oneness. Has the One series prompted any questions you would like addressed? We’d love to answer some in a Q&A at the end of the series. Email questions to [email protected].

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