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The Marriage Altar

October 7, 2014 by Michelle

My husband made an altar for our wedding. It was a giant cross made of bamboo and copper. The rich green and the shiny orange were perfect. It was simple and inviting. And the thing about the cross was that it was not in its final state. It would change. Over time, the altar would transform colors. The bamboo would dry out and turn from green to a golden hue. The copper would age and exchange its orange for the light green verdigris. They almost exchange colors with time.

When he first showed it to me, I got very excited. We were married in a venue built in the 1920’s as a theater, complete with the cascading red curtains and tiered floor plan. I thought the altar would be a great compliment to our eclectic setting. It was completely lost on me the significance of this piece of our union.

I knew it was a place where the human and divine worlds interact, and since this was a covenant before God, well, it seemed appropriate. However, I may have changed my mind if I had known what the altar really symbolized.

The Hebrew word altar comes from the root meaning “to slaughter” and the Greek, “to sacrifice.”

I was signing up to die, to lose myself.

Looking back on it, I have to laugh. I have to, or I will cry.

I started out my marriage trying to get my husband to be what I thought he was supposed to be. I didn’t marry him for who he was supposed to be. I married him for who he was, but somehow after our visit to the altar who he was wasn’t good enough anymore.

Years and children later, he told me he didn’t like me. I was so mad at him. So mad. If he was just…if he would just…then I…

I experienced my dissatisfaction in public, private, alone and together. After thinking that I had it made because I was married, I was heart-broken to find out that he was so much work, and I was tired.

Other women in my life encouraged me in this fight. “I would not put up with that.” “He doesn’t have to know everything.” “Get your husband to do it.” “That would drive me crazy.”

That’s when I met Charles. He was our marriage counselor for as long as we had left in Charlotte, which was over a year. Charles freed me, in Christ, to let my husband be himself.

He reminded me, in a million ways, that my covenant was with God. I stepped up to that place of slaughter and sacrifice and signed up to die in the context of the calling of marriage. God called me to that, and God called my husband to that.

And if I am called to that, what does that mean? What does that look like in my daily life? Here are a few things I have learned that, hopefully, will help you as well.

I have learned that my husband doesn’t have to compliment me or be my compliment. The truth of who I am is rooted in the person of Christ, not in my husband’s opinion of me. My calling to be a wife, to love and submit, comes from Him. If I am working to please my husband, I am missing the mark. If he doesn’t compliment my efforts, I’m working for the wrong man, so to speak.

Also, we don’t have to be each other’s compliment. He doesn’t have to be my better half. I am whole, in Christ. Being married is a calling that brings me to the place of sacrifice day after day. I give up my closet and my bed and my agenda. I yield to another person out of love, for him and ultimately for Jesus.

And don’t miss that second part. It’s out of love for God because honey, there are times I don’t love that man with every ounce of my being, and you know what? That’s okay. I don’t have to. I don’t have to for two reasons:

1. God loves Him with every ounce of His being. He is wholly and dearly loved outside of me.

2. I am whole, in Christ, and in Christ, I am free to struggle and to question my calling.

Let me say it this way, if you sign up for the slaughter of the flesh that marriage is, prepare to die.

Another thing I have learned is that everyone, everyone, has the capacity to cheat on their spouse. The Lord knows a man’s heart…need I say more? But here’s the thing with that: If my husband cheats on me, he is not cheating on me. He is choosing something other Christ. That should be my heartbreak. That should move me and grieve me to the point of on-my-face prayer for my dear one. The idea that he would willingly choose something that is other than his ultimate good as far as it can be obtained should wreck me. The thoughts of I’m not good enough, my body isn’t sexy enough for him, I’m the best thing he ever had, etc. are irrelevant. I am never going to be enough or do enough or talk enough or be a good enough example for my spouse to hold his heart to the Lord. Only God Himself is enough for that. It is beyond me. So, no amount of living life to keep my husband bound to me will keep him. That is a work of the Holy Spirit.

A last thing, although this list is in no way all-inclusive, is my need for him to be a man of God. I don’t need him to be a man of God because I have an intimate relationship with God. It is outside of my husband. This shifts things. This frees me. I don’t have to be his mother or model Christian behavior or yell at him until he gets it right. I don’t have to pretend that he is a puppet on my strings.

He is not my clay pot to mold.

This radical truth calls me deeper with God, into more intimacy. This beckons my heart to His and in turn, changes me. I die in a way. A piece of my flesh gets cut off, the one that wants to rebel and scream about my rights as a woman inside of marriage. The part of me that wants to be adored by all my Christian girlfriends because my husband is such a godly man…The need I have to be a trophy wife, the best wife anyone has ever had…The burden of ‘having a grown kid in the house’…All these things get put in their place when I realize the freedom I already have in Christ.

I am whole and wholly loved. I am independently dependent on Jesus inside of my marriage. And like any calling from God, my calling is to be more like Him and more intimate with Him. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit, and He will do it. I am free to enjoy my husband, the way God made him (imperfect like me), along the way and to know that he is a gift of God to bring me to the altar every day. The place of sacrifice. The place where the human and divine meet. And while I’m there, I may need to check my self-righteousness…

Because I am not in my final state. My husband and I, our marriage, and our spiritual journeys are changing. We are like the bamboo and the copper from the altar, not exchanging our own colors, but changing into Christ’s color, giving in to the beautiful process of becoming more like Him.

My husband says, “Cleave is the opposite of cleave.” I don’t think there is a bit of irony in that but a stark truth. And I am thankful. I don’t care what anyone thinks, I can’t change my husband by nagging him to death, but God can change him by loving him to death.

One Response to “The Marriage Altar”

  1. Dan says:

    Fantastic. You’re so awesome.

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