Marriage Bliss – or not.

What joy to receive the call: “We are engaged!” from our dating son and his lovely girlfriend, and to see another son’s promising courtship become ‘official’ on Facebook. (Talk about a blending of the old and new…)

These happy moments make me reminisce about our dating time and early marriage, especially in light of the book I could not put down, Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complicity of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  Our children seem to be so much better prepared than we were 33 years ago. We loved each other, yes, but had no idea, really, what it means to truly love. It didn’t help that we were at that time unregenerate and utterly selfish.

We met at a good occasion: a church youth group event. This outspoken, set-in-his-ways teacher fascinated me, not realizing that his inflexibility would come to irritate me later on. In turn he was attracted by my openness and free-thinking spirit, not expecting to be ever annoyed by my always questioning ideas and traditions, yes, even his sermons. In time he came to appreciate my Berean tendencies, (I am not sure he has accepted them as ‘more noble’ yet…) and I learned to value his good judgment and steadiness.

Only grace

This all came back when I read the chapter Loving the Stranger where Keller writes:

The in love experience passes when the flaws in the other person come home to us. Things that seemed small and inconsequential now loom large. We begin to feel that  we did not really know the person after all. And this presents us with the challenge of loving a person who, at the moment, seems in large part a stranger, not the person you remember marrying.

But he doesn’t just diagnose a problem.

He writes:

What if, however, you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Than you will actually be expecting the ‘stranger’ seasons, and when you come to one you will roll up your sleeves and get to work…The basic answer is that you must speak the truth in love with the power of God’s grace.

For speaking the truth in love, as well as for receiving the truth in love, you need to have experienced God’s gracious forgiveness yourself. And for this kind of sanctifying practice it’s absolutely necessary to be true spiritual friends. As Keller writes:

[Spiritual friendship] is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways.

And I have learned to be thankful for my patient loving husband, because even with received grace I need to be frequently reminded to not be so quick to judge and so critical even of him and our children.


 I loved reading the Godly Tantrum where Kathy Keller finally gets her husband’s undivided attention by smashing some beautiful china saucers with a hammer. He thought she had lost it and he almost panicked. But Kathy deliberately had picked three saucers who missed their matching cups to execute her ‘tantrum.’ This brought to mind my not-so-godly tantrum when my husband was eager to dismiss my need to talk about something that weighed on my mind. I was standing by the coffee table which had a nice potted plant on it, and out of frustration I just upended the piece of furniture killing the plant. But it gave life to a new resolution in our still young marriage: if something is important for the one, than it ought to be important for the other and we are taking the time to talk about it.

Communication has always been a big deal for us. But we soon realized, also in company of others, that we spend way more time talking than listening. So we found a way to alert each other when it was time to ask questions and show real interest in the other people present.


Of course it doesn’t help when you are gifted with a witty way of expressing yourself (insert modest little cough here), and for that reason blogging can be a pitfall, no one is interrupting your flow of words. So I like to use this tangent to ask you to please interact with Shona and me. We love to hear if our words resonate with you, but also if you disagree with us, because we hope this applies to us as well:

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:9)


 Back to The Meaning of Marriage. This might puzzle some people, but one of the things I questioned sometimes (but never out loud), is the need and validity of the marriage certificate. Doesn’t the physical union between a man and woman before God make the marriage real? But Keller answered that question by explaining the covenant of marriage under the heading Love and the ‘Piece of Paper’.

…the Bible sees God as the supreme good—not the individual or the family—and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.

And some more:

Imagine a house with an A-frame structure. The two sides of the home meet at the top and hold one another up. But underneath, the foundation holds up both the sides. So the covenant with and before God strengthens the partners to make a covenant with each other. Marriage is therefore the deepest of human covenants.

From now on I will not only enjoy, but treasure the official part of a wedding ceremony.

I could say much more about this book (or our marriage), but I think you should read The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complicity of Commitment with the Wisdom of God for yourself. In case you want some additional “whetting of appetite” you can find more quotes here.

May your marriage be(come) bliss indeed!

Posted by Elina

9 thoughts on “Marriage Bliss – or not.

  1. Pingback: Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog

  2. Definitely my favourite marriage book ever – bought an extra copy so I could lend it to people. Hope to get it read by people before they marry so that they might avoid some of the mistakes I made.
    Thanks for this.

  3. Hi. I came upon your post via

    You indicated that you were both unregenerate when you married. Would you be willing to share how you each came to know the Lord and how your marriage survived up until that point?


    • Two things kept us together: upbringing and grace. Divorce was just not an option, and about 6 years into our marriage, God in His sovereign mercy opened both our eyes not only to our utter lost-ness, but also to the only Way back: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We still had our (character) faults, but were much more willing to discuss them and to work on them with each other’s help and the Spirit’s power. By the way, we are an ongoing work in progress, but “…confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you (us) will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” Philippians 1:6

      Thanks for your question, Melissa. If this was not the answer you were looking for we can maybe “talk” via email?

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