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More than us: How marriage can draw you closer to God

Written by Amy Van Veen

From the thrill of wedding anticipation to settling into the roles of husband and wife, it can be easy to forget that marriage is about far more than just two people. What if the marriage wasn’t seen as an end in and of itself? What if it was seen as a means of drawing closer to God?

According to Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, “The reason God became flesh was so that we might know him; correspondingly, God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant means of repopulating the world and providing a steady societal institution for the benefit of humanity. He planted marriage among humans as yet another signpost pointing to his own eternal spiritual existence.”

The following are just some of the ways Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, outlines how your marriage can help you grow spiritually and draw closer to God.

1. Learning to love

According to Thomas, “Marriage can be the gym in which our capacity to experience and express God’s love is strengthened and further developed. To get there, we have to realize that human love and divine love aren’t separate oceans, but rather one body of water with many tributaries. We show our love for God in part by loving our spouses well.”You might be in a season of your life where loving your spouse is the furthest thing from difficult, or you might be in a season where loving them is a struggle; either way, marriage deepens our understanding of what it is to love. God doesn’t love conditionally, nor does He want us to. The love He pours onto us and the love we then pour out on others isn’t dependent on how much that person is getting on your nerves or how much you’ve grown apart. After all, Thomas explains, “Christian love is displayed in loving the most difficult ones to love.”

2. Learning to respect

“As our partners and their weaknesses become more familiar to us,” Thomas writes, “respect often becomes harder to give. But this failure to show respect is a sign of spiritual immaturity more than an inevitable pathway of marriage.” Ultimately, learning to respect is a choice: “Contempt is conceived with expectations. Respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude. We can choose which one we will obsess over – expectations, or thanksgivings. That choice will result in birth – and the child will be named either contempt or respect,” he writes.

3. Learning to forgive

Conflict in marriage is inevitable, but it needn’t be spiritually destructive. Even conflict can be an opportunity to draw closer to God. “Conflict provides an avenue for spiritual growth,” Thomas writes. “To resolve conflict, by definition we must become more engaged, not less.”Marriage teaches us – indeed, it practically forces us – to learn to live by extending grace and forgiveness to people who have sinned against us,” he continues. “If I can learn to forgive and accept my imperfect spouse, I’ll be well-equipped to offer forgiveness outside my marriage. Forgiveness, I’m convinced, is so unnatural an act that it takes practice to make perfect.”

4. Learning to serve

“Marriage creates a situation in which our desire to be served and coddled can be replaced with a more noble desire to serve others – even to sacrifice for others,” Thomas explains. “This is a call for both husbands and wives. The beauty of marriage is that it confronts our selfishness and demands our service twenty-four hours a day. When we’re most tired, most worn down, and feeling more sorry for ourselves than we ever have before, we have the opportunity to confront feelings of self-pity by getting up and serving our mate.”