When working for someone else, I have this totally unrealistic expectation that I will do everything perfectly all the time. There are several holes in that expectation: everything, perfect, all the time.
The last time this happened, Dave said, “If and when you want to talk about what happened, I promise to listen.” I remember feeling like I could take a deep breath. My boss might be disappointed in me, but my husband loved me. Dave didn’t laugh or try to fix the issue or me. He gave me the space to process and the safety to come to him if and when I needed to. I walked into his arms and sighed.
Not too many years ago, Dave wasn’t my safe harbor.
We’d reached a critical point in our marriage—stay or leave. I wouldn’t say I liked the thought of divorce, but our pain felt insurmountable. Desperately searching for answers, I didn’t want to run to God, who promised to listen when I was ready. In my anger and confusion, I felt like God abandoned me when the reality was I ran from God because I feared what he might tell me.
Reading my Bible didn’t bring comfort either. Instead, I stumbled over covenant love verses like
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”>
“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
Until then, I believed doing everything right would guarantee a smooth, loving, conflict-free marriage.
Well, reasonably conflict-free. We did argue about some things, such as how to allocate our spending, kids’ desires to participate in certain events, and some extended family issues, but nothing major. Our relationship felt pretty even-keeled and harmonious.
Dave and I functioned well but avoided the deeper, more painful discussions. Until we couldn’t any longer.
Dennis Rainey said, “Marriage is not a private experiment, littered with prenuptial agreements & an attitude of ‘Try me! If it doesn’t work, you can always bail out!’ Marriage isn’t a social contract – something you ‘do’ for as long as you both shall ‘love.’ Marriage is a sacred covenant between 1 man & 1 woman & their God for a lifetime. It’s a public vow of how you will relate to your spouse as you form a new family unit.”
At the point of our marriage crisis, God began his surgical work on my heart, soul, and mind to understand his view of covenant love.
What characterizes covenant love?
The root of this word means to “cut off.” When you decide on something, by necessity, other things in your life get left behind. In Joshua 24, the Israelites faced a life-impacting decision: Choose to serve and follow God or not.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Applying this to a marriage relationship, saying “yes” to the marriage proposal means you decide to do life with him rather than anyone else. Today, too many people believe this decision only lasts as long as they are “happy” in the relationship. If that’s the case, no decision has been made. God describes those who won’t commit as double-minded and unstable.
Growing up, my dad told me that we make time and exert effort for those things that matter the most to us. When you think about your marriage relationship, how much time and effort do you devote to it? Maybe like me, you thought your relationship would be pretty good if you didn’t fight a lot. I discovered there’s more to a healthy marriage relationship than what you don’t do.
In Philippians 2:3-4, we’re encouraged to:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
It takes intentional work to build the marriage you dream about. While working through our marriage crisis, I discovered that a strong, vibrant marriage doesn’t just happen by default. Would I set aside my selfish desires and ambitions to allow God to do his work in my life, my husband’s life, and our marriage? What would that look like?
Covenant love frees you to be yourself because you know you are safe with this other person. Covenant love creates the safest environment to grow and become all God created you to be. It’s also the most challenging concept to understand and apply.
Throughout the Bible, God challenges us to stay in a covenant relationship with him. We don’t create this covenant; he does. Jesus fulfilled the terms of this covenant as we read in Hebrews 13:
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We have no greater freedom than living out our created purpose in Jesus. When Dave and I apply this understanding to our relationship, we find the freedom to live authentically with each other.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, one of the most influential spiritual writers of our time, wrote this about covenant love.
“When God makes a covenant with us, God says: ‘I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.’ In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: ‘I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.’ Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.
But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our lives together.”
Covenant love in relationships requires faithfulness to each other and seeking the other’s best.
The world says walking away from a relationship is okay when your needs aren’t met. If you don’t “feel” love toward the other person, it’s time to find someone else to love. This type of contract doesn’t come close to the freedom found in covenant.
Please understand I’m not talking about abusive relationships.
Dave’s recent gift of acceptance and love demonstrated his covenant love for me.
He recognized my mistakes yet loved me. He created a safe place to process my struggle, and I felt that covenant love and relaxed into it.
Which relationship would you prefer–covenantal or contractual? If you would like to discuss this more, Let’s talk.