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Tips for a Thriving Marriage in Testing Seasons

Most of us know a good marriage takes work, but especially so when life takes unplanned twists and turns. It is my joy to welcome my friend Morgan Morris to the Redeemed Girl blog today. She loves Jesus and as a new military wife she’s learn to thrive in the unexpected. –Marian

 

 

“I’m a military wife.”

That’s something I never thought I would say.

In Spring 2013, I was introduced to a guy named Brian. He was finishing college in Mississippi, and I was studying in Missouri. While hundreds of miles apart, we Skyped for several hours a day, sharing our hearts on just about everything. Brian was noticeably different from a lot of the guys I had dated. We shared effortlessly about our mutual love and passion for Jesus. Every exchange seemed to circle back toward our heart’s common affection—it was attractive, exciting, and energizing.

About a year later, Brian’s parents gifted us with a once in a lifetime trip to Israel. While touring the Holy Land, Brian sensed that there was no better place to ask me to join him as one than the very place where Jesus asked to be one with us—The Garden of Gethsemane (John 17). The Garden of Gethsemane is located on the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel. It is a place Jesus often visited with His disciples to pray, making it sacred ground to believers all over the world.

Brian led me to a private corner of the garden, where he recited the words that Jesus prayed to God the Father in John chapter 17, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one— I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

He explained his intentions in reading from the book of John and about how he wanted our relationship to point to Jesus and be a testament to his great love for the world. Next, while surrounded by ancient olive trees on every side, Brian dropped to one knee, and he proposed. Of course, I said YES!

Brian shared that when he saw me for the first time, he knew I’d have his heart for the rest of his life. Along with a stunning solitaire engagement ring, my future husband gave me a heart carved from olive wood. Today, you’ll find it on a shelf in our daughter’s room…. but more on that later. Fast-forward four months, and we were married in Marco Island, Florida. Fast-forward three more months, and we had officially moved across the pond to work for a local church in North East England. Life was changing, and it was changing FAST!

But let’s rewind a little first. When I met Brian, he was graduating college with a business degree and gearing up to start his masters in pastoral ministries. In truth, I loved this idea—I had always wanted to be in ministry. While my husband worked his way through seminary, I often daydreamed about planting a church someday and working together side-by-side in service to others. Everything was going according to plan. What an adventure it would be. This was obviously God’s plan for us…. Right?

But it wasn’t… God’s plan for us was a life of service, no doubt, but a different kind of service. A year and a half into ministry, my husband tells me that God is calling him to the U.S. military.

Whoa. “The military?” I said.

The military. I could have never foreseen this…

It quickly became clear that Brian had never been so sure of anything in his life… and that made it pretty easy to dive in head first with him.

Over the next six months, we completed both seminary and our service commitment in the United Kingdom. A few short months later, while seven months pregnant, I watched as my husband swore into the U.S. Navy – vowing to serve and protect our country from enemy’s foreign and domestic.

As I reminisce on our journey together, I can’t help but be taken back to standing in the Garden of Gethsemane when Brian proposed —the “I do” before the “I DO.” In a way, the promise we made on that sacred land foretold of a future that we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams. Here’s why…

The Garden of Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives, no surprise, is lavish with olive trees. The olive tree thrives under great heat and is known for its tenacity. They live, grow and bear fruit in any and every condition: hot, dry, cold, wet, fertile, rocky, or sandy… on terraced hills or in valleys… It is said that you can never kill an olive tree. Even when cut down or burned, new shoots will emerge from its roots. Like the Evergreen olive tree, we prayed that our marriage would prevail against anything. (Hence the woodcarving—Brian gave me the heart to serve as a precious reminder that no matter what the conditions, we would remain steadfast in the presence of God—faithful, thriving, and bearing fruit).

At this present time, I have been 700 to 1400 miles away from my husband for nine months now—almost the entirety of our daughter’s life, and we haven’t even faced our first deployment. When we pledged to withstand any condition, I never imagined that this would be one of them.

If you’re reading this, you may not relate at all to a military wife’s life, but you most certainly can relate to adversity. No matter what the form—distance, family conflict, marital arguments, addiction, illness, infidelity, infertility, miscarriage, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, stress and general business. Everyone’s life and marriage will come with unforeseen circumstances. Everyone’s hurdles will have different heights, everyone’s races will have different obstacles, everyone’s mistakes will have different consequences, but one thing is certain: When we are controlled and empowered by the Spirit of God we can brave anything. We can bloom in any condition. We can be more than conquerors.

There is nothing certain for any of us on this side of eternity. Our lives and our happenings are ever changing. Our only constant is the one true God. He is the absolute standard of stability, goodness, and truth. He is the promise that will never fail or forsake us. He is the source of abundant life and an impenetrable marriage. So even though I have no earthly idea what’s in store for my family on this military quest, I do know that God is trustworthy and that the olive tree will always be a symbol of strength and hope to our family. I do know… that we will stand firm in the presence of God. I do know…that together, submitted to Christ, we will be capable of not simply coping with each Herculean task that is to come, but —prospering— through it all, to the glory of God.

So, what does it practically look like to cultivate a healthy and flourishing marriage in testing seasons?

Well, I’d be lying if I said I had it all figured out. Not even close! But in my very short four years of marriage experience, here’s some insight I’ve obtained.

1. Wives—notice him, regard him, respect him, and love him faithfully. When appreciation is low, conflict is high. Rejoice and delight in how God made your spouse… even the parts you don’t understand or value yet. A husband submitted to the Lord reveals aspects of God’s character that only a husband can— I feel God’s love for me through Brian in the way he prizes me as his crown and loves me as Christ loves His bride. Celebrate your hubby when he reflects God’s strength, faithfulness, provision, and protection. If you’re having trouble recognizing the positive in your husband or seeing God reflected in him, ask the Lord to show you how he sees your spouse. God loves who he made!

2. Stay faithful and obedient to God (and his Word) first. Our husbands were designed to be a reflection of God, not to be God. Ultimately, the Lord is our rock and our refuge. He is the one true constant that does not fail. He holds the number one slot in our hearts. Spouses, they fail. We can’t expect them to be God, nor should we weigh them down with those kinds of impossible expectations. Keeping the Lord in his rightful place and walking together in Jesus is the key to fellowship in the spirit (1 John 1:7) and one of the most valuable forms of intimacy in marriage.

3. Keep the communication lines open. Unmet expectations will put a serious rift in one’s marriage, especially a new marriage. There will always be kinks to work out when two unique individuals come together. Brian and I both had an idea of what the other was going to be like in a marriage—based off of our thoughts and desires, our past experiences, our upbringings, even our woundings. If you’re in a serious relationship, these are important facets of your future to discuss. If you’re married and feel that a need is not being met, talk to your spouse kindly and honestly about it. Don’t let it fester. (As I prepare to live with my husband again after almost a year, I know that life is going to look different, as will our responsibilities, so addressing expectations early on will be essential to this transition season).

4. Stay current with repentance. SO IMPORTANT! Marriage has a fun way of holding a mirror up and exposing all of our most hidden flaws. If you’ve never been in the habit of regular repentance, now’s the time to start. Keep tabs on the sin in your life. The more we hold onto sin, the more we slow down our reflex to God and our spouse. Staying current with repentance keeps our heart sensitive toward wrongdoing, and sensitive to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to justify small offensives, but the more our sin and selfishness is downplayed or disregarded within our marriage, the more predisposed our heart is toward turning cold in our faith and even toward our husband. Sin breaks the intimacy between us and God, and us and our husbands.

5. Stay current with forgiveness. Be quick to forgive, and to model Christ to each other. As Christians, we are identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If we are not living the risen and ascended Christ every day as being raised up with him, forgiving each other’s offenses, then we live as if the cross was in vain. Resentment and bitterness is a marriage killer. No grudge holding, you guys!! It’s so toxic. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that something didn’t hurt us. It doesn’t mean that something wasn’t wrong. It means that we are choosing to live out of the new self, demonstrating God’s supernatural love toward another. It means protecting our hearts from giving the enemy ground to torment us, poison us, and destroy us through our hostility and anger. Withholding forgiveness is also linked to spiritual depression. Ask God to help you deal properly with your relational conflicts, reconcile with your husband today, and prepare to be flooded with God’s peace.

6. Stay grateful and learn what it means to be content. In Philippians 4:12, the apostle Paul explains that he learned the secret of contentment. Ladies, contentment is hard. We aren’t born with it. We learn, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, how to be content and of how Christ is sufficient. In the Greek, “I have learned” literally means, “I have been initiated.” So, Paul’s initiation into contentment was not a secret affair but acquired from the hard experiences in life—his circumstances. Our circumstances are the arena of our spiritual growth, y’all! Start embracing your circumstances, not resenting them. Young, married, and broke? Embrace it. Learn from it. Single, unmarried, and waiting? Cherish this season for what it is. Do not miss out on the treasure that God has for you in the conditions that he has you. Do not miss an opportunity for spiritual growth by making an idol of the future.

7. Have patience and grace toward each other. Again, you are two different people that have been fused together. Challenges and trials are inevitable.I remember when we first moved to England. Brian and I went from never being together (long distance engagement) to never being apart. It was a bit of a shock. Folks, we even had the same job. When a situation would arise, or a decision was to be made, Brian would see it in a completely wrong, I mean different* way than I would. His brain operated so contrarily to mine. He worked differently. He prepared differently. He interacted differently. In the beginning, this drove me crazy. Later, I realized what a blessing it was to observe life through different eyes… It was a complete perspective. What a gift this is to me now (on most days, anyway). 😉 –We fill each other’s gaps. The sum of our union is greater than the parts.

8. Receive God’s mercies that are new every morning so that your hearts can stay soft and renewed toward each other. Neither of us is perfect here. Though, every year of my marriage, by the grace of God, I see the Lord further develop both of our characters. This past year, it has been remarkable to recognize the way motherhood has changed me in the best way and how the military has changed Brian in the best way. Paul wrote about being “transformed into the same image (as Christ) from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).” This should be such an exciting analogy for us because it means that as we continue to seek the Lord each day of our lives, we are promised to grow in spiritual wisdom and maturity, becoming more like Jesus. This is certain to make our marriages more blessed and more beautiful.

9. Celebrate your spouse as the ultimate standard and choose him as your ideal partner. Marriages weaken when we start looking for what we don’t have. God has uniquely blessed you with YOUR husband. He is your guy. Your companion. Your ride or die. Ask God for wisdom on how you can better celebrate, nurture and cherish each other. I’ve heard it taught many times that whatever your spouse happens to be is exactly what you happen to dig… Bald? You love bald! Short? You love short! Brown eyes? You love brown eyes! –If I’m honest, red hair was never on my radar, but alas, I married a ginger. Now, gingers are my jam. (I even gave birth to one)! Early in my marriage, I found myself wishing Brian were different in this way or that way. Later, I discovered that he was having the same thoughts about me. This is so hurtful. If you learn this early, it’ll save you from a world of pain, dissatisfaction, and from feeling detached.

10. We Seek Humility and Reject Pride. Fight to keep God in His proper place and acknowledge your need for Him every day. Moment by moment, rely on His help and praise Him for His blessings. Pride will always attempt to elevate us above God, and above our spouse. Pride is at the center of most marital disputes, especially those that go unresolved. Brian has always been great at communicating in conflict. In the early stages of our marriage, I wanted to escape and fume. Brian sought to address our issues head-on. After being together for a few years, I’ve learned the importance of resolving an argument quickly. If it lingers too long, bitterness builds, leaving us feeling angry, alone, unappreciated, inadequate, rejected, and disconnected from our spouse. Pride is the source of the blame game, power struggles, and plenty of divorces. Ladies, lay down your right to be offended and lay down your right to be right. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to prove that I am right or am I trying to improve my relationship with my husband?”

11. Never trash-talk your hubby. Speak positively about the man you live with, sleep with, and wake up with… the one who got you street tacos and ice cream at midnight while you were pregnant… the father of your children… the one who reads bedtime stories to your babies and helps with math homework… the one who slays the bugs and takes out the garbage. Is he perfect? Nope, nope, and nope. But isn’t it better that we appreciate the stuff he does do, rather than criticize the stuff he doesn’t do? Your spouse is the most intimate relationship you will ever have in your entire life on this earth: You know each other’s faults and idiosyncrasies better than anyone else. You see the good, bad, and the ugly sides of each other. —Never use this as a weapon by voicing your criticism around others. I used to make remarks at Brian in passing, maybe hoping that he’d want to change those things that irritated me, but ultimately when we display negative feelings toward our husband in a public forum, what we are doing is this: tarnishing his character, allowing the enemy a foothold in our relationship, and speaking death into our marriage and into our husband’s spirit (Prov. 18:21). Also, limit your time with women who badger their husbands or enjoy getting together with the girls for rant sessions. Over time, discontentment rubs off. A critical spirit is contagious.

12. Listen to the Holy Spirit. We all lead busy lives. On top of that, we live in a loud and fast-paced society. In our distractions and rushing around, we have forgotten how to be still and listen. Make space in your day to notice, listen and respond to God, to your husband, and to your sin. To truly keep your heart pliable, and your marriage strong, you must purposefully set aside time for your relationship with God. Above all else, carve out the opportunity to listen to and learn from the Holy Spirit, both separately and together.

This is my prayer and declaration for you, married friends, and friends who are praying for their future spouses:

May God bless your marriage with the tenacity and grit of an olive tree. You will face many conditions and climates… but you will thrive, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. You will face valleys and adversities… but you will thrive, because you have the Spirit of the living God living in you, standing with you, and fighting for you. No matter the heat. No matter the hardship. No matter where you are planted. Like the Evergreen olive tree, may you flourish and bear fruit. I pray that the Lord would replace burdens with faith, disappointments with hope, and doubts with his love. I ask today that God would release all effects of fear, anxiety, worry, pain, and stress in your marriage and that Jesus would take everything he did not design for you to carry. –Thank you, Lord, that you are on our side and that you will be with us wherever we go. Thank you, Lord, that we are strong and courageous when we put our hope in you. Thank you, Lord, for your beautiful and breathtaking purpose for marriage. Empower us to love fiercely, speak sweetly, give generously, fight fairly, forgive freely, appreciate immensely and cherish our husband’s deeply so that you would be glorified and so that the world would know of your unfailing love for us all.

“But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever.” Psalm 52:8

 

Morgan Morris

 

You can follow Morgan on Instagram @mrsmorganmorris

 

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