I actually hate this phrase. It’s meant to elicit wry chuckles, filled with knowing. Usually in reference to wives.
Conjuring up images of chain-gang prisoners, dragging their heavy ball and chain everywhere, enslaved for their past mistakes. Everyone who would look on a prisoner in such shackles would be really glad that they weren’t in the same situation. Sometimes sypathising, sometimes condemning their stupidity, and sometimes just laughing at their misfortune. Certainly not something to be delighted in. The ball and chain is nothing but a BURDEN – if you could get rid of it, you would. Without a second glance.
Yet it is still in use today as a description of a spouse – a reference to marriage.
If those of us who are married are prepared to admit it – sometimes it can feel a bit like a ball and chain around our ankle, stopping us from doing what we would like, and holding us back.
But only sometimes. For a few moments….
Marriage is a God-ordained, God-designed institution. It couldn’t be one of our own making, because it is TOO DARNED DIFFICULT, we would never come up with the idea. We are too selfish and too quick to give up. It is hard.
To take two unbelievably selfish individuals, put them in the same house and commit them to sharing the same goals and ideals. To put them through sleep deprivation in the early stages and general conflict and upheaval in the later stages of having children, whilst feeling satisfied and content with life and meeting each others needs, coming out the other side successful – is going to be tough. Actually it’s impossible without the grace of God. Full Stop.
Because whether you’re a christian or an atheist, or hold any position – if all good things come from God- any success in loving each other for a lifetime, will have been as a result of his generosity and grace enabling you to do so.
However if he created it, the he will have the knowledge of how it can and should best function.
The truth is that marriage walked out in Jesus is WONDERFUL! A gift, promising deep intimacy, friendship, loyalty, sexual expression and satisfaction. Marriage in it’s fullness as God intended (and still intends) it, is Free, Total, Fruitful and Faithful. It is the opportunity to serve God better as two bonded more strongly into something new, than as two people together. It is for mutual comfort and joy. For the loving upbringing of children, willingly and wholeheartedly received from God.
And it only works when we surrender ourselves, our pride, our dreams, our fears,our timetables, our abilities and talents, our willfullness – in short our EVERYTHING – to the Sovereignty of Jesus.
His grace is enough to transform us from the inside out, and to enable us to become all that we are designed to be. It is enough to transform us from selfish and demanding, fearful that our deepest needs will not be fulfilled- into open-hearted, generous, patient and loving spouses.
And – the especially good news – it is enough to do the same for our spouse.
When you are in the thick of a painful or difficult season of marriage it is SO hard to hold onto this hope, and even harder to let go of desperately trying to make things work and allow God to work in us and for us. Instead we either run around trying to plug all the gaps, or we run around yelling (sometimes literally) at our spouse to do the plugging.
‘A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.’ (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
The thing to remember (and this is something that I am finding more and more helpful,) is that when you promised ‘to love and to cherish…till death us do part’, you two were not the only one making the promise. God was a third member of that covenant vow, promising right along with you. And just as we have to pick up the slack for each other when necessary, lovingly and unconditionally, so God honours his promise to carry us when we are not managing.
Actually he offers to carry us in his Grace for the whole time, not just during the struggles, but we don’t usually let him when we think it’s going well.
Even if you didn’t choose to marry as a christian or in a christian ceremony, consciously (at least by virtue of the liturgy and wording) inviting God into your marriage- he is still your biggest cheerleader and support network. Should you look to him for it and surrender your situation to him, allowing him room to move and shift things his way, you will see lasting change in your marriage- usually starting with you.
It may not happen in the way or the timing you are expecting, but it will change for the better. It will be better than you even hoped possible- because his power working in us can do abundantly more than we could ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
If you surrender your heart and pride to him, he is free to work all things out for your good and to his glory.(Romans 8:28)
I have found, that on the rare occasions when I actually surrender my pride and stop demanding that I get what I want, God has more room to move in my heart and that positively impacts my life and my marriage.
When I have prayed for a release of peace over my husband, that he would not feel so over-burdened, I have become more peaceful and patient myself.
When I cry out to and rail at God over my hurts, pain and frustration instead of at my husband, more often than not, some of the issues actually shrink and get better, without my having deepened what may only be a tiny rift between us.
And when seemingly nothing has yet shifted, despite my prayers, it has paved the way for more open and gentle conversations about our relationship, which can begin from a place of peace.
Aside from the general wifely prerogative that we are always right, I am learning that for our marriage to grow, I can either be happy or I can be right- the two don’t work very well together.
This doesn’t mean I am to become a doormat- far from it- but it means that I am to seek peace. I am to refuse to keep a record of wrongs. I am to choose to die to myself every day and put my husband’s needs before mine- trusting that if God really loves me as he says he does, HE will commit himself to bringing me ALL that I so desperately need.
‘God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?’ (Numbers 23:19)
Ultimately marriage is the ultimate earthly expression of what Christ has done for us. We die to ourselves in order that life may spring forth more abundantly. And as imperfect and broken as we all are, He is perfect and had already achieved it for us- we in letting go will get more than we could have held ourselves, walking a step at a time.
Whatever your circumstances- single, married, divorced, widowed- there is more than enough grace to heal hurts, repair damage and bring new life and hope. Just let God have it all, give him free reign to do as he pleases and you’ll never regret it, because He loves you.