by Matthew C. Harrison
After finishing college at Seward, my wife Kathy and I served as lay missionaries in a remote Cree Indian village in Ontario, Canada. One day we decided we’d go for a snowmobile ride. I pulled the machine in front of our little shack. I glanced behind me to see Kathy hopping aboard, and I took off. I headed down the skidoo trail on the frozen lake on a bright clear, frigid day, chatting happily with my dear wife (or so I thought). I had made it nearly a half-mile before I realized that no one was talking back. Suddenly I did a hard double take and turned to see the empty seat right behind me. Looking back at the distant village, she was nowhere to be seen. Turns out I had taken off just as she straddled the seat, but before she’d sat down. . . . We laughed about it then, and still do to this very day.
So it is with marriage. You won’t get very far trying to travel alone in a relationship, talking to yourself, or at someone else. . . .There are three simple facts that are the secret to a joyous marriage, the secret to living a good news life in a bad news world.
The first secret of joy in marriage is that it is God’s own act. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18). The ultimate crown of God’s creation, woman, is made after all the animals. The Lord wanted to impress upon Adam the incomparable wonder of what he was about to do for the man. Adam had named all the animals, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). Some would balk right away, alleging that the woman as a “helper fit for him” is demeaning. But the Lord God himself is pleased to be called a “helper.” Ezer is the Hebrew word, and the name “Eliezer” means “God is my helper” (Numbers 3:32). “Fit for him” simply means that the woman would be in the same glorious image of God—righteous, intelligent, a delightful living, eternal soul to be a “soul mate” for life.
The second secret of a joyful marriage is that marriage is an act of the will. In the vows we state, “for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” “I will.” Virtually every marriage goes through times when we simply don’t feel love. . . . But love, in its most fundamental form, is not, in fact, emotion. It is the will to act for the benefit of another, no matter how it feels. Paul bids husbands “love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The truth holds good for wives too. Christ acted for the benefit of all of us, quite without a continual warm fuzzy feeling of love and joy. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). He willed to do it. He submitted to the will of his Father as an act of love, and the result is endless joy for the world.
Excerpted from A Little Book on Joy (CPH, 2011), pages 57–63.