On September 25, 2008, Jennifer uploaded a photo to her personal Facebook account. It was a picture of the two of us standing on the edge of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We visited the spectacular waterfall during a mission trip to Africa we took shortly after we married. In the photo, we were holding each other close, smiling, and behind us a gigantic double rainbow colored the clear blue sky. We were newlyweds on an exotic adventure, but the hardships were already piling up.
From the outside looking in, and to everyone on Facebook, we had it all together. We were happy, in love, traveling the world together, and on top of all of that, we were doing it for God.
What a powerful team we made. Both of us were bombarded with doubt and frustrations about our marriage, wondering why God would not help us fix the problems we were encountering.
I (Jennifer) experienced extreme pain every time Aaron and I attempted to have sex. With sex being a significant part of intimacy in marriage, I felt at fault for the frustrations we felt over this unmet expectation. Unfortunately, there was no quick fix. The longer we went without being able to enjoy sex, the more other issues in our marriage grew. I knew Aaron struggled with pornography, and we had both assumed getting married would take away this temptation. We soon learned that this was simply not true, and in addition to this realization, our lack of sexual intimacy only worsened the problem.
We wanted the fairy tale happily-ever-after love story. We hoped God would help us figure out how to have the marriage we always wanted before it was too late.
Although we stepped into marriage with a bold motivation to serve God together, we completely missed the mark on the kind of perspective and convictions we must have in regard to marriage in order to support the extraordinary ministry God had prepared for us to do. Little did we know about the true ministry our marriage could do, if only we lived out through our actions what we believed about Christ setting us free, the very message we were preaching to others.
As we look back over those first few years of marriage, we can now see how God used our suffering to draw us closer to Him and closer to each other. We could have let anger harden our hearts and turn us away from God; we both almost got to that place, but thankfully, by the grace of God, we desperately hung onto the faith we were both raised with. Unconsciously, we both knew that saying no to our marriage would also be an ultimate no to God.
Instead, we chose to rely on God’s strength each and every day, asking Him to lead us, change us, and use us. We prayed for each other and with each other. We were transparent with each other when we sinned, confessing and then reconciling with each other. We sought out Christian community, especially when we were tempted to isolate ourselves. Choosing to live out our marriage the way God wanted us to was a challenge, but the more choices we made to walk in righteousness, the more God taught us about His purpose and plan for marriage and what would be required of us in order to do His work.
As we look back over those first few years of marriage, we can now see how God used our suffering to draw us closer to Him and closer to each other.
We want you to know that you are not alone in your marital struggles. Your circumstances may be unique in the details, but the truth is that every marriage encounters hardship. However, we believe those hardships will play an important role in what God does in and through your marriage. If you let God take charge, He will use even the most difficult trials and hardships you encounter for His glory.
The rainbow at Victoria Falls was vibrant that day, so close it seemed as though we could reach out and touch it. Looking at our photo now and remembering how God sent a rainbow to Noah as a sign of His faithfulness (Genesis 9:12–17), I (Aaron) am reminded that God’s promises never fail, even when we fail.
God took two broken and wretched people, teetering on the edge of separation, and transformed us into a whole and healthy couple whose marriage is built on a secure foundation.
You might be at the beginning of the journey or you may be far down the road, or maybe you are somewhere in the middle. No matter where you are, God desires the same for every marriage: to walk in obedience to His Word.
Please remember that in the midst of hardships, and while God is transforming your hearts, you will have opportunities to stand side by side with your spouse and marvel at the wonderful works of God. Recognizing those moments will draw your hearts close to His and give you hope for the future. Yes, at times you may feel that the rain is pouring down and will never stop, but in those times keep your focus on God and be reminded of His promises for you and all that He desires for you.
What “rainbow moments” have you experienced in marriage? Consider some of the ways God has been near to you even through tough times and talk about them with your spouse.
Adapted from "Marriage After God" by Aaron and Jennifer Smith.