I didn’t know how hard marriage would be. It’s not that no one told me. It’s just that I thought ours would be different.
In the Beginning
We married in 1987 as I was finishing my junior year at Samford University. I was a full-time student, commuting 1.5 hours one way, and working a part-time job. When I wasn’t driving, studying, or working, I was waiting. Like a newlywed I anxiously waited for him to get home from work every day or get home from hunting on Saturday or get home from some project he was working on.
Fast forward 30 years.
He finished his 6th marathon recently. Having a husband who’s run 26.2 miles six times means I’ve spent a lot of time waiting while he’s out training and waiting for him to cross the finish line. Waiting is not my favorite thing to do but God never fails to teach me a lesson while I wait.
Marriage is Like a Marathon
Is that good news or bad for you? If you went into marriage thinking it was like a 1-mile fun run, join the club. We were married in the spring and our 1-mile fun run ended in the fall when Auburn had a better football season than Alabama. We were a house divided in more ways than one.
But marriage can be fun (ours has been most of time) even though it’s long, hard, marathon-training work. We’ve gone the distance, thanks be to God.
If you’re in a hard season of marriage, I don’t mean to imply that these 5 things will fix it. We’ve been married a long time and it’s easy to look at a marriage like ours and think “they got lucky”. The fact is, if you knew the truth about us, you’d wonder how we made it this long. But early on we made the decision and we’ve decided over and over again to forgive and stay married in spite of the hurt we’ve inflicted on one another.
So I hope you’ll read these 5 lessons I’ve learned and receive them as a few more tools you can use in your marriage toolbox. It takes a lifetime to build a strong marriage and you do it one day and one decision at a time.
5 Lessons I Learned From a Marathon
1. Start Together
If you’re anything like us, you’re two very different people in many ways. At the beginning you’re all “opposites attract” and before long all you can see is “oil and water”. But if your goal is to finish your marriage marathon together then you need to start together. And that takes work. There are always dozens of people who sign-up to run a race but never make it to the starting line. Decide to start your marriage together. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Get on the same page with your goals and expectations. Find common ground and cultivate it faithfully. And even if you’re years into your marriage, it’s never too late to start!
2. Nourish Yourself
After he’s out of sight on race day, I head for breakfast. Hot coffee and waffles nourish my body and soul and prepare me for the long day ahead. It’s necessary to nourish yourself daily for the sake of your marriage, too. Feed your mind, body, and spirit with good thoughts, good food, godly friends, and the truths in God’s Word.
3. Track Your Progress
I sign up to track his progress during a race because it helps to know how he’s doing in real time and where he’s at on the course. As I receive email updates during the marathon, anticipation builds. I want him to stay the course, run strong, and finish well. We want the same for our marriage so we need to track our progress there, too! Set aside regular times to ask, “How are we doing?” As we’ve regularly tracked our relationship progress through the years I’ve often been tempted to tell him how to run his race. But I can’t run his race for him, so I pray. I’ve learned it’s better to listen and pray and allow the Holy Spirit to coach him through his race as a husband and father.
4. Watch and Wait
Depending on the race, I often try to get to a point along the route to cheer him on as he passes by. In most races, due to blocked streets, it’s not possible. Instead, I go near the finish line and wait. And wait. And wait. It’s the hardest part, really. Finally, I see him, a long way off. Even in a sea of weary runners all dressed in similar clothing, I know it’s him. I know his shuffle and his arm movements. I feel relieved to see him running my way.
But we haven’t always run toward each other in our marriage. There have been times that the distance between us seemed to increase by the minute.
And it’s right here I want to encourage you the most. Waiting is hard. Waiting in marriage can be torture. Maybe you’re waiting for your husband to accept Christ, or grow in his faith, or be a better father, or make more money, or be more attentive.
Recently, as I was waiting on my husband to finish a race, I remembered these words:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him and he ran to him.” Luke 15:20
The son in this Bible story was a runner. He was running away from God and his family. He may have thought no one would care one way or another. Imagine how he felt when he decided to come home and realized his father was watching and waiting for him and had been all along. Jesus told this parable in Luke 15 because he wanted us to know that God is watching, waiting, and running toward all of us. If your husband isn’t the kind of husband or father or man he needs to be, watch and wait for him. God is at work in his life and yours.
5. Cheer Him On
I’ve heard it said that running 26 miles is easy. It’s the last two-tenths that’s hard. So I find the two-tenths marker near the finish line and I wait. He’s always looking to see if I’m there. He’s tired, hungry, and in pain. In that moment I don’t think about how early I got up or how long I’ve been waiting. I don’t critique his pace or his finish time. I don’t compare him to other runners or last year’s race. Not that I’m not tempted but I know he needs and wants me to cheer him on with compassion. And I count it a privilege. There is no greater gift we can give someone, especially our husbands, when they’re weary.
Wives, cheer for your husbands all the way to the finish line. Let God be God in your marriage and run the race He’s given you to run.
I didn’t know how hard marriage would be but I’ve come to learn that “God designed marriage not as a trial to be endured, but as a pointer to and catalyst for your greatest joy.” And nothing has brought me closer to God than trusting Him with my marriage.