In his book The Four Loves, author C.S. Lewis explains the inextricable bond between husband and wife:
“The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism—for that is what the words ‘one flesh’ would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this, He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact—just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument.” (Emphasis mine)
The life of Jesus is the example of a perfect life. Jesus was never married, so obviously, marriage is not necessary to live a full life. Marriage is, however, a gift, and a template of what it looks like to be united with our Savior. In the same way that a husband and wife are joined together, to be united with God isn’t a feeling, but a fact. Lewis says elsewhere: “The presence of God and the feeling of the presence of God are two different things. Sometimes God is doing the most when we feel him doing the least.”
Throughout the Bible, God assures us of the reality of His love, which transcends our feelings. He reminds us of:
Our Identity: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13–14
His Commitment: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:16
His Promise in Trials: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
His Fellowship: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
The marriage covenant points us to God’s covenant with us. The reality of God’s covenant is that even when we don’t feel this bond, it’s still there. Lewis goes on:
“The idea that ‘being in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.”
Anyone who knows me can testify that when I was first married to my wife, Danielle, our Eros candle was burning brightly. I’m convinced that no one has ever been in love as much as Jeff was in love with Danielle. I’m afraid that had I stayed forever in the rapturous intensity of that Eros love—although it was absolutely wonderful—I may never have gotten much done in any other area of my life. As Lewis points out, however, love is so much more than the romantic, Eros experience.
Lewis goes on to say, “And, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.”
“Being in love,” Lewis says, “is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.”
Herein lies the beauty of the template of marriage. Continuing to honor the covenant of marriage when I don’t “feel like it” reminds me of the permanency and constancy of my covenant relationship with God.
“Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling,” Lewis says. “It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.”
I recently had the honor of officiating at the renewing of marriage vows for some dear friends. There on the beach, as I performed this ceremony, I witnessed empirical evidence of the power of covenant. As they reaffirmed the vows they made many years ago—before children, challenges, and seasons of life—it was clear that this wasn’t an affirmation of “being in love” every day for twenty-plus years of marriage, but rather of the covenant that had held them together. To quote Lewis one last time: “It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
I share a lot with my mentees and coaching clients about the importance of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, journaling, solitude, and Scripture meditation. These have been deliberate acts for me, not things I’ve done in accordance with my feelings. I certainly haven’t always felt like awakening early in the morning to read God’s word, or to be quiet and listen to His voice, but I can see how God has brought me closer to Him through these acts.
The same is true of marriage. As we act on the “disciplines” of marriage—having the hard discussions, making sacrifices, forgiving one another—instead of relying solely on our feelings, we see God’s covenant displayed. And accordingly, our marriages grow and are blessed.