The ceremony rehearsal behind them, the wedding party retires to the dinner. At the appointed time, the bride and groom thank the participants and speak of their undying love for each other. Here are summary quotes:
• Bride: “I love Mark because he makes me happy. He’s always there for me!”
• Groom: “Leslie, I love you because you’re beautiful, fun, smart. For those reasons and others, you make me happy!”

No killjoy intended, but reality lies ahead of this couple. Their life will unfold in ever-increasing responsibilities and complexity. As it does, he will not always be there for her. Likewise, she will have less time for fun or for keeping up her beauty regimen. When, not if, that happens, will they still be happy? Will they still love each other?

The first time I saw the woman who would become my wife, we were both in our first week of master’s level classes at Southern Seminary. She stepped into the choir loft next to last on the first row. I registered a quake in my soul. She was BEAUTIFUL! (And she still is.)

I determined at that moment to find out who she was and if she was available. It took a week, then I met her, swapped names with her, realized she was single. Phase two began: call her for a date, which I did in a few days.

Our first date led to a series of dates that increased in frequency from early September to late October 1976. Then, on her birthday, I proposed—sorta’, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say, her beauty, sweetness, and talent captivated my heart.

We married in January 1978. She perseveres, though her resolve has been tested many times!

Since January 7, 1978, she and I have learned an important lesson: the hormones and feelings that brought us together were not strong enough to keep us together. The giddy feelings faded. The challenges of marriage had to be met with resolve, not feelings. We realized that our relationship would last only as we continued to choose each other. As we grew into this reality, emotions still played a part, but decision became a stronger relational glue.

Admittedly, the transition from a relational foundation of feelings to decisions took years! I’m a slow learner about some things.

Once volition replaced emotion as the basis of our marriage, another lesson arose. How would we make the decisions? What values would guide our decision-making?

Obvious to us, we shared Christian values. Yet, that answer needed refinement: what specific Christian values would guide our decision-making? While we didn’t consciously ask this question at the time, we engaged in an experimental phase of trial-and-error.

Finally, and this later in our relationship, we settled on one specific biblical value. We value Jesus’s example of selfless, sacrificial love central to all our marriage values.

A selfless love marriage challenges each partner to apply Jesus’s invitation to follow him, recorded in Luke 9:23: If any would follow me, let them first deny self, take up the cross daily, and follow me. Here’s how it works:

  1. DENY—Each spouse embraces the self-forgetful challenge. This creates a radical shift in marriage. No longer do I expect Mary Beth to meet my needs. Mary Beth accepts the same challenge.
  2. TAKE UP THE CROSS, DAILY—Acting selflessly, I deny that natural expectation, and with God’s help, I put her needs above my own. The cross in marriage means that I’m willing to sacrifice so that God’s will may be accomplished in Mary Beth’s life. Daily! Likewise, Mary Beth seeks God’s will for me above her own wants and needs. Daily!
  3. FOLLOW—That’s how we follow Jesus in our marriage. This is not natural. We naturally want our needs met. Denying our wants and needs so that we may sacrifice for each other constitutes a most unnatural decision. Jesus challenges us and the Spirit enables us to relate to each other supra-naturally—from God’s perspective and in His power.

Do you want to hear the good news? God wants you to be happy in marriage. Yet, the path to happiness travels through a paradox. We will experience lasting happiness only as we give up our quest for happiness! Instead, we deny self to sacrificially serve God’s best in our companion’s life daily. Consequently, our marriage knows divine purpose and eternal passion, AND we know lasting happiness as the sprinkles on the marital cake!

That’s a win-win.

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