The lights dim. The honeymoon romance is hot.
Jimmy is a Christian stud, one in a million guy. Jenny is gorgeous, every hair perfectly in place, a smile always on her face, the kind of girl every guy wants. Everyone sighs. Why can’t we all have love like this? This is how it was meant to be.
Then, a few months into the marriage dinner plates ricochet off walls, cell phones propel at high velocity like crude mortars, and unspeakable words bandy off the memories of a rapidly vanishing illusion of a perfect couple.
And we all fall down.
The problem is the couple Jimmy and Jane saw never existed in the first place. They were a figment of each others’ desires to fall in love with an idea of the other person so quickly that they forgot to check if there was a real person behind the mask.
We as a society idealize the fantasy guy or girl before marriage and often despise the real one after.
In reality, God wants us to do the reverse.
My Love Story
When Angela and I were dating, we talked about every potentially contentious issue we would face in the marriage, down to whether we had the guts to live in a bark hut in Africa, what church we would go to, and what we’d do with the almighty bank roll. Everything. It was as if we were looking for fights, long before we had to have them, and we succeeded many times.
Years later, we have a strong, budding marriage. We hid nothing, glossed over nothing, pretended nothing, backed off from no dark corner of our lives. Now, we are reaping the benefits of a relationship tested by fire. There was no charade in those dating years, no moral dance of character between two actors on a stage who are so giddy to get to Act II that they ignore the obvious foreshadowing of impending doom. And so far our story appears to be a romantic comedy, not a tragedy.
But at the start, it was almost as though we were studying the script for any warning that this wasn’t the right love story.
God’s Warning About Love
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4.23
Truthfully, this isn’t a relationship verse. It’s an idiot verse. (Too often I’ve been the idiot, so I know.) It’s about protecting your mind from beliefs or feelings that could drastically harm you. Incidentally, that also makes it the perfect verse for someone less calculated with their love life, who lets any pretty face walk through the door of his heart, kick off her shoes, and ransack the place. Mark my words — the wrong fantasy can quickly turn into a nightmare. And when the passion’s gone, arm-crossed lovers head for the exits.
Contrast that with true love.
Love is patient… (it) believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13.7
In a marriage, which this is a reflection of, love endures a real person and yet still believes the fantasy. Most of us do the reverse. We believe the fantasy until we’re confronted with real life. We put the person up on a pedestal, make him a god, make her a goddess. And burn passion at both ends of our story.
But it’s often the hottest fiery romances that flame out the quickest.
My brother Richard says instead of seeking honeymoon, romantic love, we should analyze the baggage of every person we date. Just determine their baggage, not their game — intimately. Then figure out if you can deal with that baggage for the rest of your life. I call it reverse dating. You get a relationship with someone’s baggage that can develop into a marriage with a real person, rather than a relationship with a lie that will someday develop into your baggage. Sound better?
But here’s the thing, where everything changes. Once you are married, you need to begin to look past your spouse’s faults and idealize the person you married. Remind yourself of the fantasy person you fell in love with (or make them into one). We blindly marry fantasies then divorce them when the clock strikes 12 and they transform back into real people. Instead, we should date and marry a real, flawed person, one with rags and tatters in the basement, and fantasize about her as a Cinderella for the rest of our lives once we’ve said, “I do.”
Think this is all psycho-babble? The Bible actually says it:
Love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4.8
There is as much riding on the mind as there is mettle of character or moments shared in a marriage. Some marriages aren’t falling apart because two people aren’t strong enough to stay together. They’re falling apart because two people are thinking about each other the wrong way.
Fix your mind on the Beauty, even when her rags are in tatters, and you’ll find your marriage spends more time under chandeliers and lights than in dark basements and dank dungeons. You have to control your mind, not fix your partner, to change your marriage.
See This Principle in Action
My brother Rob, much more skilled in marriage arts than I am, tells how this works for him. Throughout his marriage, whenever he focuses on his wife’s weaknesses, what he’d like to improve, he always gets unhappier with their marriage. But when he sets his mind (this is a discipline in every marriage!) on her strengths instead, he starts to enjoy her amazing qualities. His fulfillment in their marriage shoots through the roof of their happy home.
Marriage is as much in the mind as it is in the shared moments between two people.
Rob is a believer in celebrating strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. Ironically, this may be the only way your spouse and marriage will ever improve. No one changes through criticism. People are inspired to greatness through the faith of someone who loves them.
See the rags beforehand — healthy dating.
See the Beauty after — healthy marriage.
And over time your Cinderella’s rags or Prince’s chains will begin to transform. Not in a flash or in a moment, but in the simple, steady ebb of love and grace two people give each other for a lifetime.
The Bible tells us, “Set your mind on things above.” Are you doing this for your spouse, as well as for God? Do you realize your relationship with your spouse represents the one between you and him?
At those times you’re tempted to give up on your dream, employ this Scripture and your pumpkins will whisk you off on a chariot ride of romance again,
Finally [husbands and wives], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about these things in your spouse. (Philippians 4.8, date night version)
And you’ll have a marriage people will truly admire.
When the world whispers, “You’ve fallen out of love,” or “You’ve grown apart,” respond “Love believes all things, and my spouse is my fantasy.” Take that thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and determine there’s only one glass slipper or castle for your heart forever.
Hey, I’m a new guy at this. My wife is a real person, and I knew she was flawed long before I married her. But everyday she becomes more and more my Cinderella. And I believe God wants the love we’re building slowly to last a long, long time. Not fizzle in sparks and bangs that light up the night then grow silent with the marriage.
If you’re dating, search for baggage — for rags in the basement. You’ll find a person there. And there you’ll also find a relationship you can develop for a lifetime (or you’ll find a monster, and run!).
If you’re married, you probably knew this long before I did. It’s your job to fix your mind on the Prince or Cinderella you married — not theirs to convince you — even in the presence, and, perhaps most importantly, the stench of rags.
Because that’s where real love begins. It’s where a marriage between two people who finally know and accept and love each other can shine. And where rags show their true silver lining.