(an old post made new)
Oh Cinderella, how I love to watch you and you Prince Charming drive off in that royal carriage. And then ah! to see the words on the last page of your storybook, “and they lived happily ever after.” As a young child and even as a young woman the last pages of your story helped me write the beginning pages of my future love story.
I know there are sequels to Cinderella but I always stopped at the ending of Cinderella’s first story, which left this girl wondering, What is happily ever after?
For as long as I can remember I built the beginning of my real life love story on those happy ending words. Where Me, Mrs., and Him, Mr., mostly made googley eyes, packed our bags for romantic getaways and the two of us together had mind reading powers and effortless communication.
In my happily ever after, I built up the image of the smiling and the kissing and the frolicking off into the sunset.
Now I’ve been married for almost nine years, which is not that long, but it is long enough to know my perceived happily ever after was as real as the story where I initially found the phrase.
My assumptions about what marriage could be like came from the pages of storybooks and off of the silver screens where the authors and screen writers seem to leave out the mundane everydayness of what happens in real marriage.
In When Sinners Say I Do, my favorite book on marriage, Dave Harvey writes about how every Jane Austen movie is the same.
The stories all end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. Romance movies are about the dizzying tornado of romantic love picking you up in its whirling funnel and setting you down at the chapel doors all giddy and beautifully dressed.
Almost nine years of marriage and FOUR children later I have come to realize that my expectations for happily ever after were crazy and unreachable. Happily ever after was just a phrase, and I am no Cinderella and as much as I love my sweet husband, he is not a cliche character in a fairy tale.
My husband is a man, and I am a woman. We are both made in the image of God but at the same time our hearts are fallen, our desires are naturally bent to serve ourselves before we serve one another.
The true story about love that I should have been looking to all along was the story of Jesus and the rescued people who trust in Him for redemption.
Yes, fairytales and other media leave out the everydayness of marriage. But real marriage, two people choosing to come together in the not-so-theatrical moments is more romantic than those first giddy butterfly feelings. To choose love when you are a sleep deprived testy new parent is an everyday heroic gift you can give to your spouse. To choose dating which sometimes means dragging yourself away from crying toddlers is the mundane everydayness where you can find happily ever after.
It just doesn’t look as polished as I though it would. Marriage can have rough patches. And marriage just won’t work without looking to Jesus.
The Bible is a love story of God continually rescuing people and wooing them to Himself. In the Bible you find people who do not deserve love being loved and people being rescued even when they didn’t deserve the rescuing.
For a long time I let the world shape what I though marriage should be and I tried to cram myself and Michael into that hole. In the past and still sometimes today I drink from the “happily married” cistern.
I’ve written about cisterns before, they are a huge part of the story of how God is redeeming me personally. A cistern in the time of the Bible is a large jug that people used to hold water and give life and an end to thirst. Today some people call cisterns, idols. Normally cisterns or idols are good things. But they become all consuming when we worship the good gift more than the Giver of the gift.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
I drank from the “happily ever after marriage” cistern. Sometimes I still find myself doing it and then I am still left feeling empty and unsatisfied.
Marriage can be a good thing. Marriage is a gift. But no one should ever find themselves worshipping the gift more than the Giver. That is when the thirst comes.
There are times when I value the gift of marriage more than the Giver of marriage. In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes,
If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (page 52)
At times, I have depended on my marriage to fill up my tank. I believed that if Michael and I could just be more happily ever after, if we could just try harder, we would be better.
All that working and spinning of the try harder wheels left me exhausted.
When we were first married and even still now, I lacked the eyes of the gospel. The eyes that see the Giver and the gift in the proper order. And the eyes of the gospel that see me, a woman and my husband, a man, two normal people needing, craving, seeking the grace of Jesus. Every moment of every day.
I see now that I was depending on a “happily ever after” marriage to fill up my tank and make me happy. And I know now that in my fallen sinful heart I still have the tendency to do this. With the eyes of the gospel I have found that happily ever after marriage is not meant to be perfect. Nothing on this side of heaven will ever be perfect except Jesus and how he is weaving our marriage story, unraveling the bad expectations and threading the new. In this life of a normal woman and a normal man living life together I have found that “happily ever after” marriage is perfecting when I stop looking to the gift alone to fill me up and see the Giver and his grace He has given to me in Jesus.
Only God is perfect, and as we pursue Him together He is perfecting us, even when neither of us deserved His love in the first place.
As Mr. and Mrs., Michael and I are both on a journey together of simply learning how to love one another better and most importantly reflect glory and dependance upon God to our watching children and the world.
We mess this up a lot. But we are thankful for the forgiveness and grace that is found in a marriage where two people depend on Jesus. Extending and receiving grace.
So I can now breathe. I can stop trying to cram myself and my husband into this thought up expectation of “happily ever after”.
I can stop trying and start depending.
I am thankful that I am married to a man that believes in extending grace. Oh Lord, the grace my husband extends me is like that extra long swifter duster extender that finds all the tough to reach places. I have so many tough to reach places.
Happily ever after is not frolicking in meadows, it is frolicking in grace.
As you think about love this month, think about how things from stories and movies may bring unrealistic expectations into marriage and consider getting rid of the unachievable expectations and finding deep breaths in Jesus.
Please pass this on too.
Always dancing in this gospel dance with you.