Poll the wedded masses on why they remain married and the responses remain unsurprising: companionship, commitment, sexual satisfaction, earning power, tax breaks, and raising kids. Like a top-shelf waffle griddle or state-of-the-art refrigerator, marriage functions well, and people—at least some people—enjoy the product.
But you might be surprised at one ingredient God has installed in marriage that’s designed to protect its longevity and supply us with power. It’s weakness. I’m talking about the areas where we encounter one another’s humanity—it’s his imperfections and her limitations. Weakness surfaces wherever two people unite in marriage, yet it took me years to understand how instrumental it really is in helping us endure in the commitments we’ve made to each other.
Weakness on the Menu
Typically, when Kimm and I sit down in a restaurant, I already know what I want to order. That particular decision was made that very morning about fifteen seconds after we decided we were going out. But Kimm rolls differently. For her, ordering is an artistic expression. The restaurant is her studio, the menu is her palette of colors, and the waiter staff is the medium through which she creates her art. When my wife gets to selecting, the poor soul taking her order better know their substitution options. Because, for Kimm, the menu is a launchpad to a great culinary adventure. For me, the menu simply tells me the price of the meal I’d already chosen before we even entered the restaurant. Bottom line: Kimm’s approach trended towards indecision, mine towards over-expedience.
What do you think happens when two diametrically opposed visions meet to share a meal? What happens when the food-is-functional star aligns in a marriage with the food-is-experience star? You got it; cue the supernova. Tendencies become liabilities as the rock of my expedience met the hard place of her indecision. Rather than being a unifying point within the marriage, meals become divisive.
It’s a little embarrassing to even say it, but in those early years, I assumed my way was better, meaning specifically, it was morally superior. I assumed my menu decision-making was a strength that elevated me above Kimm’s more creative approach. I was constantly perplexed over why ordering a meal had to be so complicated. When we ate out, our meal would often start with tension. How’d you like to be married to that guy!
I know it seems small, maybe even trivial. But that’s the thing. Marriage is made up of these mundane moments where two dramatically different people unite to share bathrooms and bank accounts. Classical marries jazz; engineers wed musicians; thinkers swap vows with doers. When it happens, weaknesses—the places where couples must work hard to unite, to understand, and to be patient—shoot to the surface.
How the Cross Vanquishes What We See as Strength
It seemed like these perceived weaknesses were a liability for us. But God used it to make us stronger. It’s been humbling for me to realize it, but God does his best work when we recognize that his power inhabits the places where we acknowledge our limits, our inabilities, and our true need for him. God has a game plan that ultimately confounds the strong and exalts the lowly: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul takes on the most educated class of professional experts, and he announces that their best efforts are rendered not just foolish, but helpless and unqualified (vv. 20–21). This is huge. The Corinthian culture was stacked with scholars: Pharisees, philosophers, lawyers, and the educated. Paul’s says in the kingdom of God, they don’t matter. It’s not that God doesn’t use strengths for his glory, but when it comes to gaining God’s approval, the ground is level. We’re all the same and human ability does not deliver extra credit. Pastor John Piper says:
The cross stands for the ungodliness and helplessness of man (Rom. 5:6), the undeserved grace of God (Rom. 3:24), and the unimpeachable justice of God (Rom. 3:25-26). In other words, what offends human wisdom about the cross is that it humbles man and exalts the unearnable grace of God. It makes humans look dependent and helpless—like little children—and makes God look all-sufficient and all-providing and absolutely free in giving salvation to sinners.
The point is this: the cross is offensive and confounding because it renders human ability towards salvation nonsensical and impotent. It makes weakness (essentially, human inability) a connecting point for grace. Because of the cross, we find grace in our weakness … and the cross transforms our weakness into strength (2 Cor. 12:9)!
God’s Strength in Our Hidden Foibles
What does this have to do with our ordering tensions at the restaurant? You see, marriage is a place where our flaws and foibles are disclosed. My orientation when encountering a menu revealed my strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes even my sin. The truth is that I assumed my way was best; my way was unflawed and strong. At least I could make a quick decision! But, in reality, I was the one who was broken. Pure unadulterated pride.
But in seeing my weakness and confessing my sin, I found the place where God’s power met our need (2 Cor. 12:19). We began to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our ordering styles. We learned to be more patient, which elevated our joy in going out together. As we begin to enjoy our differences, meals became more pleasant.
Maybe you’re in your marriage for the strengths. But the truth is that God has purpose in the weaknesses. Understand that Christ died for those strengths that generate a smug confidence in our superiority. Confess the ways you’ve depended on them instead of him. And then trust Christ’s promise: The Holy Spirit will help you in your weakness (Rom. 8:26).