This weekend my husband and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. For some, that might seem like a lifetime and for others a drop in the bucket. While we still have plenty to learn, we've been married long enough to know one tried and true way to keep the home fires burning: Date Night!
Beginning with the birth of our first child nearly 12 years ago, my husband and I have celebrated date night on Thursdays. And I do mean celebrated. We’ve done this through 80 hour work weeks, marital stresses, newborn babies, and schizophrenic schedules.
Sure, we’ve missed a few, but those date nights have taken precedent over just about anything else on the calendar. Our friends, family and daughters know this time is sacred. We’ve gone when we’d rather be sleeping, when it was nearly impossible to find a babysitter and even when we were fighting.
We don’t do date nights because we are overly romantic, have a storybook marriage or an abundance of free time. Thursday nights didn’t happen for us by accident but from necessity, commitment and planning.
These date nights act as a kind of "marital sabbath" by providing the needed space to reconnect, explore and focus on something other than our kids and the daily grind. Work and children, while gifts, can take a serious toll on your marriage in case you hadn't noticed. Date night is a welcome interruption from our noisy days and a sweet reminder that before there were mortgages and carpools and wrinkles, there was us.
Marriage is undoubtedly the sharpest tool the Lord uses to chisel and shape us, all in the grace of making us more like Him. I find marriage to be fabulously hard. It’s not because my husband isn’t wonderful, but because we are both sinful humans on a life-long journey to being transformed into the image of Christ. And it’s a long, painful process.
When I replay our 16 years of marriage, I remember moments of bliss and growth. And I recall moments of difficulty and devastation. These moments - some of which were made by intention and some that were given by complete surprise - make up a marriage.
When I look back at my journey with Jesus, it too is full of both joy and sorrow, laughing and mourning, the desired and the unexpected, all God-designed moments made to usher me one step closer to the eternal marriage feast with Him (Revelation 19:9-10).
Married, divorced, single or widowed, know that God is using your life stage to make you rely wholly on Him in order to make you more whole in Him.
My spouse isn't just my husband; he's also my brother in Christ. As his wife, my primary role isn't to be the woman of his dreams or the mother of his children - although these roles are certainly a priority and privilege. My utmost responsibility is to be his sister in Christ who helps him see and understand God more fully, through prayer, Biblical counsel, and my own behavior. Likewise, this is my husband's primary duty to me.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" while not exclusive to marriage certainly applies to the union of two souls made in our Maker's image (Proverbs 27:17).
Lay your marriage on the altar of God as an offering to Him, and watch His holy fire refine it so that His glory can be displayed through it.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship" (Romans 12:1).
Marriage is a mirror. It reflects our flaws, our flesh, and the deepest wounds we didn’t know we had. Every day we have a choice to be selfish or selfless. We have a choice to choose one another’s interests over our own. On a good day, those two things are not mutually exclusive.
In Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, the author poses a revealing question:
“What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”
The book goes on to call marriage a “spiritual discipline” designed to help us “know God better, trust Him more fully, and love Him more deeply.”
Does that sound unromantic or imply we shouldn’t pursue pleasure in marriage? Absolutely not. On the contrary, holiness over happiness points to a deeper, stronger, and more long-lasting fulfilment that will yield true joy despite circumstances. And this can be true whether your spouse is a believer in Jesus or not.
If you have been married any time at all, you have learned that marriage isn't always fun. Show me a marriage that has never struggled, never bent under the weight of the world's stresses, and I'll show you a couple that is inconceivably co-existing but not communicating.
The pleasure part of marriage, then, is often a result (a grace, really) but should not be the primary goal. Holiness over happiness - in marriage and in our own lives - gives way to the deepest satisfaction our hearts could desire: the pleasure of becoming more like Christ.
So even if your home floods or your spouse is laid off or you’re completely depleted from taking care of children or aging parents or the “in sickness and in health” part of your wedding vows are in full throttle, or your spouse has disappointed you, the joy of the Lord is still readily available to you.
“You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine,” declares the psalmist (Psalms 4:7).
Our spouse isn’t meant to be our Savior. Only the Lord can put true joy in our hearts, which is not based on circumstance but on the finished work of the Cross.
Maybe even more than a mirror, marriage is a microscope that exposes how broken and needy we really are. Yet it can also be a magnifying glass that manifests the Gospel in our homes.
In marriage, we can model how Christ is patient, loving, kind, generous, gentle, faithful and forgiving towards us. This is possible irrespective of our spouse's behavior. We can forgive as we've been forgiven by God.
How? Because when we deserve wrath, Jesus gives mercy. When we get greedy, Jesus gives grace. When we are moody, Christ remains steady and accepting. Our spouse is the first and primary person toward whom we can apply these Gospel principles. But we must create space to do this.
Practice date night as a marital sabbath, to acknowledge and respect the strain outside life can place on a husband and wife relationship.
Date night is an admission of our limitations as a couple and our need for frequent intimacy, reconnection and maintenance. On date nights, we are depositing time, love and care into our marital account for the days when we will have to make significant withdraws.
We don't have time to not date our spouse. This relationship is too important, not only for us but for the Gospel and the next generation.
Date night will also set the bar high for your children. We want them to learn how to date by example, not by default. Let your kids see you putting everything else on hold for time together. Let them see you fight for your marriage. These are the habits that are best caught not taught over time.
Model to those within your sphere of influence that marriage - much like abiding in Jesus - isn't just a stagnant union of two people but an active, daily communion where intimate thoughts are exchanged, encouraged and lived out together.
When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Mark 12:30).
Just like our relationship with Christ, we run the marathon of marriage by maintaining a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical connection with our spouse.
Date night should fit the interests and capacity of the couple but should always include the Lord. It will not be as restorative if it's only physical, emotional or mental. Like the 8th grade dance, we must make room for the Holy Spirit!
For my husband and me, it’s sharing a good meal in a restaurant, away from our children where food is served and dishes are cleared and uninterrupted conversation can abound. It's praying together and primarily focusing on one another and our relationship with the Lord, not our kids or careers or problems.
When going out isn't an option, we put the kids to bed early, keep the TV turned off and spend quality time together, reconnecting and remembering why we were married in the first place. This quality time helps to bring the blurry bits of a busy life back into focus.
For some couples, it’s exercising together or enjoying a hobby. Whatever it is, make it relational not just recreational. Being together and connecting is more important than what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, but it does need to be intentional.
Observing a marital sabbath consistently will provide the opportunity to renew your commitment to each other and say “I do” all over again, amidst every season of life. It will also create a rhythm of shared rest, so that you are re-energized and renewed together.
Don’t let anniversaries or birthdays be the only time of the year you celebrate your spouse and the relationship you have. Do it often and live out the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself," starting with your husband or wife (Mark 12:31). It is only when we fix our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith that this covenant can yield God’s greatest blessings and purpose.
Bonus content: My favorite marriage books!
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick
- Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
- The Power of a Praying Husband by Stormie Omartian
- The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian
- His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley, Jr.
- The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler