(originally written for Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife)
Sometime after the birth of our third child I noticed a disturbing change.
I was becoming increasingly jealous of my husband. Here he was, every day, getting up and going to work. On a daily basis he was showering, using the bathroom, getting dressed, and leaving the house with grace and ease–all by himself. I didn’t know exactly what all he did during the day, but I knew for a fact that whatever he was doing, he was doing it on more sleep than I had gotten. As for me, I was home alone, surrounded by children, trying, crying, on the raging cutting edge of despair. I couldn’t figure out how to get the babies to start sleeping, the kids to stop fighting, the mess to stop messing, my heart to stop breaking, or get any other normal task accomplished. The isolation of motherhood drained any remaining energy for life as joy faded into distant memory and loneliness became the black hole of my soul.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world carried on without me, Starbucks in hand, completely unaware of my struggles. The struggles were real, and, I imagine, more real than I realized. Looking back I can see I was more than likely dealing with severe and untreated postpartum depression. My husband was swamped with the vocations of husband and father just as he was getting started as the pastor of a healthy–but human and needy–congregation and day school. Family was far away, friends were hard to come by, and outside help was scarce. The mound of college and seminary debt hadn’t taught us anything about how to deal with this.
My original thankfulness for my husband’s dedication and provision for our family gradually morphed into increasing bitterness and resentment. Instead of appreciating all the different ways he cared for us, all I could see was how hard I was working and what I was missing. I fantasized about what it would be like to listen to the radio alone in the car like he was able to do on his way to visit shut-ins. There was no difference between Tuesday night to the dreaded Sunday morning but one thing felt certain–my life was infinitely and undeniably harder. He was living. I was dying. He was breathing. I was suffocating. He was free. I was imprisoned.
There’s another side to every story. Marriage is made up of two broken vessels. But I tell you my side knowing this narrative is nothing new. I have heard similar versions told and retold. We learn way back in Genesis there will be a specific strife between the woman and her husband. She will set her eyes on a fruit that isn’t hers. She no longer sees all the good she has because there is always something good she doesn’t. She follows the deadly path of comparison and competition though this is an inner fight she’ll never win. Ultimately, the woman wants what she lost way back in the garden–the Pinterest perfection of a pain free life.
It is not sinful to suffer. Sin entered the picture, not when life got hard, but when my heart did. Discontent and envy created turbulence in our marriage. In the throes of hardship, my focus turned inward, and my husband became the bad guy. I believed the lie that my life was harder, which meant my husband’s life was better, which meant I was not happy about that. My husband has told me that a wife’s happiness is one of a man’s greatest desires. How ironic it is that both sides of the story so often add up to the unhappiness of both as the familiar ways of our sinful nature impede the support and unity God intended for husband and wife.
Thanks be to God there’s another side to our stories. It is easy to point the finger with one hand and then turn around and beat ourselves up with the other. Instead, let us approach these situations, and one another, the same way God does, covering our faults with the clothes of compassion. For in God’s great mercy, He has given us Jesus, who clothes us with a new and better way. Marriage is the picture perfect image of Christ’s relationship with his Bride. Our heart’s desires are fulfilled in the now and not yet of redemption. In His most holy estate, God flips the fallen order on its head, restoring peace to His creation and human relationships.
Let us always remember how the Lord has helped us thus far. One of the best ways to deal with how bad you have it is by actively communicating how good you have it. The woman is not imprisoned. She is forgiven and free! She is free to turn from sin and sing in the rain. She is free from the bonds of bitterness and blame. She is free to offer grace and mercy when her husband commits his own sins against her. She is free to love her husband, love her children, and love her God with all her heart. She is free to rest and thrive in the blessing and absolute truth of a marriage–there is no better or worse. Your life is his life and his life is yours.
So continue in love on your journey toward oneness. Beware of hell’s arrows aiming hard to get a foothold in your heart. Kick the rotten apple to the curb and cling to the cross of Christ. Thinking about who has it harder is harmful and unwise. Our attitude toward our spouse is not one of superiority in difficulty, but one of empathy in one another’s similar and unique hardships. Husbands and wives need each other, and especially in our world today, need support and encouragement in our individual roles. Embrace a humble and thankful attitude within your marriage, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Count others more important than yourselves, especially your spouse, your better half, your partner in crime and sanctification—the one God gives for your ultimate glory.
The hardest thing will always be the thing God has called you to do.