Your marriage has a finish line.
Remembering that can make all the difference in how well you run the marital race.
I recently watched the 2016 Boston marathon (on television) and marveled at how Neely Spence Gracey was the top American woman finisher in her debut marathon. She was literally sprinting toward the finish line, later explaining that she wanted to break 2:35. She actually finished at exactly 2:35, but what’s one second when you’ve just run over twenty-six miles?
The reason Neely could sprint that last stretch is because she knew there was a finish line quickly approaching. If she was still five miles away, she wouldn’t have been sprinting like that. It was only with the end in sight that she could expend the last little bit of energy to achieve her goal.
In a lot of marathons I’ve run, you see the sign “Pain is Temporary. Glory is Forever.” That’s not true in a human sense—nobody will care who won this year’s Super Bowl or Olympic games a thousand years from now—but it is absolutely true in an eternal, divine sense: “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor. 4:17)
For Christians, the biblical call to be faithful spouses is very high. Men are asked by God to be our wives’ living martyrs (Eph 5:25-26); women are urged to undergo training to learn how to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Men are told to always love and never be harsh (Colossians 3:19) and women are told to “be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18). These are serious calls, leading us to serious reflection, diligent practice, and unending prayer and counsel. Since we marry people who “stumble in many ways” (James 3:2), such commands are not universally or persistently easy to keep. Add in the fact that some of us will be called to nurse our spouses through debilitating illness or injury, and it’s certain that there will be some seasons when it feels difficult, perhaps even impossible, to love like the Bible calls us to love.
But there is a finish line. There will be a day when the race is over, when it all comes to an earthly end. That will be the end of our marriage, but the beginning of our glory.
Knowing about the “finish line,” Jesus endured hours of agony on the cross, finally proclaiming, “It is finished.”
When you are looking at your spouse’s lifeless earthly shell (or he or she is looking at yours), will you be able to say, as Jesus said, with some finality, “It is finished?”
“I loved her as well as I could; more than I could, even, as I drew upon God’s power every day.”
“I was faithful, encouraging, I served him through his sickness and loved him into the arms of God.”
“I remained true, I asked her forgiveness when needed, I granted her forgiveness freely, I reconciled quickly, and I stayed true to the end.”
“We laughed together; I never took him for granted. I pursued a friendship with him like I have pursued it with none other.”
“I prayed for her, I encouraged her, if necessary I even fasted for her. I loved her as best I could, but now the race is over.”
In terms of eternity, this is our sprint. We can see the finish line. For some of you, it may still be fifty years away, but fifty years in the face of over fifty thousand is nothing, just a hop, skip or a jump away.
And when we cross the finish line and God reviews how well we have loved His son or His daughter, we will be judged/rewarded accordingly (2 Corinthians 5:10). For some of you, that will lead to many eternal rewards. God is not stingy when it comes to rewarding those who faithfully serve His children.
If this sounds like a new concept to you—using eternal rewards to motivate you in marriage—or if you have questions about the biblical support behind it, I’d encourage you to read chapter 3 in my book A Lifelong Love. Jesus used the idea of heavenly rewards to motivate His disciples on numerous occasions, and when applied to marriage, those promises become powerful instruments of good.
To summarize: in order to be married well today, think about your last day of marriage. Whether you’re the one leaving your spouse behind, or you’re the one being left behind, think about how you want to feel, what you want to be true, what you hope you will be able to say when you talk with your Savior face to face.
And then, under God’s grace, let’s start loving our spouse in anticipation of that glorious day, the finish line of our earthly existence, but the starting line of eternal glory.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com