Surrendering Our Marriages
Surrender might be something we’ve never considered applying to our marriages. Is it necessary to do so? And what does it entail? Writer and speaker Tracy Sellars tackles this and more in our conversation on living out a surrendered life within our marriages.
Tracy and her husband, David, are co-founders of VowsToKeep, a ministry that seeks to develop biblically healthy marriages. The ministry consists of teams of couples purposefully working side-by-side as tools in the hands of the Lord to bring couples closer to each other and closer to the heart of God’s design for their marriage. David and Tracy started ministering to marriages over ten years before formally starting VowsToKeep Ministries in 2012 as a response to God’s calling on their lives. They are passionate about bringing the truth of God’s Word to today’s marriages. David and Tracy do this through many means, including numerous marriage conferences, speaking at men’s and women’s retreats, marriage coaching together with couples, and a weekly half hour marriage radio broadcast/podcast. Seeing couples’ hearts turn toward Christ and each other is their greatest joy.
In addition to speaking God’s Word to thousands every week, Tracy is a novelist, who enjoys writing inspirational stories that point people to the ultimate Storyteller. It is her hope that God would use her experiences in ministering to relationships and the treasury of His Word to convey biblical truth through her stories.
Q: What is surrender in marriage, and what is it not?
A: Your readers most likely clicked on this blog post for one of three reasons.
This is a new thought to them, they’ve never considered applying surrender to their marriages or even what it means and they are curious what that might look like.
A pastor, counselor, or friend has told them they need to surrender their marriage.
They feel like giving up and surrendering sounds easier than what they are currently doing.
We all have different things that come to mind when we hear the word “surrender.” So, how can we apply it to our marriages and do we need to? I’ll answer that by going deeper and defining what surrender in marriage is and what it isn’t.
What Surrender Is Not:
Surrender is not giving up hope for your spouse or your marriage to ever be different. Many times, people “surrender” to the fact that their spouse will always be a no-good, lazy bum who is overweight or has no work ethic or who refuses to admit to their sin and be discipled toward a more godly lifestyle. Surrender is not defined as giving into the feeling that your spouse will never change. That kind of mindset can quickly lead to hopelessness. Surrender is not hopelessness! It doesn’t look like giving up or throwing in the towel. Surrender does not say “I quit,” “I don’t care,” or “I can’t care.”
Surrender is also not compromise, negotiating with your spouse to reach a “neutral” ground where everyone gets what they want. We’ll look deeper into this in just a moment.
What Surrender Is:
1) Surrender is saying YES. Yes, God, I will do this Your way. Yes, God, I will abide in You and let You be my only source. Yes, God, I will stay attached to the Vine. Before we go on, let me ask the readers, in what areas of your marriage do you have a hard time saying yes to God? Answer that question and you’ll be well on your way to understanding what God might want to speak to you about today.
Surrendering your marriage to God takes what I call a “Correct-Perspective Identity Reality Check.” What do I mean by that? Let’s take a peek at Jesus when He is kneeling in the Garden, blood pouring from His brow. He knows that soon, very soon, a crown of thorns will be placed on that same brow, causing more blood to flow. I see a heart of surrender, how about you?
Next, let’s peek in on a tough moment between ourselves and our spouse. What does surrender look like? It’s us on our knees (even if it’s not physically), in a place of humility before our God, our Savior, and our Master, saying like Jesus did, “Your will be done, God. Not mine.”
Surrender can be seen in the big moments when we feel like jumping ship, shutting the door on this relationship and starting over but we choose not to, even though it feels impossible. Surrender to God in those moments can save a marriage. However, surrender is just as needed in the more common, minute details of the day . . . picking up our spouse’s towel, not to be seen, but to love. Giving our hearts and ourselves completely to our spouse when they’ve been rude or forgetful. Speaking encouragement when it’s the last thing we feel like doing. “Your will be done, God.”
2) Surrender is not only acknowledging our own identity but our spouse’s as well. Seeing them as God sees them. If my heart is not surrendered to my God, what will inevitably follow is a heart that sits in judgement. When I don’t see my spouse like God sees them, I look at them through the lens of my rules, my laws, and I condemn them for not living up to my expectations. But when I surrender, when I say YES to God, I look through His eyes and my heart softens with compassion because I see clearly that my spouse is a sinner, just like me. That takes me quickly from the “I don’t care” attitude to “I care very much.”
3) Surrendering your marriage to the Lord means that I will do my part (what God has asked of me specifically in my marriage) even if the picture of my marriage doesn’t look like what satisfies me right now.
4) Surrendering your spouse and your marriage is not a one-time act. If only, right? Anytime we step back into the lead role of our lives and say “I’ve got this, God. I’ll let You know if I need You,” destruction inevitably follows. It’s in the moments when we cut ourselves off from our source of marital success that we learn the hard way that Jesus’ words are true from John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
I’ve seen and lived out that “nothing” Jesus talks about, and I’m sure you have too. It results in an empty, unsuccessful attempt that brings about no good fruit for my marriage to feast upon. Surrender is an on-going decision we have to make. A prayer in our hearts that repeatedly says, “God, I trust You. Even when I don’t feel like it today, I’m going to act . . . just . . . like . . . You.”
Q: It’s easy to approach marriage as “for me” rather than a gift from God meant to reflect Christ and the Church. What pitfalls have you seen couples fall into when a more selfish view of marriage is taken?
A: Let’s take a look at a big pitfall that falls under the category of “performance-based love.” Remember one of the things that surrender isn’t? Surrender doesn’t mean compromise. I recently heard this real-life story that I think fittingly applies:
An aspiring author with a wife and four young children wanted some advice. He wondered how to approach his wife and ask her for several hours a day to work on his book.
He was advised by a mentor to give his wife something she wanted and make a trade that was fair to both spouses. Make her feel her needs were being provided for and then hopefully she would reciprocate or, at the very least, the husband would feel justified in taking those hours to work on his craft.
The part where this scenario falls off the tracks is where he’s asking for something in return. It’s a “Let’s-Make-a-Deal” exchange. Check out this equation and see if you can relate: Let’s-Make-a-Deal in Marriages = Currency. This quickly gives rise to: Currency = Demand. It becomes a barter system where I judge to see if I’ve given enough to ensure that I get what I want, or determines that you haven’t given enough, so I’m going to withhold what you want until you meet my demand.
Jesus never went 50/50 with His disciples. It was not a balanced, symbiotic relationship. Jesus loved when it was inconvenient, when He was busy, when He was tired. He didn’t withhold His love until He got something in return. He served and loved and then served and loved some more, completely dependent upon His Heavenly Father to be the Provider of everything He would need.
Let’s say that the husband in the story I shared started out the conversation with his wife by offering her something to get something—an exchange. If he did, something instant would happen, even if he didn’t immediately recognize it. An invisible scoreboard would appear on the largest wall of their home. And when her side only has one tally mark and his has three . . . he now feels justified in receiving “payment” for all the things he’s done for her. He feels she owes him. He takes the liberty to give himself what he wants rather than asking God to provide the time he needs. The score, as you can imagine, is constantly changing, constantly being evaluated. The presence of a scoreboard takes our eyes off of Christ. It causes us to stop saying YES to God. Instead, we ask others to say yes to us.
Manipulating circumstances to ensure our own happiness severs us from our Source. In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” We can’t remain in Him if we do not love the way He’s asked. But the spouse who is willing to be pruned, the spouse who gets their nutrients from the True Vine, will live the surrendered life and their marriage will bear a lovely harvest.
Q: The book of Proverbs likens one person sharpening another to “iron sharpening iron.” This is often most poignantly seen in the marriage relationship. How can spouses practically do this for one another?
A: The word picture Proverbs paints is one we often visualize moving on a 2D movie screen.
The results look good but we don’t feel the intense heat needed to first shape the iron. We don’t smell the acrid smoke the fire creates. We don’t hear the hissing sound of the red-hot metal cooling in the water. We don’t understand the friction that must happen to create a tool that will be useful in the carpenter’s hands. The process is time-consuming. It requires the forger and sharpener to have enduring muscle and patience for the stress of the process. For iron to sharpen iron, it takes heat and impact and time.
You have no one else in your life who has a greater influence on you than your spouse. And the same goes for them. It’s the two of you together in the Refiner’s fire, in the Carpenter’s shop. There’s no one who has more exposure to our sin than our spouse. They can pinpoint exactly where you need the most sharpening. Your relationship is a crucible for godly change.
So, that begs two questions: Are you open to letting your spouse be used by God to sharpen you to be more Christ-like? If so, answer this: Are you willing to ask them to show you your blind spots, to hold you accountable to God’s Word in your words and decisions? I hope I can hear you begin to whisper, “YES.” Because that’s a yes to God. Your spouse is just the tool in His hands.
You also have the same role in their life. God has given us a great responsibility. When we live in a place of surrendering our spouse to the Lord, we will not be the judge and the jury. Instead, we will look for ways to be their ally in their walk with the Lord. In surrender, we let God be the convicter. That doesn’t mean you don’t point out to them things that offend God but you are less inclined to point out things that offend you.
Q: Everyone can agree that marriage is hard! We need the Lord’s help to maintain a healthy, lasting marriage. How can each spouse individually and the couple together turn to the Lord for this assistance?
A: A marriage lived in pursuit of God is far less hard than one that’s in pursuit of ourselves.
Marriage is going to look pretty difficult if we are after US, if we’re all about what we want and we demand our spouse to be, as well. That’s what makes marriage hard! But there is hope! God has given us what we need for success.
When we admit that we are not at the center, when we admit our need for our Savior, He gladly comes and rescues us from US! Romans 7:24–25 is both our reality and our hope: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” We are going to let us down. Our spouse is going to let us down. Our marriage isn’t going to be the end all for the happiness we strive for. We need a catalyst to change our course, to shift the direction of our eyes from our little mini-kingdom that’s focused on me, me, me to God’s Kingdom where we are on mission with Him. In Christ Jesus, we have our answer. He gives us our example, our new end game, our new purpose.
Practically speaking, we can boil it down to this: Love your spouse the most when they deserve it the least. Write that down and hang it on your bathroom mirror, because that statement has the Gospel at its core. That’s not only what Jesus did for us, it’s what He’s commissioned us to do.
Love your spouse the most when they deserve it the least.
Every time you make that practical decision at the moment when you least feel like it, you are living a surrendered life. You’re saying YES.
Q: What final word of encouragement do you have for those desiring to steward their marriage well?
A: Good stewards know their position before their Master, Jesus Christ. Good stewards know their Master’s heart and intentions. Good stewards look for ways to serve without reward or thanks. Good stewards know their purpose and use the tools, abilities, and instructions their Master has given to accomplish what is pleasing to Him. Good stewards readily and repeatedly say YES.