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This article was published in the January 2000 issue of The Journal.

God Called us to Marry

John (Roman Catholic) and Julie (brought up in the Lutheran tradition but now a member of a "non-denominational" Protestant church) married in autumn 1999. They live in Denver, Colorado. Julie wrote this article when they were looking forward to their marriage.

I believe God guides our steps if we seek his will. That is why I believe God has called us to marry.

Our common bond in Christ
For a long while, John and I had serious doubts as to how this could ever work out. He had an incredible faith in God, that if it were God’s will it somehow would work out. For me, if I couldn’t see it, how could it happen? To this day, I’m not exactly sure. I only know that it was God. That it was through much prayer, much agonising, much hard work, the desire to make it work, the desire truly to understand each other.

The one aspect that gave us hope and drove us to persist, was each other's strong devotion to Christ. One of the first things I noticed and loved about John was his deep faith. So I knew we had that common bond in Christ. That, more than anything else, drew us together. We had other common interests as well, but our common faith in Christ and his high importance in our lives is our foundation.

But it wasn't all that simple.

The struggle
On the top of my list was a man who loved God. John fulfilled that hands down. However, included in that was the assumption that we would grow together spiritually, worshipping together, members of the same church. For us to go our separate ways each Sunday was not an option, and I couldn't imagine being married to someone with whom I could not take communion. That would not strengthen our marriage – rather, it would gnaw away at it over time. We didn't even want to consider the implications for raising our children. Who could bear the thought of your spouse teaching your children that you and your church's beliefs were wrong?

In the beginning there were lots of tears. John one day commented: "You hate my church" and admitted, "and I hate yours." Not entirely true. We just had a few strong disagreements and many misunderstandings. We went to each other’s churches because we truly wanted to understand each other better. I wanted to try to understand why being Catholic is so important to John, he wanted to understand why my form of worship (non-denominational) is so important to me. We both made it abundantly clear that "converting" was not an option.

I remember how hopeless it seemed. We'd argue till we wept, our hearts breaking in two, wondering if this was the end, yet being unable to accept that either. And we'd pray. Constantly. John would say "God got us into this, God’s gonna have to find a way out." His faith never wavered. Mine did. Perhaps this wasn't God's will after all.

We love one another
Our hearts bonded amazingly fast. Delving right into all the issues we knew we'd have to work out if we were to ever consider marriage, we got to know each other at a deep level fairly quickly. To this day, I believe God developed a strong emotional attachment right in the beginning to be the glue to make us stick it out. We could both see very early on that we could marry if it was not for our different faith traditions or "flavours", as I liked to call them. But it was difficult. Very difficult.

As time progressed, we opened our hearts more to learning and trying to understand each other's churches and beliefs better, as well as our own. As we continually went before God in prayer, He softened our hearts, chipped away at our blinders and gave us understanding, acceptance and humility. Over and over we found ourselves forgetting that we wanted to understand the other, and realised we were really just trying to "make them see". It’s hard. We had to keep re-adjusting our attitudes. For me this meant reminding myself that my goal was not to make John understand, it was for me to understand him. And John’s goal was not to make me understand, but to understand me. That helped.

We made an agreement. If we find ourselves in an argument (not a loving constructive discussion) whoever notices this first is to call a halt so that we can take a PPB – a Pentecostal Prayer Break. (It’s a variation from another acronym we made up: a PHB – a Pentecostal Hug Break; the "Pentecostal" part was because we came up with this idea on Pentecost Sunday.) We have found that when we come before God in prayer together, we have to humble ourselves before God, which is the best remedy for those situations, because we realise that when we get to that point we have ceased to be humble or loving towards each other. And taking a break to come before God, and to remember our love for each other really helps to soften our hearts.

We found a way forward
We realised there was a solution for the Sunday morning dilemma – we could go to both churches. We had already begun doing this because we wanted to learn more about each other's churches and try to understand what it is that makes our churches such an integral part of who we are.

Of course we had doubts. How feasible was this? Sure we could attend both for now, but how realistic would that be long term? How could we be involved in both churches beyond just the Sunday morning services? And we heard these same doubts expressed by some of our well-meaning friends. It couldn't work.

It's working amazingly well. We even came up with an acronym for our Sunday morning ritual: MBC – Mass, Breakfast, Church. We've both become quite comfortable with this schedule. And we've found we can be and are active in both churches. It takes learning to be able to say "no" and perhaps a little extra time management, but we're finding a niche for ourselves in both communities, and we're reaping the blessings of having two church homes. Some find it odd at first, but we have begun to feel pretty well accepted in both churches. There are times we wonder if people are thinking the other is going to "convert" (I use this for lack of a better word; as we have the same Christian faith, there really would be no conversion), because they see our commitment and involvement in their church. But we hope in time we will be better understood and accepted fully.

Excited and sobered
At times I'm excited, thinking about how God can use us in promoting unity between our churches, but other times I'm sobered, realizing how much it took to bring me to where I am today. Those not involved in an interchurch marriage do not have the same benefits, nor the incentive that we have to work toward that unity. But we know this is God's desire for his children -- that they love one another and thus show the world our Father's love: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23)

Why are we so convinced our marriage is God's will? Because we could see no way for this to work, and God miraculously opened our eyes to see doors where there were none and changed our hearts without compromising our faith. God is in control and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Julie

 

This article appeared in The Journal, January 2000