Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler’s new book, Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments.
On my first Valentine’s Day dating my husband, he went all out: A line of chocolate candies ending in two dozen roses. A horse-drawn sleigh ride with fur blankets and thermoses of hot chocolate. A fancy dinner out on the town where tiny little boats delivered sushi to our table. Diamond earrings.
Bet you didn’t see that last one coming, did you? When he gave them to me, I immediately started crying and told him I didn’t deserve them. I had never been so spoiled, so extravagantly celebrated, simply because someone liked me.
Fast-forward to Valentine’s Day 2018—ten years of being together, seven years of marriage, and three children later: We just moved and were living temporarily at my parents’, so we met up after work to look at a potential property to buy. I carried the baby while he held the hands of the older two as we tromped through the snow to survey the land. Afterward, we grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant filled with couples—we were quite possibly the only people with children in the entire building. While there, we caught our oldest in a lie. I nodded to Daddy to deal with it, and he did. But I found it insufficient and couldn’t resist adding my two cents to drive home the “grievousness of falsehoods” to my four-year-old, who had already zoned out.
When we got home, we divided duties. I took the baby for a bottle, he took the toddlers to wash their hands and brush their teeth. Eventually, we all ended up in the same room together. My husband turned on some music, and immediately a full-family dance party began. Once all the kids were down, my husband slid a chocolate heart covered in red foil across the kitchen counter to me and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, babe. Look what I got you—it was free from work.”
Things have changed a little, to say the least. While our first Valentine’s Day will always hold a special place in my heart (and not just because of its extravagance), I love the way the holiday has changed for us. Not only in where we live, what our family looks like, and how we spend our days—I love the way I’ve changed. My husband and I are incredibly different from one another, and God has used marriage and raising children to put me through the refiner’s fire. The chafe of sanctification hurts—sometimes so much I can hardly stand it—but I am thankful for the work God has done to grow me in holiness. I still have a long way to go (like my pointless need for control during a discipline moment), but God is using my husband to help me remove the dross until only the gold remains.
Culture’s Message: Easy, Breezy Love
I was recently at a double bridal shower, and as I listened to the engaged women talk about their upcoming weddings, I couldn’t help but think back to mine. I was like them, so full of hope and optimism. Their relationships with their fiancés bursting with romance, compromise, communication!
As brides prepare to walk down the aisle, they’re often filled with confidence: “As long as we have each other, we’re going to be okay, no matter what life throws at us!” The world tells us marriage will be roses, sleigh rides, diamonds, and boats that bring you sushi for dinner. We are worthy of an easy love, the kind with romance all day and snuggles all night. A marriage of excitement, fulfillment, and unrestrained passion! While we know there will be hard things in the future, many of us believe all the problems are “out there,” and we’ll face them with our husbands as they come.
But quickly the jig is up. Like a volcano, the infatuation of love erupts with passion and then burns out, leaving you knee-deep in gray ash to clean up. Your husband fails you, you fail him, and your confidence in marriage is shaken. Suddenly your problems are not “out there”—they’re in the house, living with you and (though you may not see it yet) inside you. But don’t worry—culture has another answer, transitioning from “Marriage will make you happy!” to “Your children will make you happy!”
The next thing you know, you’re looking for fulfillment in the tiny, crying baby you just swaddled like an egg roll in the crib. Your knight in shining armor is now the enemy as you whisper-yell in the middle of the night, angry with one another about something neither of you can control. As your children grow, so do your grievances against your husband. Our inner protective nature soothes our hurting souls by blaming Dad for the relational strain and strife. So you tally up all the ways your husband has failed, build a wall of protection, and hold him at arm’s reach—but draw those babies close.
It’s a vicious cycle. One that won’t end unless one of you waves the white flag and admits, “I’m the problem. I’m sorry—will you forgive me?” But this is not done easily. We might be able to eke out a surface-level apology and do a bit of behavior modification on our own strength, but we’ll never be able to truly change our outward behavior unless we dig deeper for a modification of the heart. And transformation at that level comes only from the refining, reconstructive work of the gospel.
The Gospel Message
Creation: One Union
Much like the brides at the bridal shower I went to, the first bride and groom probably began their marriage with unveiled hope and optimism. When God brought Eve to Adam for the first time, it was the first of countless wedding ceremonies that would bring two dewy-eyed people together for a lifetime. God gave the new couple purpose and a mission—to be fruitful and multiply and to keep order on the earth. Imaging God in unique ways, they were different from one another, but their differences were not divisive—they were assets. They needed one another to complete the tasks given to them by God. In Eden they were unified, two becoming one, as they selflessly worked together, living out a beautiful picture of love and harmony through worship of God alone.
Fall: A Divided Union
Yet as in our own marriages, Adam and Eve were not immune to each other’s failures. Just three short chapters into the Bible, their perfect relationship is a thing of the past. When Eve doubted God had a good design for her life and union with Adam, sin and division entered the world, slicing right through the marriage relationship.
Now, as husband and wife, instead of being united as God designed, we sometimes live as two individuals sitting on different sides of the table. We act as enemies, not allies. The sole judge and jury of the other’s ability to live out right purpose and mission. We set our own standards rather than accepting God’s. Both seek the upper hand, and instead of out-loving one another, we look to marriage to fulfill our own self-serving needs and desires. Sin and its pain make us afraid to be open, honest, and vulnerable. As mothers, we are tempted to hide behind our children, granting them unconditional love while holding our husbands to an ever-growing list of unattainable conditions.
In marriage, we sometimes live as “I” rather than “we” because “we” can feel too risky. It’s too painful, too hard, too vulnerable. We do not want a union because we do not want to die to self.
Redemption: Unified in Christ
In our sinful state, we never could have died to ourselves anyway, but thankfully, Christ made a way. Jesus loved us more than any earthly husband ever could, living a perfect life and purchasing our union with him at the highest price: his very life. Through his sacrifice, he fully displayed what marriage only shadows—the covenant love between God and his people. This love paved a way so we could die to ourselves. This happened once when we were justified before the throne. Then it’s played out over and over again through sanctification as we daily deny our old nature, take up our cross, and follow him.
Through Jesus’ death, our severed union with God is healed, and we are one in Christ. Being “in Christ” is good news for our marriages because as believers, we now share in Christ’s wonderful inheritance from the Father. This means we have in us the very same love he has—a love more true and wonderful than any fairy tale or romantic comedy ever created. Jesus’ love is what motivated him to be patient with needy people, kind to those who hurt him, and long-suffering with those who didn’t follow his instructions. His love propelled his compassion with the hurting, his offer of grace to sin-filled hearts, and his endless forgiveness when he was rejected, maligned, and scorned. His love took him all the way to death on the cross for us.
In Christ, this is the same love a wife can have for her husband.
Consummation: Unified Forever
Someday, the experience of our union with Christ won’t be blurred by the messiness of this cursed earth. When Christ our King returns to bring us, his bride, physically to himself, we’ll no longer have to fight our sinful desires. We won’t experience marriage in heaven as we know it today, but we will get to enjoy the best and truest marriage there is: marriage with Christ himself. And there, we’ll also image the beautiful relationship with our fellow saints that Adam and Eve enjoyed with one another before the fall.
This means we’ll have no more pointless, late-night arguments about how to get the baby to sleep, no more heated whispers in the car about a discipline issue, no more accusations of “You did, you didn’t, you don’t understand.” In consummation, we will experience perfect relationship, fellowship, and union with other believers because of the wondrous, sacrificial love of our bridegroom.
The Pressure for Perfection
One day I’ll be in awe of my husband, looking at him in adoration as he drives our minivan. The next day, possibly in that very same minivan, I’m thinking about all the ways he could improve as a husband and a father. Maybe I recently listened to a podcast on parenting, and I couldn’t help but think about how much he needed to hear it. Or maybe a friend shared how her husband structures morning quiet times as a family, and now I’m finding my husband’s bedtime readings insufficient.
In turn, I might make a disapproving remark about how there’s some dust on his Bible, or perhaps I’ll follow up his discipline talk with one of my own because I find his wanting. Maybe I’ll say nothing at all as I quietly build a wall between us, brick by brick.
I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in holding up a standard for what an “involved Christian dad” looks like—a standard of my own creation rather than God’s.
In the Old Testament, God lays out part of his plan for parents raising children, and it’s surprisingly uncomplicated. He charges parents to intentionally invest in their children and teach them to love God and his laws. They are to be diligent in this and do it all the time. For us today, that means weaving the gospel into the life we’re already living. It doesn’t tell us that carrying out this command has to include a 20-minute family quiet time with Dad on the guitar, leading the children in worship. It just says to do it, however that looks. Even though faithfulness to that end can be hard, we are the ones overcomplicating it.
The beautiful thing about God creating us as parents with unique personalities, strengths, and gifts is that we can live out our differences while still having unity in our marriage relationship. Your husband doesn’t need to invest in your children in the same ways you would—or the same way that Instagram dad you’re following does. In fact, because God made man and woman to display himself uniquely, you’re better parents together than alone, balancing out one another’s strengths and weaknesses as you strive to live out the gospel in your own home.
Here’s some good news: Because Jesus lived a perfect life in our stead, the pressure is off for both husband and wife to execute perfect parenting. Jesus never missed a teaching moment, he never misspoke or made a theological error, he never had impure motives or an impatient attitude, and he never failed the people around him. He lived a perfect life, and because we have union in Christ, we can trust him with what we have to offer as parents of our children. And if you’re both believers, you each have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help you grow in parenting, maturity, and your understanding of God’s design for the family.
Mom, Christ has measured up on your behalf. Now you can stop comparing your husband to the parenting books, the conferences, the bloggers, or the next-door neighbor. Instead, offer your husband the relentless grace and love you’ve received from your shared inheritance with Christ, celebrating the unique ways your husband is gifted. You can be brave enough to risk the areas where your heart is broken and worn thin in marriage, trusting God to draw your family to himself despite human flaws and failures.
The Road of Grace
Perhaps as you read this, your heart is heavy. Maybe your husband isn’t a believer, or maybe he’s so checked out, you’re not sure where he’s at in his walk with the Lord. Yet even if your husband is striving to faithfully live out God’s calling for fathers, there is still sin, there is still failure. We all have flaws this side of eternity. Often as wives, our first response is to disrespect our husbands, to nag, grumble, manipulate, worry, and rant.
But the gospel gives us a better way. No matter where you’re at with your husband, let him see the work of Christ in you. Remember, when you were still dead and stuck in your sin, Jesus loved you so much he died for you. Offer that same love to your husband. Rather than looking at everything he’s doing wrong, begin finding everything he’s doing right. Let Christ’s love in you be stronger than any misunderstanding, bigger than any feelings of resentment, louder than your desire for justice, and greater than your own prideful heart.
Marriage may sometimes feel like sandpaper for our souls, but the rough strokes shape and mold us to be more like the image of God. In our marriages, let’s be the first to respond with kindness, to speak with gentleness, to be understanding, accommodating, and self-sacrificing. If you’re like me, it’s easy to forget that we cannot bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to our husbands. Instead we can pray for them, asking God to intervene and give us peace and trust in the process. Instead of crushing our husbands with our words, let’s crush the thoughts of comparison that run so easily through our minds. Instead of focusing on our husbands’ flaws or ignoring them completely and focusing only on our children, let’s stay focused on our own relationship with Christ.
Mom, let’s be advocates, supporters, champions of unity, and our husbands’ biggest fans. Marriage may not be what we thought it was when we first walked down that aisle. But because Christ loved us first, we can overflow with the extravagant love of Christ for our husbands, unveiling a love deeper and more transcendent and brilliant than we could have ever predicted.
This chapter mainly addresses offenses, heartaches, and tensions that commonly arise from sin within marriage. However, if abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) or other illegal or illicit behavior is occurring in your marriage, please tell someone and reach out for counsel and professional intervention.
Laura Wifler is the Co-Founder of Risen Motherhood and the Co-Host of the weekly podcast. She's a wife and mom to three littles. Laura likes her coffee black, going on hikes, reading books with real pages to turn, and having impromptu dance parties in the kitchen with her children.
 Genesis 2:24
 Genesis 1:28
 Ephesians 5:23
 Mark 8:34
 Romans 8:17
 Luke 20:27-36
 Deuteronomy 6:4-9
 Romans 5:6-8