Brought to the end of ourselves – the gift that marriage has given us

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Our wedding day – September 2, 2011

So, Jenny and I are celebrating our 6th year in marriage. To the one’s that have been married recently that’s like, “Wow that’s amazing guys.” To the ones that have been in this game for long they are like, “Mschew, nothing to see here.” hahahahahaha

On September 2, 2011, we made our vows before God and in front of our families and friends. It was a joyous occasion. I cried and snorted like a baby. The day was a blur to me though. I cannot remember most of the details. The only thing I do remember is that the next day we drove around Johannesburg looking for a doctor because I had mild pneumonia. That’s how we started our honeymoon.

Here we are 6 years later. As we celebrate our 6th anniversary we decided to write a short post about our journey. It’s something we plan to do every year. This is the first of many posts to come about our marriage and how the gospel of grace has worked its way in and through our lives.

The file

Like many couples we started our marriage with the hope that all that was in the “file” would come to pass. The file? Yes, the file. I’m part choleric and melancholy by nature. I love making plans. I plan for everything. I even develop plans for going out on a date with Jenny. I’m the order guy. I have very little affinity with spontaneity. I have to figure out stuff first. Head over heart stuff.

I remember when we started dating I had a large file. In the file were lists of what I wanted to see in marriage. I had different sections marked out for the different aspects of marriage life.  I showed it to Jenny to impress her and yes she was impressed. She was like, “Yes, this is a man on a mission. I better get married to him. He is going to take me places.” The idea behind the file was this – without a vision a people perish. (Proverbs 29:18) That is what I had been taught by countless preachers, marriage therapists, counselors and books from christian authors.

The file had everything I wanted to see in a wife and how we’d run our home, finances, and kids. It was a detailed plan about the future. I had my part to play, Jenny had her part to play and the kids had theirs too. It was perfect. In our minds we started our marriage on a very sound footing – better than most people we must say. Many people told us that we were the proverbial power couple. We were going to go places. We were strong. We had everything to succeed in life.

The shoe dropped

However, immediately the shoe dropped. Why? We had over estimated our own strengths, efforts, plans, goals, and vision (remember the file) and under estimated the influence and power of sin in our lives. Slowly and surely things started to unravel. After our wedding ceremony, we quickly realized how sinful we were. We realized that our strengths were actually working against us. Yes they were! Our strengths were our sins camouflaging beneath the veneer. Our strengths were so tainted with sin that any effort to be strong was an effort to upend the other person. If you know what I mean. This realization that we had “things going on for us” was a jolt in our system. Naturally, this truth should make you feel good and positive about life. But no, that was the opposite for us. What we thought were positives actually turned against us. We actually became disillusioned with each other.

We had over estimated our own strengths, efforts, plans, goals, and vision (remember the file) and under estimated the influence and power of sin in our lives.

Prior marriage we had been made to believe that we should bring our strengths into marriage. Weren’t we wrong? Our strengths were competing power plays. It was unbelievably nerve-wracking. I remember spending the first two years day-dreaming about how I’d run away and never come back. I blamed Jenny for all my failures and she blamed me for blaming her for all our failures. We were undone.

Prior to our marriage we had collided head on with Jesus and His grace. Our lives were revolutionized by the discovery of this unmerited and outrageous grace. During these “trying” times (hahahahahaha) we had nothing else to do but delve deep into the gospel of grace. In our “silent days” when we didn’t know what to say to each other we just listened to messages on grace. That’s all we did.

In the course of rediscovering grace we learnt about a gift that marriage gives.

The gift

This is the gift that marriage gave Jenny and I – here it is – MARRIAGE BROUGHT US TO THE END OF OURSELVES. Yes it did! Jesus in His love for us poured out his grace towards us without measure. This grace backed us into a corner and we had to lay down our arms.

MARRIAGE BROUGHT US TO THE END OF OURSELVES. Yes, it did.

The gift of being brought to the end of ourselves is one gift that has kept on giving to us.  After 6 years of being brought daily and continuously to the end of ourselves this is what we have learnt

Imperfect people perfectly joined

For christians, marriage is two sinners saved by grace perfectly joined together. That’s what it is. When these two sinners come together, sin and grace are ever-present. It is an issue we think is missing in our premarital counseling sessions – the idea of how sin and grace co-exist within our lives and marriages.

We could tell you story after story of how we have been angry, nasty, and harsh towards each other. We have failed to live up to our vows. We have failed to keep our word. We have failed at being consistent. We say one thing and do something else. We apologize to each other and then the next minute we don’t even want to see each other. Sometimes Jenny is so angry with me that she says to me, I love you but I don’t like you. We have lived out our sins right in front of each other. We have been sitting at the front row seats of each other’s lives. We have watched the comedy show of each other’s lives. The show has been funny yet sad at the same time. Moments of mountaintop triumphs and valley lows. We have unravelled before each other.

We wouldn’t have know how sinful we were if we weren’t married. Prior to marriage we were very wise in our own eyes. This past week we went in for our annual health assessments and the biokineticist who served us was a young man. In the course of the assessments I asked him whether he was married and he told us he wasn’t. Then he said to us that he didn’t want to get married now until he knew who he was. He wanted to find out who he was first before he got married. He wanted to know how to deal with himself first before he dealt with another life. It sounded so noble. But I told him that he would fully know himself after he gets married. He sneered at me in his mind and I just smiled. He was like dude I don’t want to hear that right now.

The problem with being single is that you are your own point of reference. You think you own thoughts and arrive at your own conclusions. You justify why you are who you are. You reward yourself for your good behavior and most times ignore and justify your bad behaviors. Haven’t you seen how single people are the most “wisest” in their own eyes? Most know everything about life. I was one of them.

If you want to know how imperfect you are, get married. Marriage is the quickest way to reveal your flaws – even those strengths that you think are so important for marriage.

We are so imperfect yet God in his wisdom puts two imperfect people together to reenact His son’s marriage to us. (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:22-33) In the words of Tim Keller, “Marriage is a reenactment of the gospel.” Jesus the perfect son of God marries us that are imperfect, weak, and sinful. Our marriage is not just between Jenny and I. But it also includes Jesus. He is the one that brings the perfect into an imperfect union. He perfects that which concerns us. (Psalm 138:8)

Grace gives and receives 

What is grace in marriage? Grace is giving to your spouse what they don’t deserve and receiving from your spouse what you don’t deserve. Grace gives and grace receives.

Jenny and I are good givers but poor receivers of grace. We give grace to each other but we don’t like to receive grace. We have to earn it. We have to work for it. Nothing comes easy we think. Grace has taught us to receive. Receiving is for the weak, helpless, and needy. Receiving tells the giver that I need you. I need help. I want help. I’m weak. Please help me. (Psalm 6:2)

In the giving and receiving of grace, grace has become for us the lubricant in our marriage. Without grace we are a machine that works but generates friction in its parts because of tension. We have seen how grace eases the tension between the different parts in our marriage. Without grace, sparks would really fly and a fire would easily break out and destroy us.

So what has saved us, still saves us and will save us in our marriage? GRACE

6 years in and we are just on surface level when it comes to grace. We are just scratching at the surface. We have many years to delve deep into the unsearchable riches of grace. (Ephesians 3:8)

Grace has cut deep into who we are. Grace  has unearthed and exposed our hidden motives. Grace has challenged and toppled our idols – our source of identity, power and significance. Grace has unraveled us and grace has loved us. Grace also has caused heart transformation by revealing how loved, forgiven, righteous and accepted we are. Then it turn, grace has caused us to either give or receive grace from each other.

We pray for more years of experiencing grace in our lives and marriage. We pray that for you too.

that’s what grace looks like

Schulter and Jenny Etyang