Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the LORD has done great things!
In the midst of calamity, of living with the consequences of sin, the prophet Joel reminds us not to be afraid, but rather to be glad and rejoice, for “the LORD has done great things!” This is a great reminder for me in marriage.
Okay, my marriage doesn’t usually feel like a calamity. But at times it has felt impossible . . . like a mistake… like a mess. It has felt, to borrow an image from Joel, like a horde of locusts has come in and taken over everything.
Our most recent rough patch was over nothing. I think the immediate cause was sleep deprivation and too many evening meetings at church and work. Griff and I just got stuck, like a needle on a broken record. For about three days, we couldn’t exchange a pleasant word, let alone a loving one.
We had lost our sense of being a team. Each, I think, was thinking, “I’m contributing way more here.” One of us was thinking, “I do way more housework,” and the other was thinking, “I slog away at work for endless hours to pay the mortgage.” And together we were concluding, “Why do I put up with this? I’m not getting anything out of it.” There were moments in that three-day period when I seriously wondered if we would ever get through that horrible time. “This is how we’ll be for the rest of forever,” I thought.
Our dissatisfaction was not only superficial but also sinful. We were allowing ourselves to feel alienated from each other and to enjoy strangely delicious feelings of self-righteous annoyance. I felt a little superior; I’m sure Griff did too.
The prophet Joel told the people of Judah that unless they got their act together (that is, repented), God would destroy them just as locusts had destroyed their land.
At the time, I didn’t think God was waiting around to unleash lightning bolts on our marriage. But unless Griff and I repented of our small sins—tetchiness, selfishness, anger—our small sins would quickly become large sins that could do serious harm to our marriage.
At times like that, I find it helpful to remember that the Lord has done great things. He has done great things in our marriage. He has gotten us through far worse patches than three days of clawing at each other. Remembering that I don’t have to be in control and that I should cede that control to God, who has done great things, leads me to repent. After three days or three hours of tetchiness, repentance can be as simple and profound as acknowledging that if I let God into the situation, we won’t feel so stuck.
For me, the beginning of repentance is as basic as picturing Jesus walking into the situation. Sometimes I do that when Griff and I are in the middle of a squabble. Sometimes, I can’t get there until later, when I’m alone. Then I replay the scene, the tension and the annoyance, and I envision Jesus showing up. This is not just some imaginative exercise. It is a prayer, a plea for help. And the God who does great things answers.