These days, there is no shortage of Christian books on family relationships. Some are surprisingly helpful, others demonstrably harmful, and most in between. Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy is a book that had been on my to-read list for some time; I’d read Sacred Parenting by the same author, and had learned and grown from it. In recent readings of superb family relationship books, The Meaning of Marriage and Spirit-Led Parenting, both had referred to and quoted from Sacred Marriage. Thus, I felt a greater desire to go ahead and read it now.
Much like Sacred Parenting, the focus of this book was not so much on a list of things to do or a list of steps to a better marriage, but an overall focus on how God uses marriage to grow us in Christlikeness. This is a helpful and needed perspective. So often, it’s easy to look at our marriages and have a variety of responses, from figuring out what we can do to keep the passion alive, to making the goal of our marriage to appear to be the best marriage ever, to thinking every failure of our spouse is our fault, or thinking that if I/my spouse would change, we could finally find perfection. But all of those seem to be lacking the big picture of marriage that Thomas attempts to flesh out through Sacred Marriage.
The book is replete with examples of the many ways marriage teaches us true love and guides us into holiness, and different aspects of this are focused on throughout each chapter. This particular one (pages 44-45) stuck out in my mind, as it reminded me much of a way my husband is loving me right now:
“‘What would it mean to love my wife in this situation?’ Brady asked himself. In prayer, Brady made a pledge. If Shirley had another baby [her third], for the first year he wouldn’t accept any outside speaking engagements other than the ones his current position required him to take. Shirley subsequently became pregnant and gave birth to their first boy, Micah.
Months later, Brady received a lucrative opportunity to speak in Singapore. Brady is a student of history and loves to travel. The chance to go to the Far East was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, plus it would give him the chance to teach Christians from another culture.
He excitedly told Shirley about this great opportunity, then remembered his pledge midway through his conversation, and said out loud, ‘I can’t go.'”
“It would have been easy for Brady to play religious games here. ‘I certainly could have justified it on a noble idea,” he admitted, preaching to another culture, but if that had really been my passion, I would have moved there and taken my wife and kids with me.’
Some might think Brady was passing up an opportunity to please God by taking his gospel message to another nation, but Brady realized he could please God by loving his wife in as season in which she needed extra help and attention. To stay home and care for his wife in her need was every bit as much “Christian service” as leaving his hometown to go preach the gospel when he was single.
‘To fail to love my wife and kids rightly in the name of other people rightly is a sham,’ Brady insists.”
While it was not lucrative, my husband had an opportunity to speak at a conference that was taking place this month. It was an opportunity he would have really enjoyed, particularly as he hasn’t had much opportunity to teach or speak recently. Yet, because we had just had our third baby, he saw the importance of being with his family during this season. Different families may make different decisions in similar situations, yet I am moved by his love, knowing how much he would have enjoyed this chance.
Of course, the book was not merely a reminder of how loving my husband is, but a chance to see many areas in which I could grow and change as I love and serve my husband.
One caveat is that the title (and sometimes portions of the book) possibly convey to the reader that happiness and holiness as fruits of marriage are mutually exclusive, or at least exist as separate goals of marriage. (In fact, an earlier edition of the book was originally titled, Sacred Marriage: Celebrating Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline.)
I also felt the book was weak in dealing with marital challenges that exist outside of a model, typical American Evangelical marriage. Many of the illustrations and sections were addressed to couples who have children and to those with non-abusive spouses. While this left the book applicable to readers such as myself, I felt at least a little more emphasis on such trials could have been given. At the very least, more explanation could have been given that this book was best for marriage partners who were on the same page (or want to be), as well as more examples of couples dealing with infertility.
Overall, I found this book surprisingly helpful as a Christian marriage book, though not quite with the depth and insight of The Meaning of Marriage.
Table of Contents:
- The Greatest Challenge in the World: A Call to Holiness More Than Happiness
- Finding God in Marriage: Marital Analogies Teach Is Truth About God
- Learning to Love: How Marriage Teaches Us to Love
- Holy Honor: Marriage Teaches Us to Respect Others
- The Soul’s Embrace: Good Marriage Can Foster Good Prayer
- The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin
- Sacred History: Buidling the Spiritual Discipline of Perserverence
- Sacred Struggle: Embracing Difficulty in Order to Build Character
- Falling Forward: Marriage Teaches Us to Forgive
- Make Me a Servant: Marriage Can Build in Us a Servant’s Heart
- Sexual Saints: Marital Sexuality Can Provide Spiritual Insights and Character Development
- Sacred Presence: How Marriage Can Make Us More Aware of God’s Presence
- Sacred Mission: Marriage Can Develop Our Spiritual Calling, Mission, and Purpose
Epilogue: The Holy Couple