There's this one New Year's goal I set for myself... it's been the most difficult and the most fulfilling at the same time.
It's keeping myself vulnerable to my husband. No matter how I'm feeling.
Somewhere along the timeline of my life, in more places than one, I felt the sting of rejection. I'm sure not near what some people have experienced, but still it hurt. From the time I was a little girl all the way through high school, I never felt that I quite belonged anywhere outside of my family. A private elementary school, the church I grew up in, eventually public middle and high school those beliefs of not belonging grew stronger and stronger. (My family was amazing, and I am so thankful for them, and my parents always encouraged me and prayed with me, they loved me through the hardest things.) Girls can be mean sometimes, and maybe they are really just fearing rejection too, but I reacted to the rejection in a typical way. I built walls around my heart. Through middle school the verse I repeated in my head the most often was "love your enemies, and pray for those who hurt you..." It felt like my purpose was to love the ones who were mean to me. By high school I told myself I didn't need anyone to be my friend, I would be a friend to other people and expect nothing back, that way I wouldn't be disappointed. (I'm sure I wasn't a very good friend to anyone with that mentality, always protecting myself, never really letting anyone in, but I didn't realize that at the time.) There was a boy who pursued me the beginning of my freshmen year that was very authentic and free in sharing his heart and feelings with me, and it scared me out of my mind when I thought about letting my own walls down, so I backed away from that relationship and instead veered toward one in which I was treated in a way that was familiar to me: competition, rejection, manipulation, jealousy... I spent two years in that relationship further emphasizing the building of my walls and the idea that I could be in a relationship where I only gave and didn't want or need anything back. And it sucked. (Please know, I am not blaming anyone, and I would guess some people didn't even know the way things hurt me. I was a kid and a teenager in relationships with other kids and teenagers and I processed in my immature mind and I kept things to myself that maybe I could have spoken out and dealt with. The Lord has used every circumstance to shape and mold me, and I am thankful for all that has taken place in my life because it ultimately lead me to Him. Also would like to say- there has been mending, forgiveness, moving forward and grace in so many of the relationships that once hurt. Always, always God is a God of restoration and beauty from ashes.)
Finally, after those two years of bad boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, my family began attending a new church. I saw a boy playing drums on the worship team who really loved Jesus. And I thought in my head "If there is someone out there that really loves the Lord like that, why in the world am I settling for this??" I broke up with my boyfriend the next week. That boy playing drums turned out to be Shaun, who I didn't get to know very well until months later, but was the inspiration in my first step toward freedom and healthy relationship.
Sadly, instead of falling head over heels for Jesus as soon as I broke things off with my boyfriend, I got a little lost and spent some months hanging onto my identity as an athlete, pursuing popularity, etc.... One thing at a time all that I held onto got stripped away until it was only Jesus left to turn to. I will never forget the sweetness of that turning away from the world and turning toward my Savior. It's safe to say I hated who I was before that turn. I was living double minded, hated the decisions I made, but made them anyway, then couldn't stand myself. But somehow in Christ I found the strength to turn away from all that had previously defined me. Breaking the pattern of all that has enslaved you and realizing there is so much more life on the horizon than you ever dreamed has got to be the most elating and humbling feeling in the world. I remember a season where all I wanted to do was to journal in my room with a worship cd playing, pouring my heart out to the Lord. I have always processed by writing, and that was one of my favorite seasons. I put my heart and all my trust into the Lord, and I told Him my life was His. All I wanted to be was who He made me to be, all I wanted to do was pursue His heart. I fully let my walls down with the one who knew my heart better than I ever will myself. I still treasure reading back through that journal. Jesus did so much in me in that time. Sometimes gain looks like loss. That season may have looked like loss from the outside... loss of popularity, loss of "friends", loss of status as an athlete... but I gained more on the inside than the riches of this earth could ever measure.
Sometimes though, things that you thought you dealt with re-surface during marriage. I mean, when you give yourself to someone to become one with them and share a home with them and build a life with them, there is nowhere to hide the ugly when it comes out, and some things go deeper than you realized. Shaun is amazing. He has never given me a reason in the world to ever be afraid, to ever fear rejection, to ever put my walls up. But because it was a habit and my only defense mechanism for so many years, if I even thought there might be rejection coming, up the walls went. I would assume the worst, or go into "protect myself mode" even when he hadn't done something wrong, but something about the circumstance just reminded me, even just a little, of a past situation.
Praise the Lord, I finally saw what I was doing. I made a covenant this year to KEEP MY WALLS DOWN with my husband. To let him in. To assume the best. To hear him. To fight the battle together. That means that even if it's late at night and I have something on my mind that is making me mad, even when all that's in me wants to roll over and shut him out and go to sleep guarding my anger and shielding my heart, I need to turn toward him. I need to let go of anger. I need to fight for us. And know that he is never my enemy.
And that whole idea of only giving and never receiving in a relationship? No person can ever fulfill us, the ONLY source of fulfillment is Jesus Christ, and if we go looking for it solely in another person we will always be disappointed. But that idea that I am only supposed to give and will not ever get anything back was wrong too. It's a martyr complex, and it's not the way we were designed to live. It creates a bitter spirit from the beginning. God created a marriage to bring joy. Sometimes the joy is found in the fulfillment of a Proverb: "...he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed..." (Proverbs 11:25) As we love and serve our spouse we will be refreshed through it. And sometimes the refreshment starts with the other person showering love on us. (If you have expectations of your spouse, be sure to clearly communicate those and don't just assume they can read your mind.) But regardless, our source of joy and fulfillment is always the Lord, and through that knowledge you can love your spouse without the bitter resentment of "will I or won't I get anything out of this for myself?"
I am not advocating making yourself vulnerable to anyone and everyone. But to the one you promised your heart to when you said "I do"? Yes, I think it's very wise to make and keep yourself vulnerable to them.
It's interesting, in the process of what we think is protecting ourselves, putting our walls up, shutting our hearts off, we actually lose love. It's impossible to receive love when your heart is so closed. It's in the vulnerability, the open-ness, the pain of the processing of emotion that we experience love in its deepest form. There are Lady Antebellum lyrics that say "I'd rather hurt than feel nothing at all..." Now I wouldn't necessarily rather hurt, but when you open your heart to your husband or wife through the good and the bad, it's guaranteed that you won't "feel nothing at all" and you might just be awakened to a love like you've never known before in your marriage.
I am no marriage expert, I just like to share what I've learned along the way, and I love to be encouraged by other married women who are learning what living out a godly marriage looks like also. Would love to hear your thoughts or things you've learned in your marriage recently in the comments.