The most adventurous road trip I have taken with my wife, Terrie, without a doubt, was to Nicaragua.
I had been invited to preach in churches that were planted by a missionary and consult on starting a Bible college for Nicaraguan pastors. Because of the instability of the country, our church deacons recommended that we bring with us two men who were experienced police officers with a background in military reconnaissance.
On the morning of this adventure-fated day, we distributed food to residents who lived just outside the citywide dump on the outskirts of Managua and also visited a church about 500 yards away. We then headed into the mountains to the city of Matagalpa in a van with a hired driver about 50 yards behind a lead car. As we approached a bridge spanning the Rio Grande de Matagalpa, the lead car radioed that we should hold our position because there was trouble on the bridge.
Apparently, the Sandinista guerrillas, representing the socialist party of Nicaragua, were making some sort of political statement up ahead. The reason was lost on us, but the fact that they had blocked the bridge and were demanding extortion payments for anyone wanting to cross was not.
Because of the reputation some Central American countries have for kidnapping foreigners, the police officers accompanying us had an immediate and uneasy feeling about our situation. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man on a motorcycle and dressed in black appeared beside our van and said in Spanish, “If you want to have some safety, I know a shortcut. Pay me and follow me.”
Now we were following a stranger on a motorcycle down a dirt road into the rainforest — the perfect scene for a kidnapping.
After about four miles, the man headed back toward the river. We came to a place where the river was much narrower, and our driver suggested that if we pushed from behind, the van could probably make it across. What else could we do? The men got out and pushed while the driver steered.
Halfway across the river, the van began to float and almost tipped over. Thankfully, the rear tires hit a large boulder. We caught up to it and kept pushing as the driver spun the wheels. Somehow — miraculously — we made it across and continued on to Matagalpa where we had a fruitful few days of ministry.
Looking back, it’s an amazing memory. In the pressure-packed moments when we wondered if we would make it out alive, it was easy to question if we should turn around and go back. Even though we knew we might encounter some difficulties, we didn’t expect them to be so dramatic.
It was only by remembering why we were there and the reasons we were headed to Matagalpa that we were able to continue.
Something similar takes place on the journey of marriage. When a couple is first married, they know they have a journey ahead of them. And, at least in their minds, they know there will be a few bumps in the road.
But theoretical bumps are different from experiencing real moments of conflict and seasons of frustration. It’s very much like the difference between a mere pothole and being held up by guerrilla fighters. The first is uncomfortable; the second is disturbing.
Every marriage that lasts a significant amount of time, however, faces its ups and downs and seasons of difficulty. I remember about five years into our marriage when Terrie and I were alone in the car driving somewhere and got into a disagreement. I can’t remember what the argument was, but I do remember Terrie eventually saying, “Stop this car right now — I’m getting out.”
I did — and she did. We sat there on the side of the road — she outside and me inside — until we worked out whatever the problem was and could be in the same car together again. I’m thankful that through grace and forgiveness, we were able to keep going forward.
It’s not always disagreements that lead couples to these moments. Sometimes it’s just disappointment in general. Although you told yourself your expectations were realistic, somewhere in your heart you believed that marriage would be all bliss and romance. You forgot the realities of what it means to have two sinners in a close relationship that lasts for years.
It is during these times that we must pause to remember the big picture. We’re not following a stranger in a motorcycle through the rainforest for the sheer adventure of it. We’re not floating down a foreign river in a rented van for great scrapbook pictures. We have a larger purpose. For us in Nicaragua, the purpose was preaching, witnessing and encouraging pastors and churches. For all of us in marriage, there is a bigger picture than the moment as well.
As Christians in the covenant relationship of marriage, we become representatives of the love Christ has for others.
There is a bigger picture, in fact, than yourself or your partner. We hope Christian couples everywhere want to cultivate an awesome marriage — but look even wider. Refocus from, “Are we having an awesome journey?” to, “What are God’s purposes for our marriage? Is our relationship honoring to Him?”
Ultimately, the purpose of marriage, and the purpose of every aspect of our lives, is to bring glory to God. Revelation 4:11 tells us that we are created for God’s honor and pleasure, and 1 Corinthians 10:31 brings it a little closer to home, as it instructs us to bring glory to God in every activity of our lives: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Marriage has an added component of bringing God glory because it pictures Christ’s love for the church: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Thus, as Christians in the covenant relationship of marriage, we become representatives of the love Christ has for others. That is both a glorious and sobering responsibility … and privilege.
Yes, marriage is an adventure. But it can be a challenging adventure. Keeping the big picture in mind can change our perspective — lifting our focus from the here and now to the incredible way God has given us to glorify Him through the journey of marriage.
Dr. Paul Chappell is pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and president of West Coast Baptist College in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @PaulChappell. He and his wife, Terrie, have written a new book titled, “Are We There Yet? Marriage — A Perfect Journey for Imperfect Couples.”