One of the key lessons my husband Christopher and I have learned is that if we want our marriage to thrive, we need to be “stitched into a healthy community. For though we each vow to love, honor, and cherish one person, being sewn into a relational patchwork of many people increases the likelihood that we will be able to uphold our vows.” (from Making Marriage Beautiful, chapter 10) In this week’s guest post, my friend Ilona shares how being part of community has strengthened and supported her marriage.
Making Marriage Beautiful Through Community, by Ilona Hadinger
Making our marriage beautiful is like building a puzzle.
The day we were married, Mike and I imagined a beautiful scene of love, long life, and happiness as we would serve Christ in full-time ministry. We began enthusiastically picking up and finding the right pieces to fit together to produce our picture-perfect marriage. Yet without warning, circumstances began repeatedly altering that picture and it became challenging to build it as planned. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to get smaller as they multiplied: children arrived, we struggled through a spiritually abusive ministry setting, we moved, faced financial challenges, had more kids, moved again (internationally), lived through loss, and endured one illness after another.
At some point, we neglected picking up the necessary pieces to build the marriage beautifully. We were simply tired, overwhelmed, and worn out from dealing with other things. Further, It wasn’t only that the pieces were changing, some key pieces necessary for a beautiful marriage somehow went missing. What we needed was community: other people to help in sorting and finding pieces so that we would continue building the marriage well.
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
God, who sees the big picture, desires every marriage to grow, but He never intends for it to grow alone. That is what community is for: to help find the pieces and put them in place. We were hungry for community. We were living isolated as missionaries in an arid (naturally and spiritually) mountain plateau in another country within an oppressive culture.
In her book, Making Marriage Beautiful, Dorothy Greco also talks about community and its necessity, though she concedes there are “seasons [that] bring relational famine and we go to bed hungry.” Our hunger for community did not subside when we returned stateside, for then we were on the road continually, raising support. Thousands of people in over one hundred churches heard us and met us, but we were rarely in one place long enough to build that trusted community we needed. Most were never interested in our marriage anyway; they typically wanted to know how we liked our host country, what weird things we’ve eaten, or what we planned to do with the offerings they gave us.
It would not be true to say our marriage was falling apart, but it would be true to say that we seemed to hit difficult places. We cried out to God for help in finding the right pieces to keep building our marriage. God answered that prayer in an uncanny way: our host country denied our visas three times and therefore our organization, wanting their stateside personnel engaged in something productive, sent us to six months of counseling.
God met us there. He used community, a brother in Christ with a PhD., to help us locate pieces of the puzzle we had lost or had forgotten about. Our striving ceased as our counselor directed us back to the pieces, patiently showing us how to work them back into our marriage puzzle. I left with the opinion that every marriage, especially ministry marriages, need counseling to truly become beautiful. Not everyone might agree with such drastic measures (which truly are not so drastic!), but surely we can see how community, the ‘one-anothers’ mentioned in the New Testament, are vital for a thriving, beautiful marriage.
This year we celebrate thirty years of marriage, still being constructed piece by piece.
Ilona and Mike Hadinger live in Oaxaca, Mexico where they train leaders among the indigenous people. Ilona blogs at www.ikhadinger.com and is a member of Redbud Writers Guild.
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