An Everyday Act of Sacrifice
By JASMIN HOWELL
Mike is an introvert, I’m an extrovert. He likes the heat, I like the cold. He’s a night owl, I’m an early bird. He’s logical, I’m creative. He likes things plain and simple, I like them bold and complex. He likes it dark and cozy, I like it bright and breezy. He loves to take risks, I am risk averse. He likes predictability, I like spontaneity. He has three pairs of shoes, I have thirty. He’s thoughtful, I’m impulsive. He can wait, I’m impatient. He likes to joke, I am literal. He likes sweet, I like salty. He likes neutral colors, I like bright ones. He is a listener, I am a talker. He could be alone for a week, I need company. He likes his coffee black, I like mine with cream.
As the old saying goes, opposites really do attract. But he loves me, and I love him!
When it comes to preferences and personalities, my husband and I are so far apart on the spectrum as to be near perfect opposites. We don’t have just a few significant differences, we are different in almost every way. Mike and I sometimes joke that the only thing we have in common is that we both love Jesus and that our marriage became more peaceful when we purchased a car with dual climate control settings — he can be warm and I can be cool at the same time (gasp!).
But seriously, with so many significant differences, how exactly does this marriage of ours work? It all comes down to one thing we repeat every single day. No, it’s not some romantic catchphrase we say, or a kiss shared before work in the morning, or a little love note left on the counter. Sometimes we do those things, but the everyday habit of our marriage is nothing quite as traditionally romantic as that. However, it really is the most loving thing we can do, whether we find ourselves in silly or serious circumstances. And it is sacrifice.
Sure, we may be theoretically willing to sacrifice our needs for someone we love. I mean, if we love them so deeply, sacrifice will surely be easy, right?
Was it easy for Jesus? Nobody could have more love than He has for us. But when He prepared to sacrifice His life for us, the Bible describes Him “…in anguish … and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:44 NIV). Though He was God, He was also human, felt and knew pain, and was aware that His love for His Father — and for us — would be personally costly. And it is also costly for us.
Sacrifice is not sacrifice if it doesn’t cost something.
No Longer Two
Mike and I began our marriage with the simple words, “I do.” I will never forget the rapid beating of my heart as I looked into Mike’s eyes with joyful anticipation for the future — two drastically different individuals becoming one.
Mark 10:6-9 says, “God ‘made them male and female.’ … ‘and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.” This verse from Mark is one of only two places in the Bible that clearly indicates “becoming one” means there are “no longer two.” Becoming one is a romantic notion — something beautiful and intimate between a husband and wife. But being no longer two? Well, that process is a little harder and has a personal cost.
In terms of priorities in marriage, the focus on “two” must be done away with, and the idea of “one” should take center stage in our hearts. But wait a minute … what about when both husband and wife have beautifully distinct, God-given differences? God obviously doesn’t want either spouse to simply become a compliant wallflower, right? Surely God gave us these individual personalities to shine and be used for His glory? Yes, and yes! But if one person’s unique personality doesn’t ever take a backseat to the priority of the marriage, then something is off. If one person’s needs, plans, and personality always supersede the other’s, something is off.
Some of the biggest conflicts in our marriage have arisen when either my husband or myself wouldn’t relinquish our individual rights for the sake of the other … where our “two-ness” was the priority of our thoughts and actions toward each other. Every time we’ve done this, someone has gotten hurt.
I am a verbal processor, which sometimes means I talk a lot. And Mike is a great listener! But sometimes my need to talk hasn’t left space for him to be heard, and then we have a problem. Early in our marriage, I accidentally spoke over him frequently … leading to hurt feelings. To this day, loving Mike sometimes means that I hold my tongue, even when I have things I want to say. But he has also learned that I feel loved when he shares more of his heart with me, instead of simply listening politely. Both require us to put aside our personal preferences.
Mike and I enjoy and celebrate each other’s unique personalities and differences, and as much as possible we go out of our way to accommodate and encourage each others’ specific ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. This is one way we show each other love. We don’t try to squash or diminish our differences, we cherish them.
The biblical model of “being no longer two, but one” doesn’t mean our differences will — or should — disappear, but it does mean that we have to check our individual rights at the door and give up our right to be two separate entities with two separate agendas. We even have to set aside the idea that our two different personalities must always be accommodated; that our two individual voices must be equally heard; that our two hearts must be perfectly understood; that our two different sets of desires should be given preferential treatment. In practicality, God gave us each uniqueness so that we can be a blessing to each other in marriage.
Gladly the disciples left their nets and followed Him. They could not know what this would ultimately cost. They had much to learn of the glory of sacrifice. So have we who enter into marriage.1
— Elisabeth Elliot
Two don’t become one without some pain in the process. God’s Word lays out the model for Christian love through daily sacrifice — the laying down of our individuality for the sake of unity: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 Jn. 3:16 NIV). Sacrifice is willingly giving up something we value for the sake of more important considerations.
So what is the “glory of sacrifice” in marriage? Why does Elisabeth Elliot refer to it that way? Each time we live sacrificially, we demonstrate Christlikeness. And the result is something supernatural: growth, deeper understanding, increased unity, greater love, and ultimately … peace.
Mike and I are proof that a husband and wife don’t have to share similar hobbies, enjoy the same activities, have similar tastes, or be perfectly compatible to have a successful — and thoroughly enjoyable — marriage. Here we are almost 12 years later, more in love than ever! But that increase of love in our marriage has been in direct correlation to the increase of our willingness to lay down our lives for each other every single day, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small.
We haven’t always done it perfectly, that’s for sure! But learning how to prioritize the other person is also how our marriage of two extremely opposite people has survived many ups and downs through the years. Everyday acts of sacrificial love are how we have navigated these vast differences (which have sometimes felt like gaping chasms) and how our incredible differences have become points of strength, instead of division … even after challenging stories like the one I’m about to share.
In the fourth year of our marriage, it became clear that we weren’t able to conceive our own children. At that point, I was good and ready to adopt, but Mike wasn’t. It was so challenging to not be on the same page on a huge topic like starting a family. My desire to move forward frequently collided with his desire to wait for more clarity. I realized that Mike may never actually feel peace about adopting, and I didn’t want to accept that. He longed to give me the family I desired, but we both knew it wasn’t within his control. We had some very hard, tearful discussions.
We daily had to find new ways to lay down our own desires in order to better know and understand the heart of the other person. And on this topic, our hearts were so very different. Mike, knowing I was grieving deeply, patiently journeyed with me through my intense emotions, prayed with me often, and also came with me to many different adoption classes to learn more. And I strove to understand his hesitations, listen to his heart, and understand his perspective more fully. It was so very hard.
But by God’s grace and supernatural power, we persevered with each other in love. Our commitment to each other and to God allowed us to grow under extremely difficult conditions. I learned so much through Mike’s slow, patient way of making decisions, gaining a deeper love for the unique way God had made him. And Mike’s gentle, loving heart towards me through those years is something I will always treasure.
Five years passed before we gained a place of peace in this area, and, ultimately, had peace with God’s plan for us. It was peace that came not by adopting a child — as I had perhaps imagined — but through loving each other more sacrificially than we ever had before. Those long years, though challenging, drew us very close together as we learned more fully of the glory of sacrifice in our marriage.
And then, within weeks of arriving at a place of deep contentment in our marriage, God suddenly brought along our son through adoption just after our ninth anniversary. It was far longer than either of us could have imagined, but the timing was perfect. I had surrendered my desire for a family to the Lord, who then miraculously made my heart content and my husband’s heart ready simultaneously!
With the vast differences that Mike and I have, and some of the immense challenges we’ve walked through (this story is only one of many), we have discovered more than enough reasons in our marriage to be divided. And, without understanding and living out the significance of our vows, we easily could have been. But as it says in Mark 10:9 “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
When I read the verse above, I see the beauty of God joining two as one, but I also see the great responsibility, and the great privilege, that God has given husband and wife to not separate — or be separated — either in thought, or word, or deed. We have the joy of laying down our lives for each other as Christ did for us, to practice everyday sacrifice, and to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Rom. 12:10 NLT).
On our wedding day, we made vows to each other with our lips, but we remake them every single day with our lives. It has been an unrivaled challenge, but it has also been the most exhilarating journey of our lives — a most beautiful, soul-shaping, God-scripted process of becoming “no longer two, but one.”
This article was originally published in Issue 25.
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