Shortly after getting engaged, my dad gave me and my fiancé a book entitled “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.” The book is written by a seasoned psychologist and marriage counselor, Willard F. Harley. His driving point is that most marriages end in an affair when either one or both of the spouses are not meeting one another’s fundamental needs.
After having read through about half of the book, I’ve noticed that one of the main patterns in the author’s stories of infidelity is marital complacency. As the years go by and small issues remain unaddressed, gaping holes develop within the marriage. This may be due to apathy, or just ignorance, but regardless of the cause there is a clear absence of much-needed marital maintenance.
And it’s easy to see why this happens. Many single people, women in particular, have a tendency to see the wedding day as the end game. For women, it’s almost like a race to the finish line–once I get married, I can die a happy woman. I remember times when I actually had the thought, “If only I were married–then I would be happy.” Marriage seemed like the magical element that would make everything else better in my life. If only I could just grab hold of it.
But this short-sightedness has consequences for marriage down the road. Married women who think they’ve accomplished their ultimate goal have no motivation to continue trying afterward–they stop taking care of their bodies and they stop making the effort to look nice for their husbands. And men are just as guilty–they will stop romancing their wives or going the extra mile to make her feel special or beautiful, like he did when they were dating.
All the things that made their dating relationship a success are now noticeably absent from their marriage.
It’s as if they got married and then hit “Auto-pilot.” Their mentality is that “we’re married now, and that isn’t going to change, so the hard work is behind me.” Many of these couples view marriage as a kind of permanent condition that does not need maintenance–kind of like a tonsillectomy.
Now this mentality is not true of all married couples, nor is it even the catalyst for all cases of adultery. Sometimes infidelity is simply a matter of sin–broken people do broken things. But the reason I bring up this scenario is that it’s an excellent metaphor for the Christian life.
In the same way that some married couples say “I do” and then spend the rest of their years coasting on their married identity, Christians do the same. We pray the sinner’s prayer, get that out of the way, and then live out the rest of our lives however we want, knowing that we’ll always be “saved.”
That is why so many Christians have a relationship with God that looks more like a neglected marriage than a life-giving romance. We’re like a lazy wife who gets married and then immediately begins living the way she wants to, regardless of her husband’s opinion or desires. Now that he is “hers” for good, she uses her husband to get what she wants or to meet her own needs, but she has no concern for his. Or if she does fulfill some of his desires, it’s simply to keep the peace, not because she loves him.
I think we’ve all seen marriages like this. The wife doesn’t take care of herself, she nags her husband incessantly, and we all feel sorry for the guy. He seems more like a prisoner of war than a husband.
In this kind of environment, the relationship whithers. It devolves into two people living together with no relationship between them other than shared possessions. As a result, the husband may eventually wander off, but the wife may do so as well–she will seek meaningful relationships elsewhere since she isn’t getting it at home.
What she fails to overlook is that her marriage would be fulfilling if she would just put in the work to make it so.
And that is how we treat God. We say “I do” on that day of salvation, and then we let our spiritual lives go. We may “co-habitate” with God, keep Him at arms length so that He’s around when we need Him, but there isn’t any real relationship at all. We delude ourselves into thinking that praying the prayer was all it took, instead of understanding that it was a commitment.
We forget that the phrase “relationship with God” isn’t figurative, nor does it imply a mere knowledge of Him. The term “relationship” is to be taken quite literally.
And just like the neglectful wife, we will also seek fulfillment elsewhere as the intimacy of the connection slides into oblivion. We aren’t getting anything from God, so we find other ways to satisfy our desires, all the while blind to the ways we’ve neglected the relationship. If we would only put in the work, then we’d benefit from it.
My pastor once said that “Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” This is a point we too often forget. A relationship with God is no more sustained by complacency and neglect than a marriage. Saying, “I do” to God carries the same degree of commitment and work as a marriage vow, so it’s time we stop shrink-wrapping the Gospel into something less than what it is. If we fail to do this, I fear we will see more and more instances of spiritual infidelity. When our hearts check out of this divine marriage, our actions are soon to follow.