The best advice I ever got on my marriage came from my husband. Only he wasn’t my husband yet. In fact, we were two love-struck college students who were “taking a break” FROM our relationship when he shared it with me. During that break, I attended a Sunday school class that he taught. (No, I wasn’t stalking him. Perhaps making myself visible. But not stalking!)
In a class on December 6, 1988, Bob Gresh taught on the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. His journal from the night before read this:
“The Lord has taught me much in reading His Word tonight. They can be summed up in five statements:
- There is a pearl of great price
- We are to seek it.
- We are commanded to purchase it.
- It costs us everything.
- It is worth the price.
I must come to the point where I stop the payments on the fake pearls in my life and start making the payment on the real pearl. God costs everything. He’s worth the price.”
His encounter with God on a Saturday night left him empowered to call his class of several hundred-college students out to authentic discipleship and full commitment. Many were changed that day, but none more than me. I left that class fully aware of how often I make payments on fake pearls in our lives. Back then it was “making myself visible to” a Sunday school teacher rather than hungering for the Lord. These days, I often choose sleep over a quiet nudge from the Lord to be alone with Him in the dark of the morning. (This morning.) Sometimes I eat two bowls of ice cream and a bag of chips instead of feasting on a good book that will feed my restless spirit. (Last night.) For me, the fake pearls are so worthless. Others feast on material possessions, porn, serial relationships, self-gratifying gossip. We are so prone to reach for the counterfeits.
Eleven days after Bob taught that life-changing Sunday school class on the Pearl of Great Price, I went to my mailbox to find an envelope with my name scrawled in his handwriting. In it, he wrote:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
He costs everything. He’s worth the price.
You cost everything. You’re worth the price.
There standing at my Cedarville University post office box, I was introduced to one of the most powerful truths about marriage, though I did not yet understand it. In the months ahead, Bob and I would dig deeper into this thought. And on April 29, 1989—our wedding day—, Bob spoke again to an audience of two hundred and fifty wedding guests. He expounded on his heart’s cry in that letter to me. This time he read from Ephesians 5:31,32.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
In one sentence the Apostle Paul encourages us to find a one flesh, shameless oneness union. But suddenly he claims that marriage is a mystery. And that he’s really talking about Christ and the Church. He’s saying that Christ and the Church is the reason we should seek to be in a marriage relationship. In looking at a passionate, pure marriage relationship, a lost world will have pause to consider the passionate love God has for humanity. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures are laden with this romantic picture.
Maybe that’s why Satan is so intent on seeing our marriages destroyed. Maybe that’s why gender issues are at the epicenter of the worldview battle. Maybe that’s why divorce is on the rise, and the Church has not escaped it. Maybe that’s why so many Christian marriages are stuck in a complacent place of existing rather than a passionate love that makes people wonder.
And maybe it’s why you and I should be so vigilant to protect marriage. Starting with our own.
The Mona Lisa is considered the most famous painting in the world. The ambiguity of the subject’s expression and the subtle modeling of forms are novels that call out for the work to be continually studied. It’s like there’s something there that we can’t quite see. A mystery. AFTER 500 years, we still yearn to understand it.
Marriage is like that.
I supposed you could compare the current state of marriage and family to that of creating a caricature of Mona Lisa. Maybe you could say it is something like taking a can of paint to litter the work with graffiti. I think it’s much more than that. In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen. Nothing remained but four iron pegs. The head of the guards did nothing. They thought the painting was being photographed for marketing purposes. The GREATEST PICTURE IN THE WORLD AND THOSE ENTRUSTED TO IT DID NOTHING.
That’s us, church. The GREATEST picture of the gospel has been stolen and we are lulled into complacency!
I’m most burdened—not by political debate about marriage—but by the way many Christians within a marriage relationship are much like the captain of the guard that did nothing to bring back the Mona Lisa. Their marriages have become emotionally empty. They are but two people who live together. He takes the trash out to avoid conflict. She picks up the milk because it annoys him if she doesn’t. But there’s no friendship left. No passion. No mystery.
I know a little too much of what I speak.
As I write this, Bob and I have recently ended an 8-week time of “taking a break” FOR our relationship. Ours has been twenty years of fighting hard for a great marriage. Nothing has come easy and we’ve experienced a lot of seasons of needing to tend to our brokenness. This time, we were simply at a place of going through the motions. Ministry demands, finances, children and social obligations had left our marriage with the mere crumbs of the feast of life. We’d forgotten how to be friends. Compared to many marriages, ours was “fine.” But when we discovered the Pearl of Great Price, we determined that “fine” is not a word that should ever define our marriage. “Passionate.” “Fun.” “Alive.” “Faithful.” “Healing.” “Hopeful.” “Exciting.” Maybe. But never “fine.” When the friendship and passion in marriage runs dry, it’s easy to fight about dumb things. “Why can’t you throw those smelly shoes away?” “Are we out of milk…AGAIN?” “It’s your turn to pick up the kids!” And the civil wars ensue.
In deciding what to do and seeking counsel from our circle of friends, the idea came up to be radical. We were proposing to take 8-weeks “off” from ministry and social demands to tend to our marriage and family. Marriage counseling. Time together. While we—like you probably—could not entirely unplug from responsibilities, we could take a week off and then pull back considerably for the remaining seven weeks.
But I reached for my counterfeits. What about my writing deadline? What about the kids? What about the fundraising project? My accountability partner pulled me aside: “Dannah, perhaps you should resign from your position as CEO of the Universe. The world will survive without you. Your marriage won’t.”
So, I resigned.
He did, too.
(The world did go on without us.)
But for about six weeks, I thought we’d made a mistake. Marriage counseling is hard work. Too hard for me most of the time. I don’t like it. Never have.
The mystery began to appear once again under the rubble of car-pooling and grocery shopping and finance-managing and self-defending. Suddenly Bob and Dannah Gresh couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. We can’t spend enough time together these days. We are like those two 20-year-olds who discovered the secret of the Pearl. And we’re living in the passion of it.
How do I know?
There is a pair of worn-out and beloved slip-on men’s shoes in my house. The stench from them could certainly be used in warfare as a lethal weapon. But I don’t really care! I just like the guy who wears them a whole lot!
Dannah Gresh is the founder of True Girl (formerly Secret Keeper Girl), a ministry that brings moms and daughters closer to each other and closer to Jesus. True Girl provides connection experiences through books, online Bible studies, and live events. You can learn more about her at dannahgresh.com.