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True Joy In Marriage Is Found On The Far Side Of Sacrificial Service

In a few months, I get to marry my best friend, Johnny. To prepare for our marriage, we’re going through pre-marital counseling, and so far it has been fantastic. But along with the excitement, I have also had to confront a monster that is always on the hunt to taint the relationships in my life: my own self-centeredness.

One part of our counseling experience includes reading β€œThe Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller, which looks at marriage from a Christian perspective. Keller writes that what once was a public institution for the common good to create character and community, marriage is now seen as a way to reach personal life goals and to fulfill one’s own emotional, sexual and spiritual desires. In essence, β€œMarriage used to be about us, but now it is about me.”

Keller argues that the real purpose of marriage is to express and live God’s love for us through a relationship. It is about giving, not receiving – an idea that our culture-of-self would instinctively find oppressive and limiting. Keller argues and Weave’s Relationalist Manifesto echoes: β€œJoy is found on the far side of sacrificial service. It is found in giving yourself away.”

β€œSome will ask, β€˜If I put the happiness of my spouse ahead of my own needs – then what do I get out of it?’ The answer is – happiness,” Keller writes. ”Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit – that is, when the relationships appear to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – then we β€˜cut our losses’ and drop the relationship…  and so the very idea of a β€˜covenant’ is disappearing in our culture.”

As I ask myself, β€œAm I really selfish in my relationship with Johnny?” my instinct shouts, β€œNo, I’m a great partner and I love to serve him above myself.” But I realize both my question and answer are ironic, as they truly put me into the spotlight instead of Johnny. Deep down, I have had to confront the uncomfortable truth that unfortunately, I’m not always the best partner and the ugliness of self-centeredness is in me, too. From getting snappy when things don’t go my way or not being considerate of his needs, Iβ€˜m growing more aware of patterns in my attitudes and actions that I would justify as β€œwhat I deserve,” but which are, honestly, just a facade masking my ego.

As I wrestle with the thoughts of β€œWell, what about my needs?” versus letting go of my preferences for the sake of another, I’m reminded of a quote by Rick Warren. It captures the kind of humility I admire in Weavers who live lives of self-sacrificial service: β€œHumility is not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself – but thinking of yourself less.”

I suspect humility is the secret sauce required for a successful marriage, and all other relationships. A humility to recognize my shortcomings and share them with Johnny. A humility to acknowledge how often my ego gets in the way of seeing him and others fully. And a humility to accept that true joy isn’t found in what I do or what I want – but it’s in giving myself away.

I’d love to hear your stories or advice of what you’ve learned about yourself and life through your own journeys of self-examination and humility. I value the wisdom and hard-won lessons of this community. I’m glad to have companions on the path of weaving.

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Congrats Maria! Yes, Love that book by Keller! I feel the popular verses on love by apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 speaks to sacrificial love and greater. Marriage is a beautiful, vulnerable and challenging all at the same time. I loved and greatly appreciated our Pre-Marital counseling we received by our marriage mentors. Among the many things we learned through our counseling was that we are two completely different and opposite people! Understanding our differences, our weaknesses and allowing our partner's strength to fill in the gaps. I encourage all newly weds to learn how to argue well with one another. Arguments have the ability to help us learn so much about ourselves and our loved ones. Will be praying for you guys as you plan, anticipate and celebrate the big day!
Jeudy Mom
What a lovely way to start a marriage. Heartfelt congratulations! Since you ask, I think compassion and patience. Sometimes my husband and I drive each other crazy. He leaves teabags in the sink! I neurotically insist on cleaning the house before the cleaning lady comes! But we forgive each other our weirdness, cut each other some slack and come to one anothers rescue again and again. We are truly more than the sum of our parts, and I’d choose him again and again. I wish you the same and more.  And I forgot... we have two wonderful sons together, a small miracle which makes us grateful every single day.
Nancy McDermott
Krystle Starvis‍, Dale Dueland‍, and Nancy McDermott‍  – Thank you all for the encouragement and reflections on your own stories. They're truly a gift to hear.

Krystle – I really appreciate you raising the very important question on the line between self-sacrificial service and guarding your heart. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, too. And I think you’re on to something with the idea that if both people are committed fully to the idea of serving the other above self, I should hope that that would allow for authentic listening, empathy and care on both sides. I think if both parties share an understanding of commitment either to a relationship or friendship, there’s more room for grace when we inevitably mess up, so I hope we wouldn’t need to be on guard all the time if there is that mutual understanding underlies everything. But if there’s not that shared foundation of unconditional love for one another, and maybe there are destructive patterns occurring, I think guarding one’s heart is indeed a loving thing to do for one’s self and for the sake of another. For me, I’ve been reflecting on how my selfish attitudes often trumps my desire to want to love my friends and family. The actions end up hurting others, leading them to guard their hearts and vice versa. Thankfully they’re quick to forgive and address the mistakes with me, but I know that because of my flaws, such actions can compound and lead to others anticipating I might act a certain way again. I’m glad, though that, in a promises like marriage or life-long friendships, there’s trust and grace to make things right again. What a balancing act! Hahaha I look forward to hearing the reflections on your journey, too. 😊
Maria Oah
Maria, congratulations to you and Johnny.  If you both truly subscribe to finding joy on the far side of giving, you are well on your way to a long happy marriage and joyful life.  My wife and I married at age 19, 47 years ago and I can honestly say that I don't think we have had any of the "hard times" you hear about.  It is because we were fortunate, maybe more lucky, to understand exactly what you write about in your blog.  Times were different then and many marriages occurred at an earlier age, but the human relationship dynamic has not changed as much as some might think.  Successful marriages are built on trust and sacrificial service, failed marriages are missing this.  Best wishes to you both that your cup will be full of all the happiness you can imagine!
Dale Dueland
This so beautiful and honest, Maria! Truly, as someone who knows you, I struggled to see the words 'self-centered' associated with you! But as you point out it's in the deeper places of ourself that we have to ask these questions. As a single person who is intentionally dating for long-term partnership, I am knee deep in these questions, both of myself and the person I'm 'looking' for. And I realize that they are answers I need for all of my relationships - not just romantic. Where is the line between self-sacrificial service and guarding your heart? I guess when you find a partner/friend who is working just as hard to give of themself as you, the question becomes obsolete? I'm not sure but I'd love to continue hearing what you and Johnny learn along this journey. Congrats to you both on this new chapter <3
Krystle Starvis
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