All of us have issues. All of us enter marriage with baggage that we bring from our past. Maybe it’s pain from prior relationships. Maybe our baggage comes from our childhood or from bad parenting.
Whatever the cause, no one marries a blank slate. All of us have wounds in our past. Some people enter into this sacred relationship thinking otherwise, but marriage is not a magical bandage for our wounds. Saying “I do” doesn’t automatically fix hurting people.
When you get married, you are going to have to deal with the issues that your new husband or wife brings to the relationship. It’s that simple.
The secret to success is whether you deal with those issues like a gardener or like a consumer. Let me explain.
Let’s say a gardener goes down to the local nursery and buys a tree. He’s excited. He has dreams of the beauty and shade that tree will provide. He takes the tree home and plants it. He waters it. He prunes it. He rakes its leaves in the fall and feeds it during the summer. He takes care of it.
The tree grows up, tall and strong and it brings great joy to the gardener. But one day he walks outside and the tree looks…different. It looks sick. Something’s wrong.
The gardener says to himself, “Well, I need to take care of this. I need to figure out if I’m doing something wrong. Do I need to prune it differently? Do I need to fertilize the soil?” He takes responsibility for the tree’s sickness and works hard to figure out how he can improve it.
A consumer takes the opposite approach of the gardener. The consumer has the same dreams. He imagines the shade of a strong, lovely tree in front of his house. He goes to the same nursery and buys a very similar tree.
But he doesn’t take care of the tree. He doesn’t lavish attention on it. He forgets about it from time to time. Sometimes he gets annoyed with all the leaves it drops. And when he goes out to enjoy the tree one summer and sees that it seems to be struggling, he thinks, “I got a bad tree. I need to go replace it.”
He digs up the tree and goes shopping for a new one.
Repair or Replace?
When I was a young husband, early in my marriage to Karen, I had a consumer mindset. I thought I had made a mistake. In the worst days of our marriage, I thought Karen was defective and wondered if I should have married someone else. I was incredibly immature back then and open to deception.
All I could see were Karen’s flaws. And when you see flaws from a consumer perspective, you want to go shopping for another version. I was looking for a total replacement.
Thankfully, God healed our marriage. As we both matured, God began to give us a gardener’s perspective on our relationship. Today, when I see Karen struggling, my first thought is “What can I do to make her better?” She might need encouragement. She might need me to put my arm around her and listen to her. She might need me to pray for her.
Do you see the difference? A consumer mindset assumes that the tree is defective. It places blame. It speculates that the key to a better marriage is to marry a different person. It wants a replacement tree.
A gardener mindset doesn’t blame the tree. A gardener takes responsibility for the tree’s problems. He cares for the tree, wants it to thrive, and is willing to put in the work to nurse the tree back to health. In marriage, a gardener with a hurting spouse doesn’t go shopping, but pours time and energy into repairing the relationship.
The difference in my marriage now and my marriage back then is how Karen and I respond to each other’s flaws. Back then, we stood in judgment of each other. We rejected each other for our struggles.
But today, we come together and strive to bring out the best in each other. We started as consumers. By the grace of God, we have become gardeners.
There’s a reason God created Adam and Eve-the first marriage-and placed them in the Garden of Eden. He intends marriage to be a relationship between two gardeners working hard to help each other thrive.