I have literally read dozens of books on marriage, and Gary Thomas has written the best. Why? Because Sacred Marriage is not about marriage but about how marriage is merely the context for married people to love and serve God.
Thomas’ classic quote says it best:
We also have to rid ourselves of the notion that the difficulties of marriage can be overcome if we simply pray harder or learn a few simple principles. Most of us have discovered that these ‘simple steps’ work only on a superficial level. Why is this? Because there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond how we can ‘improve’ our marriage: What if God didn’t design marriage to be ‘easier’? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
Dealing with topics such as romance, learning to love, honoring one another, marriage as God’s tool of sanctification, developing perseverance, learning to forgive, each chapter focuses on God and God alone as the point of marriage (and life). Even the chapter on sex drills down to the glory of God.
After 15 years of publication, this book continues to be one I read over and over. I need this book. And if you’re married, YOU need it too. Sacred Marriage is a gift to your spiritual life.
I copied below some of my favorite quotes (the number represents the Kindle Location):
If we find that the same kinds of challenges face every marriage, we might assume that God designed a purpose in this challenge that transcends something as illusory as happiness. 196
Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value, and I slowly began to understand that the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness. 300
But if I really wanted to see God transform me from the inside out, I’d need to concentrate on changing myself rather than on changing my spouse. In fact, you might even say, the more difficult my spouse proved to be, the more opportunity I’d have to grow. Just as physical exercise needs to be somewhat strenuous, so “relational exercise” may need to be a bit vigorous to truly stress-test the heart. 314
But what both of us crave more than anything else is to be intimately close to the God who made us. If that relationship is right, we won’t make such severe demands on our marriage. 332
Lisa can’t look to me to be God for her. And even when I try to love her like only God can love her, I fail every time and on every count. I give it my best, but I fall short every day. 338
“Are you going to fulfill me, or will God fulfill me?” 345
I believe that much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it. 347
Some of us ask too much of marriage. We want to get the largest portion of our life’s fulfillment from our relationship with our spouse. That’s asking too much. Yes, without a doubt there should be moments of happiness, meaning, and a general sense of fulfillment. But my wife can’t be God. 351
As long as a couple is married, they continue to display — however imperfectly — the ongoing commitment between Christ and his church. Thus, simply “sticking it out” becomes vitally important. 438
In a God-centered view, we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Creator. 447
The last picture I want to give the world is that I have decided to stop loving someone and that I refuse to serve this person anymore, or that I have failed to fulfill a promise I made many years before. 496
How can I tell my children that God’s promise of reconciliation is secure when they see that my own promise doesn’t mean a thing? 501
What most divorces mean is that at least one party, and possibly both, have ceased to put the gospel first in their lives. They no longer live by Paul’s guiding principle, “I make it my goal to please him.” 503
Just sticking it out is a victory in and of itself and creates a certain glory. 531
When my respect slips into contempt, it’s because I’m weak, not because my wife is failing. If I were really mature, I would have the same compassion for her weaknesses as Christ does. 979
My satisfaction or dissatisfaction with my marriage has far more to do with my relationship to God than it does with my relationship to Lisa. When my heart grows cold toward God, my other relationships suffer, so if I sense a burgeoning alienation from, or lack of affection toward, my wife, the first place I look is how I’m doing with the Lord. Lisa is, quite literally, my God-thermometer. 3791
Marriage, on its own, should not and does not make it difficult to pursue God and enjoy his presence. What makes spirituality in marriage difficult is a laissez-faire attitude within marriage. When we don’t seek to communicate; when we ignore the divine ache in our soul and try to soothe that ache with human companionship alone; when we fail to behold the image of God in our spouse. 3915
It’s not easy to balance the competing demands of an intense human relationship and an overarching, all-embracing spiritual devotion. One of the great (and often unexplored) challenges of marriage is maintaining a sense of individual mission while living in a cooperative relationship. 3962
There are times I must sacrifice my ambition to succeed in God’s service so that I can be fully present and involved in the lives of my wife and children. 3978
There is no question that marriage limits how much we can do, but it multiplies what we can become. 4022
We have to remember that our spouse is called, just as we are, and we have to be interested enough in their call to know what it is that moves them and gives them energy. 4135
It just may be that God gives us the marriage relationship to moderate and redirect our dreams. 4170
God could replace any one of us without hesitation. 4183
My faithfulness is important but my service isn’t essential. The Christian church can carry on very well if I never write another book or speak at another retreat. 4187
When marriage becomes our primary pursuit, our delight in the relationship will be crippled by fear, possessiveness, and self-centeredness. We were made to admire, respect, and love someone who has a purpose bigger than ourselves, a purpose centered on God’s untiring work of calling his people home to his heart of love. 4206
If we view the marriage relationship as an opportunity to excel in love, it doesn’t matter how difficult the person is whom we are called to love; it doesn’t matter even whether that love is ever returned. 4237