How Imagining a Better Marriage Helped to Improve Mine
by ALEAH MARSDEN
Rather than living in ongoing resentment, God called me to refocus.
I stood before the rack of cards and let out an irritated sigh. I folded another sparkling heart-smattered card closed after reading its equally garish sentiments. Wiping pink and red glitter from my fingers onto my jeans, I reached for another Valentine’s Day card. With each new expression my heart sunk and my frustration rose. Lies! These cards are full of lies and empty romantic nonsense! I wanted to shout in frustration in the middle of the aisle. Were there really married people out there who felt this way? I couldn’t imagine it to be true.
My husband and I were in the midst of a particularly difficult season in our marriage. The stresses of finances, caring for small children, and my own journey pursuing work outside the home added tension to an already tenuous connection. Emotionally distant, each resenting the other for countless tiny transgressions, we were going through the motions of life side by side. Neither of us knew how to bridge the separation growing between us.
My afternoon card shopping was followed by a particularly subdued Valentine’s Day which will forever mark our memories as the day we decided it was time to seek marriage counseling. Not being able to choose a card to give my husband that day was a superficial issue, but it drew my attention to a much more serious problem: I had lost my imagination.
In his recent CT interview, pastor and author Rankin Wilbourne touches on the importance of imagination, claiming,
We have to rehabilitate this word imagination. It’s not imagination versus reality. Imagination is simply the God-given capacity to image what is real but is not visible. You use your imagination all of the time. For example, when Ephesians 2 says “you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms”—to lay hold of what that could possibly mean, you have to use your imagination.
For many of us, imagination is akin to make-believe—a way children can picture and explore the world. In that framing of imagination, it’s something that is eventually replaced by the necessity of engaging with the “real world.” But the way we understand imagination should not be so hastily equated merely with fantasy. Here Wilbourne speaks in the context of utilizing imagination as a tool to “lay hold of” biblical truth. Imagination is also a vehicle, moving us forward.
In Imagining the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith writes, “We are, primarily and at root, affective animals whose worlds are made more by the imagination than by the intellect … humans are desiring creatures who live off of stories, narratives, images, and the stuff of poiesis.” He continues, “It is not enough to equip our intellects to merely think rightly about the world. We also need to recruit our imaginations. Our hearts need to be captured by the vision of a telos that ‘pulls’ out of us action that is directed toward the kingdom of God.”
In this understanding of imagination—laying hold of spiritual realities, being captured by a vision of truth that directs our action—we can consider this question: If a marriage is struggling, is it possible to imagine a healthier marriage? Working within Wilbourne’s definition, while what is visible and what we may presently experience in a marriage may be pain and brokenness, what is equally real and true—even if invisible—is that same marriage being redeemed by the gospel. If, as Smith suggests, “we live off stories,” then the story motivating our marriages is of vital importance. Are we living merely according to the narrative we presently see and experience? Could we, instead, engage our imaginations to “see” and live according to a spiritual reality which we may not immediately feel—the reality of our marriage covenant before God, rich with his grace and the hope of the gospel?
SOURCE: Christianity Today: Women