Marriage: A Spiritual Discipline?

How has Gary Thomas sold half a million copies of a book about marriage that does not promise readers a happier marriage?
No promise of six steps to more intimate pillow talk.
No descriptions of three tips for more zip.
The fact is that Sacred Marriage – The Revised Edition talks about the challenges and disappointments that come with married life, our ugly attitudes and our selfishness, and it asks this important question:

“What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

Bucking centuries of church tradition, Gary Thomas puts forth the notion that, just as monks and nuns have used celibacy to grow their service, their obedience, and their pursuit of God, marriage can be a platform to spiritual growth — not an obstacle to be overcome.  I first encountered Gary Thomas’s writing in the late 90’s when Seeking the Face of God challenged me to become more intentional in the life of Thirsting for God (the book’s updated title).  The same depth of appreciation for the church fathers and the importance of spiritual formation is folded into the pages of Sacred Marriage.  The pursuit of God is the lens through which Gary views marriage, and, therefore, marriage becomes:

  • an analogy to teach us about God Himself;
  • a spiritual discipline to create space in which God can work;
  • a mirror of our desire for God — or of our own selfishness;
  • an opportunity to practice faithfulness and perseverance “for acquiring,” in the words of Francis de Sales, “the true and solid virtues.”

Gary dissects a number of marriages — chiefly his own — to demonstrate the truth of his assertion that marriage is the ideal context for growing in Christ-likeness.  In a multitude of ways, we need our pride assaulted and our eyes turned toward the advancement of God’s kingdom.  The natural tendency in marriage is just the opposite, but as a couple begins to seek purpose and meaning outside their marriage in a commission from God, the marriage is infused with deeper meaning.

Perhaps the most valuable (and certainly the most unique) content in Sacred Marriage is Gary’s blunt acknowledgement that this broken world is and always will be littered with marriages that are lop-sided and limping.  In the case of a Christian marriage, this provides an opportunity for both spouses to become “God-dependent rather than spouse-dependent,” an occasion to persevere, and a moment to have our flaws exposed and expunged.

Here’s another challenging theory that no one wants to hear:  “Behind virtually every case of marital dissatisfaction lies un-repented sin.”  Sit with that one for a while and let it come to mind the next time you mutter a complaint against your spouse.

Is it possible for even a difficult marriage between two polar opposites to awaken our souls, to become a signpost pointing to God?  Yes.  The image of God’s presence resting between the two cherubim on either side of the Ark of the Covenant is a powerful visual reminder that “the presence of God comes to us as two beings are joined.”   What if, instead of seeking God mainly in solitude, believers began to consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:19,20:

“I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Even if a marriage has not previously been characterized by purposefully seeking God, Sacred Marriage builds a road for going forward on that basis, allowing God to enter into and sustain marital love and companionship.

Gary Thomas is challenging engaged, married and single people from all ages and stages to join an on-line community with the goal of exploring the connection between marriage and worship.  This invitation to pursue an honest conversation about the joys and frustrations of marriage comes with the hope that your marriage can become a doorway to a closer walk with God.

This book was provided by Zondervan, through the BookLookBloggers Program, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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22 thoughts on “Marriage: A Spiritual Discipline?”

  1. I remember thinking how unique this book was back in the day when I read it. It wasn’t about me and my needs and what I wanted. It was about God. And that put a fresh, sacred angle on this lifetime commitment.

    Good stuff!


  2. I’ve seen this book in the bookstore, but never taken a closer look. I’ve certainly never thought about marriage being an opportunity to teach me more about God–but it makes sense when I think about it. Thank you for your review of his book!


    1. The thoughts were new to me as well, but very refreshing. Historically, we’ve seen singleness as the fast track to spirituality, but Gary gives us married folks a bit of hope (grin).


  3. Hi Michele,
    I’m not married but this book has shown up in my life three times in the past week so I read your review with great interest! I think it’s quite a novel approach to pursue holiness in your marriage and you wonderfully relate the book’s purpose and content. It sounds so intriguing — loved reading your thoughts!


  4. A great review – and even more so because I read this book earlier this year and have not been able tocapture my thoughts about it – but you have done so and well. This book really made me think about my marriage and how I teach my children about marriage – I’ll be reading it again.


  5. This book was transforming in my own marriage!! The problem is that I “grew weary of doing good”. I don’t know why we always do that, grow weary of doing good, but I see it play out time and time again, not just in myself, but in others.

    I really need to read Sacred Marriage once a year or how ever often I need to as a constant reminder that my marriage is an example of Christ’s marriage to the church and I must uphold that testimony.

    Sacred Marriage is always the first book I recommend to young marrieds.

    Thanks for sharing this review and reminding me to go dust this book off and read it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This post caught my eye at a Christian link party this morning – don’t know which one. There seems to be a lot on Mondays. Anyway, Hubby and I just finished this book and it was great! I think our favorite chapter was about how to deal with parents/in-laws when married because that’s been the most difficult for us. Great book! We try to constantly have a marriage book going to continue improving! Have any suggestions?


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