Guest Post: Janel Breitenstein is a married mother of 4 who writes frequently for FamilyLife. Janel and her husband John currently serve with eMi in Uganda. You can visit her blog at

He surprised me, you know.

I was eighteen. I was leading a college Bible study around a book called Lady in Waiting. I had Kissed Dating Goodbye. I was running hard after God—“Dude, you were hard core,” a guy friend told me years later, in that “we kind of thought you wouldn’t be interested in us” kind of voice.

And then…there was this curly-haired guy with a head-turning but modest self-confidence, a guy who seemed to be running as hard as I was, but in retrospect, more peace and joy.

I initially thought of every reason in the book not to date him, scared of doing the wrong thing (or even feeling pleasure) as I was. Looking at those broad shoulders: I bet he works out and thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips.

Hearing his reasons for attending his denomination: He probably thinks his way is the only way.

But God loved me so much better, so much wiser than I loved myself.

Two weeks ago marked fifteen years since I took the leap of faith that is “I do” with that relatively wise, smooth-faced young man. (Fifteen years! Am I that old? Do not leave a comment on this.) Because that’s what marriage is, when you’re up there in front of God and everyone in “the” dress and the tux: sheer faith.

Because that’s what marriage is, when you’re up there in front of God and everyone in “the” dress and the tux: sheer faith.

It’s faith, too, when six months later you want to throw something at him because you’re more incensed than you ever thought you could be with a human being.

And when that little plastic stick in your shaking hands reveals two pink lines.

When he gets the call that tells him his mom is gone.

When it’s been fifteen years, and you’re looking back at where you’ve been together, this life you’ve made.

I watched our wedding video about a month ago; what if someone had tapped that slightly skinnier, young-looking couple with the crazy-wide grins on the shoulder: Hey! You two are gonna have four kids and move to Africa.

Marriage is faith. But it’s not primarily faith in your partner.

Marriage is faith. But it’s not primarily faith in your partner.

As I looked back at who I was, I am so grateful, folks—so grateful—that God’s vision was so much more expansive than mine. (And trust me. I dreamt big.)

Yes, when I got married, I was beautiful and happy in a lot of ways. But I’m so different now from that young woman I was, teetering on the edge of an eating disorder, drowning in her own insecurity, alienated by her own self-righteousness.

I’d carried elaborate ideas of marrying some pastor-to-be on our Christian college campus; a Bible study leader, or maybe some guy championing service projects on the bad side of town.

I’m embarrassed to write it, but I realize now I’d had visions of being half of some Christian version of a power couple. It feels terrible to type, on this side of things—seeing how my sinful cravings had “got religion”.

God knew that I needed not a flashy guy, but a humble one. Not the guy in the front of chapel, but the anonymous one in the back, who cared not about making a name for himself, or for my spiritual resume and social chameleonism.

God knew I needed the man who would consistently push me toward humility, authenticity, and finding my identity in who Jesus is, rather than my ability to achieve or deprive myself. He knew I needed someone who would pull over in a parking lot on a date night, waiting for me to make a decision on a restaurant because I didn’t yet possess the confidence to form my own opinions. Someone fun (and hilarious; it’s a shame “sense of humor” didn’t make my original list), who’d shake up my ability to take myself so seriously.

I have read that “Well married a person has wings, poorly married shackles” (Henry Ward Beecher). That first one is me. Being loved well, cheered on, set straight—and having to do those things myself for my husband, and now our kids—has liberated me in so many ways. It’s kneaded God’s love into my soul.

“Well married a person has wings, poorly married shackles” Henry Ward Beecher

I am so much more beautiful because of the man God brought to me, then when I was digging in my fearful, pretentious little heels as a college freshman.

Maybe you’re in a position right now making it particularly difficult to see why God matched you with him, or with her. Maybe you’ve become such a different person since you’ve been married, or perhaps he’s not the guy you thought he was. I realize there are depths of exquisite pain there I can’t even conceive of here in Happily Married Land.

But your faith cannot rest in your partner, and your requirement cannot be your happiness. Happiness is a symptom of so many other things, I’ll admit. And trusting your partner is essential. But marriage is not “I do, unless I’m not happy, or unless you don’t hold up your part of the bargain.”

Ultimately, your co-signer, your ultimate safety net, is Someone infinitely bigger.

When your mate utterly blows it (and he or she will), you’re still beneath the tender, impenetrable wings of the God of the Universe.

His intricately composed plan for you is one thing in your marriage that you can take to the bank. Of everything in the world, He’s the one choice that won’t ever produce shame or regret.

May you, too, be pleasantly surprised.