I have a love-hate relationship with Ikea. I love that I’ve been able to go there and purchase nice-looking, trendy furniture that I can put together in hard-to-fit rooms in some of our real estate properties. Ikea has truly saved us from living out of boxes in rooms where the doorway is too narrow to fit conventional furniture or as in our current situation, the stairway of our 1850’s-era home is too tight to carry furniture up to the second floor. Ikea to the rescue.
Yesterday, I spent from 9 am to 8 pm putting together three dressers for the new house. I only slightly embellish to call it 'a mild form of torture'. For those who have never purchased from Ikea, you get these instruction manuals with only pictures—no words are apparently allowed in Sweden. Including screws and a myriad of other connecting devices, there are hundreds (and that is not hyperbole) of pieces used to assemble a piece of furniture of only moderate complexity. It feels like a grueling war of attrition to get from boxed slats and bags of connecting devices to an attractive and usable dresser.
Today, my knees hurt from all the crawling around on the hardwood floor. My dominant hand (especially my thumb) is almost calloused from screwing hundreds of things together. My back hurts from all the bending over. And, my pride hurts that one drawer out of the three multi-drawer dressers just will not close exactly right. I cannot figure out what I did wrong. And, how many steps back did the error start? There is no way that I’m going to undo everything to get back to where the rails for that dresser drawer were assembled. That's not happening. So, I will just have to forever look at that stupid drawer and be annoyed and reminded that I messed up somewhere—not even knowing where.
As I stood there staring at the dresser drawer that is functional but not perfectly aligned, I began to draw parallels with so many Christian marriages—including my own for far too many years.
We are functional. We can get by doing the things that married couples do. But, we are not aligned. We are misaligned with God’s design for marriage. And, as a result, we are are not aligned as a couple. And, just as I stood there befuddled about what went wrong with this dresser drawer, too many of us Christian couples are also bewildered as to why our marriages lack the warmth, intimacy, and spiritual vitality that we desire.
There were hundreds and hundreds of pieces needed to assemble three dressers. And, at the end of all of those grueling hours, every drawer works perfectly—except one. I don’t recall doing anything differently there than I did for all of the other drawers. But, obviously, I erred somewhere.
Thinking back, I remember many arguments with my wife where I thought I had done everything right. But, at the end, she was upset or maybe even crying. We stopped speaking--sometimes for days. It was a mess. In some instances, I wasn’t even sure where things had gone wrong.
That dresser took me hours to put together. There is no way that I’m going to undo all of the work to autopsy and correct whatever is causing the problem. The other drawers on the dresser look just fine. And, it isn’t like this one dresser drawer isn’t usable. It just doesn’t look quite right. We will get used to it.
Unfortunately, this is the same neglectful attitude that I used for years in my marriage. It will be OK. Other things seem to be working fine. My marriage is a little out of whack. But, it is functional. We can use it. We don’t want to do the hard work of deconstructing our attitudes and behaviors in order to correct the problem. We think, ‘who needs that level of tedium?’.
But, this is wrong.
Your marriage needs to grow. And, it will not grow properly if you do not take the time to fix the problems. Staring at it won’t solve it. Apologies may not solve it. More often than not, you have to take some things apart and do it over again. Yes, I know this can be very hard, depending on the depth of the emotional wounds. I know that it feels daunting when there are so many little details to consider. It feels easier to just ask for prayer and keep moving.
Here are the five lessons I’ve learned from Ikea to help Christian marriage grow:
Lesson 1: Pay attention to details along the way — it just takes one seemingly small mistake to render the final product defective
Lesson 2: Each step contributes to the final outcome — a convenient shortcut may have a bigger negative impact than you anticipate
Lesson 3: One missing piece could render the entire thing unusable — consider what you or your spouse may be missing that hinders your best marriage
Lesson 4: Don’t force a fit — just because you want something to fit a certain situation doesn’t mean that it will so if one approach doesn’t feel like a good fit then try a different approach
Lesson 5: Give one another some grace — show your spouse how much you appreciate the effort that s/he made, even when things do not turn out perfectly
You may wonder if I’m going to actually go back and try to fix that drawer. I’ll tinker with it a bit to see if I can figure it out. But, honestly, I’m not going to take all of that stuff apart again. But, here’s the thing. My marriage is far more important than a dresser. I absolutely endeavor to take apart whatever needs to happen to get my marriage right. And, I know that this will require a lot of me.
So, yes, I’m in a little bit of pain today. But, the discomfort serves as a reminder that when my knees hurt, it needs to be from spending much time on them in prayer that I might be the best possible husband in my marriage. If my hands hurt, it needs to be from using them to serve my wife. And, if my pride hurts, it needs to remind me that all of this is not about me. We are co-constructing a marriage that is pleasing to God.
So, the next time you see that Blue and Yellow Ikea sign, remember that
you cannot DIY your way to a purpose-driven Christian marriage. It is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit.