“How well do you think your husband knows you?” this new-to-me christian counselor asked me on a frigid January afternoon as I sat in her office.
“Really well,” I responded without thinking.
After a studied pause, she asked, “What percentage of ‘all of you’ does he know?” “Eighty percent,” I said confidently. We had known each other two and half years, with just more than a year of that time spent holding hands, not just brushing elbows, in ministry, and several months of being a wedded couple.
“We’ll talk about this more later, but I might suggest that he knows about one percent of you. Five percent, at best. There are vast frontiers of you to be discovered that he has not yet explored.”*
This was fifteen years ago, when I was boldly certain Nate knew most all of me and I knew most all of him.
We were twenty-three.
We do that with people, don’t we? Take a snapshot of their lives and push it through our own grid and come up with what we’re sure is an accurate analysis of who they are and how they fit into our story.
Yet here I am, turning the calendar on 15 years of marriage and realizing that the person with whom I share a bed and bathroom counter space and a checking account is only just in the beginning stages of being discovered. By me.
The man I married has taught me that relationships are a grand search. We barely know what we’re looking for (and whom we’re looking at) when we start.
At twenty-three I was certain I’d married one who would change the world with me. We’d share the gospel to the ends of the earth, seeing every person that crossed our paths as an opportunity to make Him known. This was our common language, what drew us together. We sometimes had single digits in our bank account but it didn’t matter: we had each other and God and we had vision.
But then there were the days when the soul-saving dried up and somewhere in there our hearts went with it. The vision faded and we looked at one another like strangers, wondering who the other was without a mission. (Wondering who we were without the mission.)
So we searched. God and each other.
The first search was intentional — we were desperate for answers and needing God’s perspective. We were needing God in new ways. The second, perhaps fueled by the advice of a counselor and most of it just happenstance. We were finding that both of us weren’t quite who we thought we had married. This wasn’t just that I didn’t know he liked his roast beef shredded on his rueben or he didn’t know I left all the cabinets in the kitchen open when I cooked. He was more thoughtful than I’d assessed, but about things I hadn’t so much seen as thought-worthy. I was more fragile than he’d assessed, and at times when he might have needed me to be otherwise.
We were different in things of substance and we had a choice, the kind you sometimes make without actually consciously making it: would we grow together here, in the newly discovered layers of ourselves and under Him? Or would we passively part ways over time, annoyed by what was masked when I wore white and he looked like he was 17 at the end of that aisle?
But Nate. But God, in Nate.
He led out, and pressed in. He started to study me and he wouldn’t let me box him in. He both fought to know the parts of my heart that were so quick to shut down when exposed and uncomfortable and fearful, and he refused to let me turn him into the man I thought he should be when I was fearful and exposed and uncomfortable.
God has taught me through this man that a person has layers to their story and when you spend five minutes (or even a mere five months) growing in friendship, you only see a very small part of a whole life that pre-dated those sporadic interactions. God has shown me through marriage that staying in it, when they’re unfamiliar and you’re afraid, means you get the gift of searching — on a practical level. You practice searching the other, as a means to grow a relationship.
God has shown me through Nate that there are not just often — but always — two (or more) stories to a person and that there’s a lot to lose when we label and move on instead of digging deeper to see His heart for the one across the table, no matter how different.
Covenant has bound me to a limitless search.
What my counselor said on that cold day in January 15 years ago could likely have been re-phrased ten years later, for the heart that was ever-so-slighly more mature and more experienced:
There’s an ocean of depth to explore in a person — any person. And you don’t know it. Don’t act like you do. ‘Cause then you’ll miss out on what this person is actually positioned to teach you to explore with expectation: there’s an ocean of depth to explore in God and in His Word. You don’t know it. Don’t act like you do. ‘Cause then you’ll step off the wildest ride of your life.
Fifteen years in, and I know Nate’s ticks and quirks and what wakes him up at 3am. I know what I could say that would irritate him and I’m certain what words would raise his spirits up out of the dust on a rough day. And yet. This is about 30% of this man and his story. He’s only just getting to know it, too.
There’s a lot of freedom in saying to one another: hey, we’re only just starting to figure out who we are in God and who we are, together. Just like there’s a lot of freedom in saying to God: hey, I barely know You. Can I go searching? Deeper?
My husband taught me to look for the layers in a person by not letting me respond to the 23 year-old version of him, in that suspended moment, as if that was all there was.
My husband is teaching me to look for the layers of God by the way he’s returning to the search, in me.
This isn’t just for marrieds (though it acutely applies), it’s for all of us: let’s cast off our quick judgments (yes, even the ones that come after a few months or even years of friendship), and instead take this stance of searching. We get to practice our search for Him in the way we search out the people in our world. We get to find more of Him when we see the layers of Himself, tucked away inside of the people we might otherwise peg a certain way.
The splendor of God is revealed in story. Your neighbor’s. Your husband’s. Your child’s. That person’s that just continues to drive you crazy.
Search it out.
*This first italacized section is an excerpt from Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet
For Your Continued Pursuit: 1 Samuel 16:7 | Psalm 139:23 | 1 Chronicles 28:9 | Psalm 139:1-3