Most folks assume that the goal of marriage is to make us happy. They figure that if they marry the right person, life will be one giant “happily ever after” full of rainbows and unicorns and dreams come true.

But when you think about it, if God’s primary goal is our happiness, marriage seems to be a strange way to try to get us there. Imagine God talking to himself and saying, “I really want these people to have pleasant, stress-free, easy, happy lives. So I’m going to take two of them who have radically different ideas and radically different preferences and radically different expectations about how the toothpaste tube is supposed to be squeezed, and I’m going to put them together and tell them to stay together until death, no matter what happens. I’ll put a Y chromosome in one of them and two X chromosomes in the other to make sure they are radically different from each other and can never completely figure each other out. Where possible, I’ll set it up so that one of them loves NCIS and the other prefers Downton Abbey. They are going to live together and spend hours upon hours together, so they will become intimately acquainted with each other’s quirks, hangups, smells, and flaws. They are going to see each other at their worst. And I’m going to tell these people, who are accustomed to looking out for number one, that they are now supposed to put the needs, wants, preferences, and dreams of the other one above their own.”

That should do the trick, huh?

Marriage doesn’t seem to be too well designed to lead to easy, stress-free happiness.

But it is perfectly designed to lead to spiritual maturity. It would be hard to imagine a better training ground for developing the selfless character of Christ. Marriage seems to be fine-tuned for helping husbands and wives develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – the Biblical “fruit of the Spirit” described in Galatians 5:22-23 (And by the way, singleness is also a wonderful arena for spiritual formation – this growth thing is a pretty big deal to God).

God has a much bigger plan for marriage than to use it to make us happy. He wants to use it to help us grow up to be like Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong – marriage should come with large doses of happiness. Gayla makes me smile more than anybody on earth could. My life would be so vanilla and boring without her that I don’t think I could stand it. My wife, and my marriage, make me happy! But when I start thinking that my happiness is the main point – when I start acting as if the reason Gayla exists is to make me happy – then I tend to get selfish, and I become inclined to blame her when things aren’t all rosy. I place a load on her that God didn’t design any human to carry. On the other hand, when I remember that God is more concerned with my growth than with my happiness, and when I remember that my main job in marriage is to put Gayla before me, things are much better – and paradoxically I am much happier.

God’s primary objective in giving me the amazing gift of Gayla is the same as his primary objective with every other thing he does in my life – he’s working to cause me to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).