I remember how dark our first bedroom was. It was windowless, ventless, and dreary with its dingy walls and dark carpet. It was a campus housing, but we were newlyweds. We didn’t care. Our bed and dresser barely fit into the room, and I had consistent bruises on my shins from running into the end of our bed in the middle of the night.
Within the first few months, I also had wounds on my heart that were being reopened in conflicts with my new husband.
So as I sat at the end of the bed at 2 AM that night, crying because I felt like I was failing at marriage, I felt the weight of darkness on my bony shoulders. I felt crowded and enclosed in that tiny room. I felt like it wasn’t working. Granted, 2 AM and dark rooms do not make for clear thoughts or calm hearts. But neither does the perpetuation of the idea that conflict is harmful and negative, which is the idea I had in my head.
I felt like because we had been bickering that somehow our marriage wasn’t working like it should be. I felt as though the pre-marriage wounds I had been trying to bandage and bury were ripping apart regardless of my efforts. I couldn’t glue us together. I couldn’t make peace.
Three years later, as I was reading about Joshua at my desk by the window, I thought about that night. There was a phrase that resonated in my heart: “Joshua made war a long time…” I’m sure Joshua felt at war for a long time. I’m sure he felt weary of conflict, of battle, of death, even of life. I’m sure he asked questions late at night in his tent like When will it be enough? Is all of this bloodshed necessary? Why do these tribes want to go to war with me? Am I doing something wrong?
I thought about all these questions… especially that last one before I moved on from that phrase to one equally disturbing: “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction..” It was God’s doing that Joshua made war. He caused the battles. But I thought he was a God of peace. I thought he was supposed to set things right. What gives, God?
But perhaps he caused the battles so that the enemies could be defeated. So that the adversaries could be overcome. So that the foes could be cast out of Israel’s life. He knew that they would come against Israel sooner or later, seeking to conquer and corrupt. So God said sooner. So the antagonists in Israel’s life could be brought down and destroyed. I had my own questions. Did Joshua see this meaning to his battles? How did he press on? Did he want to surrender after a few battles feeling war-weary and broken?
I stared out my window, thinking of desert battles and lonely nights. I’ve learned a lot about JD, myself, and marriage since our first few months of marriage, but reading about God approving of Joshua making war for a long time illuminated that tiny, dark room 3 years ago.
Perhaps the wounds needed to be ripped apart. Perhaps our old wounds–ones that we received before our marriage–needed to be examined. Perhaps the conflict wasn’t because we weren’t working (whatever that means), but because we were two different people trying to love each other, to help each other live well.
Our first year of marriage was hard for many reasons, but one of them was that it was our first year of marriage. We were figuring out what marriage really means, how to live with another person, why we felt like our world was invaded when we loved the other person so much. I read Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage, that year and he posed a question that has stuck with me through the many settings of our lives: “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?” His whole premise is that the seasons we go through in marriage, the rubbing up against each other is meant to make us holy, to make us clean, to make us whole.
Even conflict. Even arguments. Even loneliness and togetherness.
The fact that we said, “‘Til death do us part” has provided a lot of comfort because it means we don’t have to struggle and strive to always make peace, especially false peace. It means we work through things that hurt and make us mad and make us feel human to our core.
Conflict is not inherently bad–sometimes it’s the result of two different people trying to work together, and sometimes it’s meant for enemies (wounds, lies, unhealthy cycles) to be defeated, overcome, and cast out. That takes a long time, a lifetime. But life is not all war.
Here’s how Joshua 11 ends: “The land had rest from war.”