Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
— Hebrews 12:1–2
If life is a race, then marriage is a three-legged one. Not only are you trying to make it to the finish line, but you’re doing so tied to another person whose stride is very different than your own. What is comical and amusing in an actual race becomes less so in our most intimate relationship.
This may sound like an odd depiction, but it’s pretty accurate, except that, in marriage, the finish line is not clearly defined. It’s not the distance that’s unclear but the direction. Which way are we supposed to run, anyway?
Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus helps us run us in the right direction, and it also reminds us of what the race is and what it is not. It isn’t a race against other couples (you’re not trying to outrun the Joneses), and it certainly isn’t a race against each other (If your legs were tied together, how would that work anyway?). In fact, our race is more about excelling than it is competing.
And to excel in our race, we must learn to manage the inevitable conflict that occurs when four legs try to run as three.
In Ephesians 4:29–32, Paul gives us some important “racing rules” to help us do this. But first, he reminds us that the race we are now running is completely different from the one we used to run.
But that is not the way you learned Christ — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Being renewed in our minds and putting on the new self are prerequisites to running the race God has set out for us. Doing this will not necessarily eliminate conflict in our marriage, but it will definitely put us in a much better state to handle it. If we are still clinging to the deceitful desires of the old self, we will view conflict as a threat to our self-fulfillment. But when we recognize that we are created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (and act accordingly), we will react to conflict much differently and be better positioned to put the truths of verses 29–32 into practice:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:29–32
These practices flow out of the new self that God calls us to put on. Our old self will chafe against these ideas and resist them, but the new self will see them as natural expressions of who God has graciously made us to be. And the frustration and pain that conflict sometimes causes will be overshadowed by the joy of being made new in Him.
So whether you’re running on two legs or three, put on the new self today and let God’s likeness shine through you in your relationships with others, even (and especially) when there’s conflict.