The Christmas Stocking That Exposed My Shaky Marriage

The Christmas Stocking That Exposed My Shaky Marriage

It was our first Christmas together as a married couple and we had agreed not to go crazy on gifts. My husband’s birthday is in early December, and mine is the day after Christmas! Instead, we chose to give each other Stockings filled with little presents.

I spent months finding the perfect trinkets that my husband would love-all his favorite things in small packages. A high quality utility knife, top of the line socks, his favorite cologne. I told him to open one of his gifts first and I joyfully watched as he tore open the paper, revealing my thoughtful choices.

And then I opened mine, my heart filled with excitement to see what my new husband had lovingly chosen for ME.

I pulled out a pink feather boa. And some silly plastic glasses with a mustache. Then, a pair of crazy fuzzy socks and a roll of mints. (I hate mints.) My husband grinned and I kept digging to the bottom, thinking a set of pearls or a gift certificate must be in there somewhere.

Nope.

I looked up at him in disappointment—and disbelief.

“What?!” he asked, as his smile faded. He really didn’t know.

In his mind, stockings were for funny gag gifts, a time to be goofy and whimsical. In my mind, they were meant to confirm the idea that good things come in small packages—preferably with brand name labels attached and lots of pricey sparkle. More than that, stockings were meant to communicate that the giver really knew you—knew the things you preferred and enjoyed.

We had miscommunicated and made assumptions about one another’s intentions and plans for what a Christmas stocking should hold. It was a lesson to us that we had a ways to go as husband and wife and learning to communicate and manage expectations, but it also revealed to me that I had a long way to go in learning contentment.

That was just one of many rude awakenings for me that first year together as husband and wife. I allowed my disappointment to hurl me into a downward spiral of discontent, questioning if my deepest longing—to be known and loved—would ever really be a part of my marriage. I became sad, then hurt, then angry, then bitter. It wasn’t just the awkward exchange of gifts. I knew that was an honest mistake, but it left me feeling disillusioned, because I let it. In my mind, I rehearsed all the other shortcomings of my life, besides the challenges of being a newlywed.

There were plenty of other areas of day-to-day living that simply were not measuring up to my ideals. I had been skipping along the treacherous line of thinking that because I had been a “good” Christian, my long awaited for blissful marriage, cooperative children, 4-bedroom house, and selfless BFF should materialize and bring me my heart’s desires. When that didn’t happen, I got angry. Not rage against the machine angry, but a quiet simmering of discontent that infected my heart and clouded my perspective.

I snapped at my kids. Bickered with my husband. Coveted my neighbor.

I guess I wasn’t such a “good” Christian after all.

Over time, I realized that my anger issues were rooted in discontent, which was rooted in pride. The Holy Spirit began to convict me. All my efforts to change my circumstances weren’t working. I needed a heart transplant, STAT.

Linda Dillow, in her book, Calm My Anxious Heart, quotes Henry Kissinger: “To Americans, usually tragedy is wanting something very badly and not getting it.” That was me. The ideal and tranquil life was something I felt I deserved and instead of counting my blessings, I turned my desires into idols.

An idol is anything we value more than we value God and His plan for our lives. I had plenty of those. Had I yielded to this notion sooner, I could have avoided a lot of heartache. I’m still not there, 10 years later, but I’m not where I was either. The truth is, yielding our will is no easy thing, but it is the freeing thing.

My prayer for 2015 has been this, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than anything else.” You see, I thought that my husband’s ability to read my mind and shower me with thoughtful gifts would make me content. I believed that a house with a white picket fence, happy kids, and relationships with like-minded friends would satisfy me. The head knowledge that only Christ can satisfy had not made it to my heart.

God took me on a roller coaster ride that pried my clenched fingers off the safety bar of my grand illusions, one white knuckle at a time.

Eventually, I discovered that the Bible that I believed was true was not just true, but true for me. In me. Nothing else really does satisfy like Jesus. I really do love Him, even if He takes everything I have ever wanted, away. I really can be satisfied loving my wild child, instead of a compliant one. I truly can find contentment in the companionship of my Savior when friends seem distant. The Holy Spirit really does give me peace that is supernatural even when my husband falls short….or I do. I really can be satisfied in a tiny apartment where I bedeck myself in a pink feather boa and crazy socks.

Our anger or bitterness may not have originated over night. Maybe, like me, your melancholy is the long brewed product of drinking the poison of discontent. Do you have an idol in your life? Is a happy marriage more important to you than living out the Fruit of the Spirit, despite the hardships? Do you keep wondering why it has to be you with the son who has ADD? Are you having a pity-party because you haven’t had a call from a girlfriend to see how you are doing since two years ago?

Perhaps today is the day you can turn the tide towards humility and contentment by saying a simple prayer, “Lord create in me a desire to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than anything else”. And when the life you want eludes you, you will realize that the better life is not in obtaining your heart’s desire, but in receiving the heart that God desires to give you.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (I Timothy 6:6-8)

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:3-5)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

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YOUR TURN: Can you relate to my story? Is there some seed of discontent that needs to be uprooted in your life? How can I pray for you?

 

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Amber Lia

A former high school English teacher, Amber is a work-at-home mom of 4 little boys under the age of 10. She is the best-selling author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, say Something New. She and her husband Guy own Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and Film production company in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not building sand castles with her boys on the beach, or searching for Nerf darts all over her house, you can find Amber writing to encourage families on her blog at Mother of Knights (www.motherofknights.com).