Marriage Was Never Supposed to Fill the Empty Spaces

If you had asked me before my wedding if I thought marriage would meet all my emotional needs, I would have shaken my head no and spouted off all the right answers about who had my heart, who met my needs, and where to run when I was sad.  Jesus is my all.  I know I would have said this.    

Then life happened.  When things got hard, I wanted my husband.  When I felt confused, I looked to him to make sense of things.  I could see his face, hear his voice, and feel his comforting arms around me.  He was the perfect replacement.

Until he wasn’t around for some of my darkest moments.

I was alone in our apartment when I received the call my brother and his girlfriend had been murdered.  I was alone in the hospital bed the morning our doctor told me they thought our son had Down syndrome.  I was alone both times I miscarried and faced almost all of the follow-up medical appointments without my husband by my side. And I’m alone now.  I wouldn’t call my current season one of the darkest, but it’s been tough and I’m emotionally weary.  

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve felt a heaviness over some issues in the lives of people near me.  As I seek to walk beside friends who are hurting and try to make sense of what often feels confusing, all I want is my husband’s presence.  I want his input, his feedback, his listening ear. I need his wisdom, his perspective, his calm to my sometimes over-reactive nature.

But he’s somewhere on the other side of the world in a relatively short deployment, that still sort of feels like forever.  I can’t cry on his shoulder. I’m unable to run things by him before entering into difficult conversations. Sometimes I can’t even get out a full sentence when we do talk because the phone connection is so poor.

My inability to be with him has made me lonely.  Usually, I can reason myself out of my feelings, especially ridiculous, flat-out wrong ones, or ones like loneliness when I know what I’m supposed to believe.  But the loneliness that crept in at the beginning of January hasn’t left. So when the words, I know you might be feeling lonely, but you are most certainly not alone,” came through the speaker on my phone the other day, I started to cry and nodded my head in full agreement.

We are not alone in our loneliness because God is with us.  I know this. And I’ve felt it’s reality over the past weeks, but I needed someone to remind me.  Someone who also feels lonely—in her own way—to say it out loud, with confidence.   Emily’s podcast episode this week, Welcome Your Loneliness, sounds contradictory to our nature.  We push away loneliness, avoid it, and try to fill the unshakeable voids with all kinds of things.  But maybe the loneliness is actually an invitation to feel the emptiness and fill it with the only thing that truly satisfies.

Right now, loneliness is a result of circumstances around me in which I long for my husband—my best friend—to help guide me.  This particular loneliness revealed again the fact that my marriage can’t meet my needs in the ways I would like it to. Maybe you’re facing a similar loneliness or perhaps it’s very different.  For both of us, we need to honestly evaluate the ways we’re trying to satisfy our lonely souls.

Some people would eat chocolate.  And, I’ll admit, there were days this week when I ripped back the foil wrapper of the dark chocolate Dove hearts and stuffed my face.  Sometimes we mindlessly scroll through social media. Maybe we get lost in a book, a show on Netflix, or pull up the covers and shut everything out before 9pm.  

I’ve certainly attempted each of these.  But what I’ve learned to do in the loneliest moments of life—particularly when I’d rather look to my husband—is lean into the Lord. 

Okay, so I know you might be rolling your eyes in frustration over a spiritual cliché.  Maybe you wonder what leaning into the Lord even means and what it should look like. Perhaps you think there’s no way I can actually mean what I just said. 

I assure you, I most definitely mean what I just said.  Leaning into the Lord is the only way to satisfy a lonely soul. 

Marriage was never supposed to fill the empty spaces.  I know this now, in an “I’ve been there and done it” kind of way.   Because believe me, I’ve tried to make my relationship with Bradley fill my emptiness.  I’ve run to my husband in my suffering. He’s been the first one to hear about the ways people have hurt me, my confused thoughts, my opinions about the injustices around us, and my desires to restore what feels wrong in our little corner of the world.

Yes, he’s helpful, trustworthy, and loves me enough to be honest, rebuke me, and walk me through my struggles.  His wisdom is invaluable and I’m a better person having been married to him for the past thirteen years.  But he’s not God.  And try as I might to make my marriage relationship fill my soul, it never will.  Neither will anything else.    

I can’t know with certainty why God does what he does, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s allowed me to face the most challenging moments of life without my husband so I will run to Jesus. Because as lonely—and sometimes isolated—as I feel, I simultaneously feel a deep sense of joy.  

Loneliness drives me to dwell in the shelter of the Almighty.  Loneliness invites me to take refuge in the shadow of his wings.  Loneliness allows me to delight in the presence of Christ within me.

When I can’t talk to my husband, I’m forced to pray.  When I can’t get input from anyone else, I seek and rely on God’s wisdom alone.  When I’m confused and out of sorts, I rest in the stability of an unchanging God.    

My husband is a refuge, a shelter, and a delight—I hope every married woman can experience this kind of love in her marriage.  But a husband isn’t the ultimate refuge, shelter, or delight.  

Marriage cannot fill the empty spaces but it helps point us to the God who emptied himself so we could be filled up with the knowledge of him.  As we continuously seek to fill ourselves up with the knowledge of God, through his word and through prayer, he fills us with everything we need for life and godliness.

When I bring this kind of filled up soul to my marriage I can confidently say Jesus is my all.  Not because I know it’s the right answer, but because I’ve experienced the reality of his presence and I know he’s better than anything my husband can offer.

Are you lonely?  Don’t push it away.  Don’t try to fill it up with good things.  Run to Jesus. He alone is meant to fill the empty spaces of the soul.

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash