Trial by Fire

Covenant Mafirerriage?

I’ve been starting to hear the term; “Covenant marriage” bandied about in Christian circles lately and it has baffled me. It baffles me because that is what a marriage is— a covenant— so why all of a sudden the need to tack on that qualifier. It’s like saying, I just found paying employment, or, let’s go for a vehicular drive,— ‘covenant marriage’ —that’s the whole point!  That’s why we get married, without the covenant it’s just a temporary arrangement where you each try to get all you can out of it before it becomes untenable and is dissolved.

Yeah, if that’s your idea of marriage then don’t bother, Just live together and save the cost of divorce. But that’s not God’s idea of marriage. In the Kingdom of God, marriage is a covenant, and if you’ve ever been to one of my weddings you have heard me say just that.

Hearing and understanding that, and living it, are two different things.

Trial by Fire

When Donna and I first met and eventually became friends who decided to pursue a more serious relationship, we were both at the place in our lives where we had been around the block a few times. And, we were both fairly new in our commitment to doing things God’s way. So we went into our relationship knowing that if we were going to date that it would only be for the purpose of ultimately getting married, otherwise it was just a waste of time.

Because we did take our walk with the Lord seriously and wanted to avoid any train wrecks down the road— and because we earnestly desired his blessing— we had many serious discussions about what marriage was about and what we could do to make sure that this  would be the one that would last a lifetime for both of us.

We decided before we even set a date that divorce would never be an option, that it would not even be a part of our vocabulary, that this marriage would be a lifetime commitment— no ifs, ands or buts.  We sought godly counsel from our pastors, kept our relationship pure until the honeymoon and made the vows before God and a couple hundred of our closest friends. A truly blessed day.

I have a hard time imagining the anticlimactic nature of a honeymoon that has  had the wonder of discovery taken out of it by too many rehearsals— but that’s a topic for another week.

The honeymoon was amazing on all levels and we returned home to our Honeymoon cottage on Blue Creek; the old Helfrick homestead all fixed up and added on to by previous owners and we set out to build our lives and our family there. Then came that fateful night three weeks after our wedding when the smoke alarm woke us up just before midnight.

Having a wood stove this wasn’t the first time the alarm had gone off so I didn’t think much of it as I got up to wave my hand in front of the smoke detector to dispel the smoke that surely just got belched form the stove. But this time it only stopped momentarily before it started blaring again.

I was about to pull it off the wall and throw it outside or something when I noticed out the window that our back yard was all lit up. Not a good sign. I ran and grabbed my bathrobe and went outside to see what was going on— the roof was on fire The blaze rapidly spreading across the old cedar shakes. I grabbed the leaky garden hose connected to the outside spigot and did my best to spray water on to the roof with the pathetic water pressure that emanated from that particular orifice of this old house as the cold water ran down my arm on this frosty mid-March Montana night.

Donna came out to see what was going on and I told her to go in and call her brother who lived next door and to grab our clothes from the closet. We were outside of any existing fire precinct at the time though the Blue Creek volunteers did venture out eventually. Anyway, long story short, after Donna’s brother and a few close neighbors helped us salvage a few items from the house it got to the point where all we could do was stand in the driveway and watch it burn.

By this point many more neighbors and just random people who could see the blaze from the highway had also gathered round. I met many of our neighbors for the first time that night wearing my bath robe, a pair of old cowboy boots and my old brown cowboy hat. When things had settled down to just being pretty much a bonfire gathering, I did manage to sneak into a shed and change into some clothes from the laundry hamper someone had thought to grab from the house.

So there I stood, next to Donna who was standing next to her mother who had come out all the way from the farm on west end of Billings. You know what I’m thinking at that moment? ‘Donna is going to go home with her mother and our marriage is done for, just three weeks into it.’

I know that sounds absurd in light of all that I told you about our commitment to a lasting marriage but think about it. She had just moved everything she owned into that house— 30 years’ worth of  stuff, photos, treasures, childhood keepsakes, artwork, furniture, yearbooks— you name it. All of our wedding presents were still piled up on and around the kitchen table where we had opened them after our honeymoon trip.

The house on the land that she loved, that her Dad had loaned me the money to buy on land in the area she had always dreamed of living in, where we had planned to raise a family and critters— it was all going up in smoke. We were suddenly homeless and owned little more than our bathrobes and a hamper full of dirty laundry.

It’s embarrassing now and I feel ashamed for even having had the fear because I grossly underestimated her strength of character, but that was what I had seen happen all around me growing up; when things get tough— cut and run. She didn’t. We spent the rest of that night on her brothers hide-a-bed in his living room being traumatized by the sound of the fire crackling in his wood stove. But we were together and have been ever since. Trial by fire, a great way to start.


I was afraid because I had missed the whole point of commitment;  The lack of fear that it will be broken. I knew that I was not going to break it, but I was only trusting in one side of the covenant. That’s not a covenant, that’s just a hope, a hope that the other person is going to stick around also.

A covenant is worthless, those marriage vows are worthless— as far as affording the stability and security that makes a marriage worth entering into in the first place— if you are not convinced that the other person is as committed to it as you are. Donna was not going anywhere, we were in this together and together we built a new house, a life and a family, all based on one thing— trust

As I stood there and watched all that Donna owned go up in flames, not to mention all that I owned,  I was afraid; not trusting her commitment to our marriage, to our vows. I have since learned to have faith in her promise that we were in this together through, good times and bad, richer and poorer.

And believe me there has been plenty of other tests of this promise, but each and every hurdle and challenge has only made us stronger, has solidified the covenant, because we learned to trust each other’s commitment.

That is a marriage, and that is why you need to get married.  Without mutual trust there is no covenant, without covenant there is no marriage, without any marriage there is no blessing and your tears will flood the alter.

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Malachi 2


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