2020-05-27

As the director of marketing and events for her father, evangelist Ravi Zacharias' organization, Sarah Zacharias Davis has traveled the world. But a larger adventure for her has been her seven years of marriage, and the process of understanding marriage from a Christian perspective. Davis shared her story and those of more than 20 other married women, in her new book "Confessions from an Honest Wife." She spoke to Beliefnet about managing expectations, the pressures of Christian marriage, and the "miracle" of marriage.

What do you think is the most pleasant surprise newlyweds discover about marriage?
I think that all of the women I've talked to for the book talked about their expectations, and probably the most pleasant surprise was the companionship, that it continues to get better. Some had only been [married] a few years and others had been 25 years. But seeing that initial companionship, knowing that person is there and they had your back, and then seeing how that evolved and grew -- the security of that -- was a pleasant surprise.

What about the most common newlywed disappointment?
Again, I think it went back to expectations. Realizing that you're two different people, and seeing those differences in a more vivid way than when they were dating. Also, several of the women did talk about their physical intimacy with their husbands being a surprise—in different ways. It wasn't the same way. Some of them talked about different sex drives, and different expectations of how that part of the relationship was going to work. That came up repeatedly.

Do you think most newlyweds put too much emphasis on the sexual aspects of marriage, particularly those who saved themselves for marriage?
I do think so, actually, both from my own experience and talking with so many women. The majority of the women I talked to were raised in an environment where they did save themselves for marriage, and there was a very high expectation put on there. And part of it was the unknown. But especially leading up to the wedding, it was an all-consuming thing. Some of the women talked about how they didn't talk about some other aspects of their relationships much in preparing for marriage, because they had tunnel vision, I guess.

Saving Herself for Marriage
You said "from personal experience." Is that something you went through?
Yeah, I was raised that way, and I did save myself for marriage. Of course there's a lot of support for that in the church, and that's what we were taught is the right way and the way that was honoring to God. There was a lot of buildup to the reward for waiting, and so there was an expectation of instantly realizing that reward. The truth is that like much of marriage, that's something that comes over time—you come together over time, and the more you learn about each other, for many people, the better that gets. But that wasn't part of the expectation. One woman talked about how she'd even heard it was going to be the best night of her life, and expecting that after being all day at the wedding, and getting up so early, being with people all day. Then she expected that they were going to come back to the hotel and it was going to be the best night of her life. And it was that disappointment.

Why do you think people should remain virgins until they get married? One could say, if you'd gotten that out of the way during the engagement, that wedding night pressure wouldn't be there.
I think the reason why you should wait is that if you are a Christian, I think that's what the Bible teaches. But that doesn't mean it's going to be perfect or the best night of your life. There were other women who hadn't waited, and there were issues there too. It doesn't solve every problem. Either way, sex is a large part of marriage, but it's not the only part. Keeping that proper perspective of it is what is important, but I think in order to do that, people have to be honest about it. I think the reason that you wait is really obedience and wanting to honor God with the choices that you make, and with your body, and not because everything is then going to be perfect.

What do you feel is the most important aspect of marriage?
It's really difficult to choose one aspect…but my personal opinion is that that true partnership and support of each other's lives, and trying to know the soul of that person and also to support the person that God made them to be, and to live fully into their potential. That's a very important aspect of marriage, and for me, the most important.

When you got married, did you feel pressure because of who your father is, to have a particularly "Christian," "spiritual," or "perfect" marriage?

The Pressure of a 'Perfect' Marriage
Yes, I did. When you grow up in the ministry—my father [noted evangelical Ravi Zacharias] wasn't a pastor, but I know pastors' families say this as well—you function somewhat in a bubble. There's wonderful blessings in that. But the other side of that is that people put a lot of expectations on you, on the entire family. And I think we put those expectations on ourselves too, you feel like you're an example whether you want to be or not. So yes, I think there is that pressure, and as Christians in general there's that pressure where we think that somehow how perfectly our lives turn out is in direct conjunction with how spiritual you are, how your relationship with God is. That's where, especially around marriage, there's a lot of mystery that marriage is enshrouded in as far as what to expect. That's why I wanted to write this book to give women a forum to speak openly, with integrity—there's definitely no spouse-bashing—but to be honest about the questions they have, the struggles they have, the times they're confused, the things they know, the things they still don't know.

Do you think honesty is a quality that's getting lost within marriages?

I think my generation—I'm 31—tends to more put things out on the table. I know in conversations I've had with my grandmother and her generation, there were many things that just weren't talked about, and you sort of suffered in silence and had your struggles. Now I think there's more openness. But again, we feel it needs to be perfect because we're Christians, and if you are a Christian and trying to honor God through that aspect of your life, you're afraid of your spirituality being judged. I think that's why people are hesitant to be honest. Within marriages you're two human beings that aren't perfect, and you're still in process. So the relationship you create together is going to be one that reflects the both of you.

You have said that your faith has changed since you got married. How so?
Marriage & Changes in Her Faith
I have been married seven years. I was a Christian when I got married, but my faith was completely different. I think I have a different picture of God now than I did when I got married. For me, it's a truer picture. Again, you referenced the pressures because of the family, and growing up with my dad. I saw a lot of formulas in my faith before, because I wanted to do the right thing and be a good daughter and be a good Christian. Through being married, because your expectations aren't always met, and things aren't the way you maybe thought they were, as easy as you thought they were, it allowed me to see a clearer picture of God. I have a more intimate relationship with Him, and part of that is that I've learned that the way that I am in my earthly relationships, I mirror that in my relationship with God. So if I can't be honest, if I can't be authentic in my earthly relationships, I tend to go to God with the same attitude, and not being real—even though of course He knows the real me anyway. But I think if you want true intimacy, honesty is very important.

Have you ever encountered a couple you felt should not have gotten married?
[I had that opinion about] one woman I interviewed for the book—but when we talked, she really opened up. She really allowed me inside her marriage, to see a picture of that. I was amazed at how wonderful a relationship she and her husband had, and how she had grown as a person in her relationship with him, and she credited him with a lot of that, the way that he invested in who she was as a person. It was something I actually didn't see from the outside. It's so easy to judge other people's lives. That's when I was really convicted that you just don't know. When you're looking from outside a marriage, it's easy to stand in a place of judgment, and I don't think that's our place. The truth is, it's easy to make that judgment and say they shouldn't have gotten married—but you never know how God is going to use that in their lives, and that's maybe the path that He has for them, but maybe it's not the path He has for you. And He brings us all towards Him in a different way.

How do you handle the multiple interpretations of the "Wives, submit to your husbands" Bible verse?

'Wives Submitting to Husbands'
That is one that I talked about a lot with women. There were differing opinions of that. Of course the Bible does talk about wives submitting to their husbands, but [it] talks about us submitting one to another, and that is the most important part—that you both come together in the relationship with that attitude of how you can serve that person. It's something that different women talked about and wrestled with and really tried to figure out, "OK, I know that the Bible says this, but what does that mean for me, because my personality is this way, or our relationship is this way? What does that look like in a way that is still honoring to God but also is taking into consideration the person that God made me to be, and the couple that He made us be together?" I talked to women who'd been married for 20 years, and it was something they still wrestled with and was an ongoing process of learning. Sometimes they would have to make changes to the way they were doing things—it was something that as a couple they tried to learn together in figuring out the way that honored God but also was consistent with who they were.

My dad talks about his feeling that, yes, that's in the Bible, but in a healthy marriage, if the husband is loving his wife the way he should, and if they're loving each other the way that they should be, that's an issue that really doesn't come up because it's just sort of understood and doesn't need to be spoken about all the time. Really, we all should be submitting to each other and just living that out. I don't think there's one answer that works for everyone—it's an individual choice as a couple, and it's between them and between God.

What you mean by "the miracle of marriage?"
The miracle of marriage is that in the messiness, there is the miraculous. Many of the women talk about wrestling through some really difficult things with their spouse, and it being really messy. Being in the throes of that messiness, they then see that person in a new perspective. Or coming out the other side, and knowing that you survived. You might be a little battered, but you're still alive, you're still with that person, and you gain a new appreciation for them. And then, you change as a person. In so many ways, I look back over the last seven years I've been married, and I feel like I'm such a different person. I've grown up a lot. I have different perspectives, and maybe different opinions than I had before, and maybe a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship with God. That doesn't mean that you don't struggle, or you don't have disappointments. It means that there is that miracle in it as well, where you grow as a person and you grow in your relationship.

Do you have a favorite prayer for married couples?

A Chorus for Married Couples
Back to the idea of turning towards the things that you should and away from the things that consume you, there's that little chorus, "Turn your eyes towards Jesus." That song is very special to me. No matter whether things are good or things are bad, something we need to be reminded of is that perspective, not losing sight of who God is. Humming that little tune and a few lines of that is where my eyes need to be turned, no matter what is going on around me. Sort of like the eye of a storm—things can be whirling around you, but you focus, and that gives you a perspective no matter where you are in your life.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

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