Recently I’ve had marriage on my mind. A number of things have brought that about, some good and some bad. To begin with, right before Christmas my husband and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary. About that same time I learned that someone I love left her husband and began divorce proceedings. Then, while visiting some friends who married a couple of years ago, my husband, Seth and I were briefly questioned about our twenty-three years of marriage. Being a melancholy individual who tends to think and analyze everything, I didn’t have a chance of avoiding memory lane and the contemplation of that sacred institution that daily undergoes attack. Why is marriage so important and yet treated with such nonchalance by many? Has its usefulness faded in our modern culture? I contend that the Creator and Designer, infinite in wisdom, ordained the institution of marriage between one man and one woman till death do they part. Why? -- for our tremendous benefit and His glory.
As I look back over the past twenty-three years, so many positive thoughts and emotions from a wide assortment of memories fill my heart and mind that it's a bit overwhelming. What a wonderful journey marriage has been! For instance, the memories of falling asleep in my strong man's arms when we lived in cold weather or feeling his nightly caresses for twenty plus years remind me of how loved I am. I fondly remember back to bringing our newborn son home from the hospital to a tiny apartment in a bad neighborhood because that was all our meager funds afforded and then enjoying every moment of watching our baby develop for those first two years. Oh, and then there are the joyous recollections of time spent together in our first home with our first family pets .
I too recall yearly romantic getaways that still bring a blush to my face and fill me with gratefulness. Memories of raising our son also flood my thoughts as I think back on twenty years of sharing countless struggles, joys, and heartaches as we navigate the uncertain waters of parenthood together. What a gift! As the innumerable magnets on my refrigerator testify, we have also enjoyed traveling all over North America through the years gathering shared experiences of adventure, romance, challenge and fun.
However, not all of the memories seemed pleasant in their formation. For example, Seth and I shared seventeen years of my poor health with endless doctors’ visits and hospital stays. We also went through a tragic ordeal during our son's third year of life. Months at a time of arguing and feeling little or no love for the other also top the list of unpleasant times through the years. Surprisingly though, caring for my father-in-law with late stage Alzheimer’s brings great satisfaction as I remember our family’s team work played out in trying circumstances. Our twenty-three years truly has been a mixed bag, just as is every long term marriage.
Perhaps my reader thinks that Seth and I had a lot going for us from the start that gave us advantages in having a long, happy marriage. Nothing could be farther from the truth, since we prove to be opposites in just about everything. We do have common ground in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and His inspired Word. Thankfully, therefore, we have a consistency in thought regarding issues the Bible lays out clearly. Aside from that, our personalities contrast each other in every way. I’ll never forget when we went through premarital counseling with one of our college psychology professors. He felt it important to do some personality testing on us and to discuss the results. With great care, our professor graphed our results on the same chart but in different colors. Wow! Like two magnets turned so that they push away from each other, without fail, for each personality trait tested our individual graphed points went to the extreme opposite side of the graph. Needless to say, our professor expressed concern over our upcoming marriage.
Over the years, we have both inched closer to the middle, but truth be told, we still without fail individually choose opposite ways for doing absolutely everything. So, that brings about an obvious question. How does such a marriage work and last? The simple answer remains that we made a vow before God and man-- to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance. God takes vows very seriously, and I doubt any other vow comes close in seriousness to God as the marriage vow.
I know it's popular now to personalize and often water down the wording of the wedding vows, but when the marriage certificate says that a man and a woman have become man and wife, then before God that couple has vowed to remain as one till one or the other dies. (I know that the Bible gives license to divorce in the case of infidelity, but even then God still says, I hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). Therefore, if Seth or I find ourselves tempted to seek happiness with someone more compatible, we remember our vows, and we do whatever it takes to hold on to each other until the good times return.
Additionally, we have sought throughout our marriage to always follow a path that draws a couple together rather than focuses on individuality. The Bible says that the two shall become one (Genesis 2:24), and so we find ways to apply that principle as a couple. We find things we both enjoy doing together. We eat together, go to sleep together, participate in many of the same activities, and hold each other accountable through shared bank accounts, credit cards and email accounts. We don’t have close individual friends of the opposite sex in person or online. We go out on weekly dates and vacation at the same time. We pray and read the Bible together. We make a point of talking about our day, our thoughts, our worries, etc. As a wife I aim to submit to his God-ordained authority over me (Ephesians 5:22-24) and to let him lead our family. As a husband he aims to love me as Christ loved the church and as the weaker vessel that I am (Ephesians 5:25-30 & 1 Peter 3:7). All of those things and more have served to turn two opposing magnetic forces around so that we draw tightly together.
As Christians, God designed us to shine like lights on a hill. In a culture where lengthy marriages grow more tragically rare all the time, Christians have the opportunity to shine through their commitment to marriage like never before. We reflect God’s perfect design to a lost world and glorify the Father by honoring our marriage vows even when--especially when--it 's hard (Psalm 15:4).
Although commitment to a spouse through thick and thin brings God glory, it also greatly benefits the married individuals. To borrow a line from the movie Shall We Dance, I have a witness to my life in my spouse and him in me—someone who, by his very presence over the last twenty-three years, says, You are worthwhile. I have noticed your strengths and your weaknesses. I have seen you at your worst and at your best. I have seen all that you have accomplished in this world full of people who do not notice or care. I have seen, and I love you. Now that’s priceless!
Last summer our family had the amazing privilege of exploring Alaska. At the end of our trip we decided to do something the three of us all love--hike up a mountain. Clear skies afforded breathtaking views of the Denali mountain ranges in all directions. Besides the fact that the hike would have proved difficult regardless, a perpetual, driving wind prevailed. Being Florida flatlanders, we found the conditions exhilarating but exhausting. Depending on where we were on the mountain the winds were, quite literally, at huricane force.
The going was slow at times and certainly challenging. At times we all stopped along the way to admire the view, discover something new, and of course, catch our breath. Standing at the top, with the wind seemingly trying to rip us from our perch, we determined the climb definitely proved worth it. That hike remains the highlight of our trip.
I think that marriage proves similar in many ways. It's without a doubt challenging over the long haul. It has moments of exhilaration and moments of exhaustion. The desire to quit along the way tempts everyone at some point. It sometimes thrills the heart with new discoveries and experiences and makes you glad to be alive. At other times, the howling winds of discouragement seem determined to flatten you. But here's a question to consider? How much less do you think I would have enjoyed the hike in Denali by myself? What if I had changed hiking partners along the way? Only by sharing experiences, both good and bad, and overcoming every hurdle along the way do we end up with a powerful, deep and rich set of memories that fill our hearts with a sense of profound love.
I find myself overwhelmed with thankfulness that God gave me this man, so very different from myself with which to travel through this hard life. As I look back over the better and the worse, the mostly poorer not richer, the mostly sickness rather than health, and over two decades of assorted memories, I praise God for the incredible benefits I have enjoyed by committing to overcome every hindrance. I look forward to another twenty years of experiencing the sharing of life in marriage as God intended.