Last fall I attended a fairy tale outdoor wedding. The sun was streaming through orange, yellow, and red leaves in a peaceful wooded area. The birds were chirping. The bride and groom were young, beautiful, and hopelessly in love. It brought tears to my eyes to see the love for his bride in the eyes of the groom as she walked towards her future with him. I heard the joy in the bride’s voice as she confidently pledged her vows to the man of her dreams. I leaned over and said to my husband, “Aw honey, that’s the way you look at me when I come downstairs every morning.” To which he replied, “Yes, especially when you are wearing your awesome stained purple T-shirt.” Nothing but romance here, folks.
I love weddings. I love the doe-eyed newness and excitement. I love the promise of the future. I love the creative ways couples decorate. I love the details. I can envision the bride and her close friends and family painstakingly tying all the bows and laboring over all the decisions. I love the free food.
And at the heart of the whole celebration, I love it when I know to my core that the couple means it when they promise to be there in sickness and in health until death do they part. What a beautiful thing to bind your life to another’s when commitment to anything is not valued much in our society.
As I listened to the pastor talk about marriage and witnessed the beautiful vows, I could not help but reflect on my own marriage of seventeen years. Anyone who knows me well knows it has not been an easy road. Admittedly I have sat through several weddings in the past listening to the carefully worded vows and wondering if my husband and I were failing. Why was it so hard? Were we not putting God first? Were we not honoring one another? Why were we not as blindly and madly in love as the happy couple before us? When was the last time he kissed me? Why do we argue? Why have there been so many times in our marriage that we both desperately wanted out and our covenant was the ONLY thing binding us together?
It’s easy to feel like you are failing in marriage. There are unlimited resources, books, and conferences aimed at helping you have a fabulous marriage. I would know … I have read a library’s worth. And while I believe this is a good thing, it can have the paradoxical effect of making you feel like you are falling short. As if there is some ideal marriage you could achieve if you or your spouse weren’t doing everything so wrong.
Even during that lovely ceremony I found my mind trying to go down the rabbit trail of comparison and defeat, wishing we’d had had seventeen continuous years of wedded bliss rather than our roller coaster of a marriage.
… for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part…
But then I had a revelation. We were still married. We WERE honoring our vows. We have walked through hard things together. We HAVE stood by each other in very real sickness and health. We have stayed committed through financial struggles and blessings. We have hurt and forgiven one another. We have laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed. We have buried a child together. We are raising four children together. While not perfect in any regard, we are still growing. And surprisingly, we are better, and closer, for it.
Here’s the thing that is not mentioned much at weddings: Marriage is H-A-R-D. It can be bone crushingly hard to the point where you wonder why on earth God would design such a debacle of an idea. God knows that. And He can use it to refine you. When I pointed this out to my husband and he looked confused so I clarified, “You know, it’s why we can drive each other crazy!” to which he nodded in immediate understanding. It is impossible to avoid conflict when you are dealing with two imperfect people in life. No matter how much in love you are. And in those times of conflict, I have often wished God would change my husband, missing the point that God really wants to change ME.
My husband knows me. He knows the good, the bad, the ugly, and my real pant size. Who else in my life is in such a unique position to be used by God to challenge me, humble me, teach me patience, forgiveness, self-control, conflict resolution, and a host of other not-so-fun but oh-so-necessary lessons? It’s an amazing, beautiful thing and it’s hard to recognize it while it’s happening. I am certain I have never said, “Hey honey, thank you so much for totally exasperating me today to the point I wanted to poke my eyes out. I am a better person for it. Hallelujah.”
I am so glad God gave me my husband and I am glad we meant our vows. I am glad that we love each other and that our commitment runs deeper than fleeting emotion of youth. Were we completely naïve when we swore our vows to one another? YES. Did I think my husband might need a little refining as we proceeded through life? No. I thought he needed a lot. Did I realize this whole marriage racket would include having MY heart refined? No way. But I am glad it does. And if seventeen years of marriage has taught me anything, it has taught me that refining can be a slow process.
So for those of you who are married and wonder why you don’t have the textbook marriage, relax. You are still married aren’t you? Celebrate your commitment. Sometimes it’s all you’ve got. Allow God to work in your life and refine you through this person you are forever bound to. Yes, work on that marriage it if it needs it. Yes, strive for a great storybook marriage. And by all means seek God as you do so. But if you feel defeated because your marriage isn’t the bright shiny beacon of love you wish it were, don’t beat yourself, your spouse, or your marriage up. Take joy in the fact that you ARE honoring your vows. God is not finished with you yet and he certainly is not finished with your marriage.