How do you talk about the goodness of marriage and still be honest about the hard?
I ask this question at the eve of February 1st each year. As I re-read each year’s blog post, written on our anniversary, I see the goodness I took away; I see the little steps to learn and grow; and I know beneath the beauty lies sweat and tears.
The lifelong union of anything is a sight to behold.
The lifelong union of two imperfect, self-bent people? It is an eighth wonder of this world.
I talk much about how hard our marriage has been. I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t. I never want it to seem like Josh and I are tolerating each other, or that marriage is a Sahara trek with little reprieve. How far from the truth! But marriage, for us, has been hard. To say otherwise would be to lie. And there are many, many happy posts in the social media world about marrying one’s best friend, how the first year is a breeze (it was for us too), and how awesome it is to wake up next to the love of your life every day.
I do love that. I love it now. But there were days, years ago, when I didn’t. When we didn’t wake up next to the “love of our lives”; we woke up next to what felt like a stranger – or worse, a friend who didn’t care. There were unmet expectations, unhealthy ideals, emotional withdrawal, anger and bitterness and all kinds of sinful things seething out of us. We both felt not-enough for the other.
So I talk about the hard because the good and the hard walk hand in hand. The good of marriage has come THROUGH and IN the hard; the good has not always been in lovely feelings and remembered anniversaries and random Starbucks on the counter. Sometimes the good was fighting it out in a hotel room and telling one another when we weren’t being true to who God made us to be. Sometimes the good was the exhausting trading of babies in the middle of the night, the coaching of a discouraged heart under work stress, or caring for an invalid spouse in a wheelchair for two months.
The good didn’t always feel good.
Six years ago we stood before an assembly of witnesses and vowed a sacred, unchangeable vow. A vow for which God Himself holds us accountable. Perhaps because we don’t make vows much in our society we fail to see the importance of them in marriage. Perhaps we prefer that blindness. But a vow is a covenant, not just to each other but to God, and when we made that covenant February 1st, 2014, we promised to keep it.
Keeping a covenant is harder than it sounds, and breaking it doesn’t start with infidelity.
No; it starts much earlier. It starts with idealism and unrealistic expectations. It continues with emotional ignorance and reactive conversations. It grows and morphs and twists until it becomes contempt, and once contemptuous, becomes wholly malignant.
To keep a covenant is not just to keep away from infidelity, but to keep the covenant free from contempt. It is to fight for the vow that was made; not to fight WITH one another, but to fight FOR one another. To battle on your knees and in your heart for the union an entire world wishes to bring down. Keeping a covenant looks a lot like war.
There’s a bumper sticker that says, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity” and while I hate to bring that political statement into this post, it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to preserve peace. Peace cannot exist without protection. It must be guarded, it must be armed, because enemies of peace don’t care about keeping it.
The enemy of marriage doesn’t care about keeping your covenant. He wants anything but peace and unity between you and your spouse.
So we go to war against contempt, against disunity, against anger and bitterness and anything that sets itself up against the union which God Himself brought together. We keep the covenant.
But this is the beautiful and strange thing we’ve found on the other side of our (thus far) hardest years: In keeping the covenant, the covenant kept us.
Each argument we ended with “I still love you”;
Each day we forgave the weakness of the other;
Each moment we chose to reject the bitter thought:
Each time we sought counsel and godly wisdom;
Each time we obeyed the counsel we received;
In keeping the covenant, in seeking God’s will for our marriage to stay strong and unified, the covenant kept us. Christ kept us.
I can say marriage gets better every year because God gets better every year, and I have seen Him do a work I wouldn’t believe – if it weren’t in my very own heart.
I am married to the very best man in the world. The best man for me, the best father and husband I could have ever expected or asked for. And what makes him the best, in my eyes, is his willingness to keep a covenant against all odds.
We stand before God each year and say, “Father! We kept the covenant!”
But what truly occurred in those three hundred and sixty five days of choosing – the covenant kept us.
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS:
In early January we went to Hawaii for 5 days. It was a work trip-turned-vacation, a blessing through my business that I still can’t believe we got to attend. While there, one of my kind Insta followers reached out to say a friend of hers was a photographer on another island and would love to gift me and Josh a couple’s photo shoot. I couldn’t believe how kind this was, and we gladly accepted. Gabby and her husband flew to Kona and met us our last day there.
During the first few minutes of our meeting I knew this was going to be a special time. Her heart for marriage – not just beautiful photos of happy people – was evident in everything she said. She’d sent us a questionnaire to fill out beforehand, and as we walked to the site she’d chosen she asked us to mention or talk about the things we’d said as answers. It brought so much to the surface for us: six years. I have many friends who’ve been married ten, fifteen, twenty and thirty years; six feels so small. But those six years have so changed and wrecked and rebuilt us, they feel like twenty packed into their tiny span of time.
Gabby’s photo shoot ended up being the most memorable part of our time in Kona. The way she brought to mind the things we loved about each other, the way she encouraged us to celebrate and pray with each other, brought me – and even Josh, if he’d admit it! – to tears several times. It was a deeply emotional and meaningful time and I will treasure the photos she took forever.