What I've Learned from 25 Years of Marriage
Heirs together in the grace of life1 Peter 3:7
Twenty-five years ago today, we stood before God and a hundred and fifty witnesses and made some pretty audacious promises.
For fourteen months, we had been in wedding planning mode, thinking through every detail of our special day, all without the help of Pinterest. From the bridal room at the back of the sanctuary, I remember peeking through the blinds and watching the room fill in with guests. I realized our vision had come to life in a slew of taffeta, roses, and the soft glow of candelabras.
But our wedding was more than just a beautiful ceremony and reception. As we stood at the altar, we promised to stick it out no matter what life threw at us. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind, that he was the one the Lord had given to me, and the Lord was our third strand.
But as we vowed our lives to one another, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the candles in a candelabra had burned down dangerously close to the bottom. For a moment, I envisioned the flame catching the flower arrangement on fire, and spreading across the whole stage, sending our wedding day up in flames.
Enter at Your Own Risk
Isn’t that the risk we take when we get married? In our fanciest clothes, and at our absolute peak of happiness, we vow our lives to each other, even though the potential for disaster looms right in front of us.
Going into it, we knew marriage was a covenant, not just for our own happiness, but to be a picture of Christ’s love for the Church. We expected trials would come, that we’d sin against each other and that we’d need to make forgiveness our practice. But we also believed that what Peter said was true. Marriage is the grace of life, that is to say, it’s the greatest earthly blessing or the cherry on top.
We weren’t Pollyanna-ish about the commitment we were making, but we didn’t know what form our trials would come. Sitting here, a quarter-of-a-century later, I guess I’m still a little surprised at how it’s all played out.
Expectation vs. Reality
There’s something tried and true about traditional wedding vows. We promised to love each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Going into marriage, we expected a good mix of both the bitter and the sweet. But the surprises have come in different ways. More along the lines of what our plans for the future looked like, and how they actually turned out.
We naively thought we’d fill our quiver, climb the ladder, and save for the future, all with relative ease. If we were Pollyanna-ish about anything, it was that we thought that where we planted, watered, and tended, things would grow in proportion to our effort.
The Lord has been faithful to give us increase, but we’ve been surprised at how much struggle, and how little yield, some of our labors brought. When we expected 2 + 2 to equal 4, sometimes it equaled -357. Those were painful and disappointing lessons.
Twenty-five years ago, time was on our side. Our dreams had a luster and shine to them that now time, experience, and a bit more wisdom have made more matte. It’s not that we no longer have dreams, it’s just that now reality has set it, our cup is full, and our priorities have changed. But even in that realization, there’s grace.
For held in the tension with our disappointed hopes is the surprise of how deep and profound our joy has been.
Years of infertility mercifully and graciously ended with not just one, but four children. They have, without a doubt, been our greatest, and most sanctifying gifts. Recently, when a friend asked if our kids all got along, we were able to honestly answer, that they’ve become like a little gang (in the best way).
We’ve graduated from the little years, and are enjoying all the challenges and joys that come with parenting kids in their teens and twenties. They still stretch us, and our prayers for them have only increased as we’re starting to launch them out of the nest. But even though there’s a tinge of sadness seeing them grow, our times together as a family couldn’t be sweeter.
We have so many memories around our table, and too many fits of laughter to count. By God’s grace, they are all walking in truth (3 John 4). What greater joy could ask for?
What if, like on our wedding day, we looked out on our lives and saw that everything worked out exactly as we had envisioned? Who would we be? What would our marriage be like?
Certainly, our passports would have more stamps, and we’d live in our own version of a Potterybarn magazine. But would that be enough? Those things would bring us temporary happiness, but not the lasting joy we possess.
If I had had my way, we would’ve gone from one mountaintop to the next, avoiding all the dark shadowy valleys in between. But it was in those valleys we learned to wait patiently on the Lord. It was there, in the places we didn’t want to be, that we found his grace sufficient in all the areas we lacked.
If we had never been uncomfortable, how would we be able to sing that Jesus is all we need, and honestly mean it? Or how could we have taught our kids that 2 + 2 doesn’t always equal 4, sometimes in God’s extravagant grace, it also equals 5,347?
Enough Grace for Whatever May Come
If I could go back and talk to my 21-year-old self, I’d remind her that the vows she’s about to make for better or worse, also means her expectations won’t necessarily line up with reality. I’d encourage her to keep dreaming dreams, but to hold her plans loosely, trusting that the Lord, her third strand in marriage, has ultimate veto power. I’d tell her not to get distracted by the candle burning too close to the bottom, and not to waste her energy worrying about potential disasters, that haven’t yet come her way. Instead, live in this moment, savor it, and trust that while trials will come, Jesus will be there, and his grace will be enough.
After twenty-five years, I can honestly say, our marriage hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would.
It’s so much better than I could’ve expected or deserved. It’s the grace of my life, it’s the cherry on top.
Happy Anniversary to my love,
P.S. What lessons have you learned in your married life (no matter how long you’ve been married)? I’d love to read your comments below!
P.P.S. Grab a free copy of my ebook Paths of the Righteous, and you’ll automatically receive weekly email updates. It’s like a little anniversary present for us both. 😉