Because of the love and grace of God, my wife and I celebrated 12 years of marriage yesterday.
That's a dozen months a dozen times, filled with all kinds of love and cherishing in sickness and health, in plenty and in need, through laughter and tears, no matter where we happened to be living (and trust me - we've lived in a lot of places due to wildly following a wild God).
We spent the first part of the day with our boys, doing a whole bunch of family stuff around town. Then later in the early evening we dropped them off at a sitter and split off to spend some time alone on a date. We ended up going to see a movie and eat some dinner afterwards, which may seem like an oddly unoriginal choice for an anniversary. Then again, sitting in a theater without having to get up for potty breaks and eating slowly over a hot meal are a couple of things we can't often do with our boys. So we took advantage of the opportunity to just go old school a bit.
The movie we saw was "Click," an Adam Sandler flick that's been out for a bit. Although some of the humor was a bit crude, the message of the movie was pretty solid about living in the now and being sure that we enjoy and maximize every moment we're given. We were unexpectedly crying by the end of it, giving us a lot to talk about over dinner as we revisited our years together and how crazy life has been.
One profound conclusion we came to was that while we've not had a lot of "stability" and "security" according to worldly standards we've somehow maintained stability and security in Christ and with each other. Again, this is not due to our efforts but tracks back to having our foundation in Jesus from day one - both individually and corporately. Any relationship has stress to it, not to mention one that you are actively a part of each day. It's only through the Lord that anything like this is possible.
And yet... why are divorce rates inside the church the same as those outside the church? Is having a "Christian marriage" more than a label or another spiritual cliche? Are Katie and I "rock solid forever and ever" just because we got married in a church building and she wore white (while ironically I wore black)? Or is there something more than just naming and claiming a shoppig spree of marital bliss?
What follows is some wisdom we somehow stumbled into over the years and have come to believe in and regularly apply. For what it's worth, we're still on the learning curve with all of this and hope to always be.
- Point out how God is at work in the details. It's an obvious advantage to attend a church service together, but is even more important to utilize the everday moments as teachable opportunities. We need to actively help each other see the real world behind the veiled one we happen to currently live in.
- Eat at least one meal together each day. You may not always be able to control which one, but even if it means getting up early to connect for breakfast it's worth it.
- If you're going to choose between kids and your marriage, choose your marriage. The best gift you can give your kids is a godly example of what it means to prioritize family. They need your time, but the way they need it most is through a loving overflow out of your marriage.
- Whenever possible, live simply. It is easy to track tangibles as benchmarks of success, yet ironically these do not last or matter in the long run. What is most critical is to love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies. Whatever lifestyle you can live to support this must never distract from this purpose, no matter where you fall on the various scales. If you're not sure where you fall, do an objective inventory of your checkbook and calendar... they will tell you what your most important priorities actually are.
- Make your spouse your #1 accountability partner. I served in a church once that didn't believe this was a good idea and made me find someone else to share my most intimate struggles with. I struggled with this because deep down I believe the best person to confide in is the one whom you've given yourself to in ways unlike anyone else. It's nice when a church has a men's ministry and a women's ministry, but why can't we find ways to help men and women connect via their marriage more? After all, if the two become one then why try to split that up?
Oh, and as a tangent, give your spouse full permission to tell you to close your eyes or turn your head when you may potentially see something in life or on TV that can lead to lustful thoughts. If I hear, "Don't look to your right," I look to my left without asking why.
- Exercise caution in any relationships you have with the opposite sex. Even if you have to error on looking foolish to the world, it's better to avoid developing friendships with the opposite sex where confiding and/or a lot of alone time takes place. It may seem like a high boundary at times (even to yourself), but in a fallen world where emotional and physical adultery is commonplace there's a lot worth protecting... so protect it.
- Debunk the myths that wreck the concept of marriage. My wife is not "the old ball in chain" and I resfuse to even joke about it. The other day when a co-worker told her to check out a guy at work and she refused, the gal said "you can look even when you can't touch." Katie said, "I don't buy that, because I only have eyes for my husband." We need to call these myths out for what they are and promote God's alternative instead. There is no reason why you can't be as in love at 12 years as you were on your wedding day... if not more.
- Share personal things in a personal way. When a handwritten piece of mail arrives, we wait for each other to open it. There are also countless inside jokes that are just "ours" an no one else's (probably because they would be too difficult to explain). Bodies will age and physical attractiveness will change, but special memories from the past and pure joy in the present can offer a future of laughter.
Even as I write these things I know how this all may sound. Katie and I don't have a perfect marriage and often experience a a number of inadvertant emotional bumps and bruises. At times we frustrate each other, but we remain committed to not letting the sun go down on our anger.
And so we do more than try to have a good marriage... we train for it. The aforementioned tidbits are how we exercise our marital muscles in order to be able to have the kind of union the Bible speaks of... or at least get as close to it as possible.
Speaking of which, if any of this spoke to you, cool. But what I'd love to covet most in your comments is prayers... because (like I said to begin with) the only reason we're here is because of God.
And we want to stay that way.
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands
ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I
don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, MSG)