Forty Years Ago

I often tell people that marriage is a lot like living in a war zone. I lived in the middle of a war zone once, in Southern Sudan, and experienced weeks days and weeks of normal, boring, everyday life—interspersed with moments of pure terror.

Yeah, marriage is kind of like that: days and weeks of normal, everyday, mundane life interspersed with moments of pure joy and passion—and the occasional terror thrown in here and there.

My husband and I will soon celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary and it has us thinking a lot about life and marriage.  In our forty years together we’ve spent way too much time counseling couples in the midst of unhappy and dissolving marriages. We’ve witnessed the divorce of many of our neighbors, friends, family, and classmates. The pain and difficulties many experience during divorce breaks our hearts.  As we look back over our forty years together, there are times when we suffer a bit of survivor’s guilt.

I probably don’t need to confess it, but our marriage is not so different than any other marriage. We’ve had our share of trauma, pain, incompatibility, conflict, and disagreement. It hasn’t been perfect—but after forty years we’ve discovered marriage is less about us and more about our relationship with Christ. Marriage is less about the house we furnish than the home we create. Staying together is less about our long-suffering in the midst of challenges and more about our presence and support of each other in those difficult times. Marriage is less about making each other happy and more about finding joy in serving God together.

Forty years ago, we sensed God’s leading in our lives to be married. We believed and hoped and prayed we could serve God better together.  Over the years, the leading has grown, as has our relationship with God and our commitment one to another. After forty years, we’ve discovered it is more important to be on the same page spiritually than to nurture any other compatibility.

For fifteen years I’ve spent Monday mornings with a Catholic ex-nun, eighty years old and counting. She left the convent at age thirty-five and married at age forty. In recent years she’s begun to show signs of dementia, and our times together have become more about my providing a break for her husband than about our spiritual nurture of each other. (Except maybe that is about spiritual nurture.)

Anyway, one day as we talked about her Catholic Church and the fact she would not live to see women accepted into the priesthood, she told me that leaving the convent was the best thing in her life as it put her in a place to marry her husband.  A man who shared her deep Catholic faith, and a man who walks beside her during these very difficult days when she is unable to cook or clean or do the mundane things in a household. A man who is patient and loving and giving and supportive even when he is frustrated and grieving the loss of his wife’s mind.  My friend told me she doesn’t understand how anyone could marry a person who doesn’t share the deepest, most intimate part of life—a spiritual life together. That is the foundation that blesses her every day as she faces an unknown future.

Marriage, like life, isn’t perfect. But the relationships we’ve been blessed with, the traumas we’ve weathered, the joys we’ve shared, the Christ we follow together, and the confidence we have of God’s grace and presence in the coming years, makes the shared life we began forty years ago the greatest joy on earth.

Yeah, marriage is kind of like that.

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