Today is my wife’s and my 5 year anniversary. Wow. Five years. Where did the time go? (or, as I ask my wife, “Five years down, how many more?” – she tires of that particular joke).
I visited with a couple yesterday who have been married 45 years. Now THAT is an achievement.
Last night we had a gospel singer perform at our church. He travels full time with his wife and two young children. His wife handles the money and his kids sing with him. It’s his name on the marquee but this ministry is definitely a family effort. They perform for free and live off the offerings and the CDs they sell.
I watched as they set up and tore down their equipment, wondering if their relationship would be different because they spend so much time together. Would they seem closer than other families? More distant? Would they snipe if one was moving too slowly? Have they learned to sleep despite dad's snoring? Have they told each other all their jokes? Have they gotten bored with each other? Or have they deepened their relationship because of their forced intimacy?
I used to work with my wife in a shared ministry in Halifax, and - wow – there were days when both our marriage and our ministry hung together by slimmest fibre of the slimmest thread. That lasted 3 years. So instead of working together we decided that we’d rather be married. So I accepted my present call.
These folks have been on the road together 5½ years. Together. All day. Everyday. 24/7/365. The mind boggles.
It’s not that I don’t love my wife and kids. Words can’t begin to describe the lengths I would go to protect my family from harm, or just to keep our relationship strong. It’s just that we’ve recognized what we need to do to stay together. Working together is something that we are to avoid. At all costs.
But there are days when I forget how much she’s given up to make this move to Lethbridge. She stays home with the kids. Not an easy job by any standard. She’s put her career ambitions on hold. Which is quite the sacrifice, considering she’s the brains of our outfit. She is five times the preacher I am. She’s has her Governor General bronze and gold medal awards hanging humbly on our basement wall. She’s a published author of a scholarly article and sermon. She has a killer resume, and worked ‘till her hands were raw to get it that way.
She was supposed to be a doctor. But she chose ministry instead. Then she chose me. Then she chose motherhood.
Choices. That’s what relationships are all about. Especially marriage. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. The church calls marriage a “covenant,” mirroring the covenant that God has with us through our baptism. But this comparison breaks down quickly. God chooses the covenant. We don’t choose God. In fact, if we choose anything, it’s to be as far away from God as earthly possible.
But in the marriage covenant we choose each other; two people deciding that they will be faithful to each other. No matter what. At least that the promise.
As a pastor, I sometimes wish the wedding vows that people write weren’t so darn sappy. Marriage has little or nothing to do with romance and everything to do with hard work. I wish someone would write a vow that sounds something like this:
I, Tarzan, take you, Jane, to be my wife, even when you put garden shears in my hand before I’ve taken my jacket off upon getting home from work; even when you hide my beer because, you say, I’m getting too fat; even when you get pissy when I want to watch the Flames instead of discussing colour options for the kitchen; even if sex is less frequent than Christmas. In other words, I’m in this for the long haul.
I, Jane, take you, Tarzan, to be my husband, even when you come home late stinking like cheap beer and $2 cigars; even when you forget to pick up your skid-marked underwear; even when you can’t be bothered to cut the grass for two weeks and cows are starting to graze on it; even when you feed the kids potato chips and root beer for breakfast; even when you want to watch hockey instead helping me make household decisions. In other words, you aren’t getting rid of me so easily.
Now that would be a more realistic beginning to marriage. Yes, marriage is work. Love is a choice, not a feeling. But I think the choices we make is like a midwife that helps give birth to intimacy. Intimacy is not fuzzy feelings. But a deep attachment to an Other. Intimacy is faithfulness when the fuzzy feelings have long since gone south.
So, today I re-affirm my choice – our choice – to be faithful. Even when we are burning with so much anger that we can’t stand the sight of each other, I will be faithful. Even when everything inside of me screams to turn left and head out of the city, I will turn right and head straight home. Even when we've forgotten how to talk to one another, and the silence is killing us, I will learn a new language with which to speak once again and new ears with which to listen.
I make that choice.