Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reaching Eight

A couple of days before our wedding anniversary at the beginning of this month, my wife and I were blessed to use a gift certificate we had been holding for a nice occasion.  An anniversary seemed nice enough to us.  We went to an exceptional restaurant where we enjoyed excellent steaks.  Our server was a friendly guy who took great care of us.  He knew we were there for a special event, and asked if it was our anniversary.

“Yes, number eight!” I said, with enthusiasm.

“Well, congratulations!” he replied.  “At least you made it past seven—that’s the hard one, they say.”

Presumably, our new friend was referring to the proverbial seven-year itch, a term popularized by a 1950s Broadway play and later Hollywood film, that even ends up being an apparent premise for scholarly psychological research.  (However, I should note that Wikipedia states that the seven-year itch may refer to scabies, a parasitic skin infection.)  According to conventional (non)wisdom, around the seventh year of marriage, it is common for married folk to start “itching,” looking around to see what else is out there, since all the newness has worn off their current model.  Sadly, many couples reach the so-called itch stage far earlier than the seven-year mark, and still others decide to call it quits after 30 years.  In both cases, and all points in between, the results are heartbreaking.

I’m blessed with the privilege and challenge of officiating weddings and providing and requiring premarital counseling for the couples I marry.  Some couples think they pretty much know how relationships work, and others fear they have no clue.  The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.  Most folks know enough to get started, but they usually cannot possibly realize before their big day all that will be required in the continual growth process called marriage.

This month as we have reached eight years of marriage, I’ve been able to revisit the work in progress that makes our marriage something that we pray honors God and is a blessing to us and others.  Even after eight years, I’m still learning, almost weekly, what it takes to build a solid marriage.  I expect I’ll still be learning when we’ve reached 28, or 48 years.

I could write a book already, but here briefly is what I am continually learning.

Love.  Sometimes in Christian teaching or books (or blogs), discussion of what love is very quickly turns to a description of the distinctions between a worldly kind of love, and a godly one.  Although the distinctions are important, I don’t aim to do that here.  Volumes have been written on love—defining it, helping us to apply it, and so forth.  I simply want to state that my wife needs my love—all kinds of love.  Spiritually, physically, emotionally.  She needs to know that I am hers.  And she needs to feel it.  We all know that love expressed is far more than a feeling—it is a covenant.  But love received must be both known and felt.

Paul the Apostle writes, concerning church relationships but certainly true in marriage also:

Let love be without hypocrisy.  Romans 12.9 (NASB)

Patience.  I often tell young couples that the things that they find as cute little quirks about their spouse-to-be will most likely eventually become the very things they cannot stand later in marriage.  That is, of course, because we tend to overlook or even defend those practices when young love (a.k.a. immature infatuation) is driving the situation.  Later, it will take great patience and realistic expectations to overlook differences.  And true patience is realized when we actually appreciate the differences, just not in the naive way we did when we were younger.  When this works the way it is intended, our spouses will complete us, compliment us, at times compensate for us, and be a companion to us.

Again Paul writes that we should live:

…with patience, bearing with one another in love… 
Ephesians 4.2 (ESV)

Gentleness.  A few years ago, I thought my wife was easily hurt.  Turns out, I was just a punk.  Stemming from frustration due to my impatience (see above), I was easily irritated and apparently let her know it.  She has done the same with me.  And yet, the more we progress in character, the more we learn that love and patience require gentleness.  She needs to sense that I am for her by the way that I respond to all that goes on during our weeks.  If ultimately minor problems—either self-inflicted by one of us or handed to us by outside circumstances—cause me to treat her with any kind of negative attitude, she immediately knows it and is understandably hurt.  My job and privilege is to show kindness and gentleness in every circumstance so that through loving patience, she knows and feels my love.

In this regard, Paul modeled the way:

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  1 Thessalonians 2.7 (NASB)

In a nutshell, these are among the top marital lessons that I have been learning, and will continue to learn, with increasing clarity.  I’m not there yet, and neither is my wife.  But we both are committed to growing in grace, and that is why the gospel of Christ is so important.

Simply put, our marriage could never become what God has intended if it weren’t for the continual, progressing work of grace through His gospel.  God is so good.