Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eighteen Years and Counting

There is no traditional gift for the eighteenth anniversary; you're supposed to make it to twenty for china. Twenty-five years starts the really good gifts: silver, pearl, ruby and so on. On June 7, Kimberly and I celebrated eighteen years. For us, it was signficant for reasons other than anniversary gifts. With divorce rates on the upward march, eighteen years of marriage seems to make us veterans who have survived a few battles. On the other hand, for our friends, many of whom have experienced broken relationships and divorce, it was an opportunity for muted celebration, tinged with self-reflection. One friend posted this comment on my Facebook page: Any secrets of longevity you want to pass on...?? This post is my reflection on her question.

Kimberly and I are really just beginning. I hope to be offering advice once we reach thirty-six years, forty years, not eighteen. Maybe that statement reveals an expectation and conviction my wife and I share: marriage is for life. We view being married as a covenant relationship, not a formalizing contract. For so many young couples, getting married merely validates their love and indicates the idealistic belief that they want to spend the rest of their lives together because they enjoy each other so much. The current norm, as I see living examples of it, is to share everything a married couple would, including a bed, before the contract is formalized. The norm Kimberly and I share is that marriage gives us the sacred right and the secure bond of entwining two lives together in a way that is unbreakable. That standard and expectation has guided us toward a "long haul" trajectory and protected us during hard times. The norm, however, has not been our consistent experience.

Complete vulnerability in this public forum is not possible: I won't detail our varied experience, but I will be open enough to confess that in these eighteen years we have been on the brink of a broken marriage more than once. Marriage, after all, may be a sacred covenant, but it binds together two sinners. My own sins have been the most prominent and damaging. Into a beautiful union I brought my separatist tendencies: selfishness, insensitivity, temper, insecurity, and more. Twice, our inability to get along has brought us to marriage counseling. (I would highly advice shelling out the money for qualified, sensible help as a safety net for a failing marriage.) A few times, Kimberly has had to decide, against all her feelings, to stay together. I have been hopeless a few times too. Neither one of us has wanted to settle for a lousy relationship just because we believe marriage is a sacred covenant. But both of us have benefited from going through the battles, letting them season us together rather than break us apart.

Like a crockpot stew, marriage seasons, mellows and paradoxically grows more intensely flavorful as two people endure the heat and pressure of common life. Children add to the mix. Our oldest two of five have reached the teenage years with typical challenges to family identity and unity. Still, we have unusually great kids (in my unbiased opinion) who are bringing us joy, despite the fact that the example we have set for them over the years is far from perfect. Kimberly and I are maturing as individuals too. Her words to me, that she is "the blessed one" for walking the aisle and taking the vows eighteen years ago, were better than any gift. They were the fruit of slow-cooked enrichment.

We have more miles to go, more battles to fight (hopefully more collectively than antagonistically) and more decisions to hold. Clearly, we have not been in this covenant alone. The Creator of covenant has unquestionably given us the strength of will, weakness of self and promised blessing to keep us together when everything else failed. The faith under which we sacralized our marriage has been our lifeline and tether. I don't pretend for a moment that Christianity automatically guarantees a divorce-proof marriage. But I do recognize and assert that not only the moral and social restraints but also the model and living example, along with the covenantal framework in which Christian marriage is embedded, have given us a frame to hold us together and a fortitude to make the long journey.

Here's to the hope, then, that Kimberly and I -- and all who enter the covenant of marriage -- will endure the distance and go for the gold, loving the race all the way to the finish.