In a couple of days, Mike and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage. He’s my best friend and I am privileged to call him mine. Two years ago, a friend asked me to write a letter to a bride-to-be for a book she was giving her guest of honor (great shower idea, by the way.) Below is that letter, with some of my musings of a great marriage. Not perfect by any means, but we’re here and we’re still trying, so that qualifies me to write a little about what I think might have made it work so far…Happy, happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you forever.
Thank you for allowing me to reflect on some of my observations through twenty-five years of a great marriage. I am here to tell you that if you knew all that we had been through, you would not describe our marriage as great. But it is great because Mike and I made it through it all so far, and I am confident we will continue to do so. We have a forever kind of pact, a covenant, with each other and God, that even when the going gets tough, we can rest in knowing we will work it out. Thank the Lord, when one of us was unhappy, the other one stepped in and carried the load, or finally let the other one have it to snap out of it. Whichever, it was fine with me because it restored us to a commitment that brought authentic joy. I have a few words of advice to offer as you make this big step before God in just a few days.
I would never stand here before you telling you I have figured it all out. In fact, I am here to tell you that we have attended the “school of hard knocks,” as my mother used to say, and have come out a bit battered and worn for the wear. However, we have come to a wonderful place of peace and trust in our marriage that makes life sweeter and more valuable as part of a whole–one that no human can destroy, for “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”(KJV-Mat. 19:6) One of the things I want you to hear from the bottom of my heart: what I have learned about marriage, I have learned almost exclusively through failures. We just get up and dust ourselves off, and we try again. I believe one of the greatest pieces of wisdom someone once shared with me is that we all move through life one day at a time—our only choice is whether we are going to choose to do it willingly and cheerfully, or if we choose to be miserable. Once you make up your mind that you’re in marriage for the long haul, your only choice is whether you are going to be happy or not. And you are the instrument of change that can make it happen with God’s help. He is on your side and wants to win one for marriage and for you especially, if you will let Him be your guide, and your strength, and your hope.
Marriage is a process of learning more and more the gives and takes of what true relationship requires. It is about loving when you don’t feel like loving, laughing when you feel like crying, and hanging in there when you feel like throwing in the towel. So, who would sign up for this voluntarily? I would, for one–all over again and I would marry the same guy. The greatest joys I have ever known, aside from living a surrendered life to God, are a direct result of Mike’s and my union before Christ. I can honestly tell you that he is my best friend. I am not saying I don’t want to bop him on the head some days, but he is the one who is there for me, who doesn’t always like me, but who has never given up on me. And I am most grateful.
We also have learned a lot about selflessly giving and graciously receiving each step of the way through twenty-five years of relationship. (As I write this, we are only a few days away from celebrating our 25th anniversary of our wedding day.) Amazing what you learn about yourself when you have to share your life with another. If there was no other reason to be married, learning how to have and make relationship is unquestionably one of the most valuable lessons we can learn on this earth. Life was meant to be shared. Learning how to go outside yourself and deal with others on an intimate level, to connect unselfishly, to love, to share, to give, is more about experiencing the fullness of life than any other concept. It is life at its extremes—from the fullness of grace in a honeymoon’s bright future to the bitter disappointment of loss and lost dreams. Marriage is an exciting ride and there are great hills and valleys along the way. Nothing is the same dullness—at least for long. Right when you think you’ve figured one thing out, something else will no doubt come along. Even though there will be difficult times, they don’t have to last. A friend of mine’s favorite verses in the Bible is “And it came to pass…”(mentioned 497 times in KJV) She liked it most that it doesn’t say, “And it came to stay…” Everything has a season. It really is up to you how long God will allow that season to last.
One more point that is a little off the wall, but important for me to share: Marriage has a strange way of revealing intimate details about who you are, and who you have become because of various trials. Those things we think we have dealt with, those things that should be long over, can have a tendency to keep raising their ugly heads until we draw from them what we are meant to learn. Marriage has a way of revealing those little tedious details. Could it be God’s way of growing us? Here is a little secret: Conflict in marriage has redemptive power, but only for those who allow this to be so. It is when you know there is great purpose in conflict that you can accept it better and try to learn from it what you were meant to know.
One final note, perhaps the most important I have learned over the years: It is rarely a conscious move (and often it is one of necessity for the moment,) but sooner or later, we find ourselves continually putting our marriage last on the list, and it takes an enormous toll. Today’s culture teaches us such self-absorbed methods to find ourselves, to find happiness, and to be all we can be, most often at the expense of everyone else. We seek self gratification, self knowledge, self improvement; self indulgence while our families, our relationships, and virtually all that has and gives us true meaning in life suffers. I know this is an old song by now, but it is at the very core of the battle we are facing in finding true joy and satisfaction in our relationships.
Ironically, it is in going outside ourselves that we find our true selves. It is when we stop thinking about our own gain and concentrate on some greater good, some higher cause when we are enabled to find who God meant us to be from the beginning of time. That we could aspire to such heights, to see with clarity that which God has ordained for us and then fulfill it with His holy hand guiding every step, that is authentic understanding of finding ourselves. Did you catch all of that? This is almost bigger than I can give words to. By standing on our tiptoes to try to see as God sees our purpose and plan, then letting Him be the One that enables us to accomplish what He would have us do gives shape and authentic purpose to our existence. In this, we find meaning for our lives, joy of living, and peace. Can you imagine a life where we know the plan (though often only one step of that plan), and our only goal is to do what He would have us do that day? And it would not be too much. We would not be stressed beyond our limits. We would not be too busy. And we would not be self absorbed, but focused on others. We would, as Martha’s sister, Mary, found at Jesus’ feet, be choosing the better part for our lives, for our relationships and for our very souls. (Luke 10:42-43)
(Bride), may it be so with you and (your groom), that you run the whole race, and look back in fifty years, and say, “By God’s grace, we made it with such joy and purpose, with such fruit as children and grandchildren walking in His footsteps, and with each other by your sides. May God continue to anoint you with His fullness of Grace and Mercy, Joy, Health, and the Peace that passes all understanding.
With my prayers for your bright future,
P.S. I placed my address, email, and phone # at the top of this letter for you to know I will be there for you if you need anything to make your marriage better. I am standing with you in prayer and faith for this union before God to be everything He designed. God bless you richly.