Thursday, July 20, 2017

Marriage: An Unnecessarily Endangered Species

Today is a special day. It marks 43 years that my wife, Sally, and I have been married. I know this puts us in a minority group – couples that have been married for 30, 40 or more years. It’s sad in a way, because years ago such longevity was more the rule than the exception. Today, long-married couples are just as likely to receive an incredulous, “Really?!” as a “Congratulations!”

Who could have guessed one woman
could put up with me all these years?
An old hit tune repeated the words, “Love and marriage, love and marriage – go together like a horse and carriage.” It seems just as the horse and carriage have been consigned to history books and old movies, in the minds of some, marriage should as well.

When was the last time you saw a loving, thriving marriage depicted on one of your favorite TV shows? (Except maybe on the Hallmark Channel.) Among the shows I regularly watch, hardly anyone is married; if they are, the spouse is either invisible, or a thorn in the side.

Movies, for the most part, are worse. Wholesome, healthy marriages are virtually unheard-of, treated as vestiges of some prehistoric age. Entertainment news applauds twosomes that have been “together” for years without the burden of a marriage license or having exchanged wedding vows. Years ago, such relationships were scandalous. As for celebrity couples that do marry, gossip piranhas eagerly devour the gory details if – and when – they decide marriage is too difficult, too demanding, and decide divorce is a far better option.  

Thankfully, there still are those who believe in the institution of marriage, and don’t believe people who stay married should be institutionalized. I have friends, Ted and Tudi, who just celebrated 50 years of marriage. A whole half-century together! And one of my former bosses and his wife were married for more than 70 years before she passed away last year.

Of course, even for the best and strongest of marriages, “easy” isn’t part of the vocabulary. The notion of “perpetual wedded bliss” happens only in fairy tales and at the end of some Disney cartoons. You can’t have marriage without struggles, challenges, hardships and disagreements galore. Despite the tough times, there are those of us who have discovered that love and marriage do go together – like, uh, well, a car and GPS.

What does it take to build a lasting marriage? Despite more than four decades of being married to the same woman, I’m hardly an authority. But I do know it calls for large quantities of perseverance, patience, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. (In our particular case, my wife has needed to use each of these more than me!)

Love’s a big part of it, but not just the emotional kind. In the Greek, there are multiple words for “love,” including: eros (sexual love); phileo (friendship love); and apage (selfless, sacrificial love). A successful marriage requires all three, but selfless, sacrificial love is especially important. Because that’s where the tread of the words, “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer,” meets the road.

To find a guideline for a lasting marriage, God has provided a concise formula in a passage often incorporated into wedding ceremonies: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). If we want to create a recipe for a failing marriage, simply leave out several of these ingredients.

Patience, kindness, humility, respect, forgiveness, being focused on one another and slow to anger, truthfulness, trust, belief in one another, and refusing to quit. These are Christ-empowered, Christ-like hallmarks of a marriage that will not only endure the inevitable storms and rigors of daily living, but also serve as a beacon of hope for others embarking on the adventure we know as “marriage.” Not one of us possesses or demonstrates any of these qualities 100% of the time. But they’re worth striving for!

1 comment:

Bettye Elmendorf said...

Beautifully written Bob. May God bless you with many more years of marriage. Happy Anniversary, you and Sally are blessed.