Marriage means different things to different people. For some, it is a proclamation of love and a daily choice to love the one you’re with. For others, it’s an excuse to have an expensive party and be princess for a day. And for some, marriage is similar to a business transaction, ensuring a life of stability and safety.
For me, marriage is a blessing and a promise.
I am blessed to have met and married someone who is my equal and my better-half. Someone I am genuinely grateful for each day. A person with whom I can share every meal, ruminate over every sermon, and – for better or worse – a person around whom I can be completely myself. In our home, there is no hiding of receipts or shopping bags while claiming “this old thing? I’ve had it forever?!” Instead, I proudly hold up the tenth pair of boots purchased and don’t need to explain why this new teal dress is totally different from the aqua dress already hanging in my closet. I am blessed to wake each morning next to someone who – while not sharing in all my idiosyncrasies – adheres to them by trying to keep cupboard doors closed, getting laundry into the basket, and lowering toilet lids.
But even in our home – with its (mostly) tidy laundry areas, closed cupboards, and filled-to-the-brim closets – being married is not always easy. And the most challenging part of being married? I’ve learned that contrary to all statistics, the hardest part is not negotiating and sharing finances, or dividing house-hold chores, or even in-laws. No, the most challenging part of marriage are those pesky vows.
You remember them, right? I take you to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Or in our case, we vowed “to join with you and to share with you all that is to come, to be your faithful spouse, to give and to receive, to speak and to listen, to inspire and to be inspired and to join with you so that together we may serve God and our neighbor.”
There are days I have wished we would have simply promised “for better, for worse”, rather than vowing to listen and to inspire. Frankly, I don’t feel inspiring every day. And I know that I do not always listen. The thing that makes these vows so challenging to live up to is not that I am in danger of “stepping out” on my marriage (being unfaithful in some way); it is that I often fail in my promise, because I do not always want to be joined and share everything.
My husband and I have the added bonus of not simply sharing our lives and our home – we also share our careers. We are both ordained pastors. While we may serve in different congregations, in different towns, and in different denominations, we do share a job description, a lectionary, and a title.
One significant thing we do not share is the practice of how our congregations come to receive a new pastor. My husband is part of a denomination that practices an appointment system, where the Bishop appoints elders into a congregation. I serve a denomination that practices a call system, where pastors are called by a congregation into a ministry setting.
Recently, we have experienced both systems. In December of 2011 I was called to my first congregation – a joyful occurrence that came two years after being approved for ordination and interviewing with several congregations. Just two months later, my husband received a phone call informing him that his Bishop wanted to reappoint him to a new congregation. This, too, was a welcomed and exciting new venture – especially because it still allowed me to stay at my current congregation. But it was also unexpected and a challenge, because it meant packing up our home, moving further away from my family, and saying goodbye to friends. It also meant starting over. Again. It was exciting. It was terrifying.
I was a mess.
It brought on an entirely new meaning to those wedding vows: “to join with you and to share with you all that is to come…so that together we may serve God and our neighbor.” To join with you: even when it brings us into a different land, with new people, and a new home. To share with you everything: even when it is frightening and unknown. It was then when our vows took on a new meaning – one that felt similar to the passage from Ruth read on our wedding day: Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Or, as it is: Where your Bishop appoints you or a congregation calls me, or where God is guiding us… there too, we will go, together.
I know that joining and sharing all that is to come is not easy. And while I made those promises to join and to share, I never promised to do so with dry eyes and sanity intact. Instead, I’ve experienced many tears and moments of “crazy”. And yet, my tears have been met with a tender hand, wiping them away. And my “crazy” has been met with nothing but patience and understanding. I can only pray that I have been half as calm and reassuring to my husband as he has been to me.
Which reminds me – those wedding vows I called the ‘hardest part of marriage’? I’ve come to believe that those same words make up the very best part of being married, too.
It means that throughout this journey, my husband joins me, too. The times when I am tired or sick or “crazy” – then it is my husband’s turn to listen, to inspire, and share with me all that life brings. Or when I’ve calmed down enough to see his own style of “crazy” or the nervousness creeping up; I can offer a word of assurance and calm. And one day – when it is my turn to respond, “here I am, Lord, send me” – it will be his turn to join me as we pack up our home and journey to a new land.
And that makes our promises to join together and share a pretty sweet thing. Because somewhere in here, as we do our best to live out our vows, we find the blessings of marriage, too. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. The blessing is that we do not make these promises alone, any more than we journey through life alone. We walk together, and we walk by faith – believing that just as strongly as we love and make these promises to each other, so much more does God keep God’s promises of love and faithfulness to us. For all these thing, I give thanks.
Editor’s Note: This piece was previously published on the author’s private blog.
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