Monday, January 7, 2013

Marital Milestones

My husband and I just celebrated our Silver Anniversary on Dec. 26, 2012.  It was a momentous occasion for us and a milestone we were delighted to reach.  People always remark about how fast time goes and how milestones such as these sort of sneak up on a person.  It is absolutely true.  When I look back over the past quarter of a century, it truly doesn't seem possible that we've reached this juncture in our life together already.  It feels as if it was just yesterday that we had our 10th anniversary and were soaking up sun and sand in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate.

A few people have recently asked me about our anniversary and what I believe are the main reasons Matt and I have stayed together and made our marriage work happily.  I always immediately give God all the credit and glory for it, and for obvious and good reasons.  It doesn't take a brilliant mind to realize and understand that marriage is a risky business and a pretty difficult investment in which many do not succeed.  Those who do profit and succeed know it is by the grace of God that they have (or at least, they should know).  But if I had to actually list the top three reasons we've "made it" to this destination, I would say it is for the following:  compromise, forgiveness, and love.  Many would have a different list, but after pondering it for a while, this list seems to cover the main components of marriage pretty broadly yet concisely.

To further extrapolate on those three items, let me begin by discussing the first--compromise.  This one is by far the most complex of the three because it encompasses many things, such as: communication, selflessness, understanding, listening, generosity, and honesty, to name just a few.  Successful compromise requires that a lot of relational skills be harnessed and practiced on a regular basis.  It takes years to get good at it, and I believe this is where any problems in marriage always begin.  This is the area where forgiveness and love get challenged.  If you've got compromise issues in your marriage, eventually the facilitation of forgiveness and love likewise starts to suffer.  Compromise requires an immense amount of work.  It is necessary in the small areas of your marriage, as well as the big ones.  It also doesn't work without the other two components of forgiveness and love.  No one can truly compromise on any matter without forgiving or letting go of their own "stuff" and without loving someone else enough to want to meet their desires or needs above their own.  So compromise flat out won't work without the other two items being utilized.  All three are extremely interrelated.

Forgiveness has been a crucial facet in our marriage, too.  Regardless of whether a full compromise has been reached, Matt and I have had to just forgive stuff over the years--little stuff and big stuff alike.  Sometimes therein is where the compromise has occurred.  You just make the choice to let it go and leave it.  Many times this is simply because of your love for one another.  Other times, it is in direct submission to God and what He says about marriage and how to make it work.  But nevertheless, forgiveness is essential no matter what your reason for giving it is.  Since no one is perfect and we are all flawed, mistake-capable people, forgiveness is obviously going to be something you have to get used to doling out in large quantities if you're going to keep your marriage together. A refusal to forgive will get you at least one of two things in your marriage:  it will deteriorate the happiness of the marriage, or it will end it (and it's important to mention that, "happiness," in marriage should be expected to ebb and flow pretty regularly--anyone who expects otherwise is setting them self up for great disappointment). It is interesting to just look at the word, "forgive."  It is basically a compound word that connotates that you are letting go of something and giving something to someone else.  The online Merriam-Webster dictionary states that, "forgive," means, "to give up resentment of or claim to requital for."  Dictionary.com states that, "forgive," means, "to grant pardon for or remission of."  So sure enough--forgiving means to let go of your issue, and simultaneously, give an excuse and pardon to someone else.  It's a two-fold deal, which makes it a tricky, hard one.  You aren't just letting go of something, you're giving something.

Last on the list, is love.  I like to think of it as the good stuff in marriage--the fun stuff.  This is the icing on the cake.  It is what makes all the hard work and gritty, monotonous, self-depriving effort in marriage seem worthwhile and look beautiful as a whole--even if it doesn't at the time.  It is also the basis for why you do all that hard work.  Love should be at the foundation of all the other stuff we do for our spouse and our marriage--it is the motivation for compromising and forgiving.  If you think about a layered cake, the icing between each layer and over the top can hide a multitude of sins and issues with the cake itself. Perhaps one layer was too thin or too thick. Maybe it is lop-sided in a couple of places.  Perhaps it is hiding a crack.  The icing covers it all and makes it look unified.  It holds it all together with flare and even creative, distinct beauty.  This is what love does on the cake of marriage and on the layers of your life together with your spouse. It covers all the issues and holds it together.  I think of the verse in 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."  So true.  Without love, all you'll see in your spouse (or anyone else, for that matter), are the flaws.  Without love, all you'll want is what you want. 

As we reach this distinct, special point in our marriage, it has never become more apparent to me how much we need God in order to do any of those three aforementioned things (compromise, forgive, and love).  There is nothing compromising, forgiving, or loving about us when we are in our natural, raw state as human beings.  God is the One who teaches us and gives us those attributes so that we can live beyond ourselves and for others.  You may say, "No, my mother or father taught me how to do those things."  Well, if anyone taught you how to be compromising, forgiving, or loving, I guarantee you they learned it directly or indirectly from God and His Word, or from someone else who did!  If you don't know God, and haven't accepted His free gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, my first advice to you for a successful marriage is to take care of that business first.  Going it alone isn't going to be an easy path.  Matt and I would both tell you this is the real first step to a happy marriage.  God has to be there and He has to be number one in your life.  Without His help, wisdom, and the power He gives upon our recognition for His grace and salvation, you will be going it alone. 

As Matt and I face the next 25 years of marriage together, I know we will have trying times just as we have already had.  We will have great ones, too.  But the trying ones are important to our growth and strengthening as a couple.  Just as Zechariah 13:9 states, "I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on My Name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'"  Being put through the fires of life is no fun--it can be a painful, faith-rocking experience.  But the product and end results are beautiful.  We can honestly say that God has tried us as, "silver," as we celebrate this Silver Anniversary.  Now, we pray He will purify us as gold, and that we will have the joy of one day reaching our Golden 50th Anniversary. Amen.