Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Irony of 20

This week, C and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage.  TWENTY.  (I know!)  The time has gone by in a blink, but also, we have experienced a lot of richness and depth in those twenty years and I often feel like I can recall specific days over the twenty years, with the clarity of yesterday.  It's really strange.

The human brain is a weird mish-mash when it comes to recollection over time, don't you think?

Here we are as a couple of teenagers in youth group (we'd already known each other five years at this point).  We've since done away with our floral pants and hair mullet, but we still have our Bible.

Anyway, I guess since divorce is so common or situations like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, where some choose to just raise a family together and skip the marriage step (though I just read an announcement they made that they are now officially engaged, with no set wedding date -- six kids and many years together later...), twenty years is an unusually long marriage.  We are often asked how we do it?

There is no magic trick to our marriage.  Like anyone, we've had our rough patches and our desperate times, as well as our blissful moments and cherished memories.  We've also had a l-awwwwwww-t of regular days where we get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, only to repeat our actions the next day.  You know ... LIFE.  The kind of life lived in parallel, but knowing that at any moment, something could happen to create something a lot more memorable (good or bad) that will remind us that we are not just in parallel, but joined together till death.

If there is anything that stands out in our relationship, I think it's that phrase, "till death."  Cheery, no?  But seriously, in the marriages that last, it's the commitment to the marriage made with God as our witness that make things work.  That's the magic.

Humans are fallible and committing to another person can only take us so far down the matrimonial path.  But if both parties are willing to commit to the institution of marriage, for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer ... that marriage has a better chance of surviving the worst/sick/poor times in life.  I might suggest that the commitment to the marriage (instead of the person) is also what makes better/health/richness that much more celebratory.

While I'm on the subject, even the definition of marriage has changed quite a bit over the years.  I love checking this dictionary's definitions.  Read here how the 1828 edition defines marriage.  Note the words, "for life" and "till death."  Now read the Merriam-Webster definition (copyright 2012) and notice that nowhere does it mention a commitment of time of such union and in fact, the dictionary's first example of the word marriage used in a sentence insinuates multiple marriages (which doesn't necessarily mean that the first marriage wasn't "till death" but to me it seems strange that multiple marriages would be so commonplace as to be the first example sentence -- and then, read on to their third example).

So besides our commitment to marriage and to God (and yes, to one another, but not as the glue that binds us), we were unusually blessed in our lives with the best models of marriage in our families.  Both sets of our parents have remained married to one person to this day.  And if that was not enough, all four sets of our grandparents were married to one person "till death."  My Grandpa M. passed away in his 50s and my grandmother did eventually join a widower for many years until his death.  So she was given two opportunities to demonstrate commitments of "till death," which influenced me greatly.  And while I am not fully aware of C's generation prior to his grandparents and their marital situation (though I'm willing to guess that the majority of them were together "till death"), my great-grandparents were all united in marriage to one person, "till death."  All four sets of them!

I've studied my family's genealogy quite a bit over the years, and there are not many incidents of divorce (or abandonment) in my ancestral line.  And there have been some really difficult situations people have faced that under today's attitudes would have certainly led people to just give up on one another.  One of my great-grandmothers raised four sons through extreme poverty, while her husband (the boys' father) struggled with various addictions that (I've heard) made him very difficult company -- when he was around.  But, somehow, they never gave up on their commitment to the marriage.

But I understand, we can't pick our ancestors.  I do hope, however, that as we raise our children, they will reflect on our marriage (and those of their grandparents) and apply the lessons to their own lives.  We make it a practice now, while they are children, to not only pray for our children's future spouses, but to teach them to pray for whomever they will be marrying.  I've read the prayer journals and they do!  They pray they know the Lord already and are growing deeper in their faiths.  They pray that they are remaining pure.  They pray for their wellness and lives.

Talking about marriage with them is something we do during their childhood so that when they become adults they aren't left trying to figure it all out then -- especially in this world that bases marriage on legal commitments for an unspecified amount of time instead of covenants with God "till death."  I pray that our future children-in-law have parents who are doing the same.

Besides giving our children our own marriage as an example and how blessed they are to have generations of family members as examples, we also choose to spend a lot of time with other families who have been united in long marriages.  They can watch first hand the similarities between our marriage and these other families -- they can learn by example how to resolve conflict and stay committed.  My parents did that for my sisters and me.  Nearly all of their closest friends remained married "till death" or are still married till this day.  This was such a good influence on me.

But this is not true of all people we are around.  Divorce is something quite prevalent in our society and we cannot put blinders on and ignore this -- or expect our children to.  They have too many friends with parents who are divorced already.  So instead, we choose to keep the topic open for discussion.  We talk about marriage and divorce and what the Bible says and what the world says and how divorced families can still love the Lord and are loved by the Lord.  And when we can, we try to show love towards these families of divorce so that their children can have hope for a long marriage one day, in spite of the daily evidence in their own lives that marriages don't last.

So, I guess this post got a little more preachy than I had planned, but I just thought it was important to answer some of the questions we get about "how we have made it so long."

The short answer is simply, "by the Grace of God."  But the long answer is that we have been trained up in the way marriages are supposed to work.  They are lifelong commitments to the institution of marriage made in covenant with our Lord.  Sure, C and I have many things in common and we enjoy each other's company and we joke about how at this point in our lives it would be too hard to start over with someone else anyway, but all this would never be enough if we were not committed to the marriage itself.  I hope and pray that we are setting the stage for the next generation to be equally committed to their marriages.


  1. Congrats R and C!!! Here is to the next 20!

  2. WONDERFUL thoughts. It encourages me that some people (and especially, some men!) still hold this view of marriage. Congrats on your perseverance!

  3. I did want to mention that my mom-in-law sent me a wonderful, personal email reply to this post and let me know that C's great-grandparents were also "till death" couples. Good stuff!

  4. Thank you for this beautiful post!

    Love, Mom