“This marriage is our house, our shared space.”
wife and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. I remember being at a couple’s 60th anniversary party years ago. When the husband was asked to share something he’d learned from 60 years of marriage, he replied, “Well, the first 50 are the hardest.” So I may be speaking up too soon, but here, in these two vignettes, is some of what I’ve learned about marriage.
To a Young Couple on Their Wedding Day
Are you afraid? I think you are. You may not feel right about admitting it, but that’s OK. This day calls for a courageous face and a confident smile.
There will be other moments, though, when fear will sweep into your heart. You will wonder where it came from. One minute you will be laughing with each other, basking in the warmth of your relationship, and then, like an icy breeze, fear will send a chill up your spine. All it may take is a word too sharply spoken, a careless remark, or a thoughtless deed.
Should you be afraid? I think you should be. You have chosen to spend the rest of your lives together. Starting today, you will live in the same house, eat at the same table, and sleep in the same bed. You will share the food, the toothpaste, the television, the bathroom, the paycheques and the bills. This marriage is now your house, the place where you live. You are together—for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health. You will become acutely aware of each other’s presence. You will become uncomfortably aware of each other’s shortcomings. There are not enough places to hide in a marriage—sooner or later you are found out. You are no longer single. Decisions can no longer be made unilaterally. There is no longer just one way of looking at a matter; there are two. Even the simplest tasks can become the source of fierce debate: do you add milk to scrambled eggs? Of course not! Everyone knows that—except the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. You are married. And according to the vows you’ve made, there is no escape short of death.
If you weren’t before, have I made you afraid? I don’t mean to spoil the day with such sober talk. I just want you to know that to be afraid is OK. In fact, if there were no shadow of doubt around the edges of this celebration, I would be concerned. “Doubt,” wrote Calvin Miller, “is not a sin in loving. Arrogance is the grand transgression, for arrogance presumes, and presumption loses all.”1
So step bravely into this life. Propel your knocking knees by the force of your spoken words. Face fear and doubt with honesty; counter them with the choices of love. You have made enormous promises to each other. Honour them precisely—they are the footings you must build upon. Guard them zealously—they are the protecting walls around your marriage. Renew them daily—they are the soil from which love grows and flourishes. And be assured: as love grows, it slowly but surely crowds out fear.
She was eating purple string beans with her fingers, flopping them back and forth between each bite like miniature flags at a parade. I mimicked her—playfully, I thought.
“When you eat peanuts,” she replied, “you shake them back and forth in your hand.” And we left it there. Except that the dog had been poked. With unsettling ease I found myself kicking through the gravel that accumulates when two people rub against each other day in and day out, the niggling detritus of lives lived in tight quarters. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager well that her thoughts kept pace with mine. Because 40 years of knowing leave little room to hide the things that 40 years ago we couldn’t see for love—and chose not to see for fear we’d lose our nerve.
Later that same day I went looking for her. She’d told me she was going out to sit on the garden swing I’d bought for her birthday. We set it on the stone patio we built the summer our daughter asked to have a backyard wedding. Many closings of the day we’ve spent there since, gently swinging back and forth, drinking coffee, doing crossword puzzles or reading until the bugs chase us inside.
Looking through the sunroom window, I saw her hat on the cushion of the swing beside her book. But I couldn’t see her. So I wandered through the house saying her name. I called it from the top of the cellar stairs. The silence that answered sparked a slight tightening in my chest and annoyance melted into mild concern. A flicker of fear quickly followed—fear of being left alone, of finding her on the ground behind the shed, or on the laundry room floor. I thought of how absolutely lost I’d be without her.
Eventually, I walked across the street to our friends’ house. There I found her visiting among their gardens, trading stories of grandchildren, talking of flowers and food and faith.
We walked home holding hands.
This marriage is our house, our shared space. It is the geography of our lives and of our love. It has survived the changing postal codes and here we are, back in this place where it started. Back where I was her paper-boy and she was an auburn-haired preacher’s kid. Back where we courted and wed and where we have raised family, watched trees grow, and written so much of the story in which we live. Here in the shelter of our promises—once made, often broken—here, where we have learned to live forgiving lives and grown deeper without knowing it.
1. Calvin Miller, If This Be Love (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), vi.
This article appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.