Reflections on marriage

There is a wedding at our church this weekend. After what seems to me like a long season of funerals, I am looking forward to officiating at a celebration of love and commitment. The couple has gone through the planning and preparations that are typical for such and event. In some of our planning sessions, the bride seemed to be more excited about the details of decorations, music and the like than the groom. The groom, however, has participated fully in all of the planning and I think he is excited about the ceremony and the special plans for the day.

At my age, it seems like the couple is very young, but I’m sure that they see themselves as mature adults who are ready to make this commitment. Looking back, I realize how young I was when I stood in the church and made sacred promises before God and the congregation gathered to celebrate our wedding. There is nothing wrong with being young. It is a time of clear thinking and the choices made by young people can have an impact not only on the rest of their lives, but on the shape of the world.

I do, however, know a few things that this young couple does not. I know a few things that they cannot yet understand. There are lessons that only life and experience can teach.

Before going further, however, it is important for me to remind myself that the world is very different from the way it was when I was young and preparing to take my wedding vows. We lived in a fairly small arena. I met my wife at church camp. I had a few friends who attended different churches, but most of us were very similar. I lived in a small community and the fact that my then girlfriend was from the big city 80 miles away was a bit exotic. Most of my peers were dating the other members of our high school class or those a year or two older or younger. These days, young people meet others from many different walks of life, cultural backgrounds and traditions.

When we married we knew virtually nothing about living together. I had grown up with brothers and sisters and I had had a couple of uncomfortable college roommates, but I had no real experience living with another person. I didn’t know what it would be like to share an apartment with another. These days, the couples who come to be married have lived together, in come cases for several years. They know each other’s quirks and details of their lives that we simply had not yet explored.

So making comparisons between our marriage and that of the couple who will marry this weekend is unfair. Each relationship has its own history and conditions.

What I know is that when they stand and promise their faithfulness in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, they really don’t know exactly what that means. They can’t know. We were married 46 years before a real life-threatening illness struck our relationship. I know so much more about what that commitment means this week than I did just a week ago. There are some things that remain only theoretical possibilities for a long time as you go through life. That whole “in sickness and in health” scenario was that way for us. We have been fortunate. Most of our relationship has taken place in health. It was a shock and a surprise to find myself at the bedside of my mate as she struggled to remain alive.

My emotions over the experience are still pretty raw and unprocessed. It will take some time for confidence to return and for me to speak clearly and coherently about the experience. I do know, however, that those promises are key to the life I have lived and the life I enjoy to this day. I have been shaped by the promises we made on that June day back in 1973.

The promises that this couple will make this weekend hold the same power and potential for life. Even if they do not fully understand what they are promising, the promises give structure to their relationship.

I can tell this couple in words how the promises have made all the difference in my life. I can even speak to them about the joys of growing old together. But at their age, when they are young and beautiful and have their entire lives stretched out before them, they aren’t really going to connect with what it means to age. They can’t really know what it is like to have years and decades of shared experiences upon which to draw. They might think it is silly sentimentalism that brought tears to our eyes as we sat in the hospital, holding hands and listening to a song that was sung at our wedding. Perhaps they are right.

Nonetheless, one of life’s greatest pleasures is the joy of growing old together. It is a gift that is afforded to just a few people. There are all sorts of things that can take it away. Illness and death and loss and grief can sweep into our lives and relationships and end a chapter as quickly as it began. We are aware of how fragile life is. And that is another thing that can add to the joys of marriage. When we were young and felt invincible, we were much less aware of how quickly life can end. Now we know and find ourselves just a little bit more appreciative of each day that we are given.

So it is with joy that I participate in this weekend’s wedding. I wish the young couple the best. I know that they have many challenges and opportunities ahead of them. I pray that the promises they make will shape their lives as profoundly as promises have shaped mine. I will ask God to bless them, knowing what a blessing it is. May they know love that has no end.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!