February 18, 2015
As many of you know (especially since I wrote about this last week) Ellen and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. A sincere thank you to all who expressed congratulations to the two of us. A few of you said something like this: So, what’s the secret? I know that the question was generally asked in a good-natured way and without the expectation of a response but, well… let me say something about that. First, it is very hard to respond to that question knowing that some great, fine, wonderful people whom I love and respect have been unable to hold their marriages together for a variety of reasons. And I run the risk of sounding arrogant, as if I have some corner on the market of marriage wisdom that others just haven’t figured out. As sincerely as I can say this, I have no particular wisdom. As a matter of fact, there are folks who have experienced dreadful circumstances under the heading of “marriage” who have much more insight than I do about what to do and what not do!
That being said if I could only tell new couples two things that I knew they would embrace and seriously consider, they would be these. First, choose wisely. I know that sounds really elementary but we all know folks, many of whom got married at 18 or 19 and later said something about being too young to make a decision that major. For some it works, but for many… well, I don’t need to tell you do I? Telling the difference between who might be a lifelong partner, infatuation, and lust is as confusing as… well… really confusing things. The other problem with choosing wisely is that there are no guaranteed clear guide lines or rules on how one goes about doing that.
The second thing I would tell them goes counter to so much of our culture that I’m not sure there is any ability to grasp it. If you are going to take someone as your life partner, be prepared to sacrifice almost everything to make the relationship work. I say “almost everything” because there are betrayals; abusive, dangerous situations that people should not abide by or stay in. I am always stunned when I hear stories of pastors who counsel women to stay in abusive relationships because the Bible says “men are the head of women”, or “women are to submit to their husbands.” At the risk of sounding harsh… those pastors are idiots! That being said, one of the words for “love” in the Bible refers to a “self-sacrificial” kind of love, i.e., we love our partner to the extent that we are willing to give up our own desires in order to please them. Don’t get me wrong. I especially struggle with this, but I know it to be true… in theory.
A couple of weeks ago I was preaching on the verse from 3 of the Gospels where Jesus says, “If you want to be one of my disciples you must take up your cross and follow me.” This notion of taking up our “cross” implies sacrifice and denial of self. Think about that for a moment. We in our culture, do all that we can to NOT be denied what we want and to NOT have to sacrifice. So how do we talk about sacrifice in marriage when we know NOTHING of sacrifice in our lives? I often say to couples during the marriage ceremony, “The problem with sacrifice is that my generation knows little of sacrifice and your generation (assuming it’s a younger couple) knows less.” In almost every marriage I know of that has failed, it’s because one or both of the partners have decided to no longer sacrifice. They want what they want first and “then we’ll see.”
So, did I choose wisely over 40 years ago? Are you kidding?! I was 18 years old when we decided to get engaged. I didn’t know anything! But, providentially I stumbled onto one of the most amazing women in the world. Am I a sacrificial husband? Truthfully I try, but it’s a never ending and at times undesirable task.
I have asked many people over the years what their “secret” is and the answers are as diverse as those being queried. Much of the success of marriage in the end has something to do with an indescribable chemistry that very few people can predict. It may also require a few years under a couples’ belt to know if that chemistry is there or if it will materialize.
What I have just said is no guaranteed formula, but it has worked for Ellen and I… along with a number of other disciplines. Before we got married the minister who joined us said this, “Marriage takes work.” I had NO IDEA what he meant! Both Ellen and I do now.