This weekend I celebrated my 12th anniversary eating ice cream from a plastic cup with my husband in a noisy camp store in Allegan. Then he prayed for me. It was a 20-minute date while my kids say around the campfire with my parents. It was magical.
If there is one thing that twelve years of marriage has taught me, it is what makes a magical moment and what makes a game-ending one. And as the years go on, the magical moments increase and the game-ending ones decrease.
One of my first magical marriage moments occurred early in our marriage when, out of curiosity, Nick and I bought a box of churro mix on a late night Walmart run. An hour or so later, our tiny kitchen was covered in little imperfect churros, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. It was an enormous explosion of sweetness, but it was fun! There were bigger moments: standing on the Cliffs of Moher our first day together in Ireland, the births of our three beautiful daughters, other events both large and small that marked our journey together. But as the years pass by, messy churro-making in the kitchen or ice cream eaten with plastic spoons become the moments that make me the most satisfied in my marriage. It is in those moments that we connect, feel comfortable, and focus on each other. Sometimes focusing on just the big magic becomes dissatisfying as those times become further apart as life gets busier. The little moments don’t require finances, or limitless time, or exhaustive creativity, just the desire to be real and to carve out minutes together amidst the craziness of our lives.
On the other side of marriage are the events that feel like game-enders. Sometimes one of us disappoints the other on a grand scale; sometimes an unexpected impasse threatens to halt our journey; still other times we go through personal valleys that separate us from one another temporarily. We have been fortunate not to have as many of these moments, but we have had some. In the depths of these times, we have trouble imagining how we can continue. We find ourselves tired, spent, confused. We yell, or withdraw, depending on our mood. Instead of praying for each other, we pray for ourselves. We become selfish and mean. I won’t spend my anniversary post dwelling on these moments, but know that we have had them, and they weren’t pretty. If you are in one right now, hold on. Turn your prayers to your spouse. Try serving. Try forgiving. Try letting go. Many times, one of those choices works, if not to change your situation, at least to change your heart. If you find yourself lying on the ground in front of a car to stop your spouse from driving away, get up. If that is just metaphorical for you, great. It was a real moment at one point for me, and one that I don’t look back on with pride. But we have likely all been there, in one way or another. Face down on the concrete, teeth gritted, wondering if this is where the journey together ends. Fortunately, as Nick and I navigated the rough patches of our marriage, we grew together, not apart. We are stronger, more understanding, and more forgiving because those skills have been tested in the dark times. And it is for those reasons that the game-enders tend to come to us less frequently now than they did earlier on.
God created marriage to represent his love for us. I think the most salient advice I can give from twelve years of marriage is the importance of forgiveness. It can be hardest to forgive those closest to us. The constant rubbing on the wound keeps it fresh, and we are mindful to the pain and its cause. But God calls us to forgive. I love the story in Matthew about the man who begs God for forgiveness, and God pities him and forgives him; but the man in turn will not forgive the smaller debt of one of his servants. Sometimes we are like that in marriage. We know God’s forgiveness of us goes deeper than our sin, but we cannot extend that grace when we are wounded. I’ve had some large opportunities to practice forgiveness, and I haven’t always been able to extend it with the grace that God extends it to me. But I am learning, and that is what I love about being married to Nick. We are not perfect; we are not who either of us expected to be, in ways both miraculous and disappointing. But we are in love, and we choose forgiveness. We choose perseverance. We choose each other, every day.