Every time we drive out to visit my in-laws in Francestown, New Hampshire (which is about once a month or so), we drive right past the white church building where Danielle and I were married on June 5, 2004. As we pass that 200-year old building with our 3 children in the back of our Honda Pilot, I almost always think back to that Saturday morning when my bride and I exchanged vows.
In the months approaching our 7th anniversary, I thought quite a bit about that day. In particular, my thought patterns about my marriage went something like this:
"If someone had asked me in the weeks before I got married to describe my expectations about marriage in one word, I wonder what I would have said?" (My thought patterns tend to be quite specific at times.)
As I pondered this question, several possible answers sprang to mind:
I put the question mark after each because I am not really sure what answer I would have given. Honestly, as much as I was looking forward to getting married, I don't think I really knew what to expect. I just knew I wanted to be married.
I may not know what I would have said in answer to the preceding question, but I am quite confident about one thing I would not have said. There is one word I most certainly would not have used to describe my expectations about marriage at that point in my life. Do you want to know what that one word is?
In the entire scope of my thinking as I was preparing to marry the love of my life, I never really thought of marriage as being difficult, hard, or even exhausting. Now, please understand this--Danielle and I did all of the things good, Christian engaged couples are supposed to do before they get married. We read the books about preparing for marriage. We talked about finances, family, and conflict resolution. We participated in the obligatory pre-marital counseling. We tried to prepare ourselves for the fact that the honeymoon would eventually end and that the reality of day to day life would set in. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but the truth is--I didn't have a clue. I had no idea how hard it is to be married and to form a family. That is not to say that I regret marrying Danielle and forming a family with her. I wouldn't go back and change anything even if I could. Sometimes, I look at her and I still can't believe that she agreed to be my wife. Sometimes, it does still seem like a fairy-tale. None of that changes the fact, however, that marriage is, at times, just plain difficult.
I realize now that I did not realize this then. (Did that sentence even make sense?) To some extent, I don't think I could have really understood beforehand the pressures of the crucible of marriage. It's like going to Disney World. People can tell you what it's like, but you really have to go there yourself to truly understand. The same is true with marriage. People can tell you it's hard, but...
Until you've had to face the reality of having more bills and needs than money, you don't understand.
Until you've walked into a room and had your wife sobbingly tell you that she's had a miscarriage, you can't know what it's like.
Until you've felt the subtle hand of lust trying to pull you apart from your spouse, you can't really identify.
Until you've had a loved one snatched violently and unexpectedly away, leaving both of you reeling, you can't empathize.
Until you've experienced how beautiful, amazing, fun, frustrating, exhausting, and stressful children can be, you don't really know.
Until you've felt as if your marriage has been "hijacked" by your kids, your job, and your life...
Until you've laid in bed feeling hundreds of miles apart from someone whose is only 3 feet away...
Until you've asked yourself, "Can I do this anymore?" or even "Do I want to do this anymore?"...
You can't really see how difficult marriage can be.
(By the way, I don't want to sound as if I am complaining. I understand that many couples have traversed waters much deeper and situations much more painful than we have. We have been very blessed in our seven years together. I am simply pointing out some of the difficulties that have surprised me personally along the way.)
About two months ago, someone gave me a CD called "Counting Stars" by a Christian singer-songwriter name Andrew Peterson. I had never heard of him, but I always enjoy discovering new music so I gave the CD a spin. Track number 2 on that disc changed my life. The song is titled "Dancing in the Minefields." Andrew wrote the song to his wife. In it, he talks about how their marriage has been "harder than they dreamed." When I first heard that, I teared up thinking, "So I am not the only one who has felt that way!" Then Mr. Peterson includes a line that shot straight into my heart and soul. He says, "But I believe that's what the promise is for."
I heard those words, and I realized something after 7 years of marriage that I had never really understood before. (Forgive me--I can be quite oblivious at times.) Why do we make vows at our weddings? Why do we include words like "for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse"? We say those things, not because we're all going to be rich, healthy, and happy all the time. We say those things because there will be times of poverty, times of sickness, times of unrest and unhappiness. That's what the promise is for--it's for the times when marriage is hard and exhausting. The key to navigating the "minefield" is to hold fast to that promise and refuse, by the grace of God, to give up. That was something I needed to hear after a very difficult 6-month stretch in our marriage. It changed my perspective dramatically.
With all this in mind, I decided to put together a short video using the song and some pictures. I would like to include it at the end of this lengthy post in the hope that it will encourage you as it has encouraged me.
I would also like to dedicate it to my wife, Danielle. She daily reflects the love and grace of God to me, and I love her dearly. "Sweetheart, I am in it for the long haul! :-)"
To the rest of you reading, I echo the words of the backup singers on the song...
"Don't give up!"