We’ve been a couple since the spring months of 1996 and were married during the summer three years later, so I’ve been a participant in no less than thirteen of her birthdays.
As I reflect upon each of these observances my thoughts become episodic, replaying the good times and bad… as is the course of a marriage. While I can honestly say that I’ve never forgotten my wife’s birthday, I have certainly made my share of blunders.
Such is the due process of a marriage over a span of time, an interwoven tapestry of tranquility and strife.
When I think about those two selfish and headstrong people that said “I do” in a little white church ten years ago, I am awestruck by how far we have come as husband and wife.
Together we have weathered the untimely death of her father and the births of our four living children (with the loss of another one in-between), we have moved thousands of miles and held a number of jobs, we have fought bitterly and forgiven each other countless times. A marriage is nothing if not a labor of love.
As we have journeyed together, we have seen many of our married peers fall by the wayside, sometimes due to infidelities in thought and deed or that great vague categorization of “irreconcilable differences.”
There are even others that were neither scandalous nor hostile but, simply, that the two simply did not wish to remain married anymore. As in the words of that venerable philosopher B.B. King: “The thrill is gone,” or in the siren song of the Supremes: “Where did our love go?”
So it goes for so many unequally yoked in loveless bonds.
A boy and girl, bound by chance or mere artifice, exchange sly glances before parting to conjecture romantically of the other. Without anything deeper than a surface attraction or a comfortable acquiescence, this smolder is fanned into false fires, by which each holds the others feet to the flames until the lambent spark is extinguished under the clumsy footfalls of legality.
“What happened?” is the immediate reaction by friends or family members, “they seemed so happy,” say others.
A few days ago I spoke with a friend who was recently divorced from his college sweetheart. “I’m happy for the first time in a long time,” he said. “We stayed together too long, we never should’ve gotten married in the first place.”
I responded that this insight would have been really useful before he walked down the aisle.
Now, I’m not one of these guys who mopes around muttering about “kids these days” or how great things used to be. Well, I’m not one of those guys… yet.
Still, I cannot help but see how the broader perception of marriage has continued changed, in just the few short years of my own adulthood.
I read an article in Time magazine a couple weeks that asked: “Why are women so unhappy?” where reporter Nancy Gibbs cites a number of studies and independent reports that seem to indicate that, for all the cultural advances made on behalf of women in this country, due to the “detachment of marriage and motherhood” women no longer see marriage as an inevitability in the progression of one’s life.
According to Gibbs, “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy.”
Of course, such a sweeping generalization is bound to have exceptions, but I would agree with the overall sentiment.
Like the Apostle Paul, I see marriage as a profound mystery. I believe that marriage is primarily and ultimately about our LORD and His “bride” it is a living, breathing human parable on display to the whole world about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the universal Church.
It takes commitment and unceasing labor, a servant’s heart, and the esteeming of another’s needs over one’s own selfish desire.
As I think upon the many birthdays I have shared with my beloved, I know that I have so often neglected to attain this lofty standard.
So I continue onward, lamenting my failures but casting aside my guilt. Keeping my eyes upon He that is greater than my weakness and wiser than my folly.