This past week, we celebrated the wedding of my nephew. As I watched the exchange of vows, rings, and professions of love between the young couple, I noticed the diversity of marriage relationships represented during the ceremony. In front of me stood a young couple just minutes away from being declared husband and wife. In the audience sat couples married a year, years, and decades. On this particular day, I sat in the back of the crowd with my Father. He and my mama recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. I pulled a chair up next to my dad, who was sitting alone because mom, wheelchair bound and on oxygen, could not join him. At one point, dad turned back toward the house where mom sat with her caregiver, and waved. I cried! The juxtaposition between my parents and the new couple standing in front, was an unexpected gut punch. I was watching one marriage beginning while another was slowly ending. As the young couple exchanged vows yet to be challenged and a love yet to be truly tested, I sat next to an incredible man who has faithfully fulfilled the promise to love, cherish, and honor till death terminates the covenant relationship between he and his bride. Their story is one filled with sorrow, brokenness, joy, and blessings.
Towards the end of the ceremony, my dad was tasked to read I Cor 13. I don’t think anyone in the audience was more worthy of reading those words to Kat and Levi than my Father. God’s description about what real love looks like flowed from the lips of a man who has lived out this famous passage his entire life, but especially in the last six years while caring for his dying bride.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
When reading these verses, we are invited to understand and participate in the true nature of love. Marriage is a union between two sinners who are naturally impatient, unkind, arrogant, and prideful. Marriage is a covenant between two people who often act unloving, who in sin provoke the other to sin, who dutifully keep records of every mess up and hurt, while excusing their own sin. Marriage is a covenant between two people who are prone to listen to lies, establish limits and ultimatums, doubt the heart of the other, and become hopeless that change is truly possible. The reality of marriage is that two naïve, youthful kids, who can’t imagine not always being head-over-heels in love, might one day find themselves so broken by the words or actions of the other they will actually entertain the thought of just giving up.
Love isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally. Love isn’t candy, flowers, perfect sex, and the ability to remember important dates. Love is forged in the trenches of conflict and brokenness. Deep and unquenchable love emerges from the battlefield of disappointment and failure, as two couples who once warred against each, other emerge as allies, hand in hand (or possibly even with one carrying the other). True love is in fact, death! The saddest part about marriage is that often, when presented with the opportunity to experience the love dreamed of and prayed for, many couples bail. When the reality of life extinguishes the butterflies, and the flutter of a new love is replaced with sorrow, disappointment, and brokenness, the popular opinion is the conclusion that the relationship was a mistake. Couples declare they are in fact incompatible, and the logical solution is to move on so the search for the “right one” can begin. If I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be of a line from a Jon Foreman’s song in which Foreman describes brokenness. Like all other conflicts and sorrows in life, conflict in our marriages are opportunities to sow:
“Future Flowers from Present Pain”
Marriage often deposits us in the middle of a battlefield. Initially, we often mistake our spouse for the enemy. The truth about these battles is that fact that our heart and flesh are our greatest foe. In the midst of brokenness it is easy to believe satan’s lie, that the imperfections of our spouse are the greatest threat to our happiness, their mistakes the source of our sorrows and why our longings remain unfulfilled. So we set out to eradicate their sin while silently being slain by our own. Early on in our marriage, I avoided conflicts at all costs and cheated myself of the opportunities to tend a precious “garden “of love that could one day bloom in beauty and grandeur if I was courageous enough to let it. I ran from the garden of opportunity, I did not tend it. If by chance I did stay, I hid my seeds in a bitter cup of disappointment where they rotted, rather than allowing them to be planted in the rich soil of His faithfulness and grace. Praise be to God who exposed hearts, tenderly allowed brokenness, and faithfully walked alongside us as we learned how to look to him, die to ourselves, and truly live out a Corinthians 13 love towards each other. If you find yourself in the middle of a marriage filled with sorrow, disappointment, and heartbreak, please understand you are standing amid the fertile soil of opportunity, growth, fruit, love, and a unity beyond comprehension. Water your garden with tears, but dutifully attend to the seeds sown in faith during seasons of sorrow and want. Vigilantly drive off the spiritual disease that rots roots, devours buds, and steals fruit. Lean into the Father and cooperate with his process of refining your marriage and developing a true I Corinthians 13 love. Remember, your spouse isn’t the enemy- sin is. Conflict is not failure, it is opportunity! Your Father gave you to each other, and he was present when you uttered your marriage covenant. He loves you, and the state of your hearts matter to him. You aren’t fighting alone. He fights for you and with you! And as Jon Foreman eloquently wrote, never forget,
“Love alone is worth the fight.” Jon Foreman