First and Ten

I wish there was a better way to preserve the way we feel on certain days. There are some feelings, certain experiences, special moments in life that I wish we could just bottle up and keep stored away – able to feel them afresh anytime we like. I vaguely remember what was going on in my heart and in my head 10 years ago as I awoke on the day of my wedding. I remember being eager, nervous, exhausted, impatient, grateful, hopeful, and full of disbelief that this remarkable woman wanted to be married to me. I remember feeling so many different emotions that day. In my memory it feels like a blur now, like the hazy remembrance of a dream from the night before that is fading away. Only, every morning since, I’ve awoken to that dream come true. 

Just this past week, my wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary with a dreamy vacation to the Bahamas. It was spectacular. Not only was it a much needed break from our young children, it was a chance to play together again and remember the days when it was just us – the days when we weren’t exhausted all the time & feeling like we just needed to make it through another day. For the first time in a long time, we had the chance to reflect, remember, and enjoy the fruit of a covenant that had ripened over 10 years.

As we made our way to the Bahamas and even while we were there, we ran in to so many other people who were surprised and complementary to us on our anniversary. We had people who were, in their words, ‘blown away’ that our marriage had lasted that long and that they ‘really admired us’ for sticking together for so long.

I was not expecting to be admired for being married for only 10 years.

Yet, as we spent time with couples who were there (many of them not married), I was struck with two lessons that summarize what I’ve learned in my first decade of marriage:

1. You lose a lot of choices when you get married. Marriage is nothing more than a death sentence for both the man and the woman. For a man and woman to become husband and wife, both have to let go of potential dreams, long-held expectations, individual freedoms, and even other potential mates. The couple must say, “no” to all of those choices & lose them forever. Each person must sacrifice everything while expecting nothing in return.

Any other way eventually leads to divorce.

So, if you want to be in a romantic relationship with another human being, you basically have two choices: death or divorce.

Unfortunately, many couples are trying to cheat the choice by bypassing marriage entirely – regarding it as antiquated and pointless. Why make the commitment when you don’t really need to? A hook-up culture of casual sex makes perfect sense to a generation of young people who saw 60% of their parents get divorced. Frankly, I don’t blame them – especially if they don’t believe in the Gospel. They have no picture of what sacrificial death looks like between two human beings, so they have learned to become content with divorce, break-ups, and one-night-stands.

As a married man, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there haven’t been times in the past 10 years when I’ve longed for another life than the one I committed to. I’d be lying if I told you that I fully let those dreams, expectations, and other potential futures die like I was supposed to. However, in the past few years, I have somehow come to a place of realizing the point of letting those go. I haven’t let them go because I’m finally realizing that I can’t have them anymore. No. I’ve let them go because only after this long am I beginning to see the benefits of the actual future I’ve chosen. And I don’t think I could see what I have now had I not gone through the past 10 years of losing everything.

Which leads to lesson number two . . .

2. If you get married, you gain more than you lose, but what you gain isn’t what you expect. I had no idea there was so much to gain in dying. I knew I’d have to sacrifice in marriage, but death was never something that I equated with being married. However, I am learning that the more I choose to die, the more both my wife and I gain. And what we gain is so much better than simply having less conflict or the security of having someone who will be with you for 50 years.

We’ve gained what is becoming more and more rare in romance these days: love.

Most of us go into marriage thinking that we’re in love, but we’re really not. We think we know what love is when we vow before God and our family to love the other person until we die, but we don’t. It’s taken me 10 years just to realize that I thought I was in love when I got married!

It has only been in experiencing death-defying acts of love from my wife that I have been able to experience a new birth after such a long and slow death. The kind of love we are experiencing now – after 10 years – is nothing like when we were dating or engaged. The love we enjoy today can only be learned by experience — and experience requires time — and time requires commitment — and commitment requires death.

This is what the hook-up generation of our day will never experience. This is the strongest argument left for the institution of marriage: in death together we find life and love together that would not be possible otherwise.

One person said it this way (and said it really well):

The greatest mystery is not the most distant star; on the contrary, the closer something comes to us and the better we know it, then the more mysterious it becomes for us. The greatest mystery to us is not the most distant person but the one next to us. The mystery of other people is not reduced by getting to know more and more about them. Rather, in their closeness they become more and more mysterious. And the final depth of all mystery is when two people come so close to each other that they love each other. Nowhere in the world does one feel the might of the mysterious and its wonder as strongly as here. When two people know everything about each other, the mystery of the love between them becomes infinitely great. And only in this love do they understand each other, know everything about each other, know each other completely. And, yet, the more they love each other and know about each other in love, the more deeply they know the mystery of their love. Thus, knowledge about each other does not remove the mystery, but rather makes it more profound. The very fact that the other person is so near to me is the greatest mystery.

So, for those of you who are married and for those of you who hope to get married, will you join us in spreading the Good News about the life-altering benefits of sacrificial death as the best ingredient for a healthy marriage? Will you join us in modeling it for the next generation so they have a picture of what true love actually looks like? Will you join us in reflecting the same love or Lord Jesus has for us all? Let’s fight for the institution of marriage by dying for one another. And may our deaths glorify His all the more!

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