Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting in the waiting room of a local doctor’s office. I say ‘pleasure’ with no sense of irony, because I love any opportunity to watch people who are at least twice my age. I cannot look at an elderly couple without thinking: I can’t wait until we’re that old.
Becca and I have been married for six years now, which isn’t all that long. We’ve been a couple for 10, though, and that sounds a little more significant: We’ve each spent a third of our lives with the other. But if those couples at the doctor are anything like the people I know from my grandparents’ generation (those, at least, who aren’t widowed or widower), it means they’re probably pushing 50 years together. They’ve been side-by-side through doctors’ appointments and childbirth and high school graduations and more funerals than they care to count.
When I think of my marriage, this is precisely what comes to mind. Not our wedding or our young family. Not vacations past and future or how we’re going to pay the babysitter so we can have a dinner out, but the hopes that we’ll still be looking at the world from the same vantage point in 30 years. No, it’s more than hope. It is (God willing and we don’t die young) a certainty.
I admit I sometimes take this too lightly. One of my favorite jokes is to refer to Becca—always in third person and never within her hearing range—as “The Rib.” “Yeah, that sounds great. Let me check with The Rib and make sure we don’t have plans,” or, “I was talking to The Rib yesterday, and she thinks...” I get the occasional cross-eyed glance, but, as I tell people when they ask, it’s both playfully condescending and theologically sound. Now what?
Yet as much as I joke about it, it’s really no joke at all. “Rib” is a better metaphor for my relationship to Becca than anything else I can think of. We have been “joined together” by God (Mark 10:9). We stand side-by-side, so close that she’s a part of me. Not almost a part of me, not like a part of me, but really, truly a part of me: we are no longer two, but one (Mark 10:8). Like our first parents, we’re joined not at the hip, but some 10 inches north, at the rib.
This talk of permanence and oneness sounds so naïve, doesn’t it? We all say we’re in it for the long haul—everyone has dreams and intentions of lasting commitment and boundless love on their wedding day. The problem is that, culturally speaking, too many of us have learned to end-date our commitments by tying them to our own personal happiness. Our wedding ceremonies have an unspoken exit clause. When one party stops being personally fulfilled, the marriage stops, too. Our culture still says “For better or worse,” but a more honest vow might be “For better.” Full stop.
Of course, love and fulfillment are essential elements of any healthy marriage. But, contrary to what so many of us are told, they do not a marriage make. Any long-married man or woman will tell you that marriage exists to protect the relationship even (or especially) when those feeling wane. Our feelings will ebb and flow, but marriage binds us despite this truth—even though its bonds, thanks to no-fault divorce, are weaker than ever before.
Becca gets this, and I trust that when she said, “Til death do us part” she meant it—she means it. I know this in part because she’s been given an excellent example. Her parents’ relationship is a 39-year testimony to the enduring strength of marriage, through the good times and the bad. It’s imperfect, but it’s also a microcosm of that cosmic story—fall, forgiveness, redemption—played out in full view of the watching world. He who has eyes to see, let him see. It’s beautiful.
But I didn’t marry Becca because I think she’ll stick it out. I married her because she’s more full of life and light than I know what to do with. Because she always sees the best in another person, including her husband, even when she has reason to see otherwise. Because she saves me from the worst of myself, and because she’s stronger than she knows.
What’s more, there isn’t another woman with breath in her lungs who would make a better mother to our sons—who could love them more, or as well, or as patiently and carefully as she does. She nurtures and shelters our boys, encourages and participates in Jack’s shenanigans (“And now,” cried Jack, “let the wild rumpus start!”), and tolerates with poise his growing appreciation for potty humor. She’s guiding, shaping, training and raising these two young boys into men that will make us proud.
Becca is all of these things, and more—much more. But our marriage is also more: It’s a come-what-may commitment to walking through life, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, faces forward, for as long as this life is ours to walk. I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side.Media: