My dad loves to fish. He enjoys the sport, the quiet time, and the memories of fishing with his dad. When I was in high school, he would often leave for the lake on Friday night and my mom would meet up with him on Saturday. He looked forward to those fishing trips--as early as Monday, he knew that if he made it through the work week, he would be fishing on Friday night. He had his routine down like clockwork.
Except one week.
One Friday afternoon, my mom came home from work and was evidently stressed. I never learned why, but she had had a very difficult day. She went straight to her bedroom and laid down. My dad was preparing to leave, but I could tell he was carefully weighing his decision. He went upstairs to comfort her, and I went about my business. Four hours later I went back to their bedroom and he was still there. He traded a week’s worth of anticipation for an evening of comforting my mom. I remember my exact thought, “I could not do that. I am not ready for marriage.”
No other story from my youth has left such an impression on me about commitment in marriage as this one. I watched my parents’ marriage endure unemployment, sickness, loss of close family members, caring for aging parents, and many other seasonal challenges, but the memory of watching my dad put my mom’s needs before his own in a very simple, mundane way has endured to this day. I remember every detail.
I am preparing to be married this July to my beautiful fiancée, Jacqueline. Deciding to get married has been a decision long in the making for me. Most unmarried men get to a point when they will self apply the term “bachelor.” I never did. There have always been so many others things which have captured my attention and time that I would rarely give much thought to the fact that I am a “bachelor.” I always considered myself “just not married yet”. There were road trips to take, jobs to pursue, and a host of plans and ideas to explore.
So, what has changed? What makes me think I am ready now?
I am ready to make a decision to love Jacqueline--nothing more, nothing less. Everything I enjoyed about being single is still just as appealing: mobility, simplicity, and availability of time can be valuable assets. It would be silly for me to say otherwise. However, I am convinced of something else. Instead of “trading in” my schedule and energy, I am “trading up” for two things: her commitment of love and the opportunity for us to be involved in a mystery.
I am preparing to be involved in a mystery. It is not what I have seen or what I think I know about marriage that makes me think I am “ready”. Instead, it is watching those who have gone before me that are already part of this mystery which makes me realize I do not see the full picture: How do two people come together and become as one? Why does love require tension? What parts of my character and personality will be transformed by putting her first? What concerns seem so important now, but will be trivial years from today? What is it about my character and needs that complements her character and needs? What changes or stays the same when there are children? How does love last for the rest of our lives?
I am also being prepared for a battle. As the mystery of marriage captures my attention, I am also reminded that I will face many battles. The battle is not primarily against my future wife, but against the selfishness and pride in my heart--the parts that still wander. All the hard places in my heart which have been able to sleep comfortably and undisturbed are now going to be poked, prodded, and exposed. As challenging as it will be, I should humbly welcome these changes. They mean that my heart will be refined, my ability to love will grow, and my capacity to see the needs of others will be greater. Loving Jacqueline sacrificially will be a catalyst for learning how to put others first on a much deeper level.
Ultimately, I do not know what to expect in marriage, but I will no longer be able to stand outside and observe it from afar; marriage is a mystery which cannot be understood by those outside of it. Jacqueline and I will have years to practice how to put each other first, give and accept grace, and learn to accept our radical differences. I am reminded that my parents have practiced this process for longer than I have been living--the example I have seen from them has been decades in the making.
I am grateful that God will be the deeper well of love and grace we will learn to draw from daily. Over time, the mystery of marriage will be unfolded. As we learn to love each other, we’ll also learn how much God has shown His love to us our whole lives.