Sometimes I wonder what was running through Traci’s mind when she was standing at the altar with me on December 28, 1996. I’m not sure we’ve ever really talked about her thoughts on that day, but I’ve wondered if she ever had that moment of panic while she stood there, looking at me, hearing our pastor describe an almost impossible task: “to have and to hold...to love and cherish...in sickness and in health...til’ death do you part...”
I know what I was thinking: “I’m so close! As long as she says, “I Do”, I’ve won the lottery. Please Traci...don’t think too hard about those requirements, don’t think about what those words actually mean, just say “I Do” and make me the happiest man on the planet!”
It really was a great day. We still run into people and talk to friends who remember facets of our wedding from 17 years ago. Most of all they remember the tiered wedding cake, opposite the reception hall from the tiered pizza tower. (Hey, we were going into youth ministry and there just seemed to be something right about having pizza at our wedding!) They remember the snow fall that started happening as we left the reception and got into the limo for our trip to the Oregon coast. They remember my dad with his driver’s cap on, pretending to be the limo driver! People remember the packed house, Traci’s beautiful dress and the happy end of a dating relationship for two high school sweet hearts. It was a glorious day.
Naturally, I have many fond memories of our wedding day. 17 years later, I also have some new perspective on the day we exchanged vows and entered into a new covenant with each other, before God and many witnesses. When I said, “I do,” I had no concept of the power of those words, and how they would forever change the direction of my life. Suddenly I was on a wild journey with another human being, one who would share in each aspect of my adventure, as I would share in hers.
With the words, “I do,” love took on a whole new meaning.That day, as we stood hand in
hand and repeated those powerful words of commitment, we declared that feelings and emotions weren’t enough to keep our relationship going. That’s really the essence of a marriage covenant. It’s a promise to make the marriage the most important human relationship you have. It’s a commitment to keep growing personally and spiritually, and to bring that growth to the table. It’s a choice to love that other person after a good scrum, when they’ve changed in appearance, when the emotions are running high or when they’re not running at all. “I do” means that, with all that’s in you, and with God’s help, you are going to love another person in a way that best pictures God’s love for you.
In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the purpose of the marriage covenant. And as he delves into the roles of husband and wife to each other, he does something amazingly profound and powerful -- he relates both back to Christ’s love for us! Even as he defines the fundamental purpose of sexual intimacy (oneness with another person), he relates it back to God’s desire for us to be connected to Him; for us to be one with Him and His purpose for our lives (not unlike Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17).
Marriage isn’t ultimately about our love for our spouse, marriage is ultimately about our love for God, pictured through our relationship to each other. When I follow God’s commands and love my wife as I love my own self, I’m becoming the man God wants me to be, and helping Traci grow into the woman God created her to be. When Traci loves me sacrificially and willingly, she is obeying God’s commands for marriage and thus bearing the fruit that validates her relationships with God (John 15); and that pushes me toward a deeper relationship with God, too. As Gary Thomas has rightly stated, “Marriage is for your holiness, not your happiness.” Get the holiness part right, and the happiness part will follow.
When we were dating, our commitment wavered based on any given day. I know I flirted with other girls, I know on several occasions I seriously contemplated exploring other relationship possibilities, and I went on a few dates with girls not named Traci. But the day I said “I do,” changed everything. I no longer had freedom to flirt or consider other options. “I do” meant that I was taking myself off the market (not that it was that hot of a market to begin with!) and I was done shopping. “I do” meant that I was in it for the long haul, and by God’s grace, I would pursue Traci, and Traci alone, for as long as we both live.
There’s such a huge difference between dating someone you like and marrying someone you love. When you love some one enough to marry them, you commit to being with them for the long haul.
In my blog, 17 reasons why we have a great marriage, I wrote about several of these commitments required for a great marriage:
- Commit to keeping God the most important person in your marriage. Nothing will improve your marriage faster than making sure God, not your spouse, is number one in your life.
- Take divorce off the table. Once divorce is off the table, the next solution is to find a solution.
- Commit to give the grace you want to receive.
- When you hit hard times, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people who have already walked where you’ve walked, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them for help!
Traci and I have made each of these (and 13 others) a reality in our marriage; not perfectly, but in progress.
How committed are you to your wedding vows? Are you holding your spouse to a standard you don’t keep? Are you looking across the table and blaming them for their part of the struggles, but not owning your own? The Overboard Life has to spill over into our relationships, and especially into our marriages. The only way that can happen is if we remember that love is a commitment we make to others, one that isn’t primarily based on feelings or emotions. But a funny thing happens when you choose to love others the way God loves us...the feelings and emotions soon catch up!
26 down, 14 to go.
Go ahead and take the plunge, your marriage will be better on the water!