Sue and I got married just outside of Johannesburg on a very stormy Autumn afternoon, the 8th of April, 2006. All of our friends and family gathered around in the hope and optimism that new beginnings bring. They feasted, laughed, danced till 3am, and rallied together around the center of two young fools who made promises that they had no idea how to keep. We have kept them, for the most part, by God’s grace.
We have had a very happily imperfect marriage. It is far from a model that is obviously worthy of imitation, but it is the one we have, and the one we love. I wouldn’t swap my marriage to Sue for anything. We have learned (albeit sometimes slowly and reluctantly) to love each other better over the past 15 years, and for that I am very grateful.
What follows, then, are simply 15 observations of and from our married life. Perhaps one or two may resonate with you, and if not, I have at the very least managed to process some of the thoughts rattling around my head and heart today. It is worth noting that I do see the faithfulness of so many of you who are single, or those of who have marriages that haven’t flourished as part of your formation story. This is in no way a reflection of a posture that sees our story as superior or more significant in any way.
- Friendship is the foundation.
Sue is such a wonderful friend to me and that provides immense comfort and stability in a marriage. If our relationship was built purely on attraction and chemistry (both of which are very helpful and wonderful experiences) then there would be extreme risk as that attraction and chemistry shifts, flexes and changes shape over time. But Sue is my friend, which means that I enjoy her company as much as anything else. What a gift true friendship is.
- Love requires work.
I have had to figure out how to love Sue well over the years. I still don’t always get it right, or even close to right. For instance, Sue’s primary love language would be acts of service. This means that many of my grand gestures of dramatic love end up missing the mark because she really would have loved for me to unpack the dishwasher instead of spending the time in my study writing a poem. It has taken work to figure that all out. I still hate unpacking the dishwasher, but she feels loved when I do. It takes work, intention and sacrifice.
- People change, and so marriages change, enjoy the journey.
That’s it. That’s the whole observation.
- Listening is loving.
Seeking one another out through active listening is one of the kindest and most intimate things you can do. Listen to each other. Listen to what is said. Listen to what is unsaid. Pay attention. Lean in. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Ask good questions.
- Speaking is seeking.
Listening only works if people are free to speak. Sue and I never really fight, but only some of that is healthy. Some of that is due to the fact that we are both chronic conflict avoiders who bite their tongue rather than experience the discomfort of potential disagreement. But, we have learned that things need to be said, and that speaking stuff out, as much it can be a weapon to push people away when it done unkindly, is also a powerful tool to bring people closer, when done kindly and in a loving manner.
- Differences can be your greatest strength.
Sue and I are opposite people. She is everything that I am not, and I have learned to adore that about her! In my young, unbridled narcissism, I really wanted her to be more like me, which is a pretty weird thing to want. Now I celebrate that she is nothing like me and I am free to love her differences as she loves mine.
- Sanctification is a shared endeavor.
There has be no greater agent of sanctification in my life than my marriage. God has used it as an incubator of holiness, through which He has been making both Sue and I more like Christ. I am very grateful for that work.
- Grace is a glue that keeps you together.
I have disappointed Sue more times than I can count. I have acted selfishly, unkindly, immaturely and irresponsibly on many occasions. I am so thankful that our covenant is one of grace and not one of performance. This is part of why marriage can be such a powerful picture of Christ and His church. It is a covenant of grace, mercy, forgiveness, forbearance and love.
- Laughter really helps.
Life will throw a lot of difficult things your way. Make sure to laugh which each other and at yourselves a lot. Taking ourselves too seriously creates an environment of tension where it isn’t possible to see the funny sides of our shared life. There are many things about life with me that are just hilarious, and I love that Sue and I get to enjoy those without offense.
- It really can just keep getting better.
I used to chuckle at old people who spoke about how they were more in love after 50 years than they had been at the beginning. Sue and I had an early love that burned white hot and so I thought it was impossible for it to get better, but it really has. I recently read my diary from the early parts of our relationship and I was embarrassed by our naivety and my self-obsession which so obviously stood in the way of our mutual flourishing. I can honestly say that our love is better, deeper and stronger than it has ever been.
- Cherishing is essential.
Sue isn’t a “ball and chain,” or my “old lady” or any of the lame stereotypical slights that people use to describe their spouse. She is the most precious person in my life and it is my honor to let her know that every day. How do you know if you are cherishing your spouse? Well, do they feel cherished? Ask them. See point 4.
- Kids change everything.
They just do. Sue and I waited a long time for both of our kids and we love and cherish them as the supernatural gifts that they are. We love them with our whole hearts, and we also recognize that the love we have for them and the focus we need to have on them must not replace or diminish the covenantal love we have for each other.
- Money is meaningful.
It isn’t everything, but it is a big thing, and so make sure it is discussed regularly and openly so that there continues to be a shared vision of resource and stewardship.
- “Sorry” should be a regular word. “I forgive you” should be a keystone phrase.
Sin happens. All the time. Be quick to repent and rush to forgive.
- Christ is King.
A marriage centered on Him will bear the resemblance of His Kingdom. Point each other to Christ. Imitate Christ to each other and trust Him to persevere and endure your union and allow it to testify to His love for His church.
Lastly, I love to process and think through song. This new song from Jon Foreman makes me think of Sue and the love we share. I hope you enjoy it.