The first time I met my in-laws, I was petrified. Clayton and I were thinking about getting married and we came to ask for their guidance and their blessing. At the airport, as they gave their son a long hug and told him how much they missed him, I thought to myself, “why would they?” We were two crazy kids. Clayton was twenty, a sophomore in college, and I was twenty three. My student visa was expiring, and it was either get married, go long distance, or break up. We were being spontaneous.
“So you guys want to get married…”, my mother in law finally brings it up as we are ordering food at a nice Italian restaurant. My mouth turns into cotton, but as my heart beats faster and faster I hear myself respond: “Not if you guys think it’s a bad idea.”
“Oh honey, we got married three weeks after we met each other because we both liked blue cheese dressing and I wanted to have his babies. Did I mention we were nineteen and in the Navy?”
This was five years ago and I couldn’t be happier with my marriage. I am so thankful they saw the potential in our relationship from day one.
A few nights ago I watched Clayton’s parents – my parents after that fateful night in the Italian restaurant – renew their vows after being married for forty years. They stood in front of their four children, six grandchildren, sisters, brothers, friends, and this is what they promised each other…
When we first considered renewing our wedding vows, honestly, I wasn’t sure what that looked like.
I think of a vow as something to be performed, not something that has already come to pass.
Certainly, when I took my vows the first time, the future was uncertain, my wisdom was undeveloped and my ability or willingness to keep my promise untested. Yet, into the unknown I went. I was all in.
I will share a secret here. Rumor has it that you kept asking me to marry you but truthfully I was smitten the first day we met and was excited by your charm. (I mean your love of blue cheese dressing).
So, after 40 years of testing, I think my vow to love only you and to be faithful to you through sickness and health and for richer or poorer till death do us part can be renewed with more faith than the first time. I want you to be ever sure that I will live for you and die for you.
To be sure though, marriage is a journey and even after 40 years, we have not simply arrived.
I like to think that our wisdom has matured enough that we recognize the testing and accept it as part of our growth rather than the enemy.
With the rest of our lives ahead of us, I do want to add new promises to you.
An author we have both read and shared together, identifies 4 stages of lifelong love.
- Passionate love
- Love in common responsibility
- Stage of recognition
- Love as union
These stages are a progression from the time of our meeting until God calls us home. Each of these stages shapes us for the next but we are frequently tested as well. I believe, Grace, that you and I are in the stage of recognition and it is shaping our love as union.
The author defines the stage of recognition as the moment when one really recognizes the otherness of the other.
Grace, you truly are different from me. You have feelings and thoughts and instincts that are not mine. This recognition of our difference or otherness means the enrichment of the one by the other. As we look to our future, I will embrace making a relation with you beyond habit and routine.
- I promise that I will dialogue with you (a profound dialogue), not just mere conversation but one that promotes unity for us as a couple.
- That I will endeavor to listen without reacting at once or imposing myself.
- To be silent and to accept all that you have to say.
- To love you more than being right and to accept being wrong rather than to be stuck only with a sterile discussion.
- To recognize your otherness in every conversation and appreciate this unique gift.
As we enter the stage of love as union,
I desire to respond to your expectations, your desires and your feelings, and I should enter into these thoughts:
- I Pledge that our love will stay fresh and that we will be inseparable and safe within the equality of our mutual love.
- That I look for a full and complete union through the growth of our love
With a hope toward us together being a completed image of God
Grace40 years of marriage can teach a person a lot. One flawed person trying to become one with another flawed person always makes a big mess. But dwelling in the big mess that is marriage has taught me things that nothing else could have taught me. So here are a few of the things I‘ve learned in the 40 year process of becoming one with you (and by the way, I love that that process is nowhere near complete—that there is still so much more to learn):
I’ve learned that love, lived out, means dying to self on a constant and on-going basis
I’ve learned that how I feel about loving you on any given day, at any given moment, is the measure of absolutely nothing.
I’ve learned that when two people hope together, believe together and yoke up and pull in the same direction, nothing is impossible
I’ve learned that I am deep and dark and sinful, but also that I am gloriously created in God’s image. By learning that I am precious to you, I have learned that I am precious to Him.
Really, here is what I have learned:
Love is patient; love is kind; it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, and it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And finally, I have learned that as I daily fail to meet the mark, you love me without condition, and that each new day with you is a fresh opportunity for the special joy known by those who are loved for a lifetime. We chose each other 40 years ago, and since then, we have chosen each other anew each and every day (and that’s about 14,600 days, if anyone is counting).
So I make the same vow to you I made 40 years ago, but this time I do it eyes wide open, knowing the weight of what I am promising. My vow to you is that I will wake up each morning for the rest of my life, and choose you all over again.