On June 11, 1996 I married a man with no job, no money, and no idea what he was going to do with his life. Two kids and fifteen years later, it would seem that not much has changed! But I love him more today than when I made my vows as a naive, optimistic 21-year-old. I’ve been thinking about vows today, and I find it interesting that they don’t seem to mean much in our culture anymore. Many couples today write their own vows which may or may not actually promise anything, and mainly consist of a list of reasons why they like the person they’re marrying. It’s great to know why someone loves you, but I think it’s even more important to know that they promise to keep loving you even when the warm fuzzies are gone. The things that I loved about my husband 15 years ago are very different from the things I love and have come to appreciate about him today. Over the years, loving feelings fluctuate with the circumstances in our lives, but vows keep us grounded by reminding us that marriage isn’t about feelings. According to the vows I made 15 years ago, marriage is a commitment to love your spouse:
For Better or Worse – This one seems obvious. You’re supposed to love someone even when you find yourself in difficult circumstances. We’ve stuck it out through infertility struggles, colicky babies, parenting 2 high-energy kids with strong personalities, job losses (yes, we’re on job loss #2), a second bachelors degree and masters degree for my husband, a nightmare house construction experience, totally redoing our diet and relearning how to cook with gluten free food, making the decision to homeschool and accepting that we are the weirdo homeschoolers who don’t eat wheat. But we’ve had plenty of “better” days, as well. Sometimes it’s not the tough times that challenge our marriage so much as the battle with our self-centered nature, which seems to rear its ugly head more in the absence of conflict. When you’re in the trenches with your spouse, you’re both fighting the war together to find solutions to parenting issues, employment, or other problems. But when the crisis is over, the question comes as to whether you’ll stay on the same team or start drifting into your own little world. To me, vowing to love someone “for better or worse,” means that I love you when times are tough, and I will fight the temptation to focus on my own selfish desires when life is rolling along smoothly. How many divorces happen because one spouse simply grew apathetic to the needs of the other?
Application: My daily devotion for today reminded me that in Luke 9:23, Jesus told his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him. The way we love our spouse for better or worse is to deny our selfish desires (and I don’t mean all our desires, just the ones that cause a wedge in our relationship) DAILY. The point of this vow is to affirm that I choose to love you at all times and in all circumstances. Thankfully, we have the “incomparably great power” of the Holy Spirit to help us do this (Eph. 1:19). God asks us to love each other as he loves us, but he also gives us the power to do it when we invite him into our marriage. I could not have made it through some of the challenges in our marriage without God’s help. Many times, after praying about a situation, the Holy Spirit has given me the right words to say when communicating my needs to my husband, and the Holy Spirit has also convicted me when I am falling short of loving my husband the way I should.
For Richer or Poorer – Yes, I can definitely say I’ve fulfilled this vow! For most of my marriage, we’ve been on a self-imposed tight budget. What that means is that we’ve always had plenty of money in the bank, but we choose to live beneath our means and limit our spending on frivolous purchases. Even before my husband lost his job, we were the only ones we knew without a DVR, fancy cell phone (we use pay-as-you-go TracPhones with no texting or internet), or extended cable package. So even when we’ve had more income than expenses, we’ve still felt “poor” by our American materialistic standards. And yet, to love my husband for richer or poorer means that even when money is tight, we still set aside a small amount to go out on dates and celebrate together.
Application: Tonight we’re cashing in our credit card rewards money and combining it with anniversary gift money to go to the Anniversary Inn to celebrate. Sure, we could probably use that money in a more practical way, but when you’re thrifty in the small things, I believe it’s absolutely okay to splurge once in a while for special occasions. We need to celebrate our marriage. We need to go out on dates regularly, even if it’s only to Starbucks with a gift card we’ve been stretching out since Christmas. We need to laugh and play together – especially when we’re in the “poorer” category. Our budget may be smaller right now, which requires a bit more creativity, but we always have money budgeted for dates and family outings.
In Sickness and In Health – We haven’t had a whole lot of stress from illness in our marriage – yet. But I did have some pretty miserable pregnancies. I had an overactive sense of smell – even my own make-up smell made me sick – so I couldn’t stand to cook anything in the oven, since that causes smells to linger. I felt terrible, and hated burdening my husband with my failure to meet his needs because my own were so great. But you know what? I’ve learned that the times when I am weak are a gift to me, because it is then that my husband steps up and takes care of me. I tend to be the caregiver in our relationship, and there usually aren’t many physical needs my husband has to meet. So during my pregnancies, I was shown love in a way I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
Application: Loving someone who is sick may seem obvious, but you never know when you may be meeting an even deeper need. If you’re married to a caregiver, he or she needs to know that you will also care for his or her needs. I love caring for others, but I can get burned out if I’m not mindful to ask for help when I need it. So even if your spouse seems totally self-sufficient, ask how you can help and affirm your desire to be a mutual caregiver in sickness AND in health.
Forsaking All Others – Again, this seems obvious. No affairs? Check! But there are so many other ways we can “forsake” our spouse. We can get absorbed in hobbies, projects, work, parenting struggles, and even ministries. There have been times when I’ve been so focused on meeting the needs of the kids that I had little leftover for my husband. We’ve jokingly called my husband’s laptop his “mistress,” because sometimes “she” gets more of his attention than I do. Women, especially, are prone to the Superwoman complex. We feel like we’ve somehow failed if we’re not climbing the ladder of a successful career, head of the PTA, teaching Sunday School, keeping an immaculate house and Mother-of-the-Year. But the truth is, we can’t do all and be all to everyone. We have a finite amount of time an energy. Where and in whom will we invest it?
Application – In our relationship, we’ve taken turns and helped each other pursue dreams. Before we had children, I was an event planner and my husband was often the event helper. It worked then because he was an adjunct professor and taking classes on the side. When he started working full time, I quit my job because I knew how much I’d relied on him, which was no longer realistic, and it was time for me to take a supporting role to his career. When one of us has an opportunity to use our gifts or talents in a way that doesn’t burden our marriage or family, we support those efforts. But we also regularly check in to make sure those activities are not hindering our family or causing us to “forsake” our first love – each other.
Till Death Do Us Part – This is the biggest vow, and also the one that seems lost on our society. Today, it seems like marriage commitments are often made, “Till you stop meeting my expectations or change in some way I don’t like.” I believe it’s not the “worst,” “poorer,” or “sickness” that harms a marriage so much as unmet expectations. We think we know who we married, and then they turn out to be someone completely different. That’s why the affirmation that we will stay committed for the rest of our lives is so important. We all change over time – which is a good thing, by the way. (I’m way more mellow in my thirties than I was in my twenties, and parenting has brought out qualities in my husband that I hadn’t previously seen.) The joy of marriage is discovering new things to love about your spouse as you both grow and change, and new ways to mature in character when you choose to love your spouse even though he or she is driving you nuts.
Application: We could both rattle off a list of expectations that have not been met in our marriage, but just as long would probably be the list of good surprises. We’re thankful for the examples of both my husband’s and my parents who’ve stayed married for over 40 years. There have been plenty of times when our marriage was a lot of work and we felt devastated by unmet expectations, but there has never been a question of whether or not we would stay together. We both are committed not only to stay together, but to keep working at making our marriage better. We want to hand down to our kids the same blessing of growing up in a home with parents who are not only together, but lifelong friends. And that’s why the vows we make, and daily choose to keep, are so important.
We’ve been through a lot over the last fifteen years, but I’m so glad I’ve gone through it with my best friend. We’ve been through times that were better, worse, richer, poorer, in sickness and health. Yet there’s still no one I’d rather be with until the day I die.
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