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“You will never be more happy with each other than you are today.” I’ll never forget this well-meaning sentiment offered to my wife and I on the day of our wedding. She said it with a genuine smile and meant nothing but good. But the thought that raced through my mind was, “How tragic if this is true.”
In the first two years of our married life, my wife and I have moved three times. This is not uncommon among most newlyweds, especially those as young as us. I was 22 when we married. She was at the end of her 21st year. I was finishing an undergrad degree, and she was about to begin her first year of teaching. Within two years, she changed jobs twice, I graduated, and have served in pastoral roles in two churches. This is not to mention the slightly life-altering event of having a baby. These dramatic changes meant living in three different locations in our hometown before recently moving to a new state.
My wife has transitioned from primary bread winner to working mom to stay-at-home mom within our first two years of marriage. I have gone from a student working a part-time job to a student working two part-time jobs to a pastor taking graduate classes. Both of us have experienced these changes all the while navigating the mysterious and dangerous worlds of parenting and marriage. We are slowly (painfully slowly at times) learning what it means to be husband and wife, dad and mom. I am learning what it takes to be a pastor. She is learning what it takes to be a homemaker.
The changes we have experienced have been many, but all joyful. No tragedies to speak of so far. The changes we have undergone pale in comparison to others. Yet, any major life change, joyful or not, inherently exposes the unreliability of human plans and the unexpectedness of life.
To say the least, marriage is much easier said than done. Neither of us thought that when we said, “I do,” we would be sitting in Northeast Mississippi just two years later. Through the process of wedding planning, it is easy to get so caught up in the details and the romance that you neglect the minefield you are about to walk into. And that’s something that sadly gets lost in the shuffle. The beauty of marriage has nothing to do with white gowns, bounties of flowers, and thousands of pictures.
The beauty of marriage is found in the messiness of life. It is found in the unknown. It is grasped in the unexpected. The beauty of marriage is not seen in the first dance, but in the continuous dance through the minefield of life, to borrow from artist Andrew Peterson. The beauty of marriage is not limited to the ecstasy of the first night, but truly shows itself in the faithful journey through countless dark nights to come.
Life changes, particularly in marriage, require resiliency in repentace, steadfastness in love, and unrelenting grace. Our particular journey has taught us what it means to “carry your cross,” “die to yourself,” and “bear one another’s burdens.” One should never view marriage as a walk through sun gleamed meadows. Marriage is a dance through minefields. There are dangers in every step. One good day doesn’t guarantee another. And each new morning brings new sins and frustrations. The longer you are married, the longer you have to see just how sinful you both are. Honestly, without the cross, marriage is a reeling disaster. This is why many marriages never again reach the harmonious bliss of the first kiss. This is why the early wedding day counsel we received amounted to, “It won’t get much better than this.”
Marriages fail not because couples become acutely aware of the sin in one another. Marriages fail because rather than facing sin and suffering together, couples ignore the beast before them and within them. Marriages that fail are the result of couples who refuse to dance. They would rather sit it out. What they don’t realize is that the music plays on and the minefield remains. Couples who don’t do the dance of gospel-empowered marriage will experience the catastrophe of landing on one of these mines alone. When this happens, the casualties are many. Broken marriages drastically impact large families and even society as a whole.
However, the gospel radically transforms the daily grind of marriage. The key to a flourishing marriage in a world of unexpected change isn’t found in a list of to-dos, but in a coupled gaze to a cross where a blood-soaked Savior cried, “It’s done!” Because Christ entered the minefield of this world and took the full blow we deserved, we can dance together through the chaos that every change brings.
The cry of a baby at 3 AM. The sobs of a wife before bed. The whining of an ungrateful husband in the morning. The buzzing of the alarm clock signaling another day of mine-jumping. The ding of yet another text and email drawing my attention away from my family. These are the sounds of the marriage dance. We dance through personal sin to the beat of repentance and grace. We dance through daily frustrations to the melody of love and patience. We dance through chaos and change to the tune of unmoved faith and hope. Oh, we dance. And our dance will continue because it is conducted and choreographed by the Christ who came to give beauty to the madness of marriage and life.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.