I was an odd child.
Scratch that. I was a very odd child.
In addition to taking home my Latin textbook over the summer, having an odd obsession with guinea pigs and blowing my nose at an unnatural decibel, I also really, really, really hated playing “House.”
When all the other little girls were dressing up their baby dolls and feeding them, or pretending to cook in their Fisher-Price kitchen set, or telling their five-year-old “husband” to take out the trash, I wasn’t. In fact, I avoided playing “House” like the plague, and to make things worse, I think I even believed deep down that it could kill me. On the rare occasion that a friend successfully finagled me into a game of “House,” I became passive aggressive in my own kindergarten way. How? Simple: By only playing the dog. As the dog, I had no dishes to wash, no kids to keep track of, no “husband” to cater to, and—best of all—everyone loved me! When it came to imaginary games, the dog’s life was definitely for me.
(In retrospect, this might explain why I had very few friends growing up. Oops.)
My keenness on canines was also rather strange since my family never, ever owned a dog. When my dad realized he was allergic to the family poodle “Sissy,” she ceased to be his best friend. And my mom’s family’s fowl fetish led them to own pet chickens and parakeets. So when I was growing up, my parents decided it would be easier not to have a pet, especially not a dog. But for some unexplained reason, I enjoyed playing a dog, and really, really, really hated playing “House.”
However, this blog is not supposed to be about dogs; pardon me for barking up the wrong tree…. Squirrel!!!! 😉
Now, since growing up, my attitude toward “House” hasn’t changed, but I have started to think a bit more about getting married, having a family, and living happily ever after. This doesn’t mean I subconsciously plan my wedding or schedule my life around shows like Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress (although the title is rather clever). I haven’t named my future children, and I keep my “future husband search engine” safely turned off 99.999% of the time. But I think it’s natural, even healthy, to pause and ponder this (hopefully) future phase of my life. And fortunately, this week at the Kanakuk Institute, we’ve had five days’ worth of pondering. Here’s a small snapshot of my gleanings. And just to keep things interesting (and to keep you reading), I’ll put them in descending order of importance. Ready? Here goes!
5) Marriage isn’t a walk in the park.
While it may include an occasional evening stroll, marriage ain’t easy. On the contrary, it requires a lot of work. Yes, marriage may seem like a world of sunshine, happiness, and butterflies—and when you first fall in love with someone, this may be true (although a guy’s description of paradise may not include butterflies)—however, when you get down to the nitty gritty of living with someone day in and day out, seeing their bad side, experiencing their mood swings, watching them squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube, and becoming painfully aware of all their annoying little habits, things change fast. Very fast. And once reality moves in, it’s not going anywhere.
So what do you do when the going gets frustrating? Get going—not away, but to your spouse. Choose to work through the conflict, to communicate your needs, and, most importantly, to love them anyway. Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision. So decide to love them, and then do it.
(Note: If you read the instructions on the back of your toothpaste tube, it clearly states, “For best results, squeeze tube from the end” or something along those lines. I, however, still squeeze from the middle, and I’ve never noticed subpar results. But I digress.)
4) Marriage is a ring of fire. But not like Johnny Cash.
(This one piggybacks off the last one, so if my toothpaste comment distracted you, feel free to reread point #5. Sorry for all the parenthetical comments. I will try to stop.)
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are saved and receive salvation. Then for the rest of our lives, God is changing us, shaping us, and molding us to be more like Him. This process is called sanctification. Although God’s sanctifying us happens regardless of our marital status, He likes to use marriage to refine us. As Martin Luther wisely noted, “Marriage is a better school for the character than any monastery for it’s here that your corners are rubbed off.” And what better way to rub off our rough edges than in the closest human relationship we could ever have? It’s almost like God designed it that way or something! Crazy! (Sarcasm…. Oops! Another parenthetical aside! Sorry.)
Seriously, though, God uses marriage and its challenges to make us look more like Jesus. That means that when your wife’s moodiness drives you nuts or your husband refuses to stop and ask for directions, you choose to seek God’s lesson in the midst of it and–get this!–then praise Him for it. Thank God that He so creatively teaches you compassion or patience. Thank Him that you have a spouse to be annoyed with. And thank Him that He cares enough about you that He wants you to be the best you can possibly be—even if the process is unpleasant.
3) Communication is key.
Yes, I realize you’ve probably heard that a million times, but hear me out for this million-and-first time: If you want to know your spouse and have them know you, you have, have, HAVE to talk. Contrary to popular belief, no one can read your mind (except God, so be careful what you think!). In case you hadn’t heard, “no one” means “no one,” and that includes your spouse. In order for communication to work properly, it takes two, baby. You have to listen AND be willing to share. Be involved in each other’s lives, and don’t keep secrets. They not only don’t make friends, but they can ruin a marriage.
2) Recognize that marriage is a covenant. Which is a fancy way of say a “REALLY BIG DEAL”!!!
Sadly, in our world today, many couples treat marriage like a contract. When one party irreparably breaches the contract, then it’s okay for the other party to “peace out, boy/girl scout”, taking half the goods with them. But marriage isn’t a contract at all. No, sir! It’s a covenant. And here’s the thing about covenants: They last forever. The only way out of a covenant is if one party passes away and, thereby, can no longer uphold the covenant. When couples say, “til death do us part,” they are actually committing themselves to their spouse for life. Which makes marriage a HUGE deal! Like “Mt. Everest+ Grand Canyon + Pacific Ocean” kind of huge. So do you think we should take marriage lightly? Heck no, techno! This is one of the biggest decisions you could possibly make because, apart from homicide (which is never a good option, tempting though it may be), you can never take it back.
For all of you single-and-ready-to-mingle folks out there, that means don’t get in a hurry. Rather, take your time and seek God’s counsel. After all, He created you, so He knows best how you’re wired, what you need, and who would be best for you. So ask for His guidance. And for all of you already-hitched folks, recognize the importance of the commitment you have made and decide once and for all to stick to it, even when you may not feel like it. If you make divorce not an option, it won’t be. Follow through on your covenant, be faithful to your spouse, and God will honor you for it. That’s a promise.
And finally, the big Numero Uno….
1) Remember your first Love.
No, I’m not talking about that girl you kissed under the slide in preschool or the boy that wrote you a Valentine in second grade. I’m talking about the One who died for you, who gave up everything—literally everything, down to the clothes on His back—just so He could be with you. Jesus is the only One who can complete you; He is the only One who satisfies without ceasing. He has loved you with an everlasting love, and He draws you with loving-kindness. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks, waiting for you to let Him in, so He can heal your soul. He is the answer to all of your problems. He’s the One you’ve been waiting for. He longs for you to know Him and to love Him back. Nothing in this world can complete you, not even the best spouse. Everything else will fall short; everything else will leave us wanting. But not Jesus. As St. Augustine said, “Because God made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”
So my final bit of advice to you and to me: Quit looking for love and find instead the One who is Love.
And that, my friends, is no child’s play; it’s happily forever after.