The Beginning Is Only The Beginning
Next month we will celebrate our 8th anniversary. But we’ve been together far longer than 8 years, 15 in fact. Brought together through brokenness, we met during our freshman year of high school, shortly after my parents separated and two years before his parents did the same.
We each had front row seats to the pain and damage that can arise through marriage and divorce. We bonded through trading war stories, helping each other reconcile the pain, and delivering just the right dash of humor when needed. And the thing we said more than anything is that someday when we get married to our spouses, we will do things differently.
We weren’t naive, we knew marriage took “work”, but we also knew that any amount of work and sacrifice was better than experiencing what we were going through at the hands of divorce. We knew what not to do, so we each began searching out scripture and mentors to help show us what to do.
Over the next few years, our friendship grew, but life took us apart for college. Through God’s grace, we stayed in touch and began to experience our feelings morph from friendship into love for each other. And we realized all the pain, all the tears, and all the late night talks about divorce had been knitting us together and laying a foundation for our own future marriage.
We married at 20 and 21, having already traveled the ups and downs of seven years of friendship together. By the time our wedding day arrived, I thought we were invincible. We knew what not to do, and we had a pretty good idea of what to do – what else was there to figure out?
The Work Of Marriage Is Never Done
Our first year of marriage was an interesting mix of the highest highs and deepest lows of our relationship to that point. The pain we had experienced before our wedding was largely caused by those in our extended family, but now that we were living together, tripping over each other in a tiny apartment, and every aspect of our lives more intimately connected than ever before – we were now the ones injuring each other.
I would say that the handful of significant fights we had that first year have continued to touch each year of our marriage since. We’ve come along way in addressing those issues, but we’ve also accepted that they are a byproduct of our personalities and are as integrated into our relationship as ourselves.
Eight years in, we’re just beginning to find ways to let those points of friction refine us, or at least inform us about deeply seated God-placed characteristics within each other.
Anniversaries Are Important
I remember our first anniversary – a lovely weekend in Chicago. We spent our time talking about grad school applications, dreaming about moving to a new city, and thinking very flippantly about when we should have kids. Our anniversary felt more like an excuse to take a mandatory vacation than a celebration of our marriage. It was fun for sure, but I think much of the gravity of what we were celebrating was lost on us.
This year, however, is different. We no longer take the importance of anniversaries and celebration for granted. Over the past 8 years, we’ve moved 5 times, lost 2 babies, and endured another significant family event that shook our marriage to it’s core. We have also hit the age/life stage in which a few of our close friends have walked the heart wrenching road of separation and divorce. In some ways we’ve never felt more stable in our relationship, but in others we’ve never felt more reliant upon God’s grace and mercy. There’s something about crying with a friend who’s marriage is in a painful place that humbles you to the bone – we could just as easily be walking that road.
Much in the same way that miscarriage and foster parenting taught us that fertility and adoption are anything but topics to discuss flippantly, fighting for our marriage over the past few years has given us a deep appreciation and cause to celebrate this anniversary.
Celebration Is A Discipline
While each year of our marriage has held different joys and different challenges, what strikes me as consistent is just that – the unyielding presence of joy and challenge at all times. Life is less like a roller coaster of ups and downs and much more like train tracks in which joy and pain run side by side, each ever present.
This theme is everywhere I look these days. From Pixar’s current hit “Inside Out” to Margaret Feinberg’s latest book, Fight Back With Joy, a similar idea is presented – joy and pain don’t just co-exist, they can work together.
Celebration feels natural when times are easy, but requires discipline when life is hard. Why celebrate when you’re in pain? Why make a big deal of your anniversary if you’re in the trenches of marriage or on the brink of divorce? Because as Feinberg writes, “when we fight back with joy, we no longer size the character of God according to our circumstances, but we size our circumstances according to the character of God and his great affection for us. Practicing defiant joy is the declaration that the darkness does not and will not win.” (from Fight Back With Joy)
Whether you’re living in the wake of a painful divorce; experiencing the passionate ups and downs of your first year of marriage; fighting through the middle years of parenting young kids, budding careers, and home ownership; or you’re several years down the road and facing struggles I haven’t met yet, I would encourage you to find moments to celebrate.
If you’re married – celebrate your relationship, your anniversaries, your love – even if it doesn’t feel worth celebrating at the moment. If you’re single – celebrate the friendships, relationships, and love that is in your life. And if you are currently experiencing a deeply painful time, please know that in no way do I mean to minimize your pain and story. My prayer is that in letting yourself experience the pain, you may also find moments of celebration that may infuse glimmers of joy in your life.