Work your marriage to make it work

Published 7:42 am Monday, June 9, 2008

I write this on the fiftieth anniversary of our wedding. I write not to congratulate ourselves, and certainly not to take credit for anything. Mostly, I think, I want to encourage others never to take marriage for granted but to work for a genuine marriage. A genuine marriage is the work of God that is then worked by those he marries.

Mind you, this column is always offered as opinion. I don’t ask for your agreement, just your thought. I don’t present a sermon, just my thinking.

Those books and magazine articles that boast of “the secret of a successful marriage” disappoint me and fail us all. First, there is no secret: the cause has been revealed and experienced for centuries. Second, successful is not the appropriate adjective: genuine is. If we experience a genuine marriage, it will succeed. Or, more to the point, it will be effective and fruitful. More than simply lasting for fifty or so years, a genuine marriage will grow in quality, meaning, intensity, enjoyment, and results. When the Lord gave me Ann, I knew even then she is a treasure—but my concept of treasure was inadequate to describe the wonderful women I have experienced for half a century. Fifty years ago, I felt no one could love a woman more than I did at that moment. As real as my love was then, I had little understanding of how great it would yet become.

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I truly believe God wills who will marry whom, and our task is to discover his appointment. Some, especially women, presume they must find the one man in all the world who will make them deliriously happy. I think their task is to avoid the hundreds of men who would make them utterly miserable.

I learned of Ann by listening to her father’s sermon in my home church, and she sure sounded good to me. When I returned to campus, I looked for her but my approach was seriously unimpressive. When I went to Grand Rapids, Mich, for seminary, I found her playing the organ at Calvary Baptist Church and teaching in a school of nursing. I was more persuasive then, even if no more impressive, and she agreed in March to marry me. On this same day I did the most brilliant thing I have ever done, and she did the dumbest. We wed in June. (I was almost 28 and she 26, and I know a good thing when I see it.) We spent the first three months of our marriage apart, while I was in the military police officer basic course in Georgia and she was back in Michigan. I missed her terribly, though it thrilled me to refer to “my wife.” I had no idea then how much I would miss her until I lived with her for a few months when we had become firmly bonded and mutually dependent.

It was the army again that separated us and then for six moths while I was stationed in Honduras. This was after living together for 28 years. While I again missed her, we had become so much one, the only separation was geographical—and this was insignificant. We were sure of each other. Genuine marriage is a duality within a unity, not unlike the trinity within the unity of the Godhead.

Just as humans are God’s only self-completing creatures, a marriage is God’s investment in a couple to whom he gives grace to complete in experience and fruit what he entrusted to us. God made us who we are so we could become what we should become. As with individuals, so with those he marries. St. Augustine (whose name as been wonderfully appropriated by an Austin church) put it: “Without God, we cannot; without us, he will not.” Please don’t blame every marriage on God, because often people make their own choices, and he isn’t allowed to have anything to do with it. And not every marriage God made has been fulfilled by those to whom he gave the opportunity.

Even though God created plants to grow, we don’t blame him when they don’t grow for a farmer who doesn’t work his fields. Genuine marriages are the work of God, to be sure. But you have to work your marriage to make your marriage work.