-- Matthew 19:5
I wish I could say I met my wife Susan at church, but that’s not quite true. It’s true, I was the new pastor of her church, but she worked most Sundays at the big, famous restaurant the next town over. And so it happened that 2 months into my first job as pastor, I had already met her mom and her little brother, but had only seen a photo of Su.
They all lived together just 2 blocks down the street from where I lived in the parsonage. Su’s brother mowed the church yard, and would often stop by to talk or play some basketball. One day he left his basketball in the yard, and I walked down the street to return it. “Do you want to come in?” he asked, but I didn’t want to intrude when his mom wasn’t there. “Don’t worry, we let everyone in” he said, so I went inside.
This month Susan and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. That’s almost half my life. When I first met Su, I realized that I had never met anyone like her, and 25 years later that’s still true. Her open spirit, independence of thought and sarcastic sense of humor don’t fit most people’s image of the typical pastor’s wife. If you’re like me though, you’ll find that refreshing.
No matter how much you tell someone what marriage is going to be like, there’s no way to fully prepare for the reality. Knowing what someone likes or dislikes still doesn’t make it easy to find them presents for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries… Marrying someone who cooks at a restaurant known for world-famous chicken dinners doesn’t mean you’re going to get world-famous chicken dinners at home. Family vacations meant for rest and recreation can be more exhausting than 2 weeks working overtime. It’s not often that real life matches our expectations.
That’s why every marriage requires adjusting expectations as you go along. Moving, having a family, different jobs and friends, and struggles with health issues all play a role in shaping daily life together. When you share the rhythms and responsibilities of each day with someone for half your life, you start to see how much you are the way you are because of them. You are no longer the you that you would be if it was just you. You have a history together, shared aspirations, goals and experiences, in-jokes, ways of seeing things, habits and concerns, all of which are permeated by the grace of God. Somewhere along the way without ever consciously realizing it, the two have become one flesh.
There are times that this realization can be a little scary. The challenges are daunting –
· knowing that when you mess up, you’re affecting the ones you care most about;
· depending on someone else’s love, which is something beyond your control;
· trying to maintain deep and constant gratitude for something that is so easy to take for granted.
It’s easy to say “All you need is love,” but there’s also some real conscious effort involved. It starts by loving the spouse you really have instead of the image of who you want them to be, and realizing the 1,001 ways you will never be the person they deserve. This leads into the kind of love John Legend sings about, a love for “all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections…” Some days this is the easiest thing in the world, and some days the hardest. It’s easiest when we trust that God’s spirit lives in that history we share, and that his forgiveness and grace are there for us to make us new each day.
So I’m ready for another 25 years, and I hope Su is too. Even though sometimes I forget to introduce her, I am proud to call her my wife. I am even more proud to call her my best friend, and the best gift that God has given me in this life.